“Who is Amy?”
Asked C, my therapist. There was this absolute silence between us, it seemed like time had just stopped. I wish it had, because, then, I could time travel in my past and my future and create a 10 page report on who I was, all stapled and fresh out of the printer. What I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I know. This wasn’t the first time she’s asked me, and every single time I come to a screeching halt. My throat closes. The next inevitable question is, “why don’t you know?”
That question has plagued me since the beginning of our sessions together. It’s one of the questions that prompted me to read philosophical works like Being and Time. Not so surprisingly, my identity, who I was, was no where to be found between the pages of theoretical phenomenology.
My identity has always been viscous and malleable as hot metal. Like a chameleon, I can sense the color of my surroundings and become just like one of them. Them, being whoever the people are in the group that I need to blend in with. It’s not something I’m proud of for being flawless at.
Another excuse I have, is that I am just too many things that I can’t summarize in a bite sized answer. In actual interactions with people, what I usually do is observe my audience and their scope of life experience, and give them what they can chew. They only see that side of me, a bit like blind people feeling an elephant and all reporting different shapes of what the elephant could look like (snake, column, sac..). Most people are surprised after months and years of knowing me of the different sides I have, because not all of them surface after a few interactions.
Here is a sample: division 1 college athlete, math and statistics nerd, artsy hipster, musician, actual artist, corporate yuppie, confused immigrant ESL dork, best dressed, sweat pants wearer, bad girl, good girl, emo poet, long distance runner, Model UN-er, bosslady, shy, bullied kid, rich kid, poor kid, scared kid, getting-accepted-to-very-single-job-kid, best daughter, worst daughter, honors student, failure, overachiever, underachiever, amazing friend, worst friend ever, best girl friend, batshit crazy ex-girlfriend, academically gifted, dumb as hell…
But C is not happy with my labels for myself. Those are external labels that are defined by what I do, and my relationship with other people, and me compared to other people, says C. It’s not an identity that grounds you, no matter who you’re with and what you’re doing.
I ask her if other people have such an identity. She chuckles warmly.
There are some theories as to why I am this way. One, provided by C, is that I have fragments of personalities from the different periods of my life when I was different things. I have never integrated those fragments, and that’s why I’m having a hard time getting to the bottom line of a single identity. Two, I have pieces of myself from the past which I am accepting and rejecting due to my perfectionism about my self image. Because I’m only accepting the “good” ones, my self image is lacking, and has becoming artificially uncomfortable and unwieldy to live with.
So in summary, I basically don’t like some parts of myself very much, and I haven’t really accepted myself fully; I haven’t been self-compassionate about certain things from my past, and that’s coming up in my intrusive thoughts, ruminations, and dreams. When my illness gets worse, I think the impulsiveness of bipolar and negative thinking leads me to suicidal thoughts.
I never could answer the question during my session, of who I am, in general. I am different to every person I greet, depending on who they are- while it is very consuming, that’s just what I know how to exist. If you were from Scarborough (which is a neighborhood in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), and you traveled to rural Europe, if you say that you’re from Scarborough- they would have no idea where that is! You would say Canada. But if you are in Ottawa, (the capital of Canada), then you would say that you’re from Toronto. If you were living in Toronto, and they ask you where you live, Scarborough would suffice. So I think it’s OK to cater to the audience of who you are and explain relatively to where they are coming from. That’s the reason why it is hard for me to answer this question. But if I can change, I want to. If I can feel more whole, I’m willing to put in the work.
Do you guys struggle with your identity and how you think about yourself?