I miss having an electric kettle. Not too long ago the one I had set itself on fire rather than continue living with me. We had the best conversations and for just the right amount of time. The dryer is also good but requires a level of personal commitment I can’t give. I feel judged. I thought the kettle accepted me as myself.
I’ve been worrying a lot about the self lately. Not myself only, but all our selves. I don’t mean I’m especially worried about us but rather about who or what we see as who we are.
I blame the Irish. The Irish are much taken with the self. They’ll say things like , “So, it’s yourself, is it?” Or, “It’s himself you’ll be wanting to talk to.” As opposed to, “Oh, is you?” or “You should talk to him.”
Now, this reflexive pronoun twitch is charming and quaint if you take it for what it is: it’s the way some people talk and that’s fine. But I’ve no great talent for taking-as-it-is and far too often this leads to thinking.
Who do we think we are? Who do we want to be? Who do we think we should be? Who did someone say we should be? All of that and I’m not even considering the very real but different problems of identity crises.
Let’s start here: most of us are not the same person all the time, or to all people, or in all situations. This can be healthy. The way you are at home with loved ones may not be the way you are comfortable at work or at parties.
There are innumerable small, possibly necessary adaptations we make all the time so the navigation of the world is a little less painful. Maybe at home I like to pretend I’m a panda or a mermaid. That’s fine if I’m surrounded by people who understand me, but you see how that might be really ungood in public.
The panda-mermaid scenario may seem far-fetched at first read, but I don’t think it is. Maybe you talk to yourself or your kitchen appliances at home. (I know it’s not just me.) Why is that more acceptable?
But getting back to the self, I guess the place I want to land is here: do you know your essential self and do you find it all too easy to compromise who that is? I worry that the self is a thing we give up easily, sometimes for terrible reasons, and that it is damaging in ways we cannot begin to fathom until it is too late.
I am not a great person. I’m not even great at being a person. But what I am is a person who is entirely clear about who she is. And in my darkest moments, that certainty of self keeps me sane and grounds me.
People have always had to adapt to survive, that’s a given: war survivors, disaster survivors. Less dramatically, think of immigrants, children of immigrants, whole communities and generations of immigrants. And they may have felt the need to assimilate. I don’t know which sounds more painful.
I have been lucky. I have never really belonged anywhere but instead of trying to fit in, I stood on the edge. And the bit that is luck is that I’ve been fine there because this certainly is not a life for everyone.
People start giving up bits of themselves from so very young. It happens at school so you don’t stick out too much because that too often ends in bullying. How dare anyone be a little different? You’re never too young for the world to start taking away your individuality.
And, if we have any experience with world, we know that bullying does not stop at school. Come to think of it, it may not even start at school. Some of us try to be who our parents want us to be. We might try to be the way our siblings or relatives want us to function within our families.
Liming friends (as opposed to true-true friends) might need us to look or behave in a certain way. The most frightening thing is how much all these possible areas of concession are just at the starting line of our lives.
How much more do we surrender at work – either to belong or for advancement? What are we willing to give up so someone to fall in love with us, marry us, raise children, and buy a house with?
Now, everything I’ve said here, I know they are things that are happening all around me, all the time. But I can’t take it for granted that it’s ok. Its prevalence does not make it ok. Not with me.
Maybe you want to change some things about yourself. You want to change them to be a better you. Nothing wrong with that. Think it’s called growth or development or improvement.
But giving away parts of yourself to fit someone else’s idea of who you should be should not be the price of entry to society or friendship or love. It seems I’ve forgotten to ask something: are you ok with this giving up or suppressing parts of you? Did you want to be a panda-mermaid? Did you want the privilege of keeping your accent when you had to go live in foreign?
So, the next time you see yourself walking towards a new experience that asks for a change to the essential you, ask yourself Irishly, “So, is that myself, then?”
Remember to talk to your doctor or therapist if you want to know more about what you read here. In many cases, there’s no single solution or diagnosis to a mental health concern. Many people suffer from more than one condition.