On Mental Health

Reconnecting with a sense of Identity (Part 1)

So I’m listening to a playlist on Spotify- and I notice something interesting.

I notice that I am absent-mindedly searching for something in the music- and when I look at this further I realise I am persistently trying to find myself (if you will) within the music, and the simultaneously melodic and discordant sounds which break over me.

(It was this realisation which triggered the following article :))

It was like I was trying to identify with a feeling; trying to identify with something which worked to confirm my own sense of self, and confirm my inner world- or what I remember of both of those things.

Although I am very much aware that my inner world is something of a jungle these days; full up with more twists and turns that a fairground roller-coaster, and prone to altering it’s entire appearance within a day, or within a minute- I am still trying to reconnect with something that I like, and sense is still there.

Eleven years ago I had a mental breakdown, and ended up on the psychiatric ward of a hospital.

I completely lost touch with reality; everything that I had held to be important before this happened was wiped from my frame of consciousness, wiped from my mind and my internal reference system. My sense of identity was breached, and then overtaken by a flood.

As I fell through the cracks of my own rational perception, I left the idea of myself behind; I left my own internal impression of myself somewhere I could no longer reach, somewhere which no longer existed for me.

I was crazy- clinically insane. This identity was defined for me by the doctors, but luckily, I never entirely accepted it. It was always to clinical, too simplistic and shallow to accurately sum up the rich nature of the profound and intense experiences I was having.

However, whilst I did not accept the label, the identification, with the word insane; I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore!- and my old affinities didn’t resonate like they had done previously.

I couldn’t connect to the things which had given me personal meaning before: I was no longer the “Ally” that I had been prior to going into hospital. If felt like I had lost her somewhere between the varying med’s and the mind-blowingly terrifying psychotic experiences.

Eleven years later, and following experiences of the strangest kind (a long trip down the rabbit hole and then a strenuous and challenging climb back out of it)- I still sometimes struggle to identify with the concepts which seem meaningful or familiar to me.

How deep does the concept of identity run in the subconscious mind, and in the psyche in general?

What happens when that construct is broken down and swept away, when the building blocks which you base your very sense of self on are knocked apart?

I think that before I was sectioned, I always thought of the concept of identity as being fairly innocuous, fairly basic in the sense that it’s simply the way you view yourself; the way that you choose to define yourself, in relation to the external world.

In fact, when I was 20, I probably defined identity as the music you listened to, the clothes you wore, and whether you had left or right leaning political tendencies.

As said, pretty basic- linked to a person’s likes and dislikes, what they relate to, and the things which they perceive to mirror their own soul; be it music, style (clothes, interior design, jewellery, architecture), or ideology.

But what if identity is much more than that?

What if it is the very bedrock upon which your whole psyche, and the apparatus you use to think and perceive the world with, rests upon. What if it is the “self-line” that you follow, through all cognitive function, interaction and experience; the deepest most crucial part, which gives you stability and security, and to which everything else(your entire world) adapts itself to and reflects in your own eyes.

If that is so, then what happened when I became ill; when all of that was lost or swept away? Who was the girl who went into hospital, when the “Ally” of before was no longer in the mental “building.”

When I was young, before I was sectioned, I had a very strong sense of identity. I listened to rock and metal, the heavier and more obscure the better, I  took fierce pride in my fashion sense, which again, was obscure and alternative. I smoked weed, took various other drugs, and relished being ‘rebellious’ and out of sync with the status quo.

I took pride in that sense of personal identity.

However after being sectioned, I was institutionalised; forced to restrain everything which I had previously enjoyed expanding, and confined to a life which was so mundane it was featureless. My “rebellious,” and fiercely individualistic sense of identity was slowly hammered out of me by circumstance and years of banality.

I lived for long periods in hospitals and care-homes, and although I always worked to try to make the best of my situation- there was not much for me to connect to, and not much which fed or nurtured my inner sense of self.

My identity slowly gathered dust, seeming to only exist in a dark corner of my mind where I had stubbornly stashed it, for safe-keeping. I held onto it, but struggled to find meaningful ways to bring it back to life during these years.

Now, in the present, my stubbornness has paid off. I feel like the person I identify with again, I am more confident, more active, more immersed in the world and the minutia of life again.

But I did receive a bit of a knock, during these last eleven years. And I notice it when I am listening to music, or watching something stimulating. It is like I am still working to reconnect with some deeper piece of my psyche which, after being shattered and rebuilt, is not a sturdy, not as strong as it once was.

It is still there, because it is still me- I feel it and connect to it. But if it is still me, than what is me on its own? And how can it (my sense of identity), exist distinctly and separately, on some level, from me? Is their even a different and distinguishable me?

You are probably reading this now thinking “huh- which bit was me, it or something else entirely? How many bits are there?!”

It just intrigues me because now, post my “19 year old identity”, and post schizophrenia- there seem to be so many different facets of my self, so many different parts to me and sides to my self awareness.

My sense of identity is no longer so strong, and my own sense of self conceptualisation, seems to be no longer completely within my control, and shifts so much more than it did when I was 19.

Therefore when I am listening to a moving piece of music, I am aware of myself enjoying it, I am no longer- simply enjoying it. There is another form of self awareness, a sense of distance between parts of my being.

I think this is all, in part, just a consequence of getting older, and of the greater amount of experience I now have under my belt, which influences my thinking, behaviour and sense of self. My sense of identity has been knocked, and embellished over the years, and I have grown and developed.

Perhaps I am chasing a simplistic notion of self and identity which I held when I was 19, but have now moved past, lost in the winds of time. Although I do spend most of my time feeling like a teenager- how much of that has been my conscious decision to hold onto the things I didn’t want to lose to the system, and how much is just the bare bones of who I really am?

To be continued..

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4 thoughts on “Reconnecting with a sense of Identity (Part 1)

  1. Blimey!

    I want to turn this around and ask you – if you have the time – to take a peek at a few of my posts on art. The point being that these artists have made choices in their lives, their style, their choice of subjects, their choice of colour or whatever.

    Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner and Tom Thomson are examples of people who expressed their own identity in ways that are truly enlivening. Tom Thomson’s work is one of the rare examples that actually still has an effect on me when looking at a photo of his work.

    People like Malevich only show their limitations… and that goes for Egon Schiele too, and this post, which I have just re-read, deals with a lot of the things you are questioning. That’s not to say they’re answered, but you might get a few hints!

    https://gemmasponderings.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/egon-schiele-what-was-he-thinking/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, thank you. I had a read, but will need to go through it again. I’ll hopefully post the second part of this soon, where i have a go at distinguishing what the different aspects are all about. Thanks a lot 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Take your time, you’ve got a few years in you yet.

        Truly, I don’t think you realize what having someone like you around the place really means. I was watching the sunset yesterday, the sun was a cloudy splash of white, the sky was layers of blue and grey after the clouds had cleared from the rain. It made me think of you and your experiences – even if it was nothing like it, it was close enough for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah Gemma, I love your periodic comments which bring a tear to my eye. Thank you 🙂 your kind words always mean so much. Might try and publish part 2 later, although I think it gets a bit disorganised in the second part so needs some work editing. A friend of mine is just coming over for lunch, but should be around afterwards. Hopefully chat later- and hope you are well! xx

    Liked by 1 person

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