Asking myself the question, who am I, is not new for me. I have often wondered who I am in relation to mental illness. Would I be the same person if I didn’t have OCD? How would I be different if I didn’t have depression? Am I who I am partly because of the mental illness?
I am asking myself the question with a new concern now.
Since my mother’s suicide attempt a month ago, I’ve been flooded with all kinds of memories from my childhood and young adulthood.
Therapy over the years made me aware of my unhealthy childhood. And I made great strides in moving away from negative beliefs about myself. In many ways, I thrived.
But I stayed in a toxic relationship with my mother because I believed I had to. And I never fully faced what my childhood had been like and how much the anger and resentment I had stemmed from that.
My mother’s actions and the aftereffects a month ago tipped me over.
I’ve had to face the fact that I had a lousy childhood. There’s no longer any way I can dress it up and make it look reasonably OK for the rest of the world. It’s time for me to be honest about it with myself and with others.
And I have to look at myself and figure out how much of this past junk I’m still carrying around with me.
With the help of my psychiatrist, I’ve realized that my way of being in the world and my way of handling relationships were heavily influenced and shaped by my mother.
I’ve worked on this before, but now I am especially mindful about the ways I may be carrying on the habits learned from an abusive past.
So now that I know without a doubt that my mother’s influence was and continues to be toxic to me, how do I answer that question—who am I?
As I am apt to do in any new situation, I’ve been reading a lot. One helpful work I came across in my search was an article called “You Carry theCure In Your Own Heart,” by AndrewVachss. The article was first published in 1994 in Parade Magazine.
Vachss is an author and an attorney who works with children and youth.
Here is a passage from that article:
“If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self-help until you learn to self-reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what "goodness" really is. Adopting the abuser's calculated labels—"You're crazy. You're ungrateful. It didn't happen the way you say"—only continues the cycle.”
This new journey of re-understanding of who I am is a difficult process for me, harder than it ever was before.
Meditation, reading, and writing in my journal have become very important ways to become aware of who I am without my mother, without the belief system that she started me on as a child. I want to be aware of what my values are, what my core beliefs are.
I keep telling myself, “I can do this. I am not alone.”
And I’m not alone. I know there are others who have gone before me who have overcome similar obstacles. I know there are those struggling with the same sorts of issues. I know there are people cheering me on. I believe there is a presence of Spirit—God, Creator—that I don’t understand but am becoming more aware of.
I pray. I meditate. I read. I write. I knit. I laugh with my husband. I hold my cat. I follow my doctor’s instructions and take the medication that helps enable me to do what I need to do.
And I find out who I am.