Category Archives: Identity

Who Am I Now? – Leaving identity behind in transition

I’ve got one more day with my clients. One more day in my identity as a social worker, as a counsellor, as a therapist. Letting go of this identity was not something I thought would be so hard. I know, what was I thinking? Oh, wait, I was thinking, not feeling. That’s my default m.o. when I’m under stress.

I thought that all my work with grieving, transitions, and loss would prepare me. After all, I’ve left lots of identities behind over the years. I’ve graduated from various schools,  moved house, and even country, a whole lot of times. I’ve married, became a mom, even got (temporarily) un-married. Not that those transitions into and out of an identity were pain- or challenge-free by any means.

But I’ve never left a job that I loved before. I’ve left jobs because the contract was over. I’ve left jobs because the pay wasn’t enough to support me. I’ve changed careers due to burn-out. I’ve even walked out of a particularly bad job in the middle of the day -not exactly polite, but I’m very proud of the boundaries I set for myself that day!

Honestly, most transitions are more of a “one at a time” kind of deal. This one isn’t everything, all at once, but it comes awfully close. Tomorrow I leave a job, and soon I will leave a home, a city, and even a country, that I truly love… how do I do that? It’s one thing to move from one identity to the next logical one: you get married, you know you’re becoming a spouse. You have a kid, you know you’re becoming a parent. But what am I becoming? I look down into the void and I see infinite stars… it’s a good thing my scared little self has my bigger self along for the ride!

I started to write this blog a few weeks ago. The word “day” was “month.” Then I started again last weekend. The word was “week.”And here I am yet again. Sitting down to write is not coming easy to me these days. Watching endless old familiar TV shows is very easy. Reading old familiar and comfortable books is comforting.  Art – which “ought” to be my mainstay – is almost as uncomfortable to get into as writing. But at least I’ve done it a bit more consistently than writing, and so I thought perhaps it’s best to break this long silence and share what I’ve got.

Zoom!What is it about this awkward space between one identity and another? At the beginning, it was an incredibly exciting feeling, like bursting into a clear sky, with nothing but forward and upward momentum. Hooray! Bruce got the job in Crete! Amazing! Look at the incredible landscape! The food! The ocean! Ah the inspiration will be there for the taking, and I will have all the time in the world to become the artist I always wanted to be…

But… what if I don’t? 

I watched a crow down by the beach a week ago. I think it was young. It zoomed up to a forked branch in a tree, and perched there, one foot on one side and one on the other, wobbling back and forward. I stared for a while. The crow might have been more self-conscious if it had known the attention it was getting! But since its back was toward me, its feet splayed out in opposite directions and its tail-feathers flipping up and down as it tried to keep balance between the two ends of the forked branch, I was privileged to feel its struggles as if they were my own. And I felt it. Right down to the bottom of my own toes. All my “what if’s” flood into my legs and make them weak and wobbly.

What if, despite the job offer, the Greek consulate says “no, we don’t want you here.”? What if we get there The Earth is Shakingbut I totally squander my time, and end up watching Netflix while hiding in my shuttered house from the extroverted neighbours?  My wiser self (and sometimes that’s an inner voice, and sometimes it’s a supportive friend) asks me some better questions. What if it’s fine? What if your neighbours are really sweet and even a little introverted themselves? What if Greece doesn’t happen, but by making the preparations you end up opening a magical door you didn’t even know existed? What if you wobble a bit on your branch, and then take off and fly into the beautiful sky and sing above olive trees and a turquoise ocean?

Wait and see...What if I sit with this feeling of in-between-ness, of not-knowing, and just BE with it for a while. Underneath the noisiness of my fear, I can feel a steady bass-beat of something else. Back when this started I even said out loud that what I was seeking, in taking this chance to completely change my life, was an experience of free-fall. To so completely let go of what I know, that I would have the chance to learn who I really am outside of all the other definitions and assumptions. I find myself scrolling back up to the first drawing, looking closer… I want to see those stars close up. And I do want it badly enough that I will try again to re-settle myself into waiting and being with what comes.

So … one more day of being with my clients, who have blessed me over and over again in their own willingness to BE. And now I’m feeling it. All of it. And I’m sad.

 

 

 

Mother & Daughter, Identity & Intensity

For Mother’s Day my daughter is texting me pictures of all the flowers she’s encountering in her day – it’s one of the sweeter of her many sweet expressions of love for me. No, I’m not going to lie and tell you that our relationship is characterized entirely by sweetness. Our relationship IS characterized by words like “very,” “more,” and words that end in “-er” and “-est.” We are both intense personalities, and therefore, like the “little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead,” in the nursery rhyme, when we are good (or sweet or nice or loving to each other) we are very, very good, and when we are bad (or angry, or jealous, or sad with each other) we can indeed be “horrid.”

 The same can probably be said of my relationship with my own mother. I wish I had known my grandmother better, so I could tell how far back this line of intensity goes. I do know she and my mother could stick to their guns with a truly astonishing level of stubbornness when necessary. My solitary memory of my great-grandmother was her fondness for watching wrestling matches on television! I bet she was a fairly intense lady herself. My father’s mother and I also had an intense relationship. I remember vividly a particular day, when I was boarding with her while in graduate school, that I felt an incredible connection and tenderness for her while helping her with some cosmetic care. Only an hour or two later, we were having a real beauty of a spat about what we would watch on television, both of us with our heels dug firmly in, and chins stubbornly up in the air! (She wanted a Knight Rider re-run, I was in the middle of a nostalgic moment listening to Ernie sing about his rubber ducky and didn’t want to change the channel just yet…yeah, I’ve always been mature that way.)

 I believe that all of us formed our identities, in part, by testing them against each other’s intensity and strength. When I was a teenager, I know I thought I was fighting against something in my mom. My perspective has changed a lot since then, partly because of my own experience of parenting, but mostly from getting to know her as a woman in her own right, and not just as the role of “mother.” I had no idea at the time that the more I insisted on being myself, the more I was like her!

 I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by women who, one way or another, find ways to express themselves authentically, and who tend to get better at it as they age. For all of them, young and old, there are certainly lots of times when it isn’t so safe to express their opinions or characters, but when it is safe, or when it is necessary, they do it with gusto. Instead of crumbling in on themselves, they all continue to emerge and blossom, grow and develop their own spirits.

 So here I am, looking at a collection of blooms, everything from cut roses to street corner planters, and from charming paper creations to high-tech designer displays made of metal. Such incredible diversity and individuality! They fit in, or they don’t, with perfect sincerity. They are what they are. They don’t really care what the passers-by in New York think of them, or that their images have now been replicated on computer and phone screens thousands of miles away. May my daughter feel the same sense of comfort in her own skin. May I. And may all of you.