It's one of those days. Not one of those days, but one of those days.
A day of quiet reflection, and where better to do it than my favourite cafe in Sandsend with my obligatory pot of Earl Grey tea (milk, not lemon, I'm not that pretentious).
It's on days like this that I am most thankful for whatever it was that lit the fire inside for writing. I've always enjoyed my own company but it takes on a distinctly different flavour as a regular way of life, rather than as the short-lived and much savoured taste that was to be found amongst the often hectic life of a husband, father and busy employee.
Time alone without someone else to talk with, mixed with a contemplative disposition, can lend itself to living in our heads. It is at these times that writing is such a gift to me. And whilst conscious of the possibility of writer's block, so far it has proved to be a gift that keeps on giving (well, to me at least - it may be more a box of cinders to you than a diamond ring / PS4...).
Today, I find myself contemplating.... identity.
(Oh yes, I sense a real crowd-pleaser with this one).
I don't know where these thoughts and contemplations come from, merely that they appear; once they do they tend to spin around my head as one random thought follows another. To what end? Well, that's where writing comes in. Maybe it's to no real end at all, but in writing things down the mind becomes clearer and maybe, just maybe, some sort of meaning can emerge from amongst the chatter.
From psychotherapy to overcome depression to writing a personal profile for a dating site, the question of who I think I am has reared its - hopefully not too ugly - head many times in recent years.
Oh, it all used to be so simple... Whenever I used to hear people talking about the need to 'find themselves' or 'get to know themselves' I used to find the notion absurd - how was it possible to not know yourself? Aren't you the only person that you do know? Ah, the innocence and naivety of youth.
Time and life have shaken my certainty. And it strikes me that there is one thing in particular that can shake our very foundations of self:
When we lose things that are important to us we can also lose a label that helps to define us. Husband. Father. Sane. These labels are often laden with meaning; meaning that can form a significant part of our self-identity and by extension our self-worth. When these labels no longer apply, or when their meaning is significantly altered, our perception of who we are may be fundamentally altered.
Who do we become?
Looking back over recent months I guess that writing has been, for me, a way of trying to make sense of who I am, of trying to make sense of:
- becoming a stranger where once I was a husband:
- becoming a single Dad where once I was just Dad:
- becoming mentally ill where once I was well:
Becoming a different me to who I used to be.
As well as offering a sense of meaning the labels that are applied to us can confer something else - status. As such they can come to define not just who we are, but also what we feel we are worth. And when we lose an important label we can come to realise how much of our identity, how much of our self-esteem, was attached to our labels and to the validation that they bring.
The act of writing has been very cathartic for me (http://4d74.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-cathartic-nature-of-writing.html), and once the act of writing is done what remains on the page becomes independent of me, to the extent that it can seem as though it was written by somebody else. And when reading it back it offers an objectivity that wasn't always there previously.
Through the process of writing, reading and reflecting I have come to realise how much my sense of self, my current identity, has been shaped by my battles with mental health. In fact, anybody following my twitter feed on February's 'Time to Talk' Day may have been left wishing for 'Time to Stop Banging on About It' Day.
But I make no apologies for this. I don't currently identify with being mentally ill but the experience of taking on that identity was so profoundly isolating, so profoundly lonely, so profoundly and painfully distant from who I thought I was, that it has profoundly influenced how I view life and how I view myself.
When we strip away all of our labels, or when life strips our labels from us, what is left?
Now. There is only now. And we can choose to value ourselves, right now, just as we are.
See, I told you I think too much.
Soundtrack: Seasons (Waiting On You) - Future Islands
Labels: depression, identity, loss, mental health, self esteem, self worth