Earlier this month, 10 days into my three-month leave from work, I declared that I wanted to be brave enough to create the life that expresses who I am. Creating that life requires attending to my physical health so I could do things I want to, as well as my mental health, so I have been working on this a lot in October. It is about accepting all parts of myself. But I can only express who I am if I know who that is. Who am I? is not an easy question to answer. I’ve been trying to think about, what are the pieces of myself that stay fairly constant over time. What do I consistently love? What do I want to do with my life?

Traveler: Explore the world.  I have learned to be guarded. I close myself down and operate on auto-pilot a lot of the time. It’s as though I’m half sleeping a lot of the time. I love traveling to other countries because it wakes me up. Nothing is familiar. There is so much to see and learn. Traveling and language learning rejuvenates me. That’s why I have spent time these past three weeks finding the most affordable way for my husband and me to take a trip to Ecuador next month. When we booked it, I felt so excited–and realized I hadn’t really felt excited about anything this entire year.

Helper: Provide service to others. For the past 15 years, I have felt I was doing this through my work at a non-profit. Lately, I am questioning that but still not to the point of knowing whether I need to find another job or not. I do know that I want my work to contribute to improving people’s lives. I especially love working with immigrant and refugee populations or ensuring that educational systems serve them appropriately. I need to use part of my current leave of absence to figure out what my work should look like in the future.

Writer: I understand myself best through my writing. I don’t always know where I am going when I start a piece of writing, but as I write, what I want to express becomes clearer to me. No matter what my job is, I have to protect time to write. Other forms of self-expression, such as drawing, playing the piano (badly) and mutilating doll babies are all worthwhile, but the primary thing for me is to write.

Wife, mother, sister: Tend to my family relationships. I have let work get in the way of family too often, and this year worse than ever. I think it’s enough. Who cares if I can lead one more project or win one more grant? I want to make sure I spend time with my very dear husband, my two sons, three step-children, two sisters and maybe even my brother (we have a challenging relationship, but it’s getting better). To the degree it isn’t emotionally bad for me, I want to stay connected to my mom, my stepdad, and even my dad. I am who I am because of these people.

Abuse survivor: Know myself, my triggers, and what soothes me. This has shaped who I am. It has caused me a lot of pain and probably will continue to do so in the future. It has also made me wiser and more compassionate. It has not and will not destroy me. It is an important but not the most important thing about who I am.

Person witbrave 4h a chronic mental illness: Take care of myself. I have been depressed for more than half my life. Sometimes I experience a “remission” of sorts, though if I am honest with myself, a lot of that time I am probably mildly depressed. Sometimes I slide deep into the pit and stay there for a year or more. I’m accepting now that this is part of me. It’s not a shameful part of me anymore than my allergy to peanuts and tree nuts is. I carry an epi-pen with me at all times so I don’t die of anaphylactic shock  I may also take psych meds the rest of my life. I may go to therapy for a very long time. I may have to work less hard than I used to. So what.

Hider: I don’t let people get to know me. I’ve only recently come to realize how few people know me. My best friend knows a lot, but she lives in the Midwest and I only see her about once a year. My sisters know some things, but I don’t talk about my abuse history or the depth of some of my depressive episodes with them. My husband knows a lot, more than anyone else I think, but not everything (and I appreciate that he doesn’t push). Even my therapist had worked with me for years before I brought up the earlier abuse. She has also said that she didn’t realize I was suicidal earlier this year until I drew her a map of the pit I’d been in. This may be why we’re misunderstanding each other lately; I think I still hide some things from her, not even intentionally. I am just so used to it.

If this is who I am–and I think it is—I can live with that. The one thing I will want to do is heighten my own awareness about when I am hiding myself. I can make hiding be an intentional choice rather than my default behavior. Overdoing it has made me lonely sometimes.

Introvert: Protect quiet time to think. I often envy extroverts and wonder if I would be happier if I drew my energy from being around others. But I am not, and that’s okay too.

So now that I have written this post, I don’t really know what it means, why I needed to write it. Perhaps it is just a step in taking stock of my life.

*** * *** * ***

P.S. I decided not to call E. and just wait until I talk to her next week about sensing disapproval from her. There is no way we could take care of it on the phone, and I didn’t want to feel more distressed by opening a tender topic and not processing it properly. Perhaps I will write later about how I have coped instead. Thanks to everyone for supportive, encouraging comments.

Featured image by lihnida