I Know This One: Identity and Object Permanence

Last week I did something exciting. Hold your breath, this one’s gonna blow you away.

My mom told me something about how I was as a child and I disagreed with her.

Yeah, let me give you a minute to pick your jaws up off the floor. Sarcasm aside, this was a big deal for me, although for many people it might just seem like a normal experience. Because I do not trust my memory, my perception, or my interpretations of events. I have struggled with this for a long time. I relied on grades to tell me that I was smart, because I didn’t believe it otherwise. I relied on friends and my parents to inform me that I was kind and interesting and caring.

And if someone said something negative about me, I was suddenly sure that they were right. I’m not sure where this comes from in my brain, but it’s almost as if I don’t have object permanence about myself or traits about myself. Facts slip away quickly, and I find myself uncertain about whether I’m rational and reasonable, thoughtful, needy, demanding, or something else I would never expect. When I get into an argument with someone else, I feel as if I’m losing my mind because suddenly all the things that I had thought so clearly a day or two days ago that were bothering me are gone the moment they say I’m wrong.

I think this is at the root of some of my inability to create a strong and stable identity. I have a hard time feeling secure and certain of myself and my abilities, of my worth in the world, because all those facts are like water in a sieve to me. Of course thanks to depression brain, my negative thoughts stick like burrs, but that means that any identity I have is based entirely on bad thoughts about myself. Then I’m told by family, friends, therapists, everyone to argue with those thoughts. It leaves me in a horrible situation of not knowing who to trust and not being able to trust myself, particularly because I start to question my own memories when someone tells me I should have interpreted things differently.

I don’t talk about this element of my mental health as often as I do some of the others. It’s one that I’ve only started to notice as a pattern recently. I don’t know how it fits in to diagnoses or labels. And more than any of that, it’s the one that puts me in the most vulnerable position, and makes me susceptible to manipulation or abuse, even unintentional. And this is the trait of my brain that leaves me feeling the most “crazy.” It does seem as if I’ve lost my mind, and can’t find any footing in reality. It seems to turn me into a stereotype that can’t fend for myself, and it makes me feel as if I can’t self advocate anymore because who will trust what I say when I can’t even trust my own experiences?

But if I’m committed to transparency about my mental health, and particularly as I start talking about positive milestones in my life, I have to talk about this. Because this moment of knowing with certainty that what someone said about me isn’t true is something I have never felt before. Not only that, but I managed to retain positive or neutral information about myself and then stick up for that piece of information, hold on to it as true even when someone disagreed.

Yes, later I did feel like I had to check in with other people who knew me when I was younger to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind. But it was still a step. It’s one piece that I can rely on and build from. I’m not entirely sure how I helped myself to this point, but I do know that I have been working endlessly on simple reminders. I have started to collect moments and facts. I write down everything that I get done and look back at it periodically. I mark out events in my brain, like the picture I took last year of me stuffing my face with a burrito when I finally felt “recovered” for the first time, or the feeling on Monday when I finally had enough work at work to last me a full day and then some (and it felt amazing), or the generosity I showed when I randomly get people gifts because I can and I want to.

I have made enough lists of my values that now I don’t have to look at them anymore, I just know them. And I know that I act on them whenever possible. I have thought so carefully about what I want my life to look like in order for me to feel comfortable and stable, that I can imagine it in full detail. And I know what I look like, because I simply fill in around the edges of myself until I see my shape.

I certainly don’t understand the world fully, but I think I’m beginning to understand MY world, which means that I know where I fit. As the incredibly cheesy DBT lingo would go, I’m starting to see what a life worth living would look like. That tells me more about myself than it does about anything else. I don’t have to please everyone else. I can do what fits my values instead. I don’t have to trust everyone else more than I trust myself

Which all means holding on to reality a little bit better. Which means I’m starting to remember better. Which I guess means that there’s hope, even when I do feel completely lost. Hope that I will be me someday. I don’t know how to end this because this is certainly not any sort of neat ending or conclusion. It’s the flicker of a beginning, something barely of note except that I didn’t realize what I’d been lacking for so long.

I’ve spent a lot of time in grandiose ideas, morality, black and white ideals, instead of boring practicalities. These things seem appealing to me. Unfortunately what I need to hold on to are the basic, simple facts about who I am and what I do. Here’s to looking for boredom.

 

2 thoughts on “I Know This One: Identity and Object Permanence

  1. leah says:

    oh my goodness..i can totally relate.. I have BPD.. there is a light at the end of the tunnel.. whew.. 🙂

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