Writing by Anonymous. Illustration by Sara Pocher.
Like many people, I had a lot of time to think during the pandemic. One question I kept returning to was ‘Who am I?’- I was alone a lot, and bored and this naturally led to me analysing myself and my identity. What is identity and what does it even mean? Google gave me a list of labels, and my friends and family gave me some adjectives with categories thrown in. Since birth I have been pre-assigned to certain groups. This has controlled how I act and who I spend time with. But occasionally I feel like there is another way to be. Sometimes how we all act feels so fake as if we are actors on stage following the societal screenplay.
When the pandemic happened, and the world was too busy to focus on me; it loosened the grip and I was able to breathe and see semblances of the real me. I had waking dreams where I was crouched in the corner and covered in cobwebs; no one could see me and I felt comfortable but transitionary, my thighs burning from the prolonged squat.
Analysing myself was exhausting. This is probably because the line between what is us and what has been imposed on us is so fine- what are we if not a collection of happenings and connections. I tried to delve within myself to see the hidden things, squashed under relentless societal conditioning. If I compare myself now to the less self-aware creature from a few moons ago I know what I am doing is right; I know that advocating for the exploration of the self is correct for everybody, and that this fully unearthed human being is so much happier, creative and content.
But sometimes it feels selfish and I want to retreat into the premade schedule assigned at birth; the programme of education-marriage-career-house-child that I am so behind on and hideously ashamed of my failure to abide by in front of family members. Sometimes following the program seems easier. Big decisions have already been made and from the outside it seems to need minimal effort.
Yet I remind myself it is not all it appears from the outside; within there are the same worries, multiple unsatisfying decisions. The only difference is that instead of acting for yourself you are acting according to someone else’s wishes. The stasis advertised is not peaceful but frustrating.
The word identity is a noun. It is the name of a fixed thing; a little intricately carved bronze sculpture in the pit of my stomach. It seems like a truth which seems forever out of reach. When I find some semblance of what I believe is my identity, it seems so intimidating. This is because if identity is a singular ‘truth’ then the concept still prevents change; it still holds control over me. If I accept ‘identity’ as a noun, I am still not free. I have simply removed the pre made programme from my life and swapped it for one of my own. I am still constrained and unable to change, still unsatisfied in my still little life.
Psychology says identity is formed from our experiences, relationships and memories. If this is true, identity should be a verb. We have multiple memories, relationships and experiences throughout our lives and these have the power to actively interact and change our identity. When we search for our ‘self’ maybe we are looking for the wrong thing; what we really should be searching for is something dynamic and ephemeral, a pattern of lights forever changing and creating shapes at our core.
I wonder how society would react to this form of identity, where every waking moment could be the advent of change, everywhere doors waiting to be opened, potentialities of new selves and possibilities waiting to be unearthed. I like the world this vision creates; a mildly chaotic dreamscape where anything is possible. A place of disorder and confusion perfectly defines what I perceive my identity to be, and society tells me this is wrong. However I believe it is the natural state of identity, for me at least, and I want to persuade you to melt the hard structure you thought was you and let yourself inhabit a state of constant flux. Just for a bit, feel free to turn back, but try it.
If we see our identities as a truth to be found, we encounter obstacles to new experiences and self-creation. By accepting identity as a state of chaos, I give myself the agency to grow forever, always open to discovery and learning. I encourage you to find the same freedom, if you would like it.