Imagine the worst question you could face at the start of any conversation with someone new. Using my magical powers of I didn’t know how else to start writing this, so humour me, I’m going to guess it was some variation of “tell me a bit about yourself.”
If that wasn’t what you were thinking, then this piece probably won’t interest you – but before you click off, scroll down to the image below, and then decide if you really aren’t interested in what I might have to say.
Are we all ready to continue? Good. I’ll stop asking rhetorical questions now. [Note from future Tess: There continues to be rhetorical questions.]
I’m never entirely sure if the person asking for information about who I am is interested in my ‘identity’ or ‘self’.
- a person’s name and other facts about who they are.
- ideas about the type of person one really is.
Identity I can answer. Kind of. Although, how am I supposed to know what is relevant to the question? Is it about right now or do they want some kind of timeline; do they want biographical details (“I’m Tess, my star sign is Virgo, I was born in the morning which could explain why I dislike mornings so much”); do they want to know what charities I work for/volunteer for/donate to (all different)? There’s a lot that could be unpacked.
Unsurprisingly, I carry a couple of mental health diagnoses. This is a symptom of one:
Unclear or shifting self-image. […] your sense of self is typically unstable. Sometimes you may feel good about yourself, but other times you hate yourself, or even view yourself as evil. You probably don’t have a clear idea of who you are or what you want in life. As a result, you may frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, or even sexual identity. From HelpGuide.org
To surmise – I don’t have a clue who the fuck I am. There is no coherent thread across all the various versions of me. My likes and dislikes change with situations, circumstances, mood, time of day, day of the week, season, location… I’m not sure I’m ever the same person at any two times.
I don’t feel like I belong to any community as everything is always in flux. I won’t go down the ‘belong to’ road. I’d like to finish writing this before I reach retirement.
My relationship with myself can be best described in a phrase I’ve stolen from my boyfriend – “high regard, low self-esteem.” 75% of the time my self-esteem is beneath the floor – I can’t stand myself – however, I will become very defensive, very quickly if backed into a corner. The 25% of the time I’m not hating myself, I know my worth and god forbid anyone who overlooks me.
All my jobs and volunteer roles have been found impulsively or at someone else’s suggestion. They have been opportunities that I’ve done with no planning or real thought to anything beyond immediate circumstance.
Occasionally I will have an anxious response to something. I’ll typically listen to those. They aren’t really healthy though – most of my anxiety responses are bedded in trauma, such as all the way I jump when someone knocks on the front door, or I hear a car door slam (homelessness alarm bells).
The way I view myself can be best summed up in this image:
That’s right. The skull alien from Men in Black. My conscious ‘self’ is an alien reading all the outputs from my robot body and navigating my environment as best it can. That’s probably what a brain is but I’m not falling down another rabbit hole. Brains are lumps of jelly – how can that create thought and all the other things we are able to do? I’d much rather consider an alien in there working stuff out than a slimy sponge.
How is that alien meant to calibrate all the variables on top of everything else and also figure out what my favourite type of crisp is? It’s hard! Especially when you factor in that I really like ready salted crisps now, but when they were the only crisps at my grandparents’ house, I hated them! What does that mean??
How about what is my favourite type of weather? I don’t know! Am I trying to get somewhere, am I sat inside with a book, am I on a train, is it hot or cold, am I in a city or at the coast or in the countryside, am I in a good mood – the answer to my favourite weather changes with each of those!
Anyway, getting back to “tell me a bit about yourself” – no, try asking a proper question.