Thursday, April 21, 2011

I As Another

When I was a patient in a psychiatric clinic, a year ago, I knew an elderly woman who was having electro-shock therapy. She had experienced temporary memory loss, one of its common side effects, and couldn't recall anything.
One night, we sat facing each other over dinner in the large dining room. Around us, addicts, manic depressives, schizophrenics and anorexics were talking about their experiences, about what had brought them to this place (and what they hoped would get them out of it).
Suddenly, in an urgent whisper, the elderly woman asked me, "Who am I if I do not have my memories? How will I know who I am?"
We define ourselves by what we remember. Although we experience a vast amount, most of it is forgotten. It's what we hold onto – or what is burned involuntarily in our psyches – that defines how we see ourselves and who and what we believe we are. We repeat these memories as stories to ourselves and each other.
Change is threatening because it replaces the past with something new. New experiences also change the context of the memories we've retained. We perceive them differently because we have something else to compare them to. For a while, we don't know who we are anymore. Other people don't know us either. We no longer match up with the old stories that connected us not just to our past (and our sense of identity) but to the people in it.
Maybe that's why it's easier to change in a new environment. There are no old stories, old personas, to compete – or cope – with as we try to become someone new.
When my father died, I wanted to make my life stand still so I could pretend it wasn't going on without him. I didn't want my memories of him or our time together to be lost or replaced. More significantly, his existence had played such a huge part in my life – even when we were, for a while, estranged – that I defined most of my self by whom I was in relation to him. With him gone, there was no-one else whom I wanted to impress, intrigue, surprise – or defy – in quite the same way.
My father's death has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself in a way that would have been much harder if he were alive. There is an end to the stories of who I was – if only because he, as the person with whom I'd spent most of my life, right up until my early twenties, was the keeper of those stories, those memories. I still wish he wasn't gone but I'm not sad his stories are. It's been a long time since I recognised the person I was in any of them.
Now I get to start the second act of my life. I also get to re-define and re-invent myself in earnest.

7 comments:

Camille said...

The pain of losing a father is all too familiar to me. My father was brutally murdered about 6 years ago. I am still going through the process of reinventing myself.

Oddly enough, when my father was killed, I felt as if I did not have anyone to protect me. That feeling of security left me. What makes it odd is the fact that he never protected me while he was alive. I guess it was his living presence and scarce interaction with me that made me feel a sense of security with him. After all, he was my father, when ever it was convenient for him.

reinventing can be a great thing, as long as you are becoming a more improved version of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I lost my dad in 2009. 8-)

Lea said...

Hej Hazel,
Sometime a memory enter the flesh like a thin blade, then it twist and the blood comes gushing out.
I take from time to time a time of reflection, I had taken a retreat in a convent once for 2 weeks, I am not religious but the place is peaceful and I could just watched without participating, the calm was at his utmost, a young nun followed my steps, I talked.
Death had pass ever so close long before and another close death had reach that little corner of my soul where I had buried me.
No, I have not reinvented myself because I am me. I have been close to my Dad who is still alive.
Still I truly wish you the best in your introspect and that you suceed in being truly you.
yours, Lea.
" In her silence I caught a tear of joy " zV.2009

Riya said...

April 3rd, my mother passed away after almost 7 years of battling cancer.

On the 20th, I had a hair appointment and went in knowing I wanted to get something very different to what I had. But, I could also feel like there was more to it then just that.

I started to feel like I wanted to change who I was and become myself. Almost as if for years now, I had been molding myself to help in making mom happy. I was me, but so much of me wasn't allowed out because I knew it would upset her and I didn't want that. Now I notice my desire to not just cute my hair, but add in streaks... I want to change some of how I dress and be, who I feel like I was meant to be and was subduing.

I don't regret my holding myself back, but there is a sense of... Release. I guess I do wish that there had been no cancer, then I might have been able to become myself with mom around, instead of holding myself back so I could make the last years happy.

Anonymous said...

Memory is so important. After an accident and then a breakdown my memory came and went for years, creative things were impossible. The "who" we are affects how we act and the depth of our personality. It defines our humanity.

We learn the elements that control our sexual and cultural behavior and memory loss can invade those things. The problem is that the people who should help us actually don't have a good understanding of how fleeting and complex some memory problems are. They are also gripped by their own cultural and societal norms and often treat someone out of disgust if they are significantly different.

I spent some time in one of those places but decided that even when I was well my world view was so different from the people who were treating me that I would always be lying and unable to talk as myself. Things that I considered a normal and welcome part of life they considered aberrations and were trying to heal behavior that was not mantal problems but their understanding of my mental situation was limited by their own cultural and mental boundaries.

Those guys get paid way too much and often any good they do is accidental

Lea said...

hej hazel,

I will say Good Bye now. To keep in touch with news for me is quite easy.
So to the next event. Fine Art always navigate on a tight rope, that is why I feel a thrill within like sex in the unberable lightness of being.(joke)
" Love is a selfish pleasure " zV.2oo9
lea.xxx

Susan said...

I love listening to the stories, the way we are connected just because we exist. My mom no longer knows who she is, who I am nor anyone else around her for that matter. She lives in a nursing home that protects her physical being, but offers little else. It took a number of years to get to where she is now, but I think she died a million deaths as each piece of her was lost along the way until she is what? who? We never had a good relationship, but she was part of my story. We reinvent ourselves so many times over - I am thankful for the opportunities.

Thank you for this post and for the comments left by others, too.