On Defining Oneself…

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[You may wish you had the Cliff notes for this piece. Trust me, I surely wish I did. But this is process, not product, and will be a leitmotif in posts to come.]

I sat down this evening to read a new publication that had come out in one of the groups that I am in. It is a beautiful publication, well done, with the writings and art of many accomplished and successful women. I am happy for them. This is a path that I have been on for some time, but I stepped out of the flow of the stream and I am sitting on the bank watching them all go by and for the first time in a very long time I am at peace.

The thing that struck me, kind of like a lightning bolt singing my hair, was a feeling of striving, I am trying to think how best to say this because it certainly is not a judgment or a criticism, it is one of those defining moments when you know that something in you has changed profoundly, something that was very different even a short time before. While I am all of these I no longer feel the urgency to claim a name for myself, or tell the world who I am through a series of labels — writer, artist, teacher, healer, mentor, etc. — what I would like to call myself — and I am only at the beginning of understanding how to put words around this so please forgive me and you will see the evolution of the thing over the posts to come — A gentlewoman. Gentle woman. Gentle woman. I believe that this is who I am, reduced to essence. It has become as important to me to shed labels as it now is to finally shed the pounds I have held onto like a suit of armor. I don’t need them any more.

I needn’t, I am realizing, (past getting through this whole disability process) introduce myself every time I say hello as a woman who is bi polar, agoraphobic, etc, etc, etc. Even today I found myself trying to, well, not defend, perhaps explain? that the reason I am staying at home is because of this basket full of mental health diagnoses as if I didn’t have the right or should be ashamed. It comes from years of people saying, almost, at times, a tad angrily, “Well yes I’d like to be home all day too but I have to work.” I would, and have, cringed a bit, and felt the need to make it right. I don’t feel the need any more. I can allow them their space to express what they are feeling without the need to make it palatable for both of us.

I don’t like that I felt the need to write that, but it’s the truth, and perhaps another layer that needed shedding.

What I’m realizing is that I want to define myself not by what I do but by how I do it. [Note to self: There is a hell of a lot more here to explore darlin’. I know you know what you mean but you are not expressing it very well.]

Another thing… there is a plethora of books and whatnots on how to simplify your life, get rid of stuff, have a specific number of items and no more, live in a tiny house. That is all well and good but I think we need to go back, a priori, and simplify ourselves. That is perhaps a near impossible task for a bi polar person but it is certainly the most important thing for me to work on. For my kind it will be a lifelong journey, but essential.

Defining Myself.

I realized tonight that when I came home two weeks ago, back to the house that had burned down, I stepped through a looking glass. On this side of the glass I cannot see who I was before and I don’t want to be her. I am trying to figure out how to meet obligations, and finish commitments when my heart isn’t in them. I am a responsible person and I will do it but I am in the process of stripping everything away — skin, hair, teeth, down to the bone — and it is a tad worrying how I will put it all back on to do this or that that I must. But I will figure it out and this is part of the process too.

My daughter said to me just this last week, “Mom, this is really weird, this time the Phoenix really did crash and burn…” Literally, she meant. I watched my home, the life I had carefully woven of things collected over the years, my 4 beloved parrots who died in the fire that night, I watched it all go up in smoke, I saw flames coming out of windows that had exploded out and smoke swirling through the neighborhood around me. And I don’t remember much because I was in the process of disintegrating. All that was left of me for the next month was ash. And then after a month I was moved from the hotel to the rental where I would be for 7 more months, and nothing ever looked or smelled or tasted right. The Phoenix was regenerating herself long before she could begin to rise. Currently I am a Baby Phoenix in flight, tossing on the air currents, going upside down and backwards, but daily I grow stronger, I see more clearly, and when I do I always come back to the same question…. “Oh shit, what am I supposed to do now?”

Meaning…

There were so many things I started before the fire that were impossible once it happened. And people were very, very kind and patient. But now I am home and it is time for me to move forward but I am not the same person who started those things. I started those things, like the women I talked about in the first paragraph of this piece, to make money, to create a business, and even without the fire my bi polar nature has kept me from carrying through and on and finishing and it is one of the great embarrassments and disgraces of my life. And now, just the basic facts are that unable to support myself I have applied for disability and IF I get it and IF I make money I put my disability in jeopardy. I don’t know how to do this. I am — pardon the abovementioned dropping of labels — a writer, and what if for the first time in my life I write a blockbuster (chuckling) and the money could make me lose my disability but then it would just be a one time thing and I could be panhandling on a corner somewhere all to0 quickly. [Note to self: Lose the melodrama.]

I have a long way to go to understand this, too long for this Sunday night. And it’s probably the kind of rambling blog post I shouldn’t publish but you know me, I’m going to. And the thing is, I believe there are a lot of people grappling with these kinds of things, and this is why I do what I do, why I write honestly even when it makes me sound like a lunatic.

I hope there is some merit in this piece for someone. The jury is still out for me.

But let me ask you this in closing, and I would love to read your answers in the comments section… How do you define yourself? I don’t mean what do you call/label yourself, I mean how do you get to that, those words, that description. I really want to know.

Thank you dear ones. If you’ve gotten this far you get a gold star and my undying gratitude.

Love,

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If you enjoy this blog a donation would be deeply appreciated to help me continue to bring “Maitri’s Heart” to you. Thank you, and many deep blessings to one and all…

Comments

  1. I enjoyed your rambling. Not the things that you went through…so sorry for your losses, but for your processing. We are all a work in progress. Loved this line: “I think we need to go back, a priori, and simplify ourselves.” I have no idea how I define myself. But I’d like to start the process with descriptive words like open, spacious, loving, compassionate, discerning when to hold on and when to let go. That last one will be a constant….

  2. Maitri, I do know exactly what you are experiencing. I’ve had some “phoenix” moments. I suppose the first was the stunning and very painful news that I would not have children — cause that’s how I defined myself — my destiny was to raise children. Stripped of that life had little meaning for a while. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s mother.

    Then I adopted Cindi, a lovely young woman I had known and been very close to since she was barely 17 and newly married. Long story but I realize now that I just needed to be someone’s mother. It wasn’t enough. Back up a bit, I went back to college at 38 and launched into a new career and it was good and it filled a void. What was the void? A dead marriage. In 1995 I ended the marriage and met my current husband and moved from Texas to Chicago and didn’t know a soul but Kevin and he became my whole life. Then I had the total surprise of finding I was pregnant. Scared, joy, anticipation, surrender, loss – I miscarried and in that moment discovered I had cancer of the uterus.

    Oh, I beat it and somehow I was never afraid and always knew I would survive cause I wasn’t done here yet. I’m struggling to get a business going and sometimes it seems like every time I get close, something happens to put it on hold. Kev’s surgeries, my health issues and well, I don’t have the funds to do it right but by all I hold dear i will make it. My goal is to help women and girls develop positive self images. That is why I am working on teaching sewing. and i know eventually I’ll thrive at it and stuggle is part of succeeding I think.. So I guess I’m a work in progress like the stack of fabric I have pinned to patterns and cut out but not quite finished. So i’ll end this ramble. I am not a writer and have never been concise. That’s me.

  3. I am ME ! It is everything I have ever experienced. I am so many things. I am a piece of you, by taking in your energy and connecting with you on this emotional healing journey. You are a piece of me. We are a little bit of everything and everyone we ever had contact with. How do we define that ?

    I am all of it. A process of accepting, even defining myself was a process of learning to live with an illness. I used to label myself as worthless and broken. Used and abused. WOW.

    Now, I am ME ! an artist, lover of life, mother, bi-polarific, Survivor Extraordinaire, Public Speaker, Spiritual, ….. so much more. I dont need to wave my personal identities around, I just accept things and work with what I’ve got. When I decided Bi-Polar was a gift, it gave me a powerful advocacy voice, it gave me incredible waves of confidence which I use to create programs and plan awareness/fundraising events, borderline personality means I was harmed in a big way and learned to read crowds like a pro, sense their emotions and meet them where they are at, it also makes me a fantastic public speaker and certified mental health peer specialist who focuses on sexual assault and domestic violence recovery. All this while I know all the exits and work self care and boundaries like a professional juggler. 🙂 I learned to ride the waves and not beat myself up as much when they passed and the abyss sneaks in.

    PTSD- well, its never fun to dive under tables while out dining with friends, I am not sure I could give up the things I love anymore for the power of fear.

    Abandonment issues…. well, damn yes. Again, a work in progress. I am currently planning a year of self love with several friends using online love spots like yours, sharing the journey all the way to a GIANT personal commitment ceremony, open to the public to join from now till October 2015, I will pick the date by the venue 🙂 200 of my closest friends ( so I need to make a lot of friends really fast lol ) and a support team, we will share it will all of Austin with money raised going to domestic violence victims/survivors.

    I am not sure I am totally down with this new wave of not having self definitions, getting rid of the stigmas and myths is something I can groove with. My ‘illnesses’ are GIFTS. In accepting issues, I learned to find ways to get my needs met, gain accomplishments that gave me more diversity in my self identity and room to grow to love me <3

  4. getting disability helped me have time to do the healing and search for who I am after walking my own personal fire through escaping 13 yrs of violence. I was able build those connections , learn skills. I also went back to work while receiving SSI benefits. It took time, but I did grow into a person who is confident and wild, cries when she needs to. I am now down to no $ from SSI after working for two years. I could have kept it, but I am not making too much money and have my own insurance ! Its tight, but it can be done and we can work miracles for ourselves and others with that healing time <3 Blessed Be ! Thank you for sharing your self and the journey with us.

  5. .I can’t tell you how good your words make me feel…..as though God is pointing her gentle finger in a new direction for me. Your writing fills me with warmth…. Thank you for sharing so openly, and being so gently clear with your own self.

  6. I can relate to this post on so many levels…for years I defined myself as mother, teacher, administrator….all that is left now is mother, wife, daughter, sister…but it has all pared down for me as well, being unable to work and applying for disability…it really just comes down to being a gentle, loving person who is just realizing at age 60 that this is enough. The people who love me will always love me, and I in turn will love them…what a blessing! You are simplifying your life, as I am, and it is so freeing….all will be well my sweet friend and gentle woman.

  7. Maitri, thank you once again for your honesty and transparency in this post.

    When you asked the question at the end – ‘How do you define yourself?’- for the most part I don’t, other than perhaps saying that I am ‘retired’. Now that I am 60 that seems much more socially acceptable. I worked very hard at everything I did until 10 years ago when I up and left my professional job, deciding it was enough. Then financial guilt nudged me into doing some part time work for a few years to feel like I was making a contribution to family finances. Then when I decided I’d had enough of that I chose to do an ‘experiment’ of just not doing paid work outside the home any longer and focusing on my home environment and things I like doing to support my own health and well being. I am grateful to have a husband who still works full time and is able to cover our monthly expenses. I do have a small pension which covers my personal activities and support or gifts for our children. It has been a delightful experience to realize that the world keeps turning and the sky has not fallen just because I no longer have a paid job or career.

    I suppose for the most part I do not find myself in situations where I feel I need to define myself. On the rare occasion that I do, yes, I still feel somewhat uncomfortable, depending on the situation. Generally though, I feel like the way I am living defines who I am. Those whom I spend the most time with are familiar with how I spend my days. I do not feel it is my responsibility to make others feel comfortable with what I do or don’t do. I just AM. Any judgment others might make is their issue, not mine.

  8. I am all i have ever been, experienced, felt, created, lost, found, developed, sought, produced, drew to me, shared, imbibed, all i have read, written, sung, danced, all i have loved, planted, harvested. at 70 being all this, there is yet more room inside me. what a wonderful paradox and glory!!!!

    xo
    ka

  9. Oh Maitri! I so love your writing. And even though it is a tough journey there is a lot of beauty in your coping with the situation and getting up on your feet again. I am happy to follow you along and reading your journey. Your words encourage me to continue my own with a brave heart.

  10. One thing I have learned from life is that I am not alone. My husband said that to me every time I felt like I would sink under the weight of all my problems. And I have many…but one thing I try to do is live in the moment. Things are easier that way. ” Note to Self” is how I cope. Scarlett O’Hara was one of my favorites… ” Tomorrow is another day!” I do not mean I never face problems…I do, but on my own terms. I too consider myself the sum of all my parts. I have been a ‘stay at home’ Mom, also a chief breadwinner during my divorce and while my second husband dealt with cancer. After he passed I became a widow. Now I receive Social Security benefits as a survivor. I like that… a SURVIVOR! Being very creative I am so looking forward to being at home again and creating at MY pace. I follow you although we have never met I like you SO MUCH! and know if we did meet we would be the best of friends. Hug a pug Maitri, or three. I hug my 7 all the time. If it were not for them I am not sure how I would get on… in fact at times I prefer their company to other people. 😉

  11. I related to this post SO much, one of my favorites of your writings! I have finally stopped telling new people about my toxic family, that I am a widow, about my past creative projects. I just want to be myself, the Being under the Self, and maybe even the Meaning under the Being. And it IS, for me too, almost impossible to be in that “claim a name for myself” state of mind AND be at peace in the moment. “sitting on the bank watching them all go by….” yep, more power to ’em. Lovin’ you from here!

  12. Oh hai! You’re on the other side of the looking glass too!
    In some ways, Pluto Retrograde kicked my arse as much as it did yours.

    I am realizing that I need to let go of “SkyDancer, Inc.” and the need to monetize every aspect of my Spiritual life. I am turning inward and using the word RECONNECT to guide me to what I need to start doing again to nourish and honor myself. I am redefining the ME who I am, both within the context of my WE relationship and who I am after Le Tour de Underworld that I just completed.

    I walk with the questions. I work with the questions. I sleep and dream my way into and out of the questions. I sing and pray with the questions. I sit under my maple tree with the questions. And as I live with the questions they will morph into answers as the caterpillar morphs into the butterfly. 🙂

    Blessed Be,
    Victoria

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