Identity Beyond Memoir

It’s already June, and I feel like I’m still recovering from March. Countless more important things are going on than my personal family drama, so instead of writing about it, I want to write about what it’s been like to go beyond it and establish a personal identity. It has not been easy, and I’ve been extremely impatient with my slow progress. I’ve learned to expect that life will move more slowly than I once thought – and that includes my own personal growth. I fail more often than I succeed in growing as a person. Once I am made aware of my own habits, surely I can break them immediately, I used to tell myself. Now I know that breaking habits takes months of dedicated effort.

The main reason I’ve been posting so sparsely for the past several months is something called executive dysfunction. It’s where you want to do stuff, but your brain says “no.” And that’s it, there’s no argument to be had. It’s not the same thing as mere laziness or procrastination, because while most people can motivate themselves with some ease, those with mental illnesses like depression are incapable of summoning such motivation.

Secondarily, I’ve been stepping back from saying too much because the more I learn, the more I have to still learn, and I have been wrong many times. I’m learning to approach my writing in a way that doesn’t jump to extremes and absolutes – quite the opposite of how I was taught to write, putting in “quotable quotes” and “zingers” for the reader. I don’t have all the answers, and my understanding of the world grows and morphs every day. But more than that, I have a privileged voice and I want to spend more time listening to marginalized voices about what’s important, and figure out how I can best speak up without speaking over them.

I think a lot about how unimportant my story feels. The psychological reality of the minimization of personal pain runs alongside the fact that my corner of the internet is genuinely not something many people think much about. And how many of the people who follow my blog are following my dad as well? Am I living in my father’s shadow to this day? And even with the limited perception of my own personal perspective, I know that objectively, this matter is small. Do I write about it because it’s painful for me personally, or because so many people are curious to know what my response will be?

Before I realized I had a story to tell, I wanted to be a writer, and strove to be a good one. Now that I have a story to tell, I fight with my writing, because it involves retelling the traumas I originally used writing to dissociate through. I used to narrate my life in the third person, imagining that what was happening to me was in fact happening to Her – some distanced identity that was writing about herself in retrospect. It has been several years since I resolved to get to know myself as I instead of She. I also fight with my writing because I’m torn between my identity as an artist and my identity as a survivor. When I explain it like that, it doesn’t sound like it would be a strong sense of confliction – surely I can be both, they don’t conflict – but it impacts what I write about, and what I feel qualified and confident enough to write about.

Finding an identity beyond memoir has been a central focus point for me over the past several months. I am not my past, and I am not my family. I am no longer the little girl who gave her life to Jesus because it was the belief of everyone in her world. I am no longer the young girl who was forced to handle impossible responsibilities while helping to raise her younger siblings. I am no longer the teenager who argued against Harry Potter and defended my version of my religion with fervor. I am now a writer, telling stories about those times.

Yet every time I log into the Internet, or even see my own name, I am reminded of the persona that comes with telling personal stories, the identity that is both me and not me. Identities aren’t sitting at the end of a maze, waiting to be found. They are developed over time, and they are made up of both how we see ourselves and how others see us. The concept of the self, of the identity, quickly becomes philosophical and existential. My memoir is my work, my story, my past – and my past haunts me.

I am still learning who I am beyond my past.