I’m a believer that two opposing ideas can both be true. To wit: I believe a person can be impulsive and responsible; spontaneous and pragmatic; strong and vulnerable; communicative and secretive. You see what I mean. I think there are all kinds of shades of grey when it comes to defining a person (as if they could actually ever be defined). Nothing is black and white, in my opinion. And maybe it’s the great mystery or goal in life to discern all those shades within ourselves and each other. It’s our job to reconcile these ostensibly opposing traits or facts about us that exist in tandem, despite our instinct to categorize them as being in different “columns.” And maybe they are truly in different columns, but my point is that two things can be true at once. There is rarely a definitive, absolute answer or explanation for anything.
Take for instance when we think about our identity – who we present ourselves to be, and in turn, who we are perceived to be (which, really, are enmeshed). I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately.
The following are some things, some facts about me that are very integral to my identity, to who I am, who I believe I am, and more importantly, who others perceive me to be.
I am short. Petite. Small. Little. Not tall (or even average height). This has always been true. I was a tiny baby. I was a tiny toddler and little girl (with a disproportionately large head). I was always in the front row of the class picture. I’m pretty sure I’m the same height I reached in grade six. That’s 11 years old. I haven’t grown since I was 11.
That I am short is simply a fact about me. But somehow, over the course of my life, it has morphed into a kind of character trait. My family and some of friends call me “Little One.” I mean, I am little: I’m little in stature, I have tiny feet and hands, I have a small head (I guess I just grew into that large melon from my childhood), so I look ridiculous in hats and sunglasses. But, I’m also what some would define as “full-figured.” I prefer the word voluptuous. Those with an inferior vocabulary might describe me as fat.
Whatever. I don’t care. I can’t control how others interpret my body, nor do I care to. After all, words are only as powerful as the meaning we give them.
But, my point is that the sheer physicality of my body has infiltrated my very being, and my height, my smallness comes up in conversations, inside jokes, teasing, nicknames and general perception of who I am. And I’m not mad at it one bit. The fact that I am both small and big simultaneously is the paradox I’m talking about here.
I am smart. I don’t say that in a boastful way. Most people I know are smart. It’s a fact. But this is a fact about me that is rather defining. I speak and write (I hope!) articulately and eloquently. I am secretly really flattered when people comment on the words I use in everyday conversation, how I express myself, or ask me for help with grammar or re-wording something they’re writing.
Again, this is another fact about me that has, along the way, been absorbed in my personality, my identity. And, admittedly, I’ve clung onto this notion in times of insecurity.
I have musical talent. I used to be pretty serious about playing instruments and singing and once upon a time, imagined a career in the arts, perhaps playing in an orchestra, or the pit band of musicals, or even being on Broadway or being an Opera singer. Listen, with age, I have come to realize that that was probably not in the stars (or within reach) for me, but at my heart, I am a singer. I’ve written a lot about how important music and my choir is to me so it’s no secret how dear I hold the music that is in my life.
But, in addition to the organized singing I am a part of, I feel I really do have a talent. Let’s not get it twisted – I’m no Whitney, Celine or Mariah, but I really do LOVE to sing and, to be honest…I think I’m pretty good at it.
Sometimes I’m singing to myself just in my apartment, and I finish and think to myself, “DAMN, I sound GOOD.” Haha.
Again, I’m not being a cocky asshole here (I’m sure there are many of you reading this who are better singers than me), but my point is that this particular talent sets me apart, and in so doing, is very much a part of my identity. I’m Ange, the singer. When I’m in a room full of people I’m usually the only one who possesses this talent, and honestly, if people were to ask me to sing something, I gladly would. They don’t tend to though. I presume it’s because when someone says, “Oh yeah, I SING,” one’s first inclination is to think, really? I bet you’re one of those people who thinks they can sing, and has clearly been enabled by the people around them their whole lives who have repeatedly lied to them and told them how talented they are, when really, you’re terrible and make people’s ears bleed, and if you sing something right now, you’re just going to embarrass yourself and make everyone uncomfortable. I get it. But, really, I have the goods, I promise.
I am a good friend. This one is something I’ve been told a lot, and to be honest, when I’m feeling confident and sure of myself, I agree. I put a lot of effort and thought into being a good friend. But, it’s also just the way I am, if that makes sense. I value my friends so much. And lately, especially, I’ve come to realize that my friends must value me too, because they have been so extraordinarily there for me in ways I never expected (and most of the time don’t feel I deserve – but I’m working on that).
So, this being-a-good-friend thing has become a defining feature of my personality. As in, if someone were to ask me to describe myself in 3 words (or phrases), this would be one of them.
I am depressed. Capitol “D” depression, with a diagnosis, medication and therapy to back it up. Unlike all these other facts about me that I’ve listed here, I actually don’t want this one to define me. But maybe it’s too late for that.
The truth is, it is a part of me. It’s a part of my story now. In the same way as every triumph, every failure, every bad decision, every love lived and lost, every moment I wish I could re-live and every moment I wish I could re-do, is a part of my story. As I tried to articulate in my previous blog about my body, I am – we all are – the sum of our parts. We are complex individuals with stories and challenges and wins, and all kinds of experiences that get chucked into a proverbial pot and stirred up, and the end product is Ange (or insert your name here) soup. Perhaps this metaphor is getting away from me, but I’m sure you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down, right?
The bottom line is that depression is a thing I’m currently experiencing, coping with, working through, resenting, hating, feeling defeated by, kind of maybe getting a handle on, determined to emerge a better person from and going to battle with every day. But, it is also part of my story and is something about which I refuse to be ashamed. I’ve carried enough shame for several lifetimes. It’s time to let all that go.
So, if at the end of my life, someone writes a list of all the things that make up who I am, I really do genuinely hope that depression will be there – but that it’s treated just the same as all the other, myriad, interesting, wonderful (and maybe some terrible?) things that make up who I am, none more or less important than another.
And I hope it’s a really long list.