Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan
Identity is the structure and detail of a person, from who you see yourself as, what you believe in and where you see yourself in relation to others and the world around you. When someone has a stable sense of self they are able to identify themselves as being the same person in their past, present and future, with of course the expected changes one goes through as time passes and events happen. As well as this a stable sense of self allows you to view yourself as the same person even when you display contradictory actions and beliefs in certain situations, never wavering on your core identity.
Within our built up identities there are many aspects: beliefs, attitudes, your history, behaviour, personality, temperament, knowledge, opinions and roles within personal relationships and within society. Your self-definition is the broad concept of what makes you, you.
So what happens when your sense of self is disturbed?
For me – having a sense of “who I am” is a problematic one. Having several psychiatric conditions which cause identity disturbances, my sense of self is as convoluted as a whole group of identities woven together as one. My conditions which cause identity diffusion are Borderline Personality Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Depersonalization, and Psychotic Depression.
With my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) my identity is affected by other people and their personalities, as a child my ability to transform myself depending on who was with me, has been a source of shame and arrogance, adopting peoples beliefs, ways of speaking – moulding a new identity to be liked, loved or to just fit in was a way of survival. Survival which is necessary when you are in an unstable family and have been abused sexually, physically and emotionally. You learn that some attributes are more favourable with some and less with others, learning how to manipulate people for love and affection or for example: getting friend’s parents to love me as “the perfect child” when left with them. These tactics progressed to being real problems when developing personal relationships with my friends and family, especially in adolescents and my early twenties. Sometimes juggling identities with loved ones who know each other can be stressful as well as embarrassing. The feeling which always stays with me is that of not knowing where I “end” and another person “begins”.
The second condition of which I have that affects my identity is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), which is an anxiety disorder, causing a person to have a distorted view of their appearance and an obsession about it. This affects my outer identity, the person you see is not who I see. Again this started in childhood, with an obsession about my appearance and it being the most important aspect of me – especially in order to be loved and not abandoned. The reflection in the mirror shows me a grotesque monster, with a bulbous brow, engulfing fat cheeks, a tiny pig nose, disgusting skin, googly eyes, enormous ears, horrifying teeth, no neck, butch shoulders, then the rest is fat, fat and fatter – rolls which are the size of monster truck tires. This led to me having anorexia and bulimia from the age of 11 to the age of 18, and self-harming and I still withhold food to this day. This is why my appearance is ever changing, trying to mask myself with make-up, colourful hair and accessories, wearing bright loud clothes to distract from what is under them.
Thirdly my Depersonalization which is a dissociative disorder which I have as a symptom of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and BPD, is the most isolating of my identity issues. With recurring detachment from your own mind and body – creating an otherworldly feeling, as if you were watching the world and your life from the outside. Having problems with the formation of logical conclusions about how internal experiences are related to my external reality, causing delusional thinking. Derealization occurs too – causing me to experience the external world as a strange or unreal place as well as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome also known as Micropsia where you experience visual distortion causing objects to appear smaller or Macropsia making objects appear larger. There is always a sense that other people are unfamiliar, disconnected from you and sometimes people seem mechanical. With all of this confusing information it is understandable that sometimes just recognising I exist and am real is the fundamental distortion of my own perceived identity.
Finally my last psychiatric condition which impacts my sense of self is my psychotic depression. When experiencing depressive episodes they usually occur with periods of psychosis, where hallucinations and delusions take over my reality. There have been many occasions in which these episodes are not part of my awareness or memory and were recounted to me by doctors, nurses, family and friends who witnessed me speaking to people who were not there, believing people were stealing my clothes, seeing fairies and dark angles, hearing voices which told me to hurt myself, being in other realities and many more. Some I can remember, like seeing dark angles – tall dark winged creatures at the end of my bed every night, silently asking me to join them in the afterlife. Or my most recent which is me seeing a completely different surrounding to the one I am actually in, mainly my apartment which turns into my old house in every detail, and I am trapped there whilst not there (this is where I was abused and later raped). These delusions affect my identity by causing me to not trust who I am and where I am, leaving me a shell after every experience, having to pick up my already fragmented pieces and try and put myself back together again.
One of the most frustrating things is that if you asked most people who know me or who have known me they would almost certainly say that I am a strong character, with a strong personality, who knows who they are. People could not be further from the truth, however it is not their fault, as my identity is expertly carved to the individual who has experienced it, as if it were a bespoke service, tailoring my outward self to fit with the person I wish to like me or love me. It can work very much in the opposite way too, if upon meeting someone who to me is not my kind of person, my skill for detecting what will make them dislike me is acute, with the ability to make enemies in a second – by giving off what is apparent will turn these people off.
There is only one thing in my 32 years of existing which has ever helped me deal with this disarray of self and that is my studies of philosophy at college and University. By studying intensely the philosophy of self, my understanding was broadened and allowed me to not feel so dysfunctional but rather neuro-diverse. There are so many aspects of this subject which are important and in my opinion should be studied by everyone, however if I use one example which has stuck with me and helps me in times of real distress is that of The Ship of Theseus Paradox; which is a thought experiment recorded by Plurtarch from the late first century. The point of the experiment is to illustrate that the self is a bundle of parts which changes throughout time and necessity.
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
— Plutarch, Theseus
Later on David Hume stated that we think of ourselves as the same person we were five years ago.
“we are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement”.
These ideas and explanations comfort me, it is upon thinking this way that I realised that my identity is a rapid chameleon kind of self, that the difference between me and “functional/normal” people is the speed and complexity in which I evolve and adapt through my life. My identity is a map of my experiences, survival, creativity and ability to see outside of this reality. Even though sometimes it is hell and hard to see who I truly am, the reality is this is me. Every person that I have portrayed or created to be loved or liked is still from parts of me, every delusion or hallucination was created in my mind, from my thoughts. Every carefully constructed piece of me to fit in is still me, just a different concoction. Maybe most people don’t colour outside the lines as my brain does when it comes to identity, but if this is who I have been and who I am now – then this will be me forever.