Don’t Let Your Struggle Become Your Identity

I have a note in one of my note-keeping books that I tote everywhere that says, “Don’t let your struggle become your identity.” I’m not sure if someone said it somewhere or if it is something that just appeared in my head. (Note: Things do randomly appear in my head a lot.)

How perfect, though, is that thought? Don’t let your struggle become your identity.

We all struggle. We all have our moments of difficulty. There is not one person alive (or dead) that has sailed through life without struggling. I often feel as though my life is one long, horrendous struggle. It’s as though I’m needing to continue moving forward even though I’m up to my waist in mud and can barely put one foot in front of the other. In this picture in my head, I’m struggling forward and my shoes come off one by one and I’m sinking further and further into the center of the earth. Okay, a little dramatic, but that’s how it feels sometimes, right?

So, let’s talk struggle. I am going to do my first brave thing of my “Channeling Carrie Fisher” year and tell you about a struggle that I once had and still deal with regularly.

From a fairly young age, I never felt like I was truly living in the same world as those around me. I just felt different, like I never really belonged anywhere. My siblings were all older than me and most had moved out before I was even 10. So, they came home and I felt like the forgotten, never-wanted child. In school, I was the odd one that would rather be involved in the music activities than in the sports. I had a friend that I did virtually everything with and she went the sports route and we ended up in different social circles. In fact, I do not think we have even talked to each other in at least five years. In school, I would sit in certain classes and plan the zingers that I was going to “hurl” at my friends and see how they reacted. I use the term “hurl” very loosely here. I would often wait for my friends to say a certain thing and then I would be ready with my barb. Most of the time, my friends just looked at me funny but sometimes it hit smack dab.  I was always forgiven because I was the weird friend. The one who did not really need to be around people. The one that did not need reassurances and acceptance from my peers. Yep, this was a big fat lie. I was hungry for someone to just see me and tell me that who I was was enough.

I felt extremes in emotions and varied between them regularly. I never felt really normal – I was either extremely sorrowful or extremely elated. There was no middle ground. Things that made a normal person sad, devastated me. I was consumed by obsession and sorrow from a young age. I would fixate on a topic and not deviate for weeks or months or longer. I am still like that today.

When I first started college, I finally felt that I had found my tribe. Here was a whole group of peers that were as deep into mastering their musical instrument as me. A few of them even seemed to recognize my emotional instability and feelings of insecurity. These are the ones that were drawn together with some sort of cosmic force. This tribe quickly learned how to push each other’s trigger switches and we inflicted pain regularly in the guise of friendship. We were also each other’s biggest advocates – so, I guess that’s something. I am still in contact with some of this tribe and consider them true friends because of the experiences from our college days. We still push each other’s triggers but the pain is not as intense because we are miles and miles apart. It helps to have the distance of space and time.

toni-sleep

The Mad Pianist resting during a long night of practicing during college.

 

My sophomore year in college, I was more insecure than usual. The last month of my freshman year, I had a mini mental “break.” I was performing in a weekly studio class. I reached the end of my piece and forgot the last two chords – the “resolution.” I turned to the group, shrugged, and said, “I forgot the ending.” Looking back, it was not a big deal. I played it off in class and my professor just chuckled and named the chords. As soon as I left the building and started walking toward my dorm, my thoughts started racing. “Why am I even here? I’m not good enough to be here. What the hell am I doing with my life?” and on and on. My tribe tried to call me and I ignored their calls. They dropped by my dorm room and I left the door unanswered. I was withdrawing into myself in a major way.

The next year was filled with my tribe continuing to reach out and me ignoring their attempts to help 80% of the time. It was a year filled with me just wanting to do things I would regret and forget. A year of me feeling angry, upset, and panicked. Yes, I was depressed but I did not want to acknowledge it in any way or form. My piano professor made an appointment at the student health clinic (and basically forced me to go) and they prescribed me anti-depressants which I didn’t take. I think it’s a miracle I even went to the appointment. I felt crazy.

With time is supposed to come understanding. Sometimes I see a purpose in the experiences I had during college. Mostly, I feel like this is something that has never left. I still feel emotions in polar opposites. I go through cycles of wanting to go, go, go, or sleep, sleep, sleep. I get upset easily with people who do not meet my expectations. My life is nowhere I thought it would be and I hate it. I hate that I have to do a menial job in order to pay my expenses when my heart is elsewhere. How the hell is it even fair that I have to get old while working with old people? This is a thought that I have daily.

Every doctor appointment I have, and I’ve had a lot over the past couple of years, my doctor asks me pointed questions relating to my mental health. I lie every single time. I don’t want the stigma. I’m my own undoing.

So, I guess you could say that my mental issues are still alive and kicking. It’s a cycle of self-pity, depression, obsession, and peace. The peace never lasts long.

This is my struggle. This is not my identity.

I tell you this story because I’m trying to be more bold and to be more brave. Hiding this part of my life, and hide it I have done, is only hurting me further. I don’t seek pity or need someone to tell me what to do. I’m in a fairly decent place in my life right now. I just needed this story to be told so that I can try to embrace this part of me. It’s well past time that I realize that this facet of my life does not define me. I am who I am because I have experienced this. I am who I am because of the struggles that I have endured and my future struggles will further shape me into who I will become.

My struggle is not my identity.

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