By Ruth Anne Kramer LCSW, LCDC
With the recent tragedies of natural disasters and public shootings, it is easy to forget about every day misfortunes that occur in our own community with friends, loved ones, and maybe even ourselves. It is not out of the ordinary for some to have difficulty answering the question “who am I?” What if the very thing we have identified with is lost? Many struggle at some point with losing something they consider a crucial part of their identity, something they believe to be the hallmark of their core true self. Whether the loss is a house, a job, a child or loved one, a physical ability such as hearing or sight, or some other aspect of one’s identity, the challenge to redefine the person you are now without that missing piece and move forward may seem completely overwhelming.
What does define who you are today in the moment; your past, present, or both? How do you identify yourself; by name, race, religion, age, occupation, education, family, role(s), fitness level, or net worth? Do the tangible things or the intangible carry most value? Many people may say that it is a combination of these entities that bond together every piece of us.
What does it mean to lose your identity? When we experience loss, or begin a new transition in our life, there is something that changes; a piece of who we are ceases to exist. It is important to understand that no matter the change you are faced with, physical health greatly impacts mental health, just as mental health impacts physical health. Due to this change in identity, we may experience hopelessness. This change may wipe away previous goals and aspirations and it may alter your relationship with friends and family.
How do we accept things we cannot change? We cannot focus on doors that have closed and still move forward. As an old saying goes, “You can’t start the next chapter in life if you keep reading the last one.” It can be a challenge to accept this new direction your life has taken, and that this new direction defines a lot about who you now are. How do we transform the new reality into something we can learn to love, and maybe assist others who might be experiencing similar obstacles?
We must challenge ourselves to see the positive in the negative and identify the lesson learned. It is very easy for the negative to put a black cloud over the light that is still there. There will be things about life that remain sources of joy like favorite foods, movies, sports, family, and friends. These are things we can still find joy in, and that will help us in redefining and reshaping our new identity. And for those of you caring for someone grieving a loss, remember to take care of yourself too so that you can support your loved one as they grieve and go through this transition in life. We all experience hardships in one shape or form because that is life, and that is how we learn and grow. In the end, you get what you give.
It is not always about who you are in the moment but about who you would like to become. You create who you are. Like an open book or blank journal, you put the ink to the paper. Since we are the authors of our own story, make it a good one, and surround yourself with those who are there helping you to write that story, no matter who you are in the moment.