Song of the Day: Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron & Wine
The term “loss of identity” is one of the prerequisite symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Although diagnosed as Bipolar, I frequently find myself identifying with this concept of a lack of sense of self.
So what is meant by a loss of identity? Well, to me, it occurred as a feeling of emptiness; I felt hollow as if I had no essence or substance as a human being. I felt completely lost. If someone described my characteristics to me I wouldn’t recognise that impression of myself. I didn’t know what I liked anymore, what my preferences were. I didn’t enjoy anything I used to- a usual symptom of depression. I felt everything I used to be had gone and was lost to bipolar depression. University was near-on impossible, I couldn’t hold down a job, all my friends had moved on to other universities, I missed sixth form days like mad. I felt I’d lost everything, every tiny part of who I was ripped away from me. I’d always identified myself as an academically high-achiever, musician (orchestra/band/choirs/ensembles), artist, very together kind-of person. But without school/sixth form- life, I completely crumbled. So maybe in a sense I really over-identified with myself as a student and an achiever. I found it very difficult to see myself in any other way than doing and achieving. Without these things there was nothing left of me. I really do think I felt enormous grief for my old-self.
If I looked in the mirror I would have a surreal experience of non-recognition- is that really me? Quite often I was such a pained, emotional wreck inside that the sight of a seemingly “normal-looking” human being staring back was virtually inconceivable. I expected to see a horribly scarred, ugly, pained face- to reflect what was going on inside me. My full, clear-skinned, pretty-ish features felt so wrong. I couldn’t identify with the image.
As a severely depressed young adult who was unable to participate in all those things she once loved, I was nothing. My eating became uncontrollable, something which scared me seriously, as I used to be extremely controlled about my eating habits. Suddenly all I wanted to do was eat to fill this void of emptiness. It was a huge compulsion. I felt wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from those binges, I felt pulled to binge with such intense force that I couldn’t get the food down quick enough. The emptiness was always soothed by this process, but only temporarily. My new identity was as a lazy depressive, living off benefits, purposeless, eating disordered-loser. (Thankfully I no longer see it that way at all). My suicide attempt resulted. An act which sealed my rejection of this new self. I saw it as completely unacceptable to be this person. I was despicable, disgusting, there was no way in hell I could live like this- so I was refusing to. Fortunately God had other ideas. But I think that the rejection of the new me, in the midst of newly-diagnosed bipolar, is when I became empty and lost my identity. In essence, I rejected myself.
Even after 12 years I’m still in the process of recovering myself, but I think I’m over half-way there. I guess the hardest part was accepting the long-term diagnosis, subsequent limitations and learning to perceive myself in a more loving way: as a person that is no longer harshly judgemental of herself, but compassionate and supportive. I’m getting there.