Sunday, April 22, 2012

Finding "you"

In the past 6 months, I have been through a lot. 
  • I learned that I had a tumor in my neck and had surgery to have it removed, but not before waiting an agonizing two weeks for test results to learn if I had cancer. Even without cancer, having my neck cut open and part of my body removed was no picnic.
  • I found out that my sister had a uterine tumor which actually is cervical and uterine cancer. 
  • My husband's mother died and he seemed to be interested in talking to everyone but me about it. He also took part in a grueling volunteer schedule in which he acted as a trainer and had even less time for me than ever before (when I needed him more than before). 
  • I quit my job, a job I enjoyed, and left financial stability behind. 
  • I got rid of all of my possessions save 4 large suitcases and left the home I'd rented for 23 years. 
  • I lost access to my friends and acquaintances as well as the source of a well-spring of experience from which I do a lot of writing on other blogs. 
  • I moved from an Asian country in which I'd spent about half of my life and almost all of my adult life back to America, which now feels more "foreign" than that foreign place.
  • I have had to start dealing with family directly after not having to deal with in-laws for a very long time. 
One might see how the idea of resilience might be on my mind. I'm not a flexible person and have an innate desire for stability, order, and security. When I think back over the changes I've experienced in the span of such a short time, I'm amazed that I haven't completely fallen apart. In fact, I'm astonished that I managed at all, let alone not fully embraced my food comforting ways to the nth degree.

Of course, I've had ups and downs, not so much in terms of binging or deciding to comfort eat to ease my stresses as to not make the more stressful choice of staying hungry over eating. I've also had my share of sadness, depression, frustration, and, of course, tears. A lot of sacrifices have been made, not the least of which is another chunk of the identity I've been struggling so hard to build as I've lost weight. 

One thing I've realized as a result of all of these changes is that really knowing the deep psychological consequences of what was to come has helped me. By knowing that I was going to forfeit a piece of my identity, I could plan for the change far more effectively. I knew for three years that I was going to lose my status as "outsider" and change into an "insider" culturally. Knowing this aspect meant that I began the mental process of finding another "me" before losing the old version completely. I started to divest myself of the identity of "outsider" and focus more on who I really was when my husband and I decided we were going to leave the Asian country we were in in 2009. Though it has been a shock coming home, it's not nearly as hard as it would have been had I not attended to this actively long before the change occurred. 

I've written so many times about identity and I continue to feel that it is incredibly important to understand how potent a factor it is in resisting change and failure. I'm absolutely sure that I'd be falling to pieces everyday had I not worked hard to define myself internally in positive ways before I made this transition. By not defining myself by my work or environment, I could bring at least some semblance of a "whole" self with me. This blog was integral in this process for several reasons.

The primary reason is that it allowed me to see how potent identity is in how we live our daily lives. When I lost my "super fat" identity, I felt hollow and as if great chunks of my self was lost. I hadn't realized before how little of how I saw myself was separate from my weight and how I was perceived and treated based on my body. I had very little left as I lost weight and had to slowly fill in those gaps as I became smaller. 

The other way in which this blog has helped is that it has allowed me to isolate and understand the factors which are an external vs. and internal definition of self. I am not my actions, hobbies, or associations. I am something more, but only so long as I shore up those parts of my identity and embrace them. I am a person who thinks a lot and enjoys dissecting human interactions, is lacking in a judgmental nature, and is more interested in validating new perspectives than invalidating them. I'm a person who is intelligent, but does not value intelligence above kindness, patience, and tolerance. I'm more verbal than visual, though I do enjoy art and what a person tries to say through various creative craft. I'm a patient listener, but also an avid speaker. I'm also sensitive, passionate in ways which perhaps are not always the best, and sometimes inclined to be brittle and dismissive with people who rub me the wrong way. My immediate responses are often negative, but I try not to act upon them. I'm a pessimist, but training to be an optimist with each passing day. 

All of the things about myself are independent of external environment or associations with others. None of them are based on my physicality. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, a complete list of the attributes which constitute my identity or personal psychology. They are, however, enduring parts of who I am that I can carry with me at all times. 

When people try to lose weight, I think they look at it as an entirely physical endeavor. Eat this, not that. Do this, not that. Do, do not try. Your life and you can quickly become nothing more than your body and your actions to build a better one. You are minimized and diminished at a time when you need to have your core self expanded to fill the losses in identity that you are about to experience. This is why therapy is often helpful when one is losing weight. It doesn't have to be about your problems and finding out how to solve them. It can be about yourself and finding who you are apart from physical aspects, both in terms of your body and your actions. If you can't find "you" independent of external definition, then you are likely to return to the you that defined you before. 


RedPanda said...

Another very thought-provoking post...

If you can't find "you" independent of external definition, then you are likely to return to the you that defined you before.

I understood this intuitively when I first got down to my current weight after being overweight or obese for my entire life (apart from a brief flirtation with annorexia/bulimia in my early 20s). I was so scared I would regain just so I could revert to being the version of me I was used to.

Like you, I had to draw on my inner resources and spend time figuring out who I am. The fact that I'm very stubborn helped.

Human In Progress said...

Great post. It's amazing what you've been through in a fairly short period!

I struggle to define myself in satisfactory ways in the absence of a job. When I was a student, my identity completely revolved around high academic achievement and my glorious future career prospects. Well, life didn't pan out the way I thought it would, and while I have a good life and the freedom to try my hand at writing--which may become an actual, legitimate career if I keep at it and earn some money doing it--I'm not sure who this "current me" is much of the time. I feel this keeps me mired in my fat to some extent, but I can't fully articulate why I suspect this to be the case.

How did you go about re-defining and re-identifying yourself? Any advice?

screaming fatgirl said...

RedPanda: Thank you for continuing to read and comment. You've been around for a long time and I really appreciate your support. I'm not especially stubborn, but I do change with difficulty because I need security. :-)

Human In Progress: What I've been through has been grueling. Last year was the worst year of my life and the last 3 years have been incredibly hard. I feel like I really have been torn apart and rebuilt, and some structural supports aren't nearly as strong as I'd like them to be.

Like you, when I was a student, academic achievement was a strong defining characteristic. That, and, of course, being fat. That was (and perhaps still is) a huge part of my identity.

I should write a whole post about this, but the gist of it is that I started to strip away external definitions of self and see what was left. That is, without my husband, my job, my family, my hobbies, etc., what am I?

I thought about the nature of spirit, if there is a human spirit, and what would be carried on once I left earthly existence. What is the essence of me? What forces are pure personality without any capacity to interact with environment? This was where I found the seeds of my core identity.

Those seeds included creativity, productivity, flexibility, a drive toward growth, insight, compassion, and empathy. From there, these things can be expanded and linked back to relevant things which I have control over such as my ability to write. Writing is not an identity, but the creative drive and mental flexibility which drive it are.

So, mainly, I focused on stripping my identity clear of things which were really external definitions of self and digging into the core characteristics and then linking to those more strongly. It really helped prepare for the big loss of identity I had as an outsider in a foreign land when I came home. Understanding the loss of the "fat" identity helped me do this. When I lost that and felt gutted by it, I knew I'd better figure things out when the other shoe (the loss of my status as a "foreigner") dropped.

Thank you also for following and commenting. I really do appreciate it.

Human In Progress said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond, as always.

I understand the stripping and rebuilding process better now. I'd never quite thought of things in this way (one's essence, "what forces are pure personality without any capacity to interact with environment...")

It's helpful, and something I need to give more thought myself.

I hope the next three years are way more peaceful for you.