How Rex Harrison Pulled Me Out of My Identity Crisis

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question markThere is a void between who you are and who you want to be; a gaping hole that threatens to swallow you. Many people might make the leap, they might find a way to bridge that gap, others might always inch too close to the edge but never attempt to make it across. As for me, this is the story of how I fell in. I call it my identity crisis.

I left high school with my head held high, gazing across higher education with certainty, I knew who I was and I knew who I was going to be. I had a very concrete view of myself; I was intelligent, rational and feminist. I was done childishly moping after boys, I was going to be a machine of pure logic and I was never going to cry in public. I would emerge from my degree a professional, confident and fiercely independent woman. My nose was pointed so high I didn’t even see the pit I had dug for myself until I stumbled straight into it.

There were a few factors that threw me headlong into the hole of an identity crisis, a couple of things that happened in quick succession. First I made the decision to stop thinking about my faith, to push it to one side so I didn’t have to struggle with maintaining it. Basically I was trying to run away from reconciling my cynical nature with my beliefs. The decision to do this made the next couple of things that happened nearly impossible to deal with.

Secondly there was a boy, and I roll my eyes even as I write this. He was the first boy to make me feel attractive as well as clever. It was kind of a romantic fling without any of the actual romance. I knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere and I’m still confused as to whether or not I wanted it to. I can speculate about his thoughts towards me but I don’t think I’ll ever know, besides it was my feelings that pushed me into an identity crisis, not his.

I knew he’d get bored eventually, I thought I’d be okay with it. The adult I was going to be would be rational enough not to let her heart be that easily touched. During the fun of it all I felt like I was flying. I really was just in the middle of a jump that wasn’t long enough. I didn’t see the gap in my ideals, I sure fell into it though. I hit the ground hard.

The next bit is difficult to explain, I can barely articulate it to myself. I still feel the feeling though. It’s the melancholy and yet up-beat tune to Little Lies by Fleetwood Mac, it’s the line in Heart of Glass by Blondie, “I’m the one you’re using, please don’t push me aside”. It’s napping in the sunshine and waking up in the dark. An empty house after a party. An empty ache you don’t know how to fill.

He got bored, sooner than I was prepared for, and I missed him. But I couldn’t say that to anyone, least of all myself. I was supposed to be this intensely logical adult but here were feelings I couldn’t rationally explain. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, I knew it wasn’t going to transition into anything more than a flirtatious friendship and here I was missing him? The entire concept defied all logic. I was in full blown denial about how I actually felt. This led to some behaviour in a misguided attempt to seek his attention that still turns my face into steam beetroot when I recall it. There was such a gap between my rational grasp of the situation and how I really felt that I abandoned thinking before I acted. Had I admitted to myself earlier that I might actually like this boy I may have saved myself my identity crisis, but my view of myself was to concrete to bend to that idea, so it broke instead.

Around the same time my Grandma had a stroke, which turned my family life upside down. It’s incredibly easy to pretend you’re independent until the support system you’ve been taking for granted takes a serious hit. I lost the sunglasses that Grandma bought me the week before her stroke, I felt like that was one of the worst things I could ever do. I was so distressed that Mum bought me the same pair again, but what I really wanted was my Grandma back. It’s very hard not to think about the loss of someone when they have bought you over fifty percent of your wardrobe, dressing in the morning had become like rubbing salt in my wounds. I felt like my life had crumbled into something I didn’t recognise and I just wanted it back the way it was before.

It was a lot of stuff to deal with at one time, especially for someone who lacked the emotional maturity to admit they weren’t coping. There was a lot of public crying, and the person I wanted to be wouldn’t forgive me for it. I couldn’t face my own reflection, I’d stare at myself for an hour and a voice inside my head would demand, “Who are you? Why did you lead yourself here? You’re not the person you are supposed to be.” And I listened, feeling like no one would ever forgive me for falling far short of my ridiculous standards.

It’s hard to describe the dark place because it is a construct of your own mind. It’s not something physical that you can show people. This was the first time I found myself there and I didn’t know how to get out. For a long time all I could do at the bottom of my identity crisis was cry for my old life back, for the moments I had thought would go on forever, for the one thing that was impossible, to turn back time.

There is a gap we dig for ourselves with our double standards, self righteousness and false pride. I fell in, this is the story of how I climbed out.

The first thing that happened before I was able to even consider climbing out was an epiphany. A rather pithy one actually. While I was moping about in my dorm room a voice popped into my head, it was a voice from My Fair Lady, “What’s the matter? Nobody is hurting you.” Henry Higgins was right, nobody was hurting me. I hadn’t been betrayed or ill-used, no one had promised anything and then failed to deliver. My day to day encounters with people hadn’t changed. It was only when I was alone that I would morosely stare into mirrors and scold myself for my imagined betrayal of a person who didn’t really exist. And so Rex Harrison’s dry voice was what prompted me to turn my head upward and, to my surprise, I hadn’t fallen as far as I thought.

The second thing that had to happen was a large dose of acceptance. Yes, I went a bit pointlessly gaga over a boy. This didn’t make me an inferior person and it didn’t diminish my logical capabilities. I realised that I am a human being and I am allowed to have feelings. Ignoring my feelings because I can’t articulate them or dismissing them as irrational is like engineering a house for two dimensions: it just doesn’t work in the real world. And by not taking them into account, I was being less rational: not more.

I learnt that I am a crier. I cry during sad films, heart warming stories, moving music and at airports when I’ve missed my plane. In that last instance so badly that I couldn’t explain to the guy on the desk that my Grandpa had just died and that I would be okay in a minute or so. Crying doesn’t mean that I’m a weak person, it means that water is coming out of my eyes. It’s a bodily function as normal as sneezing and I can accept that I’m going to shed a few tears in front of others.

I still sometimes remember my stupid behaviour when I was in firm denial and wish I could take it back but the only thing really injured was my pride, and I can do without that. Besides, I also learnt the past is only useful when you stop wishing you could change it and feeling guilty about it. I will continue to do embarrassing things and make mistakes, but I will learn from them.

If I have one regret it’s that I didn’t talk to my true friends sooner. How many times have I had a friend confess something months after it happened and my only question was, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” My only hurt being that they didn’t trust my love for them. I get it now; sometimes you can be so wrapped up in what you want to be that you can barely admit it to yourself. As if your friends prize what you appear to be over what you really are. When I finally told them why I had been so down, it didn’t change their opinion of me at all. They saw me as the person I actually was, not who I wanted to be. I could have spent a lot less time losing sleep at the bottom of that hole if I had called for help or at least let someone know I was down there.

The most insidious thing about my identity crisis was that I actually hadn’t changed at all. I just had to change who I thought I was to who I really was. In the end, I like who I am a lot more than who I thought I was then.

It was also there, at the bottom of that proverbial pit, that I found the faith I had decided to throw away rather than struggle with. The faith that helped me bridge the future gaps in my concept of the world and who I was.

I am able to write this with the power vision that is six years worth of hindsight. If I was compelled to articulate what was going on at the time it would have been nothing more than frustrated gibberish. It is only in hindsight that I can see that I did become an adult that year, and a better one than I thought.

Now the pitfalls trip me but they don’t consume me, maybe that’s called an idealist growing up. I think the most important thing I learnt is that if I find myself in a pit of misery I know I’ll climb out. I did it once didn’t I? It’s never been as hard again.

Have you ever suffered an identity crisis? How did you come out of it?

  • Tamsin Howse

    Loved this piece. I think we all have a gap between who we are and who we wish we were, but in the words of The Viking “Why would you want to be them when you could be you?”

    • Jessica Chapman

      That’s incredibly good advice from The Viking, I think once you can accept who you are and learn to love that you save yourself a lot of inner turmoil

  • John James

    I think for me personally, rather than being a struggle between who I am and who I want to be, it’s more a struggle between who I am, and the person I’m prepared to put on public display… I still struggle with the knowledge that not everyone likes the “real me” and therefore I struggle to just “be myself”…

    I’m like Eliza Doolitle at the races… I’m trying to be elegant, but inside I just want to scream out “Move Your Bloomin’ Arse!!!” 😉

    • Jessica Chapman

      But it’s because she screams that and is herself at the races that Freddy likes her!

      I also struggle with ‘being myself’ in public because I am very shy but I have come to the conclusion that the people who like me for who I actually am are a lot more important to me than the people who might like me if I pretend to be something else.

      • John James

        My secret is out… I want Freddy to like me too 😉 (Not really…)

      • Maree Talidu

        Oh Jess that was a great read, we LOVE who you are! Dad especially has a real soft spot for your dry, sardonic wit and take on life. We all love your company. Crying is normal. And you’ve had plenty of reasons to cry over the years, so let loose!

  • Melissa Savage

    Damn this is good. I’m going to bookmark it and come back to it more than once I think.

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