There’s a song out by the band Imagine Dragons that, despite being catchy from an arrangement point of view, annoys the crap out of me because the entire point is that the narrator is the same as he always has been and won’t ever change. The line that rings out often is “I’m never changing who I am”.
Now, you might be wondering why this would annoy me. As Americans, growing up in the land of “Individualism” or whatever (I hear that’s part of our cultural identity, but you wouldn’t know it by how differentiations from the norm are dealt with), we are raised to believe that one of the ultimate quests of our lives is to figure out “who we are”, and once we do that (if we manage it), we must stand by “who we are” and not change just because of…anything. Our identities are extremely important to us.
It annoys me because we should never be so attached to staying the same.
As you know, I have been engaged in a massive overhaul of my mind lately. Well, for the last few years and now it’s getting into high gear because I refuse to waste another decade being miserable. At 31, I look back at my 20’s and wonder what the hell I was doing with myself. In my 20’s, I asked the same question of what I was doing in my teens. I have accepted that I was likely depressed all that time and refused to seek out treatment because I disliked a good deal of people in my life and they seemed worthy of dislike, so my poor emotional state made logical sense. But I wasn’t paying as much attention to it as I am now and I keep wondering how much I could have helped myself had I thought about the issues as also chemical, as also warped thinking that I needed to work on. It’s easier to see it now because the people in my life are amazing and yet I am still not OK most of the time. But it took me 20 years to see this. I will be looking into medicinal help since the physical response to my ridiculous thinking patterns is doing me in. I have started to exercise more in the morning, which helps keep me calm during the day. I have maintained my no caffeine rule for many months now and no longer crave it. I have noticed a huge link between my ability to handle stress and not only the amount of sleep I get, but also to any other low energy times during the day. I have cut back on carbs, replacing them with protein and other lighter healthier stuff to attempt not to crash in the afternoon. I am trying very hard to get this under control once and for all (with habits that will last a lifetime).
But none of that will change the way I think about myself, and that is the hardest thing. As such, I have been thinking about identity a whole lot lately.
Identities are made up of “good” and “bad” things we think define us…but we define what is “good” and what is “bad”. One of my issues is that I allow others to define these things for me often and I take things to extremes. For instance, I have defined myself by my willingness to change and by the fact that I always look to myself first in difficult situations. I generally assume that I am at fault, or am wrong. It is not generally important to me be “right”. And I see this as a virtue.
The problem here is pretty obvious. My being willing to change IS a good thing, but the change has to come because I personally view it as necessary, not because someone else does. It took me a long time to learn this and I still struggle with it. Similarly, being willing to look at yourself in a critical way is great IF you are capable of coming to the conclusion that, after reviewing the facts, you aren’t wrong sometimes. I very rarely do that. If I had anything to do with something, I will take on as much blame as people are willing to pile. I am stubborn about it because I think it’s better to be agreeable. As such, I don’t really look at myself as an authority on myself. I look at other people as that and require their validation and approval constantly because otherwise, I have no idea of my worth. I have made it so my entire sense of self worth comes from outside. Add to that the fact that I generally have a low opinion of myself, I have gotten to the point where I don’t even believe people anymore when they say good things about me. But I still rely on the validation, so if people don’t say it, I assume that it’s because they don’t think it anymore.
Obviously, this is completely fucked up.
I’m not writing this to get a bunch of eHugs or anything. I’m writing it because I’m kind of astounded by the discoveries I’m making about my perception of the world and my place in it. The image I have of myself is completely ridiculous. Take these statements commonly heard in the hallways of my mind:
“I am a bad person because I am selfish sometimes. Being selfish sometimes means that you are a selfish person and that you don’t care enough about other people.”
“I am good as long as I keep doing things for people.”
“I had a hard time figuring out something that ultimately was easy. I am not smart.”
“I get sad a lot. I am not succeeding at my emotional goals and am therefore a failure…at everything.”
“I don’t know a lot of hard chemistry off the top of my head. I am a lousy chemist.”
But even worse are the things I think when I want to be appreciated.
“I did all this stuff for them without getting asked to. Why are they not praising me profusely??”
“No one else tries as hard as I do to be better. Why don’t they appreciate that???”
Sometimes I wish that something awful would happen to me so that people could appreciate me and be worried about me and all that. It’s terrible and I would never ask anyone to come into my head. It’s a really aggravating place to be and sometimes I wish that I could have a lobotomy for a day just to not care.
So, yeah, I’m getting help and I’m looking to get more because I’ve had enough of this horseshit. But I bring it up because I refuse to say “This is just who I am” anymore. Fuck that. They say that people don’t change and that’s a load of crap. The truth is that you can’t change other people. You only have control over yourself. And change is hard so a lot of people won’t do it, but it doesn’t mean they can’t. The key is deciding for yourself if you’ve had enough of something and that being a certain way causes you a lot of trouble. My problem in the past was that I was trying to be what other people wanted. I still struggle with that, but now I am making changes for me. Sure, other people benefit if I’m happier and more confident and secure, but ultimately this is so that I can be comfortable and secure within myself based on my own merits and perceptions. Change is an important part of life and stubbornly stating “This is just who I am” doesn’t do anything useful. If your flaws and virtues become your identity, then having their “goodness” or “badness” questioned results in a lot of difficulty.
Maybe this all seems really obvious to you. It wasn’t to me. For instance, I always thought that being a nice person was a good thing, but it also means that people take advantage of you, so you have to balance that. I always thought that being selfish was bad, but if you never do what’s best for YOU (regardless of other people), then you suffer and often for no good reason. I thought that amount of work you do for someone is directly proportional to how much they will love you. I thought I had control over people happiness if I was just as perfect as possible…and that every sign of imperfection would people question their decision to be associated with me. I saw perfection as possible and hated myself every time I proved that it wasn’t.
I talk about this in the past tense because I am aware of it and am working on changing these thoughts, but I still have them all the time and I drive myself crazy with them and won’t let them go. Letting go of “I am a person who works the hardest”, “I am a person who is nice”, “I am a person who will take only after I’ve given more” is extremely difficult because these are things that people liked and I want to be liked. I want to be loved and while I have unconditional love from people, I am suspicious of it because I learned stupid lessons growing up that I incorporated into myself as profound truths. I hear “You would have to become a completely different and despicable person for me to leave you”, but it translates to “If you don’t do the dishes as much, I won’t like you anymore.” I have every flaw on equal footing and look at it like our country’s drug policy: Pot and Heroine are equally horrible. I have no hierarchy when it comes to this stuff. I have things I don’t like about myself and therefore I am probably not really likable.
My journey to mental health keeps taking me deeper to the roots of my problems and my identity seems to be the deepest root. This idea of good and bad and the need to be loved has warped how I perceive everything. I have not yet gotten to the point of generally digging myself while also seeing what has room for improvement and accepting that I will never be perfect. I keep saying “I will let go of this whole perfection thing” and then I can’t because I just don’t believe it’s impossible. I can admit that it’s an asymptotic reality, but because I have made a lot of progress I just see myself being able to get pretty much there and I just won’t stop. I don’t know how to accept the imperfection is guaranteed and keep working on myself. There has to be an endgame and I don’t know what that is if it isn’t perfection.
I guess that is the number one thing I have to answer. An overall increase in happiness is certainly a goal, but what about everything else? I don’t know yet.
Next time I’ll talk about Imagine Dragons’ other song which suffers from the same “decent arrangement, stupid writing” problem. Accept, I’m much more scathing of that because “Radioactive” is an apocalypse themed song…you can tell because it has a line in it that says, “This is it. This is the Apocalypse.” Please see my explanation of why this is annoying in this post. Ugh.