Who Am I? Really?! When I was young – I thought I knew the answer for sure. Now I’ve turned 50, I’ve found I have no idea.
We all have multiple identities. There’s the relationships – daughter, mother, wife, friend, colleague. The day to day – musician, writer, teacher, carer, gym enthusiast. And personality – quiet, passionate, loyal, perfectionist, sensitive. But as I muddled through my life, I forgot everything is temporary. Everything! Where once I may have felt extroverted, now I feel like an introvert. Or when I dreamed of being a flautist, now I’m ready to leave music behind me. Slowly my identities are changing – and I have no concept of what my new roles are. Who will I be when I’m not caring for my children every day? When I’m no longer a flautist or teacher? When the roles I became comfortable and confident in disappear and my new roles are tenuous and uncertain? I have no idea! And it scares the bejeezers out of me.
I am sure at many stages we all experience these feelings. When growing from a teenager into adulthood. Or finishing education and going out into the workplace. Becoming a mother. A wife. Losing – and sometimes gaining – family members and friends. When changing directions or moving house. Life is such a precious and fragile thing and for some it may be easy to embrace the changes as they come along – to live in the present and not fixate on the unknown futures. But for me, the great unknown is terrifying. Like someone knocked the earth out from under me and I have no idea where the next landing will be – or how soft it is…
As I’ve navigated the road of my life, I’ve found myself wearing a mask more often than not – and as an expert wearer, I’ve become adept at identifying the happy facade plastered across so many people’s faces. In almost all of my many roles, I was upbeat and enthusiastic. I encouraged the best from my students and placated the nerves of my fellow musicians. I’ve sought the best in everyone I’ve met, and forgiven the failings. I’ve tried to treat everyone I met with kindness, compassion and caring – secretly hoping that a little may be reflected back at me. But I also learned, very early on, few truly want to hear about my own fears and uncertainties, so positive talk and a beautiful smile prevailed. But who was I really kidding?! The more emotions hidden behind a smile, and the more buried those fears and uncertainties become, the more false my identity – and the more normal that has become. Maladaptive coping skills are my norm at home, while the facade of a strong, cheerful and independent woman is presented to the world.Until the proverbial hits the fan and reality hits like a ton of bricks.
For me personally, the past two years have shown we can only pretend for so long. One day – when the children were grown, and beloved family members starting dying at an alarming rate, and the sick and elderly required constant caring – that is when the mask became too exhausting to maintain. And when all the secret identities, previously hidden for shame and fear, came to the fore – and life falls apart – then what? Who knows… Apparently, that is what I now have to discover for myself.