The Struggles Of Not Knowing Who You Are

Original date of writing: May 6th, 2020

Trees in a forest with spray paint question marks on the trunks

I keep getting these great ideas.

When I’m left to my own devices, and I’m not spiraling out of control, it feels like I’m figuring things out. Like I’m finally deciding on what I want to do with my life, who I want to be, what I’m going to work on.

It seems so simple, just be who you are, unforgiving, unflinching, and be comfortable with that. I love that idea.

And I feel that, somewhere deep down in my core, that spark is there. That flame is burning. It’s not a vain wish to be cast out like a lantern you let up into the air, never to be seen again. It’s not something that I feel is so very far removed from who I am now.

It feels like it’s me, like it’s truly who I am.

Yet… when I get back to reality, when I climb down from my philosophical mountain, I am afraid. As soon as I get the chance to bring my newfound courage into practice, I flinch. I pull back. I am frightened.

So… was it not who I am? Was I just being vain and hopeful, was it just wishful thinking? Then why did it feel so real?

Why is the person that’s actually doing things, actually performing actions, so different from the person I feel I am? Is that still me? Are they both me?

Not knowing who you are can rattle you to your core.

How do I know who I am?

There’s much to be said for how far the effects of PTSD reach. And there’s much to be said for social conditioning, for years and years of societal indoctrination. But it’s hard to say just where the line lies between who you actually are, deep inside, and who you are on the outside.

When you’ve got so many layers of influences from the outside, and self-defense mechanisms you’ve built up over the years, knowing who you are is not that easy.

Knowing who you are inside and which parts are just debris and remnants from past experiences is complicated.

It unsettles me not to know which one is real, when one of them feels real and the other acts real.

The theoretical physicist

I’m like a theoretical physicist with a big blackboard (or whiteboard, you know, I don’t discriminate). He’s trying to solve an equation he’s been staring in the face for years.

And every time he’s under the shower, or in the car, or lying in bed, or sitting on the toilet, he suddenly gets it. He suddenly gets the million-dollar idea that’ll solve his equation. And it’s so blindingly obvious that he simply cannot see how he hasn’t solved it yet.

But the second he gets back to his board, it slips through his fingers. It melts away like snow before the sun.

It’s not that his idea doesn’t fit, it’s not that it turns out to be wrong, the numbers are right.

They’re just gone as soon as he gets to the point of putting his ideas into practice.

When he’s away from actually doing the work, his mind is boggling, churning out one great idea after the next. But when he’s in front of the board, it’s like he can’t even do basic arithmetic anymore.

Even though he’s fully aware that only a second ago, he had the answer. Like a dream that slips away from you when your alarm clock sounds, he knew he had the answer.

But now, he suddenly can’t do it.

Is he really that smart theoretical physicist? Or is he the dummy that can’t put two and two together?

But what am I afraid of?

I don’t know exactly why I’m afraid.

One thought is that I feel like I have so much to lose. But do I, really?

I keep professing that you should just be honest with yourself. That you shouldn’t put on masks towards others. That then, those that like you for who you are will stick. And all others will leave, but you will be better off without them.

And I truly believe in that.

Then why do I still put on masks? Why do I still censor myself? Why am I still so afraid to be truly honest, even if I bring it in a kind and gentle way? Even if it’s just bringing out my opinion when asked for?

It sounds so simple to just experiment.

Say what you want to say, see what happens, and if people leave, it doesn’t matter.

But I’ve been alone, or at least felt alone, for such a huge part of my life that I have brutal separation anxiety.

I have to forcefully convince myself that it’s okay if a certain person leaves because he or she was shitty anyway.

For the first time in my life I know what it’s like to have friends, real friends, that stick together, that share so many of my interests and passions and opinions.

And if I just think it through, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong. Even if I accidentally cross a line, they won’t just up and leave me.

Whichever way I look at it, letting go of the walls and masks and censorship should be safe with these people. But still, I am deathly afraid.

Just ask the damn question…

While writing this, there is a question I want to ask an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to for years until yesterday.

Every now and then, every few sentences, I’ll open the chat window, look at the screen, freak out, and flip back to my text editor.

What am I so scared of? What’s the worst that could happen?

And even if that happens, would that really be so insurmountably terrible to warrant this fear?

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