Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A question of identity.

I've been thinking about this for ages, but without any real conclusions or a spare minute during the day, I haven't quite got to writing it down. I'm going to start now and see where it goes. Bear with me!

Before tumourgate, it's tempting to think that I used to be this set person, just waiting for my life to be turned upside down. And now that it's happened I'm somebody else. Someone who has been through it and changed and now I'm me. But in reality it wasn't like that. It wasn't as if my life was uneventful up until that moment. The things that happened in the previous life were just as massive to me then, because I didn't know that in comparison to what was coming, they were pretty insignificant.

Identity - by which I mean how I feel about myself - has always been a bit fluid. For a long time I felt as if nobody knew the real me, the one I kept hidden because surely if anyone did know they wouldn't like me. The worst insult growing up was always "nobody likes you". So simple. 

I suppose that how I identify myself is dependent on others around me. My sister is a brainbox, always has been (she's not so hot on remembering punchlines, though) and so I always felt quite stupid. Being the youngest probably didn't help with that. My handwriting was always messier. I couldn't run, draw, read as well as her. My hair was shorter, straighter, she had better clothes and more friends. I felt like the little sister who can never catch up - she'd always moved on whenever I got there.

When I got to A Levels I realised maybe I wasn't stupid as such - just not a natural academic. That was the first time I remember my actual self identity changing. But it's happened a lot of times since, when I think about it. 

Being older is way better. I'm one of those "everything gets better in your thirties" people, definitely not one of those "school is the best years of your life" people. Since being 30 I have enjoyed life much more and I believe that is in no small part down to being happier with myself and confident enough to let people really know me. I'm happier with my identity.

Telling people I've had a brain tumour is really strange. It has this kind of fizzly silence just after you've said it that people just stare at. A tumour is bad enough, but the brain element is what makes it mysterious. The black box of humanity. I read a great quote once: If our brains were simple enough to be understood, we wouldn't be smart enough to understand them. (Incognito by David Eagleman, it's brilliant). Brains are scary. A friend of my dad had a brain tumour when we were little and I was astounded that he was still alive. I thought it was definitely something you died from. 

It still doesn't really feel like I had that. I've never really identified as someone with a brain tumour. Maybe because it was over really fast, and maybe because as soon as it was over, the impending Alfred took all my focus. Or maybe it's just a reaction to extreme stress, my brain has rejected it. 

What is strange is that other people identify me by it. I'm the one that had the brain tumour. Any new people I meet now, it's a big thing to explain - when do I mention it...? And when I meet people who I already knew, I get the question. How are you? They're not asking how I am, they want to know about the brain tumour. Really though, how are you? 

And in that instant, I finally do identify as a brain tumourer. 

I am, technically, a mother. I have a baby, that I grew! And have fed and clothed and washed and carried around for nearly 11 months. He is my baby and I am his mother. But I don't really feel like one. I'm not old enough for starters. When we're together it's obvious that I'm a mother, but what about when he isn't there? Do people know I have had a baby? Do I even remember I've had a baby. Erm...

The question of identity had been brought more into my thoughts through motherhood than brain tumouring, but really the same principles apply. At first, when in the throes of shock, there are clear physical signs. When the signs have gone and you can choose which version of yourself you want to show the world, it is all about how you want to be judged.

I'm about to start work again after a long time off and some huge life changes. I don't know my new boss or anyone on my team. How are they going to see me? Who will they think I am based on what they know about me? And will that change my identity, and how I see myself?