Who I Am

About eight or nine years ago I was in a group therapy session with 10 other women when the doctor had us go around the room and do a seemingly simple exercise: tell the group about ourselves.

Now keep in mind the setting—it was a hospital and not a wine bar—but one by one we went around the room. In the span of 10 minutes I learned among other things that one woman had severe depression, one was bipolar, one was struggling with bulimia and self-harm while another was checked in for a suicide attempt after a brutal sexual assault.

The doctor sat back with this look on her face and was quiet for a minute before she looked around the group and said, “You know what I find interesting? I see something entirely different.

“I know that you are a retired opera singer,” she continued as she shifted her gaze over the group. “That you graduated from dental school with honors, that you are a nationally published writer and that you have three children under the age of five. I don’t see your circumstances. I don’t let them define you.”

That really stuck with me.

It’s natural to identify ourselves using our circumstances, our struggles or how others perceive us. There’s an odd sense of comfort in being able to fall back on those things—more as a justification than an excuse—but none of those things are truly who we are. And the problem with latching onto these identities is, in addition to limiting our growth, we start to let them define us.

Why so serious?

Because this month’s “League” question as posed by Noa is: “Identity. Who are we? How did we get to the realization of who we are?”

I hate the “Who am I?” question myself, in part because it’s something I’ve struggled with now for years. It’s been a decade of survival, of retreating into intellectualizing everything and just being a quiet observer of life rather than fully immersing myself in it at times.

The problem is that through all my searching, I never found that “one” answer I needed, but rather the answers for somebody else.

It’s not so much that I don’t know who I am—I think I’m actually quite self-aware—but that I don’t know how to align where I am with where I want to go and how I want to live my life. And as much as I wish someone would just tell me what to do and how to get to that point, I also know it’s a journey.

Identity is constantly changing, and authenticity can’t be intellectualized or wrapped up in a neat little bow and printed on high-gloss business cards. But I’ve learned that it’s vital to be more concerned with how my life feels, rather than how my life looks. This is much easier said than done at times, but most valuable things often are.

So in response to Noa, I would have to say that among other things, I am a writer, a daughter and a loyal friend. I’m funny and grateful for humor, but introspective and complex as well. I’m someone who struggles, but I’m doing the best that I can and am unapologetically myself.

I am not my circumstances, but rather a survivor.

I am a constant work in progress.

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How would you answer the question?

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37 responses to “Who I Am

  1. I read you every day in my inbox. Some days, I have to come over to tell you, I would feel so alone without you.

    THANK YOU, for being that unwavering, accepting, loving , friend who gets it. xo

  2. Sucinct humurous and true1 Such an amazing piece, I love it Abby, keep it up! Blessings Joy x

  3. Why are the things that seems like they should be so simple often the most complicated? I love this reminder to let our struggles be part of who we are, without letting them define us – this is so well said. Thank you.

  4. Hey girl. You went there! I didn’t think you were going to talk about this, even in passing, but you decided to and (obviously) I am nodding my head in recognition. I sure wish you’d been next to me when F.U. Linda blew up. You are brave, you are funny, you are honest and you are beautiful. I agree with Alexandra; it makes me feel less alone to have you sharing space with me in the world.

    I don’t know why I’m even saying this, because it’s not helpful in any way, but you jarred my memory so hard with this post that I can’t shut up. There was a skinny, funny kid named Brad in 9th grade who, when asked to introduce himself and say something about who he was at the beginning of the year (blast those introductory sessions) said, “Hi, I’m Brad and I’m boring.” Then he sat back down. We all laughed, because it was so disarming and so self-deprecating. He killed himself several years later. That moment of :I’m Brad and I’m boring” is permanently etched in my brain. FUCK, why did I just feel the need to share that?

    Anyways. I hope you never feel boring or worthless in your heart, because you are loved, you sarcastic wench.

    • 1) I adore you.
      2) This is just one of many, many hospital stories but the only one I’ll probably ever share. Nothing compares to F.U. Linda, that’s for sure.
      3) As long as people like you are around, I promise that I won’t go like Brad. So tragic, yet unfortunately, not uncommon.
      4) I hope you never feel boring or worthless in your heart, because you are loved, you sarcastic wench.

  5. I hate the “Who am I?” question. Mostly because I always think when people ask me they already think they know the answer & will keep pushing me to list things until I say what they want to hear.

    Yes, I am aware i worry too much what people think. Don’t judge me too harshly for it.


    • Exactly. The thing is, you don’t say what people want to hear, whereas so many people let that influence who they think they are. No judgement, at least not the negative kind ;)

  6. There are times when what you need is placed right in front of your face. This morning, I needed to read that & for that, I thank you for placing it here. It is most certainly possible to be self aware & still not be able to vocalize “who you are” with ease – that quizzical question/statement is SO huge. Past, Present & Future all play it’s roll in who we are – you laid it out well for me today.

    Happy Monday!

    • I think it’s hard for me to vocalize because I feel such a disconnect between external and internal, if that makes sense. But I guess all that matters is that we have a general idea and that we are authentically ourselves, no matter what kind of doubt might creep in. Happy Monday!

  7. “Who am I?”
    This should be a very provocative question for all. Some ancient guy once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
    I am rapidly approaching my sixtieth decade on this earth and have been (painfully) taking stock of all that I could call “My Life.” What good have I accomplished? What are the bad things I have done? How many ‘friends’ do I have? How many bridges have I nuked? (I generally do not ‘burn’ bridges; I have a tendency to shock and awe ‘em—obliterate ‘em) I have put my boots on the ground on every continent except South America. What has this taught me? A lot. Did I always use this knowledge gleaned? Most definitely not.
    “Who am I?” More and more I have come to the stark realization that I must sum it up with one word:
    I am an asshole. I don’t want to be an ass, pompous ass, arrogant ass, the smartest ass in the room, (which I obviously am… maybe once in ten or twenty tries). I do not want to be any kind of ass, but that is my reality. I have made some friendships during my life which should have lasted forever, but didn’t. Mostly from my neglect. I have had some wonderfully loving relations with women, and married four of them. Each one of those relationships should have been a lasting euphoria, but I did not, could not, allow that. Wanderlust always took me away. I seemed to always need to ‘get outta town’. ‘This is the part where the cowboy rides away’–find some elusive spot half-way across the globe where I could ‘find’ ME, unencumbered by people who ‘love’ me and think they can help me.
    Not sure if I have found me yet. And this is disconcerting, ‘cause I do fear the time for that is growing short. Writing helps, but I continue to struggle with:
    “Who am I?”
    I still don’t know.

  8. This piece hits so close to home, I have to question who our parents are. Nicely written, and very personal.

  9. What constitutes identity? Where do I reside or exist? Where are the boundaries of the ‘I’ that is me? Are there definitive answers to these questions? Why is there balance and imbalance within self?

    Not so long ago I was listening to a professor of psychology talk about the perception of self and the concept of boundaries. Deep and complex stuff for sure. During his lecture he talked about body space and how self changes. I quite liked the thought of how who I am changed depending on where people were located within these radiuses. He ended this part by stating that for him “…if you’re closer than 18 inches its equivalent to sex…” I turned to the girl sitting next to me, whose shoulder was almost touching me “how was it for you?” she said.

    Great blog Abby. Thanks

  10. I found your blog through Lance. As I was reading I discovered that I worry in abundance about what others think. My father made that a concrete factor in my life. The most difficult process for me is to actually be who I was meant to be and screw what other people think. I am coming more into that realization and I appreciate this post as it is a tool of strength and confirmation that it is okay to be me.
    Thanks again.

  11. I also found your blog through Lance.Some how this was exactly what I needed to read today.Very inspirational,thank you for your efforts.and thank Lance!

  12. Woah. You have reminded me that I don’t put enough thought into myself because I have chosen to place myself as an afterthought, but it’s not a bad thing. I am self aware, I know what my “place” is in this life. It took me a while to be able to understand this, it has been an experience, let me tell you. I observe, I am forever learning because I choose to. Making my own choices and owning them was a big step for me. It all comes down to this; I don’t have life “figured out”, when I do, it would mean my job here is done and that is still a long way away.

  13. It is true. We should not define ourselves by what has happened to us, and things we cannot control. We decide who we will be. I have come to the realization that we can choose who we are, and that we have more control over our lives than we are led to believe.

  14. Interesting… when I let my circumstances define me, I was depressed. It wasn’t until I broke free of that and remembered who I am: loyal, open, curious, friendly, talented… Then I healed.

    Thanks for this one! I needed this reminder today. :)

  15. Well I loved what that doctor said about you. Of course when I read your Blog I am always struck by what a resolute and reflective person you with the ability to add comedy to all aspects of her life regardless of how painful or difficult they are. It is the guts and courage which I notice first

  16. You…my greatest achievement! :)

  17. Very well said. I like you for who you are…work in progress and all.

  18. Thanks for sharing this-I think anyone that is honest with herself/himself will agree that we all engage in this process of discovery throughout our lives :) Why is it that EVERY single one of us often worries what others think? I think we all share this problem. Fear tends to be the loudest and most persistent speaker in our minds and it’s very hard to silence our thoughts about who others think we are. Something powerfully freeing can happen when we are alone with ourselves long enough to forget caring about other people’s thoughts and connect with our own. I think you are a great role model for that, Abby-

    • Great comment. My “issue” is that I really am not all that concerned with what other people think, but more how my life feels to me. I feel this disconnect between where I am and where I want to go, but am frustrated as how I can get there (if that makes sense.) Sometimes I think I’m too connected to my own thoughts, as they can sometimes just screw me. Sigh…but you’re pretty spot-on with this comment ;)

      • I know what you mean about being too connected to your thoughts. It has always been a thing for me too. i just think too much. Some good comes of it but some bad too. Keep on writing and learning!

      • I admit that I don’t know what it is like to be so connected to my thoughts and cannot truly relate. Can someone help me understand that? You’ve got me curious :)

        • Sweetkamie20, I guess it is just that they are nearly constant. I don’t think I have any moments of inner quiet when I am awake. It can drive you mad, even if you don’t have any major issues on your plate.

  19. The internal is who we are, part of the great I AM that is the creative force of the Universe. The external is what we manifest and what we manifest is a direct reflection of what we believe about ourselves. Not a day goes by that I don’t affirm, “I am a beloved child of the Universe.” A more powerful statement you won’t find. Believe it and live it, Abby. You’re not a work in progress. You are completely perfect right this very moment. Come from that place and “miracles” will pop up all around you.

  20. I`m kind of struggling in reminding myself I am not my circumstances, and I am feeling a little lost in it. Your post read today is like honey in my tea :P
    Sometimes I feel like giving all up and go live in the woods (just a metaphor :) ), but then again someone reminds me that I just need to concentrate on where I want to go, or what I want to achieve and start working for it, instead of giving up because of where I am now and what I don`t have in my life at this point.
    Thank you Abby, you rock! :)

    • I totally agree and understand that struggle not to give up. the hardest part for me now is figuring out how to accept that I can’t be the person I used to, when I had a successful career I loved. Now I must learn to love being at home and accept that I am, at least for now, too sick to work.

  21. I really liked this post and related to it, as someone who’s only recently accepted that I’m more than the sum of what has happened to me. My depression and the messed up stuff I’ve been through in my life are things that have affected me but don’t *become* my identity.

  22. Thanks Abby. I needed that

  23. Wow, really made me think about things. I thought I knew who I was until I got married. Then thought about it again after I had kids, who am I now. Now it seems I’m thinking about it again, after 18 years of marriage, life changes us so much. Time to find out who I am again, thank you so much for this post.

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