Making a new identity
If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ll know I left my last job a while back now – I think it’s over 2 years ago. Since leaving, there’s been something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I’ve just felt really lost and without purpose. I don’t regret leaving, at all. But the lack of progress has been frustrating me and I’ve not been able to figure out why I haven’t been able to begin moving forward.
In recent weeks I think I may have cracked it somewhat. Identity is such a huge thing, and our jobs give us an easy way to define ourselves, much as we don’t want them to. My job title was such a huge part of my life, and giving it up, again, left me feeling really lost. One day I was in charge. The next I was nothing.
I have compassion for the intervening time I spent recovering from depression, and still have a little compassion for being generally knackered all the time (thanks CFS). But I didn’t have compassion for the loss of identity and the time it would take to grieve the person I used to be.
I’m now a PhD student. But I really don’t feel as though I have slotted into that identity at all. I fight it every day, spending months doing absolutely nothing before panic-writing things the day before they’re due in, as usual. I don’t feel as though I belong here. I don’t feel it’s something I’m good at. I’m not in control, like I used to be. I don’t know what I’m doing. I hear people say that it happens to everyone who is starting a PhD, but it’s almost 18 months later and I’m still trying to shoehorn my brain into realising this is what I do now.
I think it’s because I haven’t let go of my previous identity. I need to fully release that past person and wholly grieve her, before being able to move on. Everything I do, I compare it to how I used to be. I don’t know how to move past this – it’s something I’ve been doing since burning out spectacularly from my first proper stint at management. Almost ten years later, I’m still trying to claw my way back to that feeling. It was an adrenaline-fuelled high and I’ve been chasing it ever since. I was absolutely broken, a shell, but I had -if not prestige, at least meaning. I want it back, still. But I have to let it go.
I’m by myself most of the day, and although I’m happy with this, sometimes it becomes a bit of an echo chamber for that part of my brain that shouts mean things at me from the inside. As much as I try to ignore it these days, sometimes those thoughts can get really, really insistent. But instead of listening to how I’ll never compare to the person I once was, I am determined to create that same sense of purpose from my life now. The question is, how? What identity will fit me and give me that feeling of being a successful person once again?
It all seems to far away and unattainable. I find it hard to even start a project before that voice is yelling ‘You’re a failure’. I mean, I already deleted all the content I began to make for Patreon and shelved the whole thing. It took a lot of effort to put that little ‘coming soon’ back into the sidebar, brush myself off, and begin again. I’ve had my last ever blog post written for months now, ready to hit publish when I feel overwhelmed by how futile it is trying to make a successful blog nowadays. I’ve googled ‘quitting your PhD’ more times than I can count. The thing is, there’s nothing currently that gives me a feeling of being successful – I need to create something I can measure myself against.
That self-doubt is crippling and I’m constantly second guessing myself. I lost my previous identity and I just can’t seem to find a new one. Who do I want to be? Where will I ever fit in?
I just don’t know the answer at the moment but it feels better to at least attempt to articulate it somehow. I know I’m motivated by feedback from others, I’m motivated by feeling like I know what I’m doing, I’m motivated by feeling I’ve made a tangible difference, I’m motivated by being able to be independent.
I think the next step, then, is to figure out how I can get this from my current situation. To carry on, no matter how many times that voice is telling me I’m useless and to finally say goodbye, somehow, to my previous incarnation, taking the best bits forwards into a new adventure.