I hear and see a lot about “being yourself”, “finding yourself” and “being who you really are”, or “getting back to who you were”. I have discovered that who I am is part learned behaviour, part personality traits, part environment and experience, part mental illness and part medication – but is any of it actually REAL?
I believe the last time I was ACTUALLY “myself”, I was a prepubescent girl who quickly learned to play make-believe – all of the time. I have always felt that I somehow would never measure up, my thoughts were not understood, my behaviour was weird, things that I thought were triumphs were just ordinary or actually, of no consequence at all. I have felt like a disappointment from a very, very young age. My parents didn’t want me to get “too full of myself”, or think I was special in any way. That would have been “bad form”. I heard a lot of, “that’s very nice dear, but..”, and “Shhh, you shouldn’t blow your own horn!”, and you aren’t good enough at this or that to do that or this. (Oh, but “think positive”!)
My life, for a long long time, has become a series of performances. Playing a person I wish to be or one that everyone else wants me to be has been my main method. I have had many less than stellar performances, lots of very low budget “B” movies, horrible monologues, failed plot lines, etc. I guess some of my roles have been good enough to keep me going though, to keep on acting, to BE the me I seem to be. I watched one parent do it all my life as a child; she still does and and is so accomplished that she and many others believe that the character she has written for herself is real.
Even when alone, which I really do not mind anymore (I actually prefer it), I am often acting. I am always running lines – what I have coined “scenario-ing”. I will think up a possible scenario in which I need to get a point across, defend myself, resolve a conflict, make an impression, even introduce myself, explain something to a doctor, boss, friend – you name it. Then, I will rehearse and make adjustments in the script, though I have seldom ever actually hit the stage with these lines. I also try to re-enact scenes from my past in order to make them turn out with alternate endings.
Until recently I have always managed to do this either in my vehicle or at home, or when I am completely alone. Eventually I get to a point where I quit and give my head a shake. Lately however, I have been “scenario-ing” more and more often (or maybe I’m just noticing it more?) and catching myself doing it in more public areas, like on the way to or from the parking lot at work, in my office and other places where I am alone, but in public. Could I be doing this more often than I think and not catching myself before someone observes me intensely yabbering away to someone who is not there? Yikes! That is so NOT the character I want the audience to see!
I also often wonder if I am really just seriously narcissistic, as I always try to censor my every move and statement when I am with others, analyzing and questioning my behaviour so that I may maintain the character I wish to portray. The question as to whether I am a “fake” person is one I ask myself continually. The answer is usually, well, yeah. The notion of the world as a stage and the people merely players, at least for me, is one that I really subscribe to. I have NO idea how anyone else sees themselves, or how people see me. I just keep acting, refining my theatrical skills and “scenario-ing” (though I have been trying to stop that particular eccentricity). Being anything BUT an actor is a completely foreign skill to me.
Except… the only time I know for sure that I am NOT acting is when I experience a severe hypomanic or depressive episode. That is the only time when I am actually “being myself”, I think. No wonder I act. The medications help with that. I think I deserve at least a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, if not an actual Oscar. At least I know I am acting. That’s something, I suppose.
About L. Song
L. Song is a middle aged professional who has been struggling with Bipolar Disorder II since her teens. After finally being properly diagnosed and prescribed the correct medication at forty-four, she has dedicated herself to helping others who suffer from the stigma of mental illness through her work. To try to make a difference, L. Song supports organizations such as Mood Disorders Society of Canada, CAMH, as well as HMC. As an avid “horse person,” she also follows and contributes to a Facebook page, Riders Against Mental Illness Stigma. She plans to someday work with people and horses in a therapeutic capacity and publish a book about her experiences living and recovering from the disorder. You can follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds blog.