It’s interesting how circular some things can be. In 2013, I wrote a blog post about identity, and it was a short exploration of what identity is, as a concept, and also how I define myself.
In 2013, I was 27 going on 28, and nine years later, I’m 37 going on 38. It seems a long time ago, and a lot has happened. There have been changes, some of them the hardest things I’ve been through thus far. Re-reading that blog post feels strange. No doubt also because I didn’t have all the information about myself that I needed at the time.
I had always felt like something was different for me, that I felt and saw things and struggled with aspects of life that seemed easy enough for most people. I wrote about belonging too, and how hard it was for me when I didn’t feel like I fit in – whether that was in the deaf community or elsewhere.
But then I also did find community and connection in unlikely places. Through this blog, Ra’s Cheer Peppers, and people who have always been around but maybe I took my time understanding how precious they are. I’ve had some trials figuring out what real community and connection feel like.
Being autistic means I have had a hard time following conventions of friendship rules. I take a long time – sometimes years – to feel comfortable with people. And I find I don’t always have the energy to make or keep friends in the way that is ‘normal’.
I’ve realised that I find it a lot easier to have friendships that don’t demand or expect a lot from me, especially since I’m in burnout recovery. Socialising takes a lot of energy, and at the moment at least, it takes me a few days, sometimes up to a week, to recover from meeting people face to face. When you couple that with also lipreading and trying to follow, it’s really exhausting!
This is a digression though, and I think what I’m getting at is that often I wonder if we define our identities in relation to our relationships and friendships in life. Not that we see ourselves how other people do, but more that our interactions and behaviours with other people can often be the way that we describe our roles and characteristics.
For example, kind, friendly, an introvert or extrovert (or somewhere in the middle), enthusiastic, confident or shy, socially anxious or social butterfly, and so on.
When our personalities come up against other people, we can sometimes find different facets of who we are, or people can bring out something new that we didn’t know we could be or feel.
So I think learning that I’m AuDHD (autistic with ADHD) means I understand better why I struggled with belonging and understanding my own identity more fully. It can be hard to see yourself clearly when you don’t have all the information, and for a while I found myself uncertain about who I am, what I want, and felt the weight of expectations from other people.
Expectations, if I’m honest, I couldn’t always meet in the way they wanted me to, at least not how I was able to before. I felt very lost, unsure of myself, and second guessed the decisions I made.
When I read the post about identity though, it seemed like I came full circle. At the beginning of it, I said that I ‘used to define myself by what I consumed: my favourite TV series, my taste in music, what I wore.’ Then I go on to say that I feel identity is something deeper.
Whilst yes, identity is a whole mass of things – memory, language, culture, what we choose to do and say and put out into the world, our reactions to experiences, how we are with others, our roles and choices – I actually think that it’s okay to define ourselves by what we love too.
It’s okay to love the things we love – music, TV shows, films, books, art – and to cobble together aspects of those to express ourselves and who we are. I’ve come back to a lot of things that previously I sort of masked or hid from people for fear of being seen as not ‘adult’ enough in the past few years.
Being AuDHD – I have a lot of interests and passions and knowledge areas picked up over the years. There is nothing wrong with revelling in that. People make art, and we consume that art, and sometimes we use that art like magpies to inspire us, or we fall in love with it and hold it close to us.
Yes, consumption can become excessive and I don’t generally feel like we need to consume to have identity. But it can also bring great joy when we appreciate other people’s creations. Whether that’s a TV series or a piece of colourful clothing, or collecting things. I suppose when I wrote that post I didn’t consider that. I’ve found great happiness over the years from wearing clothes that feel like ‘me’, whatever that means.
In my essay book, I wrote about introversion and highly sensitive people (HSPs). My book explored the fragments of my identity, my life, my interests. Many people who previously thought of themselves as HSP have turned out be be autistic. The person who wrote the book Highly Sensitive People, Elaine N. Aron, based her book on family members and, since, they have discovered they’re autistic.
It’s interesting to me that in my search for understanding myself (and the many ‘self help’ books I read!), the signs were there and the work autistic and ADHD advocates have done in the past ten years have made it a lot easier for people to understand and see themselves.
But then I still think that people are complicated. We can’t just define ourselves by any one thing, and I truly feel like identity is in flux all the time, with our changing roles in life, with our needs and dreams changing, and with our understanding of ourselves and the people around us.
There’s also the concrete experiences of identity and intersections of identity that affect how we are seen by and treated by others and the pain that can bring – ableism, fatphobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and so on. I didn’t mention that in my post about identity in 2013. But it has a very real effect on how we experience the world and how we see ourselves.
I believed that we could create our own identity. To some extent, that is true, but in others not so much. Our society doesn’t always allow us to, and we are forced to reckon with that. Privilege also has a part to play in how free we are to define ourselves and express who we are, and I know my privilege as a white, middle class woman has afforded me with some cushioning from some of the immediate judgement and discrimination other people face.
Identity is a complicated, slippery thing. But I do think that we can imagine a world where we experience true freedom, one day. The kind of freedom where we are able to be ourselves without judgement or fear, so long as we don’t harm others. Where we can experience joy freely.
‘There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’– Virginia Woolf
This post is part of NanoPoblano, a Cheer Peppers production! If you’d like to see what other people are writing and sharing, please click the image below.