Identity Crisis

I was reading over old blog posts looking for a reference I thought I made and I re-read my favourite one that I have ever written. It’s so positive and hopeful. I feel like somebody else wrote it.

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It’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve been trying to write, but I feel like I have nothing to say that I haven’t said before. It’s like driving down a long stretch of highway where the scenery all looks the same. I start to feel like I’m not getting anywhere and it’s never going to change.

I’m not convinced otherwise.

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I’ve been sick a lot recently. My latest battle is with arthritis, cause unknown. People tell me I’m too young to have arthritis.

People used to tell me I was too young to have hip problems.

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Before I identified as anything else, I identified as a hockey player. My hip problems, which are ongoing, stemmed from the unnatural way a hockey goalie bends their legs to form a solid wall, pushes up and down and side to side with awkwardly angled knees.

It used to be hard to imagine going a week without playing hockey. When injuries finally forced me to quit, I would dream about playing. I would wake up with bruises on my right foot from making kick-saves against the wall in my sleep.

I am no longer a hockey player. I haven’t touched a puck for five years.

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It’s a hard thing, losing a piece of your identity like that. You have certain things that drive you, that frame your choices and put your life in context. I was in great shape and I didn’t drink, for the purposes of being a better hockey player. Were those things better than the alternative? I didn’t really know. They were for the purposes of being good at hockey, but once I had lost my frame of reference, my actions ceased to be purposeful.

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After I was a hockey player, my search for a new identity lead me to body build. It allowed me to get the endorphin release of exercise in a more controlled manner, and channel my competitive spirit and drive into something that made me feel better about myself.

But the injuries kept piling up, and I convinced myself eventually that I needed to stop, try to heal my body and balance it better, and rebuild from scratch.

It was around this time that I went vegan.

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Some people might recall that during the summer, I tried to eat a little fish for health reasons. It didn’t go down right, but my health has gotten worse, so I’m trying again.

I had been a vegan for two years, but my ailing health and medical professionals have suggested to me again that I may need to consume animal products in order to improve my health to a livable baseline.

I think there are a lot of good ethical and environmental reasons not to eat animal products, especially those raised on factory farms. Before this, my food choices had been purposeful.

Now I’m just a guy who eats.

 

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I’m spending some time in the states with my girlfriend, who is about the only thing that makes me happy. Being here means I can’t play online poker.

So who am I, exactly? All of these things that I’ve self-identified as, that I’ve used to frame my decisions, are no longer a part of my life.

I had planned to use my time here to reclaim parts of my identity. I wanted to work on my physical health (which has a fairly big impact on my mental health) and to work on my writing. Instead, my arthritic joints have prevented me from putting in work physically, and sapped me of my motivation. I feel hopeless and purposeless.

They were all right. I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.

My Experience With my Body Image

This blog was written for, and posted by, a friend of mine who writes about body image issues, both in her blog and in her PhD work. You can, and should, check out her blog here: http://femmered.blogspot.nl/

 

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I have been sick recently. I had a high fever and no appetite for a couple of weeks. I lost a lot of weight. Pants I had bought in the spring of 2011 (when I was very sick in a different way) started to fit too loosely around my waist. I could see my ab muscles. I could see my ribs.

 

After my fever subsided, I started, predictably, to put that weight back on.

 

I felt bad about it.

 

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I suffer from depression, anxiety, have low self esteem, and yes, body image issues. These are not things that fit nicely within clearly defined lines. They blend together, feed off of each other, and become parts of a whole person.

 

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When I was 18, I decided I wanted to bodybuild. I created a matrix to measure the nutritional values of some staple foods and measured my diet down to the gram. My mother was worried I had an eating disorder. I worked out obsessively, to the point of taking a cab to a 24 hour gym when a group project meeting broke at 2 am and the school gym was closed. At my physically strongest, I was 5’9”, 175 lbs, with roughly 10% bodyfat. I was deadlifting nearly 400 lbs.

 

I didn’t like myself then any more than I do now.

 

I still catch myself wishing I was that strong again.

 

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I am a victim of self-improvement. I am in a constant state of feeling like I am not good enough for myself. This feeling has motivated a lot of my projects. It also feeds my self-esteem issues. I tried to satisfy both by making a project out of changing my body.

 

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The insidious thing about changing your body is, paradoxically, that it is obvious.

 

If you change yourself emotionally, or mentally, only the few people close enough to you to know your heart and mind are going to notice, and those people are going to see you often enough that the change will be gradual. But if your body changes, anyone can notice. The reinforcement, positive or negative, can come from all the people who see you, from family through complete strangers. The feedback that you get on physical traits far outstrips the feedback you get on metaphysical ones on sheer volume, even if you value your metaphysical traits much more highly. For someone constantly seeking to feel good enough, it can become addicting and entrapping.

 

You get stuck in this feedback loop where you get the positive reinforcement, the attention or praise or body language you crave, so you make more changes, which results in more positive reinforcement. You get stuck on the treadmill and the speed keeps increasing, and the faster it goes, the harder it is to get off.

 

And then all of a sudden your legs quit.

 

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As an eighteen-year-old with low self esteem, I worried that I wasn’t good enough to find love or sex (even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t know which worried me more). I have both now. I have a richer, more rewarding life than I did at 18.

 

But the old feedback left desire lines in my brain, and nowadays, I feel weak. I feel powerless. My mood suffers. I don’t get the endorphin high I used to get from the gym. I have a partner who gives me plenty of positive reinforcement, but I’ve never handled praise very well.

 

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Since chronic ailments prevent me from working out (or at the very least make it a risky and harmful idea), I spend a lot of money on clothes to try to look good nowadays. I feel good every time I do, and then I feel bad about feeling good about something so superficial. I wish I drew more of my self-esteem from my inner qualities, some of which I think are pretty good.

 

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I think, if I had to guess, the solution lies along a path involving a lot of brainwork: meditation, yoga, mindfulness. I don’t think I can change how I feel about myself by changing who I am. I don’t think there is a “better” me out there that I will be able to love on his merits. So maybe changing how I perceive the world around me and my place in it will work. I don’t really know, but it’s worth a try. I’ve been good, maybe great, in a lot of other ways, and it hasn’t helped.