Decisions and Self

This week I’ve been visiting with my mom, and thinking about decisions. The decisions I made while under mania’s influence. And I’ve come to some conclusions.

The decisions were in the past. They may have shaped me, but they are not me. Just as bipolar isn’t me, just a disease I have. Just as parish pastor wasn’t me, just a career or job I had for a while. I’m still coming to terms with this last one. Like I’ve said before, I drank the kool-aid of CPMs and formation for ministry so that my identity became “pastor.” But all this is in the past and I have the present before me. The past doesn’t define me. 

Who am I? I’m still not sure. I can list adjectives, such as intelligent, kind, adventurous, justice-loving, people-person, idea-person, cat-lover, funny,  compassionate . . .   But they feel like labels, not a self. I can list things I like to do, such as watercolor and color mandalas, listen to and watch the ocean, play with cats, watch movies, have coffee with friends . . . But these too feel like labels, not a self.

I’ve been repeating these labels over and over, hoping they sink in, and a sense of self would develop. So far nothing. My therapist wants me to work on self-esteem and therefore do this exercise. I quipped back, “That would require a self to esteem.”

So, decisions are not me, characteristics are not me, likes and dislikes are not me. What constitutes a “self”? More than a philosophical question, this is a matter of intense importance.

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16 responses to “Decisions and Self

  1. I always appreciate your big questions and your thoughtful reflection.
    I have long thought of the self as the sum of what’s essential…what’s there when all the ” doing” labels are removed. I believe that faith invites us to think of the self as essentially good and definitely loved.

    • Thanks, Jennifer! I think I’m still stripping the “doing” labels off, and am scared there’s nothing underneath, or I won’t like what I find. It’s very helpful to be reminded of what I know from faith – the self is good and lovable. 🙂

  2. Maybe a more spiritually fruitful question would be “Whose I am?” Concentrate on the relational, not the external.

  3. Sometimes I feel like I am wondering right alongside you. In relation to what Diana commented, I pictured one of my kids having an identity crisis and suddenly I can completely comprehend our Father saying, “why, you are MY CHILD, that’s who you are! You don’t need to be anything else. Anything else is just gravy!” But when I turn that on myself, it’s somehow much harder to believe.

    • Why is that? It is so much harder to believe about ourselves. I guess that’s why we have to keep saying it, and hearing it, so we can start believing it.

  4. You are a child of God, sealed by the spirit. 🙂

    Also, you are a RevGal who’s blogs are being introduced to the community today. Welcome!

    • Thanks for the welcome! And that is my favorite line from the baptismal liturgy. One church I was at used it every week as the closing prayer for youth group. Always a needed reminder. It seems my question about identity has more to do with how am I supposed to express my identity as a child of God in this world. What makes me me?

  5. I was just thinking something similar yesterday when having a discussion about Heaven and the afterlife and what our spiritual bodies might be light. If we’ll just be pure energy and essence of self, what will that be like?

  6. Hi Deb,

    thanks for sharing your blogs on RevGals. Look forward to reading you.

  7. That’s key – you have an illness, bipolar is not who you are. This is a point we have repeatedly reinforced with our daughter, who struggles with bipolar disorder.

    Thank you for the courage to share your experience. It’s so easy to hide behind shame and stigma. As a parent of a child with mental illness, I appreciate your openess – you are a light and a witness to those struggling will mental illness and their families! Blessings on your continued journey and welcome to RevGalBlogPals.

    • Thanks for the welcome – I look forward to reading the blogs of many new friends at RevGalBlogPals.
      I’m consistently surprised at how folks have responded to my blog – encouraged by the openness. It feels like just me talking about my struggles and joy, knowing that there is stigma, but talking about it anyway.
      Blessings to you and your daughter!

  8. Having lived with a son with bipolar…I look forward to reading your blog and others that have responded…mkg

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