The masses of Chicago fight through their bitter (potentially smelly–looking at you CTA) commute. At work they put in long hours under high anxiety, before limping home to their relationships and families. Things with their families are awkward, as they know their relationships need help, but they never seem to have “time” to invest properly, so they feel guilty and stressed.
Their bodies ache for a walk in nature, but they keep telling themselves that it would be selfish if they took time for themselves to nourish their bodies. Their mom would sometimes call them during work, and they would text back, “sorry mom, busy at work–miss you!” while avoiding her.
They kept telling themselves that their 9-to-5 job was what would help them eventually get published as a writer, if they could only find the time to write that first draft. Not enough time, not enough energy, and a constant thrum of work and movement drowned out most of the emotional background of their lives.
COVID Shuts Down The World
That was many of us before the pandemic. COVID-19 then swooped in, shutting our lives down, sending us (and the world) into what seems like a never-ending tailspin.
No longer did we have our morning ritual: a smile at the local coffee shop barista, gazing at the gorgeous skyline on the train ride to work, and daily chats with a few coworkers we really clicked with. All of the small (and sometimes underrated) moments of connection with others built into our daily lives vanished.
After the pandemic, we could no longer make excuses to ignore everything in our lives that really needed to be addressed: our family, partner, body, artistry, etc. Another way of putting it, is that our problems came flying into our face, on top of the screeching halt of the rest of the world.
That scenario, in some way or another, all happened to us when COVID-19 put the world on standstill.
If we used our work life to escape the reality of the rest of our lives, and at home that barrier no longer exists, then what happens? If we were escaping our problems by living our work identity 40+ hours a week, what happens when the place (our physical workspace) that held that identity vanishes? For many of us, it was not pretty. I have had my own experience of this as well as hearing from friends, family, and clients about this phenomenon. It is universal.
Identity Stripped Down: What’s Left?
Unfortunately, sometimes the consequences of reckoning with our identities are more than just feeling like you have to finally call your mother.
When the world shut down, for some it meant that a violent partner had that much more of an opportunity to abuse their partner. Or a marriage that was driving both partners crazy drives them to the brink. Or any sense of peace and aloneness disappears when children don’t go to school. Or a pervasive sense of loneliness sets in when someone whose major interactions were with their local barista and casual conversations with coworkers.
The shutdown left pretty much everyone with some identity stripped away, and other, more dormant identities were forced to the forefront. Sometimes the most prominent identity we have can be overcompensating for other identities that we want to hide from others, don’t want to work on, are ashamed of, or afraid to confront.
This experience is natural and human. We can use our experience of the world shutting down as an opportunity to all become better people.
So, how do we deal with losing parts of ourselves and having to reckon with how much of ourselves we put into that lost identity, and how much we conveniently ignored other parts of ourselves?
I think that the pandemic gives us all a chance to really connect to our true self, which, in general, I think is extremely important in the therapy process. Finding our own unique sense of humanity is paramount to establishing a healthier life.
I think of the pandemic as a trying time, one in which we really learn what we are made of, for better or worse. And from understanding what we truly are made of, we then have the best and most profound opportunity to grow.
5 Steps to Find a Renewed Sense of Self in the Midst of a Pandemic
Here are some strategies to connect with your true sense of self. I recommend grabbing a journal to work through these concepts.
1. Write down how you thought of yourself in your childhood, your teen years, or your twenties, depending on your age. If you can’t think of it, then ask a family member or friend.
The idea is to think of who you were before all of those other obligations set in: age, declining health, partners, work, children, moving, giving up dreams, etc.
I believe that parts of ourselves live on within our current self until the day we die. What are those dormant parts of yourself?
2. Now take those dormant parts of yourself and make them into an identity.
For example, when I was in high school, I loved doing chemistry and being a dork. My life swept me in the direction of the arts, but a part of me that loved experimenting lived on. So I took the “alchemist” inside of me, and I am now making cosmetics for myself and those who are close to me. This activity I can do alone (pandemic friendly), and it activates my creativity.
What part (identity) can you allow to thrive, now? Describe in detail what this identity would look like, within yourself, and manifested in the world.
3. Write about your major identities. Before the pandemic, what were the major ways in which you saw yourself?
For the artists out there, perhaps the most prominent identity for you was your stage persona, your identity as a performing artist. You may over time have found ways to express it during the pandemic, but I can guess it doesn’t feel as satisfying as it did before, with the visceral feeling of a live audience.
Ask yourself how much of your ego (your sense of self-worth or where you were putting most of your energy in) was wrapped up in that identity. Were you utilizing the validation you got from the identity as your primary purpose in life?
Answer this question: when things go back to “normal”, will I allow myself to wrap my ego up in this identity all over again? Although it may have felt good in the moment, was it a reflection of my true self?
4. Think about what you would like for your future.
An example of an identity that could have been forced into the forefront is that of “mother.” You may want to stop feeling like the only thing you do is be the “mom.” In fact, perhaps you were resentful of being put in that position in the first place, and having it be pushed to the brink has forced you to take charge of how this identity will manifest in your life, rather than being washed away by it.
5. Finally, figure out how you can cope with the identities that are possible to embrace during the pandemic. If you were a stage performer and perhaps you picked up drawing during the pandemic (as in, an activity you can do alone that still feeds you creatively) at some point you may hit a wall and feel like nothing can replace your feeling of being on stage.
Tell yourself: that’s okay. During this period, you will let yourself play in different identities, and you will learn something. And in that learning, you can reintegrate it into identities that will be able to become more prominent when the pandemic ends. And perhaps in that reintegration, you will feel even more powerful than when the pandemic began.
Conclusion: Embrace and Play With New Identities
Here are some take-aways from this article on reckoning with your identities during the pandemic.
- You’re not alone in feeling shaken up and searching for a sense of self.
- You can utilize forced changes in identity due to the pandemic to find more of your true self.
- It’s okay to go back to the drawing board and build a better you, one that is more true to yourself.
- Allow yourself to think outside of the box.
- Know that you may hit resistance, by yourself, your ego, and/or others around you in trying to reclaim your sense of self.
- Allow time to find the wisdom within yourself.
- Make specific goals that can help you gain a sense of accomplishment. Give yourself a timeline, and think of small and larger goals to achieve what you’re looking for.
- Know that you are a unique human being with infinite potential. You and only you have the power to define your life.
What would you like to hear about from our therapists? What are you looking for guidance with? At Best Therapies, we are committed to trying to help as many people as we can, because folks need it, right now. Write to us, and we will use your thoughts for future blog posts. Be well.