When I started to consider what makes me, me, I realised something. Who I am is personal; it doesn’t rely on other people to tell me who I am. Who I am isn’t determined by what others see when they look at me. If you spend more than five minutes with me, you will possibly be one of those people who tells me I’m quiet, as if it’s a character trait I’ve not noticed before. If you see me on a particularly tough day, you might think I’m overly sensitive or introspective. You could call me all sorts of things: an introvert, a creative, a loner, a listener. You might look at the diagnoses attributed to me and call me a service user, a patient, unwell. But still, that isn’t me.
I have spent more than three quarters of my life fighting against who I am. I thought that If I could deny who I was and what I experienced growing up, people were more likely to see me in a positive light. If I could pretend I wasn’t me and hide away from the world, maybe people wouldn’t uncover the part of me that I’m so ashamed of. If I could just be an extrovert, then I would be like everyone else and they would like me. But all that fighting and striving left me with was isolation, depression and even more shame.
My childhood saw years of sexual abuse and school bullying. My innate shyness grew into a refusal to speak in order to protect a little of myself. In doing so, I stopped creating a “me.” To have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, would be to allow me to develop and grow. Having an opinion would mean that people could turn against me in disagreement. Staying silently absent, I thought, would mean abusers wouldn’t notice me. However, in doing so, I became a 20-something adult without the ability to hold a conversation and without a self that I was willing to acknowledge, let alone let other people see.
If you had told me, two years ago, that I would be writing to unknown people about what makes me, me, I wouldn’t have believed you. But things change. I still feel a lot of shame, I still want to hide more often than I want to be around people, and using my voice takes a day’s energy. But declaring who I am and deciding who I wish to be is a part of reclaiming my life. Ernest Hemingway once said: “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” That is where I now choose to stand. I am not what has happened to me. I’m not a victim, a survivor or a sufferer. I’m me, not because of what happened to me, but in spite of what has happened to me. Of course, life changes us, as Hemingway says, but it can make us better and stronger.
What remains at the core of me is tenacity. I am me because I refuse to give up. I screw up, I frequently question what I’m doing or what I’m aiming for, but I keep going. I am me because I am the only person in this world with my history and my future. No-one else is me. I may be quiet, I may be sensitive and introspective, but that is how I present, not who I am. I am me because my future is what I choose to make it. I am me because I am the author of my own life. I may not be able to control what happens to me, but I can choose how my story ends.