WARNING: Shit is about to get personal (and weird).
It’s once again oversharing-o-clock, and this time I’m talking about labels, identities, and meaning.
Recently, I had a breakthrough in therapy while discussing my extreme mood swings: “My strongest core belief is that I have no stable sense of identity or self. I cope with this by basing my identity on how different I am from other people and making all encompassing declarations about what is and isn’t me.”
I swear the world stopped when I said those words out loud, the truth piercing my mind like a lightning bolt.
I have no stable sense of identity.
I have no stable sense of identity or self.
I never have.
Holy fuck. That’s why I’m… me.
The epiphany transformed from a lightning bolt to Dumbledore’s Pensive from Harry Potter, a swirling gyre of memory and self-realizations. Everything fell into place. A thousand examples flashed before my eyes. Ever since I was a child, I’ve swung madly from one declarative “idea” of myself to the next. My most primal motivation, for everything I have ever done, is based on deciding Who I Am™. I see everything in black and white, declaring things to be either “me” or “not me.” Sometimes it’s a conceptual belief or group, sometimes it’s based around my connection with a person. Of the few things about my identity that do come naturally, I am extremely introverted and guarded, so connections with people are rare, but when they happen, I go from 0-60 in 3.5. I’m all or nothing, all the time. I’m always on the edge, willing to fly off on a dime if whatever I’m clinging to isn’t carved in stone.
When I have a conviction about something, I stick to it forever. I cannot abide change that I didn’t personally orchestrate, because that could disturb the fragile ecosystem I craft around myself. I strike down fiats and declare, with pomp and circumstance, “HEAR YE, HEAR YE, THIS IS WHO I AM™! THIS IS WHO I AM FOR ALL TIME! I WILL RUMINATE AND OBSESS!”
As a toddler, I became so obsessed with The Little Mermaid that I forced my parents to call me Ariel for a year, followed by Mary Poppins. I wasn’t old enough to fully understand the concepts of labels and identities, but I was already desperately trying to form one, and was willing to fight tooth and nail (read: screaming tantrum) to get it.
In fourth grade, my class went on an all day field trip to some Gold Rush-esque landmark and stopped at McDonald’s for dinner (it was spring 2004, Super Size Me had yet to enter the cultural zeitgeist). Now, I never really liked McDonald’s, nor fast food in general, so I procured my pre-packed Tupperware from my backpack.
“You brought your own DINNER?” one classmate shrieked, appalled that I could resist the greasy allure of chicken nuggets.
“WHY?” gasped another.
Soon, a small crowd of my peers had gathered to taunt me, the only member of Brittan Acres Elementary’s entire fourth grade who had dared to reject the taste of an impending coronary. I responded by swearing, right then and there, that I would NEVER eat McDonald’s or any similar fast food chains ever again, because that was me. That was Who I Am™. Being anti-McDonald’s was a label I could cling to. Fourteen years later, I still hold myself to it.
In middle school, I was the kind of girl who only really had one close friend, and when she wasn’t there, I was spinning off my axis. Why was she hanging out with someone who WASN’T me? We were best friends… right? THAT was most of my identity. During my freshman year of high school, I absolutely lost it when an audition went badly. Theater was me! Who was I if not for that label? WHAT was I? Was I a rebel? A nerd? An underachiever? Was I a slut or a prude? I swung, as I do, madly between extremes, trying to find something that fit.
As I grew further into my teens and romantic prospects entered my field of vision, I had a whole new sense of self to hitch my unhealthy wagon to. My identity was having a crush on X, or throwing myself into my pursuit of Y. I spent an alarming amount of time daydreaming about running off with the dude who gave me a hickey one June afternoon and proceeded to obsess about him for the next 2 years. The summer during which (MAJOR TMI AHEAD, Mom and Dad, PLEASE skip ahead to the next paragraph) I became ~SeXuALLy AcTiVe~, my unstable mind had a field day, turning the event over and over in my mind, wondering what this meant for my identity. Shouldn’t I be a completely different person now? I was No Longer A Virgin™! I was Girl Who Has Sex™! I was Girl Who Spent Her Summer Obsessing Over Boy Who Clearly Wanted A Hookup™. Surely THAT should change my identity. THAT must be Who I Am™, I convinced myself.
In college, I seized the opportunity to declare various identities with abandon. I was Party Girl™! I was Sorority Girl Who Didn’t Fit Into Her Sorority™, but I stayed in it because those Greek letters gave me something to belong to. I was Late Night Booty Call Girl™, I was Erin’s Big™ (that was, and is, an identity I love), I was Vodka QUINNBerry™. Most of the time, and not by choice, I was Girl Who Feels Empty and Lost™.
My veganism? I do it because I genuinely care about the environmental impact, but I think part of me also wants to cling to the identity. Vegan Girl? YES, that is me! Hear me roar, I declared 3 years ago, I am VEGAN GIRL™!
I think this unstable sense of identity and resulting emotional extremes is what made my transition into life on my own so difficult. As you all know, I arrived in LA two years ago, fresh out of college, entering a new transitional phase where I had (you guessed it) no identity! The possibilities were endless. I threw myself into connections I made and my identity became Living Lana Del Rey Song™: emotionally unstable girlfriend of an aspiring actor who cries in her car. My LA nights revolved around (SORRY AGAIN, Mom and Dad, please look away) the hazy light of his Santa Monica apartment, sharing joints and having deep emotional discussions where one or both of us cried, before promptly screwing each other’s brains out (no shade or blame on him I was equally at fault for unhealthy behavior). I was Girl In Love™. I cried every time I sensed something was slightly off with us and lived in fear of him abandoning me (which, as you know, he did). I had no other identity in town except crappy jobs I took to pay the bills. When that relationship ended, it was the worst period of my life because not only was I dealing with the betrayal of a breakup, but I had completely lost who I was. With no identity to ground me, I entered a suicidal spiral. I’ve beaten that dead horse several times over, so I’ll refrain more detail.
Most of my journey that has been chronicled on this blog has been Girl With Personal Blog™, Mental Illness Girl™, Girl Defined By Her Unhinged Bitterness™. Even once I’d moved on and dated other people, the hurt and the betrayal I had felt about how my relationship ended remained, to the point that it became my identity. The sense of loneliness and loss in all aspects of my life became my identity. THIS, I declared, is Who I Am™.
Ironically, my therapist says she has more suspected diagnoses that she is avoiding giving me so that I won’t make them my new identity.
Another consequence is basing my identity on how different I am from other people. Special snowflake, I know, but it’s not all bullshit. I’ve always had various weird mannerisms and been the odd one out in social groups. Visually, I’m quite an oddbird: 5’10” with red hair, shockingly thin build with limbs like a willow tree, and a name like a cartoon character. I’ve always stood out just by virtue of being me.
Who am I now? Well, I’m still 5’10” with red hair, limbs like a willow tree, weird mannerisms, and a name like a cartoon character. I’m still vegan. I’m still a self deprecating waif who overshares on her blog. I’m still a stubborn, quick-tempered vixen who would sooner die than give an opinion she doesn’t completely support. I’m still a person with a mental illness. I am now a person who takes Zoloft because my brain doesn’t make serotonin, and it makes a huge difference. I feel like I was drowning for almost two years and now I’m finally coming up for air.
I’ve had enough of being Broken and Angry Quinn. Now, I’m just going to try being… Quinn, a complex human not defined by a single emotion or trait.
I’m really hoping just being Quinn will be enough.
Twitter: @qhopp | IG: @quinnhopp | quinnhopp.com