How Many People Are You?
I've lost count...
Being a writer, I spend a lot of time inside my own head. Its a funny old place, full of nooks and crannies, dark corners and meandering avenues that lead nowhere.
I have been wandering in these corridors ever since I came to self consciousness, and now they are full of distant memories, scattered images, half imagined scenes and meaningless whispers. The question I have been asking since I was old enough to ask it - ‘who am I?’ - remains stubbornly unanswered.
This is a question that many people don’t ask themselves in the first place. People like me however - writers and extreme introverts - never stop being bothered by the question. Of course it has no answer - which is partly why it is so compelling.
One thing I have concluded however is that there is no ‘real me’. Instead there are a multiplicity of identities that overlap and often argue with one another. Sometimes each of them seems to struggle for dominance, but another version of myself always comes along and defeats it, at least temporarily.
I certainly don a number of different masks depending on what role is required of me. I am a different person with my daughters than I am with a policeman who has stopped me for a traffic offence. In a work or professional role, I am different from ‘normal’ life. I will present separately from a London cab driver to a therapist, and I am someone else again when I am alone.
Trying to work out who you ‘really’ are is like trying to wrap up water in a paper parcel. As you try to unwrap it the whole construction falls apart before you can really get a glimpse of the shapeless thing within. Whatever ‘it’ is, it is full of contradictions and paradoxes. I am wise and and I am foolish, I am kind and I am thoughtless, I am generous and I am mean, I am smart and I am stupid, I am serene and I am furious. It really depends on the day, or even the time of day. Last night I woke up at 3am and decided that I was really a jolly good fellow who could look back on a worthy and successful life, having overcome countless obstacles on the way. It was a novel version of myself - usually I’m much more self critical - but I’m going to try and hold on to it. It will disappear , of course, probably to give way to some other rather less flattering iteration.
I suppose other people’s versions of you ( or me) are much more stable. We create stereotypes about people and stick to them because they reassure us that reality holds its place more than it actually does. But this is a lie. Just as we cannot know ourselves, we cannot know other people, not completely, and sometimes only very partially. Everyone is capable of surprising us for good or ill. In the latter instance this can be devastating, for instance if you are betrayed by someone you deeply trust. Your whole world view is thrown into question when someone turns out not to be who you thought they were. Your inner map of the world collapses and you find yourself floundering in uncharted territory.
Even worse is when you find out you are not who you thought you were. I am not an expert on post traumatic stress disorder, but from what I understand of it , some war veterans - for instance - are not driven internal suffering by the horrors that they have seen, but rather what they found themselves capable of doing. And sometimes, enjoying. Because there is darkness as well as light in all of us, and we prefer to look away from the darkness, as, paradoxically, it can blind us.