Losing and Finding Me: Who Do I Think I am?
by Jennifer Paros
Be that self which one truly is.
~ Soren Kierkegaard
Years ago, while in art school, I accidentally lost eleven pounds. It wasn’t the result of physical illness, more like mental unrest. I wanted to make art but also doubted I was skilled or capable enough. What I believed about myself and what I wanted were in conflict, so I was stressed. Then, one day, I made an interesting decision. Though I’d always been thin, I decided to put myself on a sort of diet to lose two pounds (it made sense at the time). I see now, I was looking for something I could take control of – to feel better about myself. Time passed and eventually murmurs of concern, occasional remarks, and an anorexia reference rolled in. These comments threw me into a spin. I didn’t actually know how much I weighed; the start of my “diet” was the last time I had weighed myself. Finally, I stepped on a scale and found I had lost not two but eleven pounds – down to what I weighed in high school when I’d felt so bad about being too skinny I’d tried to gain weight.
I’d been both awake and asleep to what I was doing during this time. In my peripheral consciousness I could feel desperation but didn’t know how to address it. Now it was my task to undo the misguided thoughts and artificial ways I’d developed for soothing myself. It wasn’t easy or fast. I struggled to let go of striving to restrict myself– at first approaching it mechanically. I attempted what everyone wanted me to do: “Just eat more”. But the mind that had strategized trying to regulate what I was eating and the emotions that had learned to calm when that control was taken weren’t so easily moved. I pined for the natural way I’d once eaten and had inadvertently traded away. Gradually, I found my way back.
Who I thought I was and who I deep down sensed I was were not aligned, and that left me feeling out of sorts and out of control. Losing and gaining can become the fixations of a mind ill at ease, of a person who has misidentified herself. Hinging one’s well-being on perceived gains and losses is a product of forgetting what we actually are. We are inherently creative. We are a source - of innovation, imagination, and action. When aligned with this truth, the concept of loss is no longer experienced as threatening or depowering. It doesn’t need to be soothed, blocked, or escaped.
There is no greater joy than that of feeling oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation.
~ Henri Bergson
About a year and a half after my husband and I had our first child, we got pregnant again. From the start, the pregnancy felt different to me and by the end of my first trimester it ended in miscarriage. I did my best to accept the situation but was increasingly unhappy – not just about what I believed I had lost but about what I thought I might never get. In order to move forward I had to think differently. I strove to soften my mental stance and leaned into embracing the experience of already having a child I loved - complete and whole in itself. Then I put my attention on creating. At the time, the only workspace we had was a tiny storage area where our unit’s washing machine resided. There I managed to set up a table and took to drawing and building the components of a miniature room for an animation idea I had. The more I built, the more I imagined, the more filled I was with energy and joy for the process. I was no longer suffering loss; I was doing what, in truth, we’re all always doing – I was creating – only, deliberately.
It is important to know who I think I am because that definition and identity determine what I deem important, whether or not I believe I need protecting, and whether or not I’m truly free. I must make sure my definition includes powerful creator (understanding I don’t yet have to have used my full powers to be one). Creative energy is the true Self, the essence of who we are beyond personality or ego; it bounds forward eager to express and evolve, develop and sometimes even dismantle. It craves more and it generates more. It is with us all the time – inaccessible only when we’re convinced we are something less than what we are.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.