Lost identities

I feel lost. I don’t have a solid answer to ‘what is your PhD on?’. The topic of one’s PhD is self-defining. It defines who you interact with, and how. It defines how you spend your time, and by time I mean easily 10 hours a day kind of time. If you aren’t working on it, some part of your brain is still thinking about it. You read about it. You absorb other opinions about it into your skin. You spend aching hours sifting through numbers and sentences of data, scraping layers off a block of graphite into a mass of carbon that you then sit on like a mother hen until some kind of diamond shows up. Well, more likely you just create a pencil, but at least it’s useful.

Borderline personality disorder is also, coincidentally, associated with a poor sense of self, a lack of clear self-identity. How many PhD students, or for that matter researchers, would have traits of BPD if interviewed, I wonder? (The killer irony is that my PhD is examining identity, good grief).

That raises the whole issue of what a person can consider to be part of an identity anyway. Today I just finished my last set of questionnaires for a research study I’ve been a part of for two years. When the woman on the phone told me it was my last interview, I felt abandoned. “Yeah, this is your last interview,” she said, across what was now a giant empty room, before giving me a thumbs up and dashing out the door, plunging me into darkness. Echo…echo…connection cut, ‘research participant’ no more.

I can’t believe I had come to value the study so much, just in considering it a ‘part of me’ – something that I did, something to which I belonged. I feel this way so often when things end.

How can one not have an identity? Everyone has attributes. Is the power of identity when you personally identify with attributes? Does that make me a black hole – throw identity aspects in my direction and I swallow them, chewing and considering them for eternity as they get ever closer and never reach the singularity? I’m a Ditto that just stays sludge-like. I’m Kirby when he has a sick day. It doesn’t help that I’m a 12th or 13th generation white Canadian, as that essentially reduces my culture down to the anthropologist’s version of bland toast.

So when I stand in a deep forest, thick with identities, I can’t blend in. I have no moss on my tree. I have no leaves, no squirrels, no knots. The other trees only know that I feel uneasy, but they can’t pin down why I can’t just be my own tree and stand still for a minute. “I need roots!” I cry out helplessly. But the trees only rustle, and let my tumbleweed self buffet against them along the forest path. How can I grow strong without roots?


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