Losing My Identity: Sally Brampton
Quite recently, I lost my identity, which sounds rather careless given that I hadn't, until some days had passed, realised it was missing.
It started with a phone call, one sunny morning. Something I had loved, and had spent years involved with in happy occupation, was taken away. It took all of three minutes. I put down the phone and looked around the room. Nothing had changed. Everything was still in its place. But everything had changed.
Once I had dusted myself down, I shrugged and thought, "Well, that's that. Time to move on." I didn't take it personally. The intention was not malice, or the infliction of pain. If you've worked in newspapers for more than thirty years, you learn that nothing is personal. It's just yesterday's news.
People said it wasn't fair, which was very nice of them, but it is not in my nature to complain. I have driven friends mad – "You are very hard to help" – and more than one husband to distraction. Which sounds a bit bonkers until you consider the subtext. “You never complain. Ergo, you don't need my help. Ergo, you don't need me."
Well, I do, but not in a complaining sort of a way. I need my friends. Without them, I would not survive. Their tender care and acts of love make me supremely happy and, on occasion, inclined to weep in gratitude for their kindness. I'm a sucker when it comes to kindness. There isn't enough of it around.
As for my husbands, it turned out they were right. I didn't need them after all. Being part of a couple is not, and never has been, part of my identity. Being a friend most certainly is. Happily I have many of those, so if identity is the mirror of love in which we look to see our reflection, I am still very much intact.
So it is not that which leaves me feeling so aimless and distracted, bereft of that person, myself, who I took so much for granted. It is work and that is why it takes me so much by surprise. I am self-employed, and have been for years, so getting and losing work is in my DNA. Change is part of life and, however painful, all the better for that (my overriding fear is one of boredom). I am fond of the expression that when one door closes, another opens - but you might have to hang around in the corridor for a while.
So here I am, hanging around in the corridor, but I'm used to that; so, again, that has nothing to do with identity. Quite the opposite, which makes its loss all the more confusing. No, not confusing; not so mild a word. Shocking. I am shocked, not by what happened, but by my own response.
I still have other work and a book I want to write. I am in that sense, well occupied but without an identity, that purpose becomes somewhat aimless. Who am I? What do I want to say? If I don't know who I am, what is there to say?
There are those who might (who have) immediately diagnose depression but I am not depressed - although anybody who faces depression after losing a job, has my utmost sympathy. Loss, in whatever form, is a profound trigger for depression. However convenient it might be to slap a label on my forehead and ascribe my feelings to depression, I am not in denial about my mood.
I have a severe depressive illness so I have stared those particular demons (too often) in the face. The form of depression I have – biological and genetic; a familial curse – is immune to work, circumstance or even summer. My illness is as indifferent to the weather as flu is to sunshine. You wake up, and there it is.
So my present feelings are not part of depression but are more to do with some form of existential angst. That makes it doubly infuriating because, by its nature, existentialism is not something you can pin, like a butterfly, to a wall. It is a floating universe in which we must find our place. It does not give us our place.
So there we have it. I must find my place again and in that seeking, have to face uncertainty which, as Nietszche said, is the thing that drives all men mad. We like to be in control because, without it, all is chaos and I am, par excellence, a control freak – and I'd like a little less of that stamped on my identity because trying to control the uncontrollable, (life) is no way to find contentment.
So perhaps my confusion is not such a bad thing after all. I have temporarily lost my balance, and a new form of balance must be found. I have to find my feet again, and once I do, the view may be quite different, but it might be the more beautiful, given a different perspective.
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