Geeks Vs Loneliness: self-definition

A few words for those struggling to like themselves much at the moment...

A warm welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, the spot on the site where we just try and stop for a bit and natter about things that may be affecting some of us. This week, we’re thrilled to welcome back Jo Bromilow. And she wants to have a quick natter about self-definition…

Billy Joel sang ‘In every heart there is a room, a sanctuary safe and strong’. This room, he sings, is a safe space to retreat to when suffering from heartache, until you’re ready to fall in love again. We’ve all got a room a bit like Billy’s, I think, where we go when the world gets a bit much, when we lose our job or home or partner or family member or friend, or when the world just gets a bit, well, much. And when we lose ourselves.

What hangs on the walls of yours, the room you go to when things go wrong and you need some comfort from the inside? If you’re anything like me, the rooms are probably actually filled with metaphorical mirrors, so that all that stares back at you when you go there in moments of sadness is your own tear-stained, wan reflection. So you shut the door of your mind palace and don’t go back there, for fear of what might be staring out. You feel like half a person, cut off from the world by whatever’s making you sad and cut off from yourself for fear of what it’s like to be alone and, worse, not liking the self you’re alone with.

It sounds like a horrible room, doesn’t it? I don’t want you to have to go into a room like that. You’re too smart, brave, wonderful and wise, have too much worth, to spend time in a sad lonely room.

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I eventually got sick of sitting in a sad room like that too, almost nine months ago I suppose. I think I had just had quite enough of the fact that everything outside my room, my world, was difficult and not how I wanted it and unable to control. So, metaphorically, I made something I could control, to hang on the walls of that old mind palace that I could go back to when things were getting a little uncontrollable. I made a map of me.

A metaphorical piece of art containing all the things that I am, and the things I have been and will be. A lover of movies. A writer. A reader. A long walker. A rambler. An explorer. But also a relative, a friend, a colleague, a boss, a mentor, an inspiration, a role model. Tangible, real things to sit alongside the things I think about myself, but unlike those things these – my hobbies, my habits, my true loves, my truths – cannot be taken away when I doubt myself. I will always be a writer now. I’ve written enough and keep writing. I will always be a rambler, an explorer.

And in doing so, the room started to look different.

What about you? What are your truths, the things you will always be when the world seems against you, when your job sucks or your home is unpleasant or uncomfortable, or your partner is letting you down or your family aren’t there for you? What will you always be when everything becomes terrible and it’s easier, always much easier, to think that you are the problem? You aren’t – you know you aren’t, please believe me that you aren’t and sometimes things just really suck – but for some weird reason, our little brains are better programmed to hate themselves than to love them.

So if you can’t love yourself right now, for whatever reason, make your list so that when you feel like that you can look at it and remember all the things you love doing. Write a quote from your favourite movie down – the one that makes you feel better or that makes you laugh – or the name of a character you most want to be like or who gives you strength (I’m currently rewatching Jessica Jones and I don’t think my current feelings of ‘I’m unstoppable and sod anyone who disagrees’ are unrelated to my choice to do that).

Write the hobby that you do and identify the feelings it gives you that are unique to you – how you feel when you set a new time for a 5k, for example, or when you capture that perfect photograph, play that piece you’ve been practicing just right. Write the name of the piece of music that stirs your heart. Call yourself the things that you are that relate to all the amazing things that you can do and you have enabled yourself to do, that you have pushed yourself to do. You’re a runner. You’re a writer. You’re a reader. You’re an expert in 70s-era Doctor Who episodes, the musical oeuvre of Thomas Newman, the artwork of Alan Lee. You tell great jokes. You do mean impressions. You assemble the best pub quiz team known to man. You can climb mountains, metaphorically and physically, every single day. You give great advice. You have excellent hair. You are a good friend. You make your parents proud.

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All of the things, you know, add up to you and you are more than the sum of your parts. But when you feel bad, you can feel intangible. That’s the best way I can think of to describe myself when I’m feeling low. Inconsequential. Spectral. Like I’m a painted face hanging in empty air. But with my list – the names of my friends, the things I know I can do, the pieces of art or bits of culture that I love and what they mean to me – I can pour something solid into the empty space that I feel like at times, and be reminded of the sum of the parts that would ordinarily make up me. I define myself. I may stop doing it from time to time when I get sad, or ill, and just want to lie down and let another day pass in the hope the next one will be better. But hanging on my wall, both in my actual home and on one of the walls in the room in my mind and in my heart, directly in a shaft of an autumn evening’s watery last beam of sunlight, will be a list of all the things I am, and will be, and can never not be, and will never have taken away from me, by anyone, ever again. Hang that same map of yourself on your own walls, so that when you don’t like what’s in the mirror because it’s lying to you, the map will always help you find your way back, when you’re ready. 

Thanks, as always, for reading.