Thanks to all of you for commenting, sharing your experiences and being so warm and responsive in recent days.
The Tooth Fairy shenanigans helped dispel my sense of disconnection caused by last weekend’s anniversary (trust the children to pierce my funk) and the discovery our furnace wasn’t working coinciding with the start of real winter temperatures gave me other things to think about.
Luckily Monday morning dawned thoughtful and entertaining with this great TED talk about Identity and how we perceive it, a subject that’s long fascinated me. You might think identity is something that comes from within, but copying and assumption have a huge influence in how we see ourselves.
For the expat, the support networks cemented through shared behavior/views (copying) and comfortable familiarity (assumptions of both ourselves and our peers) are stripped away when we move somewhere else, leaving only our core character elements to rely on. Over time we integrate features of our new surroundings into our personality (copying) and are shaped by the assumptions we both make and encounter in regard to others.
BPD offers a revolving mirror reflecting my most recent exposures back at me until their potency fades or is replaced by something else.
For me, there’s no clear answer to the question “What makes me Me?” Is it nationality? Not if a number of nations occupy a space in your heart. Is it culture? Depends on what you were exposed to where. Language, dress, perceived relationships to gender, elders, other nationalities – all play their part. Religion, belief, spirituality – are they set in stone or a continuous journey?
Thus my identity has become fluid; a molten mass of collected experience whose various elements are drawn, in turn, to the surface by an external echo. The music of Turlough O’Carolan calls up a fierce pride in a now distant piece of emerald earth, while a dry rejoinder delivered with a dash of sarcasm in a British accent warms my heart with the joy of a known opponent. A shalwar qamiz gives voice to a femininity in me western clothes fail to, and the wide open spaces and warm pragmatic inhabitants of the Great White North have made me more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve been for a long time.
Together these converge to make my identity more than the sum of its parts.
Mid-way through the week a piece I’d written about veiling was published on the popular British parenting site Mumsnet.com. Veiling, and the niqab, have dominated UK headlines in the last month so Mumsnet ran a piece by a pro-veiling blogger followed by my article on why I don’t cover.
The comments are interesting in their reflection of how many people approach a subject with a closed mind, determined to dismiss/debunk the material, to the point where they’ll argue points that were never raised, or twist the words to mean something different. Perhaps they think they appear knowledgeable and Paxman-like, but they just remind me of the kid at school who didn’t read the question properly.
When I approached Islam I was completely open-minded. I had no knowledge or experience of Muslims and no preconceived ideas or prejudices, I didn’t even have an intention to convert. I’m still open to changing my opinion on veiling if someone can show me the evidence for it in the Qur’an, but the same open-mindedness was absent among some commenters.
Perhaps a more fluid identity is not without its benefits.
Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight…