How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

Shipwrecked

Was I always your dirty little secret?
You couldn’t admit
even to yourself?

Into The Deep

I’ve waded through the shallows often. Colorful, glistening creatures tickled my toes and skimmed through my heart. Alluding to promises never to be granted. I’d nearly forsaken the expedition. Weary of the fleeting encounters, apparitions of affection and shipwrecked expectations. Prompted by tedium. Coaxed by kismet? I endeavored once more. Hope beckoning like the North … Continue reading Into The Deep

Perception vs. Reality. Can We Handle the Truth?

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It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. — Henry David Thoreau

There is a pivotal scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy, Elsa, and Donovan have reached the temple of the Holy Grail. Hidden among dozens of imposters, only the true grail will bestow eternal life. Drinking from a false goblet ensures immediate death. Aware of Nazi collaborator Donovan’s presumptions, historian Elsa hands him the solid gold chalice. He eagerly accepts, blind to the fact he is about to be incinerated as a result. Indy ponders his options carefully and selects the unadorned cup of a simple carpenter. He chose wisely.

Our perceptions govern how we select and interpret information. We are all magpies, attracted to the bright and shiny data that reinforce our opinions. As such, how can anyone formulate a truly accurate viewpoint? Is an unbiased opinion even feasible or an impossible dream?

It fascinates me how two people can look at the same set of facts and come up with completely opposite conclusions. I live in Los Angeles. We were lucky enough not to have most of our hospitals overrun and the USNS Mercy was underutilized. For some, this means we all did our job to flatten the curve and not strain the system. Kudos to Angelenos. To others, it proves that we never needed to quarantine in the first place. Our freedoms were curtailed for unjustified reasons. Both sides can cite “proof” to validate their positions. The debate rages on incessantly.

Now we find ourselves in a much more volatile environment: the #blacklivesmatter movement and subsequent protest/backlash. My purpose for this piece is not to deliberate the heartbreaking details of what transpired on May 25, 2020. I know my musings would be simple and inadequate. My quandary stems from how I — a middle-aged, middle-class white woman living in the suburbs — am to appropriately react. I want to — I NEED to get this right. In the past few days, I have seen and heard “evidence” to support positions on each end of the spectrum and thousands in between. Law enforcement tear-gassing peaceful protesters, protesters spitting and throwing bricks at police, Sheriffs kneeling with demonstrators, demonstrators providing water to the National Guard. Reports of Antifa inciting vandalism and destruction countered by stories of white supremacists doing the same and placing the blame on minorities. Looting rooted in crimes of opportunity and mob mentality. Marching for justice. Marching for anarchy. Marching for peace. Whatever your predilection, you can find facts to sustain it.

The dirty little secret of “truth”

In reality, ALL content is clickbait. From the National Enquirer to CNN to Fox News to the New York Times each and every bit of media is designed to grab your attention and keep you reading/viewing for as long as possible. Anyone searching for truth can easily be sucked into a whirlpool of disinformation. Journalistic ideals are built upon the notion of keeping the public informed, but journalists need to make a living. Conglomerates are not known for their altruism. The more readers/viewers, the more advertising dollars to feed the machine.

As a result, every article’s construction is designed to keep you captivated. Which, by the way, is no easy feat. Only 20% of readers will read past the headline. (Side Note: nearly 60% of readers will share an article after only reading the headline.) Half of that 20% will read halfway through and barely a fourth will read 75%. That means for every 100 views, maybe five will read the entire piece. To counteract disinterest, journalists are taught the inverted pyramid structure of article writing. This top-loaded method is designed to present the Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? and So What? as quickly as possible. Not only to attract the reader, but also to make sure the story still makes sense should the piece be shortened due to column space or time constrictions.

Compounding the difficulty is the rule of thumb that all that information — at least the 4Ws and the H — needs to be presented in 25 words or less. Anything more than 30 is considered cumbersome. Additionally, an adept journalist is expected to “know their audience,” cater to it and relate why this information is important to them. Complete objectivity is an illusion — and unprofitable.

This sensationally crafted lead also has to be written for the average reader. That’s understandable, you might say, until you realize that most Americans have a 4th-8th grade comprehension level. Next time you read a piece that feels like it is written for adolescents, you’d be correct.

What you feed your mind determines your appetite — Zig Ziglar

It’s no secret that social media utilizes algorithmic curation to determine what gets priority on your newsfeed. Google searches, email lists, Facebook likes, etc. are continually fine-tuning the filter towards the content will promote an emotional engagement and ideological brand attachment, weeding out any or all information that may not align with your way of thinking. Facebook has made it clear that its policy is not to differentiate between propaganda and facts. No one is immune to this chumming of the media waters. Every reader is caught up in an optimized feeding frenzy designed to stimulate their convictions, not challenge them. To think you are reading objective information without putting forth an active effort is tilting at windmills. Our current obesity crisis is not based on a scale, but in self-righteous bloat.

Highway to a Danger Zone

Have you ever shopped for a pair of polarized sunglasses? Touted as the epitome in protective eyewear, polarized lenses can add around $100 to the price tag of your shades. Which, of course, ups the status quotient.

Polarized lenses enhance your vision by dissipating glare, thereby reducing eyestrain. Better clarity is what they promise. But that crystal-clear vision is only possible in ideal circumstances. If the angle of the sun isn’t in the sweet spot, your sight can be obscured — sometimes placing you in great peril. Filtering out high and low lights blurs obstacles into their surroundings. You could be on a highway to a danger zone and never even know it.

Creatures of comfort

By design, polarized lens alter how you see the world. How much more so do our preconceptions contribute to the polarization of society? By screening out the glare, we run the risk of extinguishing the brilliance of an idea. Furthermore, warning signals of false information may be concealed. Any deviation from our beliefs generates unease and agitation. Our vision is focused on only what makes us comfortable.

The media’s great strength is its ability to inform and connect. But this lofty ideal has a negative underbelly. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we are drawn to what appeases our intellectual appetites. We truly believe we are enlightened, but in reality, we are placated — riveted to content that reinforces our inclinations. America’s melting pot is breaking into simmering caldrons of discontent.

IMHO — Resist the need to be coddled

Our latest bout of civil unrest shouldn’t come as any surprise. It’s not the first, nor will be the last. Throughout history, the one constant has been the quest to control our environment. Human beings instinctively crave power. Whether the mission is for domination or freedom, there isn’t much difference.

What is one to do when they are thirsting for accuracy? I can only propose the following strategy:

  • Consider the source of your information. Scroll down to the bottom and Google the author or organization. Check the date of publication to see if the data is current. Investigate who funds the studies presented to validate their data.
  • Make sure what you’re reading is news and not an advertisement. If there is any pitch to purchase a product or a discount code provided, someone is making money and their objectivity is tainted.
  • Don’t fall prey to emotional headlines. Claims of “You won’t believe this!” or “Guess what happened next!” are clear indicators of what you are about to read lacks any true substance.
  • Seek out contrasting viewpoints. How can you defend a position without knowing what the opposition may be?
  • ABOVE ALL THE REST —PRACTICE EMPATHY. It’s time stop demonizing those whose beliefs differ from our own.

We need to rise up above passive consumerism. Counteract the coddling by exercising our minds. Be discerning. Hold everyone’s truths to be self-evident and resist the urge to judge. Maybe then we can achieve our pursuit of happiness.


This post previously published at
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium