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?

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

We Are a Nation Birthed From a Temper Tantrum

Is there any hope for a peaceful outcome for our Grand Experiment?

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First flown in 1775, the Don’t Tread on Me or Gadsden Flag was the battle cry for the Revolution. According to Dictionary.com:

The snake was an established symbol for America at the time. Benjamin Franklin notably used it, saying the rattlesnake never backed down when provoked, which captured “the temper and conduct of America”

When in the course of human events

From the Revolution to slavery to Manifest Destiny, our national consciousness has been fixated on mastering our domains. Right vs. wrong is entirely subjective for both the collective and the individual. Road rage to riots — our causes are so just, those whom we may have to cut off, conquer or suppress are inconsequential. Our dogmas are myopic. Our aim may or not be true.

It becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another

We began as a nation of runaways, now bereft of a soothing parental influence. Left to our own devices, unity and goodwill are being abandoned. Our sources of information — our leadership — are driven by what will garner the most advertising dollars, the most votes — the most power.

With divisions smouldering for decades, society seems to be at the brink of a bonfire. Quarantine combusting within an election year has anxiety overriding logic. Our economic stability and physical well-being are uncertain. Conflicting statistics and social media are kerosene fueling the kindling. Fear stokes. Frustration smokes our reasoning. Is it any wonder we are kicking and screaming until we get what we think we want? Is it even our fault?

People are not disturbed by things but rather by their view of things — Albert Ellis

Known for creating the foundation for modern cognitive therapy, Dr. Albert Ellis is widely considered one of the most influential psychotherapists in history. According to Psychology Today, “No individual — not even Freud himself — has had a greater impact on modern psychotherapy.” He coined the term Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT) in which adults, much like a child, cannot tolerate situations they find frustrating. Nor do they think they should have to.

This was not an entirely new concept. The Stoics argued that frustration and angst stemmed from trying to make reality fit our needs. Philosopher Alain de Botton explains, “At the heart of every frustration lies a basic structure: the collision of a wish with an unyielding reality.’’ Freud echoed the reasoning, arguing that neurosis stems from turning away from the unbearable. Ellis took it one step further, stating LFT is more than basic exasperation:

To become disturbed by frustrating events, an additional belief is required: that reality must conform to our wishes, or it will not be tolerated. In other words, frustration intolerance arises, not just from the wish that reality was different, but from the collision of demand with reality.

An individual — in our case, a society — suffering from LVT, holds a wide variety of irrational beliefs. They are greatly exaggerated and often don’t make sense. Indicators of LFT include:

  • Focusing on present and immediate gratification rather than on future goals
  • Feeling sorry for themselves while neglecting the feelings of others
  • Seeking out easy rather than difficult challenges
  • Showing impatience
  • Engaging in awfulizing matters, or making things worse than they are
  • Angering easily

Sound familiar?

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

We have been taught since grade school these words are to be revered. The American Dream of prosperity for all was to be the envy of the world. Somewhere along the way the communal “they” has been replaced with my life, my liberty, and my happiness. The rest be damned.

Is it possible to regenerate empathy and connection? Or have we become too self-absorbed with our resentments? Can we foster compassion instead of defensiveness? Replace outrage with grace? Why are differing points of view continually considered a threat?

The injustices of this world are complicated and not easily unravelled. It will take time and patience. We need to comprehend that not all grievances are equal. An individual — or a community — suffering unbearable hardship doesn’t diminish another’s pain, but it may outweigh it for a while. Perhaps, along with rising up, we should be lifting up. Maybe, when we are all standing shoulder to shoulder, can we abide in peace.

With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor. — The Declaration of Independence


This post previously published on Illumination | @Medium