Who Am I Without My Labels?

I am so happy to be back after my month long vacation from blogging.  This was the first time I had missed a week since starting my blog, and I wasn’t quite sure what it would feel like.  Normally I write my blogs on Thursday evenings, so that I have the weekend to reflect on them before posting on Monday…but always leaving me with a bit of week-end anxiety about making sure to get my blog done on time.  I wondered if I might use this time to write a bunch of posts in advance, in order to be “ahead of the game.”  Or if I might brainstorm and journal about the overall direction I wanted to head in, new concepts and ideas I wanted to explore within this very personal online space.

But no. I did none of that.  I felt a little aimless and disorganized without my usual Thursday-Monday structure to organize around.  I worried about you, my readers, and whether I was somehow letting you down.  But overall, I did my best to take a true break.

I wrote in my journal when I felt like it.  I played (and am still playing) in an online poetry group, writing poetry for the first time in my adult life.  I read lots of books.  I spent time with my patients and my kids.

I did my best to “just be”, although truthfully, it was hard.  Like most of us, I feel most comfortable doing, rather than being.

I realized in fact, how much of what we do, defines who we are.  I feel more secure when I can call myself something.  It doesn’t even matter what.  A psychiatrist, a blogger, an editor, a mom.  Indian-American, heterosexual, a woman.  Labels and titles are explanatory, they define who we are to ourselves and other people.  Sometimes we can hide behind them when needed.  Perhaps we derive a sense of worthiness and importance and identity, pride even, from our labels.

But what happens when we take away the labels?  If I don’t write for a little while, am I still a writer?  If I take a few weeks off from seeing patients, am I still a psychiatrist?  When my kids are spending time with their grandparents during summer vacation, am I still mothering?  Who am I really, underneath the cover of the titles and letters after my name?

This feels particularly poignant to me given all of the recent violence over these past weeks.  Although I have no solution, no words, to begin to define the problem, much less a solution, what I know is this.  The more I hide behind what I feel makes me unique, makes me special, makes me different, makes me important, the more I start to erect barriers between myself and other people.  The minute I start to feel like there is “other-ness”, for whatever reason–color, religion, age, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality–is the very moment I start building walls.

So I am trying to feel comfortable with not defining myself by labels, by words, and instead, identifying with the core humanity of myself and others.  We are all made up of the same cells, bones, tissues, muscles.  We are all mostly water.  Our hearts all beat.  We are all born and we will all die.  We all desperately long to be seen, heard, recognized, loved.  We are all valuable, simply because we are here, sharing space and time together, space and time that will no doubt disappear in the blink of an eye.

 I find the more I try to be, simply be, rather than identify with all of the titles that make me feel comfortable and important, the more I can see what binds me to my fellow humans, rather than separates me.  And that is what feels necessary to me right now.  I have no delusion that that will solve what plagues us today, and historically.  But it is somewhere for me to start, right now, where I am, where I sit, in my kitchen at 10:37 pm on this Saturday evening, instead of feeling helpless and hopeless.

So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in examining how we use our words–whether labels, titles, degrees, roles–as ways to separate apart, rather than come together.  I would love to hear what you discover.

With gratitude, Monisha