Everyone Is Obsessed With Having An Identity–They Can't See When It's Gone Too Far

Many people have some form of obsessive identity. It seems to be the way the world works now. You must BE something. If you associate with a certain socio-economic status, body type, friend group, sport, profession, health hobby, etc. you have a greater sense of belonging and humans crave acceptance. It's part of our nature to feel like we add to something, that our existence is important for a very specific reason. We want proof of it. And as much sense, as it makes, it's simultaneously unfortunate how far people will go to fulfill this need.

I specifically use "obsession" because the rigidity associated with the sort of mindset comes with a do it all or do nothing mentality. A particular lifestyle accompanied by an innate desire. It starts small, under the impression it is normal, that it's positive, fulfilled by the innocent desire to be "known." But the thing is, a reputation can only go so far and when it is motivated by the opinion of others it will never be sustained. Before you know it, the thing you thought dependent on well-being slowly begins to take away instead of give.

Sooner or later the thing you could not live without becomes toxic. The pure thought of doing or engaging in activities once craved feels like work; an added pressure, stripped of its initial purpose and revealed for the meaning it had all along. Coping, control, distraction, approval. Whether the identity found itself in an eating disorder, like it did for me, or something else, the implications can be surprisingly similar. It has lost all of its purpose and passion and inspiration and has instead become a suffocating reality. Anything that was once a necessity we begin to run away from - searching for something else to give us the same high without the feelings of expectancy. It's like we hit a wall, slapped back into reality, reminded that we can't keep this up forever.

I was absolutely the thoughts, orders, assumptions, rules, beliefs, routines, patterns, and expectations of my eating disorder. I chose to please "it" over living my life and I chose to listen to "it" over the people who knew me. When I thought about it coming to an end, I was so terrified I couldn't indulge in the concept too long. Repeatedly, I would say "just keep going." One day at a time was all I had.

My body's physical chemistry was too weak to consider anything above that. I was a puppet to the master of my mind. Told to jump and run and eat less. To count and track and remember. The numbers, the right foods, the weight - it was all something to measure. And for this, happiness was measured as well. It depended on my behavior, my competency, my own perfectionist tendencies. I had let the voice in for so long that the obsessions felt normal, the nasty words were expected, and the habits were comforting. I did not know who I was if I was not "it."

"Who wants to recover? It took me years to get that tiny. I wasn't sick; I was strong."
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

I identified with the new person I had become and I couldn't imagine living any other way. But like most, and not of my choosing, it was coming to an end; I was on the brink of my life exploding. Sad and nervous and anxious and exhausted. I barely had the energy to hold it in - I was tired, sleep was just about the only easy thing and even that didn't always happen. People wouldn't stop asking if I was okay.

The thing I thought I needed, my niche, my specialty, my weird rules were overpowering me each day. I was both desperate to change and convinced that I could not. Towering over me the truth of anorexia - body image fears, food guilt, restriction urgencies. The idea that without the tendencies, I was nothing. It wasn't just "not good enough," it was NOTHING.

That's the thing about identities, they consume your entire being and imagining life without them is challenging. Adopting an identity with balance, one that encourages a whole sphere of learning, opportunities, and goals is hard. Having one thing, one obsession is a whole lot easier, but it changes things for the worse. It forces you to give up your values, convinces you that it is more important, leads you to ignore reality, makes you blind to the world; that is the obsession. The line between finding an identity and feeding an addiction is the all-encompassing environment it entails.

My question now is why everyone, including myself, is so set on being ONE thing and why it became so popular to pour your life into it in the first place. Everyone already has an identity, forcing one is unnecessary.

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