On being a whole person

I’ve been thinking about the Labels post I made last month, and about the many ways in which we define ourselves.

More and more I think the way we choose to identify is a lot more important than the way others might frame us. That’s not rocket science. They are never going to have all the information.

The decisions we make about how we define ourselves take into account all the complexities involved in being human. As I get older, that tapestry gets richer, and I also feel stronger in it. I used to be hyper-responsive not only to criticism, but to social pressures and to the personalities of those around me. Those things still effect me, but not to the same extent.

The issue with having a large digital footprint, as many of us do, is it can be harder to evolve as naturally as we might have in the past. There’s always going to be vestiges and echoes of former lives that are difficult to escape.

While looking at digital solutions for my memory issues, I rediscovered my old Evernote account, which I abandoned about four years ago. While this isn’t public, it’s a strong snapshot of who I was then. It was  interesting to read through and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.

On looking through my Spotify account, I was disturbed to discover you cannot block followers, and there were some people on the list I had no clue were still following me. With most platforms, there is a way to force disconnection. Having to do so, however, can sometimes means losing everything. I remember this from when I abandoned my old @writehandedgirl Twitter handle.

I was interviewed this week by a friend who is doing research into the use of Twitter as a tool for political engagement. She asked me to compare how I use Twitter now, to eight or so years ago when I first signed up. Back then, I rarely tweeted. I didn’t think I had anything important enough to say. I recall two “learning moments” from then. One, I tweeted a quote from an erotic story I’d read, not thinking for a second that anyone would actually look it up. Of course, not only did they find it – they tweeted the source back to me and said I should attribute my quotes. I was mortified. Two, I posted a link to something interesting on what I considered to be a private tumblr. I didn’t think anyone would look at the tumblr and realise it belonged to me. Again, I was wrong. Both these moments reinforced for me how everything is discoverable if you look hard enough. And honestly, I’ve never been good at covering my tracks. So I went the opposite way and stopped trying.

My use of Twitter now is partly to do with the evolution of the platform, and partly to do with my evolution as a person and my development and curation of a certain community. I don’t care very much about trying to craft a perfect tweet. I don’t spend much time worrying about who’s reading it or what they might think. I work on the assumption that they’re following on me, so they care what I say, and if they don’t, there’s nothing stopping them moving on. The switch to 280 characters only encouraged the platform’s smooth shift into a much more “stream-of-consciousness” format. In some ways it’s sad to lose the poetic, more finely honed tone of 180ch. But in it’s place I would argue we have something more genuine. Certainly from my own point of view, I feel like I’m more myself. I have had people tell me that meeting me in person is no different to talking to me online, which I take as a huge compliment.

I think the trap, however, is to assume that just because the media is fast-moving and everything feels like a flash in the pan, that it’s not all being captured. We know it is, and even if we’re not worried about how those data repositories might be being used to invade privacy and sell consumers to advertisers etc, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware that everything we put on the internet, stays on the internet.

Man, I feel like a mum lecturing a teenager right now! This is not really where I was going with this!

What originally got me thinking about this stuff was because I’ve been considering my “personal brand” (UGH) and what I want it to be, and how much control I have over that. I actually don’t have as much control as I would like, because I’m subject to the fact that I have been writing, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, tumblring, and photographing my life for almost ten years now, and none of that disappears, even if I decided to delete all of my accounts.

I was sick for… maybe two years? before I got diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, and by that point I had received a lot of the “it’s all in your head” variety of input. I was desperate for a label that would get me taken seriously, and I got one. So I clung to it like a liferaft.

I don’t feel like that anymore. I’ve always subscribed to “person first” language – ie, call me “a woman with illness” as opposed to “a sick person.” But now… a part of me wants to just lose the “with illness” bit altogether.

That’s not realistic. I can’t make my illness disappear by refusing to acknowledge it, and I do need to ensure that it’s taken into account as part of who I am, because I need accommodations and support a healthy person doesn’t. Being given the Supported Living Payment was proof of that. I am a woman with arthritis.

But I don’t want to be defined by that label. I don’t want people to think of me and go “oh yeah, the sick beneficiary.” That ignores all the complexities I mentioned earlier, all the many things that go into creating someone’s identity. Yes, I’m sick. Yes, I get a benefit. Yes, I’ve been known for writing about issues that effect people who experience these things. I can’t shed all of that and I don’t want to.

I just want to indicate that I’m more.

Like all of us, I am a whole person. And I’m happy to be moving forward that way.

Pretending to be a Business Woman