Last week was a tumultuous one in the continuing melodrama that is my life. I’d been confronted by a harsh dose of reality given to me by a lady who shoots straight from her close to arthritic hip. She asked a question, which given its potentially explosive nature, choosing to answer it required delicate contemplation, because answering it directly would likely have meant that I would have combusted in a cloud of avoidance. I umm’d and aah’d, carefully thinking of a politician’s response, but any attempt to reach for my straight bat was thwarted. I was on the ropes, unsure exactly what to say in response.
The question she asked me – “Who is the real Richard?”
This all came about in the penultimate week of my course. We were giving honest feedback to our fellow group members, although what we were saying to each other was a respectful form of honesty, an honesty that involved holding back and meekly being polite. Any criticism was disguised, nobody wanted to be savage. Many people told me what I’d expected them to say, which suggests that I’m a solid, consistent personality, but she saw through all that. She asked me the question I’ve always been afraid to ask myself.
We are told as young whipper snappers to always “be yourself”, echoing Thoreau’s words of “be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” I found that this game of chess, of ponderously searching deep within, and looking for something that perhaps wasn’t a something at all, but already part of me, was a cruel swordfight likely to end with me self-harming myself mentally. Why was I giving this lady’s subjective views so much importance?
On this course I have been very business-like, displaying a detached air of almost Bateman-esque borderline sociopathic professionalism, which hasn’t exactly been conducive with this pressing need others on the course have to gratuitously emote and show over-embellished feelings. I’ve observed, bit my tongue at times, listened empathically but I haven’t opened myself up, bared my soul, because likely doing so would’ve harmed my chances of progressing to the next stage of the course. I believed it better to show that one has his shit together and not be a jabbering wreck of confusion.
When I talked with a friend of mine about this a couple of nights ago in the pub garden, I was left in a great deal of doubt, because she seemed to echo what the lady said by saying she didn’t really know the “real me”. The night predictably descended into a blur of drunkenness where a great portion of that conversation was instantly forgotten when I eventually staggered home. The next morning I woke in a dilapidated state, soggy in the morning humidity. I looked in the mirror and become irritated in the splatter of toothpaste that had dried, causing my reflected face to look like it was riddled with whiteheads.
Who am I? Who is the real Richard? What is it that I’m not sharing? What am I holding back?
Question upon question followed, but then I turned it around. Who do I know who is truly real? I think we’re all hiding to a certain extent, behind our insecurities, cowering in the shadows of our defence mechanisms, these invisible shields that protect us from everyone and ourselves. Did I truly believe that any of my friends and colleagues were “real”?
Then I thought, well no, actually, and I don’t think this question really matters. I simply have to accept these people for who they are, for however they decide to show themselves.
When walking down Unthank Road, the bliss of residential serenity gripped me, distracting me from the irritating pinching nerve that is blighting the left side of my neck. The appearance of this nagging pain seemed to coincide with a period of indecisiveness and doubt; a period in which I was pondering future paths, and not paying attention to how one foot was stepping in front of the other.
A simple approach to life has paid off in recent times; I have strove to make small gains, working towards a distant long term goal, appreciating the journey as each step was made. This has happened on a bed of certain stability, a steady wage has backed my progress. Only now, as I return to academia on a full time basis am I now about to embark on entering an era of uncertainty. This is the period when I will truly know what I am made of, and what kind of person I am.
Then came realisation – Nobody truly knows themselves because the random nature of life leads us in different directions, tests us, knocks us down and then dares us to rise again. I remember that a couple of years ago I was very serious about Martial Arts, and was working towards fighting an Amateur MMA bout. A run of injuries forced me to stop training. Gutted about this I needed to fill the void, so I devoted myself to voluntary work, helping the emotionally vulnerable. Realising I was good at this took me towards my current academic run. A setback in one area of my life led me in an unplanned different direction.
Who I am today is different to who I was yesterday, last week, a year ago. I am a constantly adapting, evolving being. I don’t know who the real me is, because I keep changing. It is not times that change, it is ourselves and the people around us.