I think we all compartmentalize our lives and identities to some degree. Most people only realize it when their social worlds, family, and professional connections start to come together on Facebook. I’ve always been conscious of it.
Much like everyone else, I have slightly different identities among friends, at work, at home, on the road, in the blogosphere, and from days past. In each stage of school, I went by a different nickname, and my friends and husband use a nickname while my family and current professional colleagues use my full name.
For the mentally ill, however, that compartmentalizing gets even more complex. The desire to keep certain contacts apart is stronger – some of my trusted friends know about my bipolar, but I don’t want it known among coworkers. My family doesn’t even know about my diagnosis, but the whole Internet does, albeit anonymously.
It’s as though I’m trying to create some sort of impossible paint-by-number; I don’t want the lines being crossed and the colors of my life mixing without my say-so. And yet, the lines are inevitably blurrier than they appear at first blush – one coworker is a good friend in whom I’ve confided.
I cringe to think of the crazy young me that I’ve locked away in my high school and college days. I see those friends so rarely now that it’s safe to completely ignore her. The me from the days when I worked in nonprofits is neatly tucked behind my years of graduate school, with different sets of friends from town, gown, there, and here. And nary shall these groups of people overlap, for the most part. It’s a little uncomfortable when they do.
I’ve been fairly successful at compartmentalizing my life. It helps me deal with the various stages of crazy I’ve been – that phase is over, and while I miss my friends from then, this stage of my life is better, even if I have fewer people with which to share it.
But sometimes I want to cross the lines. I want to introduce people I’ve loved from different times and places, people who know more and less about my mental health, and never have to worry that blending these compartments of my life will lead to an uncomfortable situation, the social equivalent of cognitive dissonance.
Well, Ruby has figured out one answer, at least with respect to the sub-compartmentalizing based on who does and doesn’t know about my mental quirks. Bring the bins together by being honest with all of them. I admire that, but I can’t bring myself to do it right now. I don’t have the emotional strength or energy, nor any reason to put myself through the stress. Some days, however, I think of how much simpler my life, with all its compartments, would be without this big crazy secret.
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I cannot begin to explain to you how important this post is to me, and how much I love it, despite the fact that you express your distress with trying to “compartmentalize”. The fact that you have put it out there says, to me anyway, that you’re looking at things perhaps a little differently. And that you’re looking at yourself a little differently.
I know that it’s endlessly complicated for you. I know about compartmentalizing more than anyone would ever expect. I’ve never mentioned it, not really, and I won’t say any more here. It is not my story to tell, at least not publicly. Perhaps I’ll tell it to you sometime, though.
You will figure out any of the aspects that are distressing you. You are a strong, intelligent, beautiful, capable woman. And I have no doubt that you will weave all the strands of your life into a tapestry that satisfies you. Some strands may cross each other, but that happens, too. And it can still be beautiful.
To some degree, different parts of life and the associated social groups are generally out of sight, out of mind. That’s just how things work. It would be more than a little awkward, however, to have the people who remember me as a wild child in the same room with my current colleagues. Or friends who are “in the know” in contact with family who aren’t.
For better or worse, it’s not a big worry for me. Just something I occasionally ponder.
I can imagine how the family thing could get bad. As for your days as a “wild child”, though, do you honestly think none of your colleagues have a past? Lots of people whom you would never suspect it of were probably pretty wild themselves, at some point. 😉
I forget that! I suppose you’re right, though a lot of academics are pretty straight-laced.
Great post! It’s like you went into my brain and made sense of my thoughts. Thank you.
I don’t talk to my family about mental health stuff either. It is funny that the entire internet knows far more than they do.
I know, the irony, right?
I talked to my therapist about it once. He said I didn’t owe anyone any explanations and I didn’t have to say anything if I didn’t want to. I think I’d like to be further along in the acceptance process before I own up to family.
it’s ok…as you say, we all compartmentalize. What’s distressing to us is that the compartments can’t all become one whole. I realized that everyone and everything has contributed to who I am and as Ruby so succinctly says, they all weave into the tapestry of our life. It doesn’t matter anymore (well most of the time) if what I find interesting and who I find interesting doesn’t match up with others in my various circles. I used to think that everyone just HAD TO KNOW what I knew. I thought EVERYONE in my sphere needed to know each other. I now know that mindset is part of my hypomania…the grandiosity.
If and when you decide to ‘come out’, it will be the right time. If you never do, that’s ok too. I appreciate your writings!
I don’t think I’d want everyone talking anyway! The stories people could tell… That’s (one of many reasons) why Facebook makes me so incredibly paranoid. I can’t really say why I want to control who knows what, except that I don’t want to deal with uncomfortable situations if I don’t have to.
wow you explained it so well. I have been guilty of doing that most of my life. It does get complicated that is for sure. In my old age now though, I am just the crazy odd woman with the wild past to everyone who knows me. lol
I figure when I get to a ripe old age, I won’t care. But for now, well, this is how it is.
Chickadee, I can really relate to this one. REALLY. xo
Thanks, Mouse. 🙂
I think compartmentalizing can be a positive adaptive response sometimes. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming more compartmentalized as I contemplate the next step: telling the whole story, all of it…and there are those who, although they contributed largely to the ugliness of it all, I nonetheless do not want to hurt. So I’m probably going to assume a new online name, rather than letting it all hang out for those nasty bits. In and out and into the closet we go…..
I think it’s a positive adaptive response in many situations. But sometimes it can make things even more confusing and complicated – almost like the web of lies we weave when first we practice to deceive. It doesn’t seem like lying though. It’s not like I’ve misrepresented myself at any point. It’s just that some people know me in one context where I tend to interact differently from others.
This idea always makes me think of the Seinfeld episode where George doesn’t want his worlds to collide, lol.
I could write a lot about how this idea relates to my life . . . maybe I will sometime. I can relate to what Shelly says about each compartment becoming its own whole. I feel like the different areas are so disparate that people in one sphere would find the other one incomprehensible. Or that somehow things would just unravel. They’re all me, but sometimes they seem like their own entities.