Saturday, April 19, 2008

What Makes You, YOU?

Most of us have had to describe ourselves to others at some point in our lives - maybe during a job interview ("I'm driven, conscientious, hard-working"), or perhaps even a personal ad ("I like traveling and sports and taking long walks on the beach at sunset"). We use adjectives to describe our personality traits and verbs to describe what we can do.

Here's my question to you: When you can no longer do the things you used to do, are you still the same person? If you can't do the verbs anymore, do the adjectives still apply?

Think about the things that you do day-to-day. Get up, take a shower, make breakfast for the family, get the kids ready for school, take them to school, go to work, talk to clients, go out to lunch, drive home, play with the kids, go for a run, etc. Now imagine if you couldn't do most of these things because your body won't let you. You can't drive, you can't talk, you can't romp around with your kids. You sit, you watch, you stay in the background. Are you still the same person?

Think about the adjectives you might use to describe yourself. Maybe "out-going, active, dependable, conscientious, friendly, funny". But how out-going and active would you be if you couldn't move about without coughing your lungs up? How dependable and conscientious could you be if you didn't even have the energy to make sure your kids are going to school with everything they need in their school bags? How friendly or funny would you be if you couldn't talk without panting? Would you still be the same person?

I know many of you will instinctively reach for the consoling responses: "It's who you are inside that matters; not what you can or cannot do", "Your beauty and value lie in your heart and mind, not in your body", and so on.

Let's be honest. As we get older and our physical abilities fade, we have to start removing some of those adjectives and verbs from our descriptions. Maybe you can't finish a marathon anymore because your knees are shot from too many years of running. Cross "athletic" and "can push physical limits" off your list. Maybe you can't be the fun-loving party animal you used to be because you can't stay up all night to drink and dance on bars like you used to. Cross off "youthful and carefree". Maybe you can't run around the playground with your kids anymore because you have tumors in your lungs that impede your breathing. Cross off "fun" and "involved with kids".

And then ask yourself, how many of these adjectives and verbs do you have to take away before you're no longer you?

This is not a complaint, but an observation and question I hope to hear back from you about. I still think I'm extremely lucky to have escaped some of the worst side-effects of chemo and cancer. I'm thankful every day that I can still walk, eat, and enjoy time with my kids. But I wonder just how much my body will deteriorate before I can no longer be the mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend I'd like to be?

I'd love to know what you think about this question of what makes you the person you are, and how physical limitations would change your definition of yourself. And I'm not asking for Hallmark cards here. Be honest and share your thoughts with me about YOU (not me).


Mylinh said...

I am probably more a series of nouns given the specifics of your question Shin. Probably:mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and colleague, add part-time infront of each one and that would pretty much sum up how I feel I am of worth with each role. What I have come to realize is I can't do it all and still be worthy of the nicer adjectives I would want applied to me. So,until I apply the lesson I am learning from you, which is do what is important, I am just a series of nouns am afraid. But I would wish for this adjective . She was "kind".

Anonymous said...

Hi, Shin, now there's a thought,how would I describe me?Well, I have inherited some of my mothers characteristics, which I hate. I can be snappy,impatient,argumentative and a bit self righteous at times.Otherwise, I'm nice,funny,kind,genereous and thoughtful.I try to keep myself in check when i feel "a mother adjective" coming on,but if I could lose all the inherited stuff, then,yeah, I think I'd still be me.
I love catching up with you on your blog, even though we've never met. My niece,Amber, is in Toby's class at Rosemount. Your blog makes me think about stuff sometimes, stuff that would never cross my mind.Thanks.
Tara,Perth, WA.

Anonymous said...

Are the nouns, adjectives and verbs how we want others to see us?

At the phsychological level we probably define outselves by what goes on inside our heads - warts and all.

So as we can inevitably do less as we age I guess the question is does our "self image" change?

If you age slowly this self image probably adjusts naturally. You are able to "shed" one persona and take on another.

When it happens more quickly It is so much tougher and more distressing. And it explains why there so many support networks and professionals to help people manage the times when these "change events" (death, illness, redundancy, retirement, physical/mental impairment etc) overwhelm us.

Anonymous said...

Ah Shin, What an interesting post. First, a little about myself...I am a 47 yo mom who was diagnosed 14months ago with pancreatic cancer. This past year has been filled with surgery's, chemos, radiation and complications. As you can tell, I've had to sit (or sleep) for most of the past year. So I've had to go from being outspoken and loud mouthed to quiet, reflective and patient. I've noticed friends now come to me and really talk, my children come to me because they know I will now really listen. Some of the nouns to describe ouselves are not always flattering. Cancer has added some new descriptive nouns like caring, compassionate, empathetic, "wise" and some of the more funny ones..brave, strong, inspiration. I don't really understand those very well because I am not very strong, brave or inspiring. I am just trying to muddle through this thing called life the only way I know how. As my kids are finding out-life most certainly is not fair but it is fun most of the time. I think that is one memory I try the hardest to give them-a joy of life no matter what your situation. Good luck and prayers are with you and your family as you continue on your journey through life.

Anonymous said...

Hi shin,

"though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day"

This is something i see in my mom as she was at the last stage of cancer just one year ago. It is a reminder to me that who i am is not defined by only the physical, of what i can see or do or accomplish. But our whole being consists of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

All of us would love to leave a legacy. Especially to people that are important in our lives. I saw my mom depreciating in her health, physical, mental and even emotional abilities but who she is is not limited to only what we can behold in our eyes. We see and know through what she shared, her confidence in what that is eternal, the spiritual connnection now and thereafter. This whole being is what makes us complete and it defines not only us, but everything else that exist.

Christine Raza said...

I think what best describes a person is in the contributions they have made throughout their life. You only have to read the comments on your blog to see how you have changed the lives of the people around you. You have played a big part in saving little Max's life and helping his family. Because of you, many women have gotten mammograms and are no longer taking their health for granted. Your children are amazing and wise beyond their years. Josie knows words I have never heard of! (Something about "french fries are bad because they have (insert big multi-syllable chemical term here)"). You make us THINK!

I think physical limitations are not something that define who you are. Think about Stephen Hawkings... If he were described solely by what he can accomplish physically it would be a very short story. Read his words here about his experience with ALS and you will see what I am trying to say.

As a side note, I hope you realize that only a very small percentage of the people who read your blog actually post comments. Most, like me, are rendered speechless. I have passed it along to many people and you have become a regular topic of conversation. Mostly it is about how strong, brave, beautiful, selfless, inspiring, etc. you are, as well as "Holy cow, what a great writer!"

To steal a line from one of my favorite movies... "You make me want to be a better man (woman)"

Anonymous said...

I've always been wary of people who define themselves by what they do. That just seems too easy.

There are, of course, at least two versions of you--the one inside your head and the one other people see. In a post-Freud, post-Modernist world, most would argue that there are even more versions competing with each other, both within and without. (Here's a chance for Jin to jump in.)

So what makes you, YOU (or me, ME) is almost impossible to pinpoint, because it's a constantly moving target.

As a nonreligious person, I don't believe in the common notion of the "soul," but I do believe there is an essential you that's based on everything that goes into making a life--genetics, home life, education, experience, trauma, etc.
What's happening to you now, then, is not robbing you of YOU. It's simply adding to the raw materials that are constantly making and remaking a different you--one that's uniquely connected to all the previous versions of you.

Or something.


leighbee said...

When I was at my most disabled with MS in the UK, I had similar thoughts to you.....I was at one point pretty much paralised from the waist down for a 6 week period and lost what I considered a HUGELY important thing........SELF RESPECT......theres something VERY down grading about not being in control any more, especially when control refers to simple daily routines like using the toilet or swallowing food.......

When I was at my LOWEST emotionally, someone said something to me which I now feel was a good way of viewing these situations.......don't mourn your own life as it has passed on, embrace the new one however hard it may be to adapt to....

It seemed like a stupid phrase but I guess its true.........

Anonymous said...

I think we are different for everyone. It depends on our perspective, it depends on what we let people view of us, it depends on what that particular person wants to see. For example, I might be the most beautiful person on earth to my husband (hello, Simon, don't disagree otherwise you won't get........ hmmn) but I might be less than average to the newspaper man who sees me looking like something the cat didn't want to drag in first thing in the morning. I might be sunshine and light and the most sweet thing out to people who met me when I was in a great mood and doing something kind, I might be bitch on wheels if someone caught me on a bad day when my kids have wound me up.......
I might be clever if someone liked what I wrote, I might be totally thick if on one particular occasion I forgot something basic.

The point is, we are all different people on different days, mostly to strangers - but what makes us really tick is the fact that we can be us when the chips are down or when the sky's the limit, it's not just us that makes us, it's family, friends and of course, that sense of being purely original that we all have - that no one can take away. However, saying that, I might brush my hair before the newspaper man comes in the morning.

Eira xx

Anonymous said...

I think we are different for each person we meet. We may behave differently or that person may have a different perspective of us from what he or she perceives us to be. How many times have you based an opinion on first sight, then decided that you were completely wrong? I can prove this - the newspaper man sees me look like a complete wreck with messed up hair every morning. I mean, what must he think??!!! Ha ha.
I've decided that it must be that the essence of you comes from continuous behaviour of a certain type, it comes from you, inside, and your actions - outside. It comes from your thoughts, your inner being and your outward being - actions. That's where spontaneity comes in - I think we love people who are "spontaneous" because we can't put them into any kind of brackets. They just defy definition, defy adjectives because they are restlessly moving people. Spontaneous people are definitely more entertaining, but not necessarily happy. Again, I think a person is a person not just because of what they think they are, it is more complicated than that. It is about how they are perceived, both by strangers and friends (new people move into groups of friends and influence people -just by being there)
Anyway, I think the core is a combination of both things, and being surrounded by people who know us and who we know really well is a great boon.
Eira xx

Michelle said...

My Nan is 93 and has decided to stop eating because she's had enough time on this earth. I have been very close to her for the 37 years I have been alive. I asked my sister last night, now that Nan is old and quite frail, how she would describe our Nan to someone who asked. I would describe her as she has always been. She's fit, always healthy, played tennis until she was 90. She's fun, always attentive, she laughs a lot and she brings out the best in people.

She's not doing many of these things now, she's old and frail. But her age and frailty are not her, that's just the way she is at the moment.

My very good friend died a couple of weeks ago at age 38. His death was a tragedy. When I talk about him now, or describe him, its in a way that I will always remember him. Again, although he is no longer capable of doing the physical things that made him who he is, he is still that as I have always described him.

I think Eira is right. We are different things to different people. But those things we are to each other don't change because we break our leg, or have our hair cut, or get cancer. Those things remain.

So when I am frail and old and you are too, we will still be doing the same for each other as we are now, just in a slightly different way.

To me you are still Shin, breathless or not. And I hope to you I am still me, "no matter what".

Anonymous said...

Over the years I have become more patient, less impulsive, more thoughtful because my life has demanded those things of me. I am happy about this.
I try to party like my husband does, as we did in the days before children, but I now take days and days to recover and I now only party once in a blue moon. My husband has lost his 'party girl' who now prefers to stay at home.
I started running with my husband so that we could do something else together. We spend time chatting as we run and catch up on life - we are also healthier!
I guess my point is that I feel as a person I have made some choices to change the adjectives I would use to describe myself and other times the adjectives have just had to change because that is what life has demanded.
I fine I am changing all the time and that it is easier to embrace the change and look for the positives than try and hold on to the adjectives of the past that are no longer there.

Anonymous said...

These are what make Me, ME

a) My genetic compostion

b) My mental fuction, physical condition, emotions and spiritual inclinations

c) The world around me and how I react to it

I am constantly changing. I often have to ask who I am. Sometimes, things change too fast, and at these times I do not know who I am. All these changes will eventually result in my death.

After I die, what I was would depend on what memories I have left behind for the living. Eventually, these to would come to nothing on Earth as the people who knew me also die.


Leighbee said...

Great post Eira!

Yvonne said...

Shin, I read this and would like to share with you. Life is indeed, so short. And oddly enough, it is much shorter for those who find their lives meaningful, while it is too long for those who find their life meaningless. Couldnt it be that life is what meaning we put into it? Life, so it seems, is like dry sand slipping through my fingers. When I try to hold on to it very tightly, as if squeezing it, it slips away faster. Sometimes, I think, to appreciate life best, one has neither to hold on to it tightly not to let it go so carelessly. Love never fails. Pain is part of our deliverance. If we welcome pain we shall be delivered unto life. Eternal life.

leighbee said...

What a wonderful post've got so many of us looking at ourselves instead of others and hey ............. thats a good thing?!?!? Life is sooooo busy and as Mothers/Fathers/wives/husbands/sisters/Brothers etc we generally push OUR thoughts and feelings aside to consider those of others. This IS NOT always a bad thing if well balanced but how many of us can honestly say we ALWAYS do what we do for OURSELVES???? I am sure ALL of you have been in a position when you have dreaded doing something because you said "YES" when REALLY you wanted/should have said "no, sorry I can't" I know for sure I have!!! I've ended up in so many situations I've been COMPLETELY unhapy with purely because I felt uncomfortable with being HONEST! So..........lets ALL take time out............think.....................consider and make well rounded decisions that suit both parties?!?!

Ethan said...

Hey Shin

If I could use the human anatomy as an analogy to answer your question - each part of the body has its specific function and the brain is the engine that drives the body parts to work. And what drives the engine determine the kind of person you are. When I was sick and bedridden for 3 months, I felt the changes in me very strongly as I was a very active and outgoing person and I had become dependent on others to perform the most basic of bodily functions. But two things that didn't change in me throughout that ordeal were Love and Faith. Love for people around me and Faith in God as a system that exists not for human comprehension but a bigger divine purpose. In fact, these were strengthened through the experience. So, while I believe that what we do play a big part in making us who we are, what is more important are the core values that we believe in because these do not change as easily in the face of changing environmental and physiological factors. It's the same thing as what you've said in an earlier post, when you truly love someone it's not what he or she does, because if they stop doing those things, you still love them anyway. So it's got to be something more, and I think values make people who they are.

Laurence Sopala said...

Hi Shin!
That's a pretty interesting point, and something I've thought about a few times. My experiences haven't been as drastic, but my various accidents and life experiences have definitely kept me from doing the things I used to do, and being the person I was when I was younger.
After falling out of that window when we were in school in Paris, I could no longer run. I used to consider myself to be "a runner", but after that accident, running hurt my back too much. I ended up gaining about 25 lbs, and could also no longer consider myself to be "in shape". Over the course of a few years, I eventually lost that weight, and started biking more. I was a pretty fearless biker (more like reckless) until someone opened their car door in my path on Wells Street in Chicago, causing me to break a rib and smash up my face. It also took the fearlessness out of me, and I stopped riding my bike through the streets, preferring the safer lakeside parks for my commute. I was no longer a "fearless biker".
Having kids did something similar. I used to be a "world traveler", jetting off to different destinations in Europe, the US and South America every year. Three kids can slow you down in a lot of ways, so I had to check that off my list, at least for a while. Having kids also got me to quit smoking. I lost a lot of smoking "friends", and am no longer a "smoker", but it's worth it.
As I've gotten older, I think my personal philosophy has moved more toward the "journey" philosophy. My "self" keeps changing, just as life keeps changing us. Like most of us, I've been a lot of different people, with a lot of different goals and transitions. I think having kids and remembering how my parents patiently raised the seven of has taught me that there's always something we're going to have to deal with, if not now, then later, and that we, our kids and our families are always different, and that it's not a bad thing for an impatient person like me to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

From Paris,
Well, first of all, cancer has helped show me what I'm really made of, because I'm certainly different than before. It is interesting to think about our vital essence, and I spend alot of time reflecting, and doing alot of CHOPRA (Deepak) and find this interesting because he has alot of good information (get someone to get you any one of his books if you haven't already) about ego, getting to the source and to our centers. I think this may be mental, but then I have really benefited from a release of energy perhaps from liberated thoughts. I wish you the best, be brave.

Richard said...

Hey Shin, it was great to see you outside the house over this last weekend, watching the kids play. They were having fun - and I felt happy seeing you participating. Which leads me on to your thought provoking question - about what makes you, you? Someone once told me that in years to come you'll forget what people said but you'll never forget how they made you feel. Now that might go against the concept of blogging (as we can probably expect your eloquent words to last a millenia) but I believe that the people you have touched (in person and electronically) will feel they have had a connection with someone warm, inspiring and full of positive energy. Even if you may have looked like a skinny chicken (your words!) :)

Anonymous said...

a Shin, a while ago I would have said I was generous, kind, sensitive, empathetic but something happened to someone close to me. He can no longer drive, he is irritable and difficult to live with and has problems with memory. It has changed me. I have withdrawn from life to take care of him. I only go out for Drs. appts and to pick up prescriptions and food. I am 69 and don't have the energy to do all that I should so I can say that my adjectives have changed and I have changed. I hope I can still be kind, generous and empathetic but not being out and about I don't know if those are true anymore. I think we change when our circumstances change and hopefully someday we get back to where we started. I wish that I could be like Shin, happy in spite of pain and uncertain knowledge of the future. Your blog does so much for me. I read it with tears in my eyes and wish that I could be like you, and realize my own shortcomings at changing so much because of someone else. My morality does not allow me leave home to have fun and leave a person who cannot drive stuck in the house even for a day. I used to travel but no more or at least not for now. How strange life is. I'm so glad that I cannot see into the future but I am so VERY happy that I have your blogs to egg me on and show me how I NEED to be. Love and Hugs

Anonymous said...

Shin, in the past I would have described myself as generous, kind, thoughtful, empathetic and sensitive. Things have happened that may have changed that. I must stay home now with a slightly disabled person who cannot drive. They can take care of personal hygene but because of brain damage have very little short term memory and have lost the desire to go out and have fun. My moral being tells me that I cannot go out and leave someone alone who cannot get out even in an emergency so I do not get out even for a day. WE go to doctor's appts, out for prescriptions and food and occasionally for breakfast or lunch but I am limited as to interaction with other people. I think that we change with our various circumstances but hopefully we get back to where we once were. Your blog strengthens me. You are happy and enjoy every moment of your life even with pain and an uncertain future and still you carry on and give hope to others. I LOVE your writing. You have such a wonderful command of the English language and really give all of us reading your blog food for thought in ways that we may not have thought of before. Your writing expands our brains and gives us much to think about inside of ourselves. Keep up the good work. Love to you

Pete said...

'Reality is that which does not go away when you cease to believe in it.'

Alice, who is a milk cow, was walking with a friend (also a cow) and talking about mad cows disease and how she was worried. She asked her friend if he was worried and he said he wasn't. When Alice asked why, he said in all seriousness: 'because I am a squirrel.'

zorop said...

nobody has ever popped such a question to me. obviously you didnt ask for mine either. but i feel telling a real person in quite a fake cyberspace is something.
i really have no aim or ambition so far. i dont think i'll have any. i am already 51. i have been given a fair chance in life. studies, work and all. but being laxed had earned me nothing. i am not poor neither am i rich. i have 2 girls 18 and 16 . wife's a teacher. i am a day stock trader. winning and losing is the order of the day. i do housework. does this sound like a resume?

i think that's quite me. taking care of family affairs including my only parent my mum. these are my preoccupation since i stopped work 6 years ago due to a retrenchment. i think i became depressed. later i tried a business partnership with a friend but failed. more depressed. fortunately my wife knew all along she didnt make a mistake marrying a weakling because i was lucky and smart enough to have invested in a property in australia 10 years ago. so the encashment together with my savings and retrenchment benefits are still supporting me. i have got a strong and understanding wife who is also financially capable. maybe i am living the 2nd phase of my life. but like you used to say live for what? do what? at present i find meaning doing what i am doing particularly seeing house things done properly and wife need not worry about chores. perhaps meaningful to me only because my children find my present life boring even though i sometimes tell them on a lucky day i made tens of thousands. once my younger daughter asked 'then why never lavish it on us?'. such sarcasm from my own kids. but i love them. hey i am a house husband! that's right. somewhere in your blog i did tell you that your kids may not always think about you. that's how i feel sometimes. out of sight out of mind. but i know my kids appreciate what i do, only at what level? you know when you said of making memories, i thought that's not needed. one day they may know someone who will surpass your effort of love and perhaps take your place. i dont know exactly what you want to achieve in making those memories. maybe something profound which i guess i'll never comprehend. coming back to me again. i have a few good friends in case you thought i dont have any because i didnt mention about them. we dont socialise much because after i was retrenched i prefer spending time with family than go anywhere else. sometimes my wife is tired of seeing me in and around the house all the time. my kids are definitely agreeable with that. they couldnt misbehave. yet at the same time she does not want me to go astray. she's in a dellimma not me. but i am in control because home is where i want to be. i did apply for jobs but only to show my effort. please dont tell me to get a job. that's me i think for now.
cant believe i am expecting a chronic case fella to read my post. but i have already typed.