How taking control of your identity can change your life
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When I turned 40, I remember feeling so light and free. The anxieties that plague your 20s, and the delirious exhaustion of having babies in your 30s, were all behind me. Of course, I had joyful times in those years too but, at 40, I felt I could finally relax into life, and enjoy the career and relationships I had spent the past 20 years constructing. Yep, I was feeling preeeetty smug about things.
Five months later, to the day, I was silently crying in a doctor’s office as he explained that I had breast cancer. I’ve spent the 17 months since then (not that I’m counting) desperate to get back to the old me.
Cancer decimated my identity, from losing my hair and eyebrows during chemo, to feeling too weak to run alongside my son’s bike, to a post-mastectomy body that is a daily reminder of what I’ve been through. It’s perhaps unsurprising that I gaze longingly at pre-2021 pictures of myself, as if the old me is an ex who jilted me at the alter but I’m still hoping she’ll come back.
Then I read an Instagram post by Carly Moosah (follow her for a positive, insightful take on the whole shit show of breast cancer), about how moving on means accepting who you are now, not trying to get back to who you used to be. ‘I had to work through the grief of saying goodbye to the old me,’ she wrote, ‘to fully embrace the person I have become.’ So rather than longing for the old Rosamund, perhaps I should use this transition to design my new identity.
Last week, I wrote about how your sense of identity can keep you trapped in certain behaviours (like over-drinking), but the flip side is that taking control of your identity can change your life for the better by helping you make healthier choices. Smokers are more likely to quit if they say ‘I’m a non-smoker’ rather than ‘I’m trying to give up’. And you’re more likely to stick to a habit of exercise if, rather than saying ‘I’m trying to run every day’, you say: ‘I’m a runner now.’
This is good news! It means you can decide who you want to be. Of course, the actions to get you there can still be hard (simple doesn’t always mean easy). Deciding you’re a person who prioritises sleep still means you have to actually force yourself to go to bed early. Transitions can make these shifts a bit easier because, when things in your life are changing, you might as well change too. A transition can be anything from becoming a parent to going through menopause; from leaving a big job to moving to a new place.
But you don’t actually need a transition to reinvent yourself. So it’s up to you: who do you want to be?
This week I’m…
Listening to the Harry Styles Wet Leg cover you didn’t know you needed
Making every crunchy salad from Melissa Hemsley’s new book Feel Good
Reeling at the news that men are unlikely to read books written by women. Buy the man in your life one of these
Feeling so paralysed with indecision about which Jubilee Weekend event to go to that I’ll probably just go and watch a film