Thursday, March 20, 2014

Identity + Community

Identity shapes many of the choices we make. We build communities based on those identities. How do we define ourselves? How do we choose our identities, and what do we do when one of them is stripped? How do we find new identities? Should we tie our identity to external things? These are some of the questions I've been struggling with lately.

I define myself in myriad ways. I’m a queer, female, plant based running librarian. I’m spiritual but not religious. I’m an avid reader. I’m a constant learner. I’m a New Yorker living in Florida, a Scorpio, an INFJ, and was born in the Year of the Rat. I’m in the Millenial generation. Some of these identities are arbitrary and based on things like when/where I was born. Some are tied to activities and interests. Some are innate and cannot be changed.

I used to have the identity of partner/girlfriend/”roommate”. I've been in a relationship with someone since September 2011 when I was sixteen years old. I dated three women between then and when I met Carly in October 2012, but never took more than 24 hours break from being in a relationship. Now that we are splitting up I realized that for almost half my life I've identified myself by a relationship. You don’t realize how often you get asked about your relationships until you've experienced the loss of a significant one. So much of what I do on a daily basis, and much of my long term plans revolved around this identity as Carly’s partner. Now that it’s gone I feel a bit lost.

One of my more recently formed identities is as a runner, and I still hesitate to call myself that. I didn't really embrace the title until I completed my half marathon in December. I’d hoped to be writing posts this week about tapering and getting ready for my half marathon this weekend, but my body had other plans for me. I wrote recently about my running injury, and I’m sad to report that it’s still lingering. I tried a run on Sunday morning and after a mile the dreaded pain was back. It hasn't fully gone away yet.

It’s hard to have lost the ability to engage in running during a time of great upheaval in my personal life. Every runner I know is immediately sympathetic and I can tell they grasp the enormity of this loss in ways that non-endurance enthusiasts likely cannot. It’s hard to express how important running has become in my life, and losing that outlet is doubly difficult right now.

Even before I became a runner I've been exercising 5-6 days per week for over two years. I've also been taking daily afternoon mile walks. My foot has clearly communicated that I can’t do anything weight bearing so the walks, the cycling, the hiking, etc. are all off the table right now. The only activity I’ll allow myself to do is a strength/core routine that puts no weight on my feet and kayaking when my schedule/budget allows. I know that losing my fitness identity is only temporary, but it’s really disrupting my life.

The simultaneous loss of both these aspects of my identity has caused me to explore what else I enjoy and what else I identify with. I am reading more, but I’m also spending more time engaging in activities that aren't meaningful (TV and iPad games). I know I need to keep building my community here but I’m struggling with how to do it. I’m envious of people who have spiritual communities because it seems like churches and other religious organizations foster a sense of community that’s different from many other communities of interest.

Every running community has activities involving running (which I can’t do right now). The majority of the queer communities I've found here focus only on partying and superficial things. The plant based communities are great, but I find my conversations at their activities to be too focused on food or activism and sometimes I want more diversity. I’m still working on a meditation practice and am hopeful that I can find a community here for that. Being half of a couple for so long has made it harder for me to attend group meetings and activities alone because I've never had to, but it’s also limited my desire and ability to do so in the first place.

I am definitely at a crossroads in my life and in how I view myself. I hope to live past 60 so I won’t call this a midlife crisis, but I imagine this is what people feel when they refer to that phenomenon. My feelings about this crisis change throughout the day. Sometimes I’m bursting with hope and excitement about future opportunities. Sometimes I’m terrified and overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m sobbing and despondent. No matter how I feel in the moment I try to hold to my conviction that things can only get better from here.

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