Talking to a few others with schizotypal disorder during a group session, I found a curious trait most of us seemed to share. And that was a lacking, or poor sense of self. It was somewhat described as feeling “hollow” or not having a core of identity by one and it’s a feeling I find I can recognize: The sense of being a different person depending on who I’m talking to. I’ve on occasion thought of myself as a mirror, merely reflecting others’ own image back at them. Sometimes I’ve felt like a poor facsimile of a human being, other times just as if I’m missing something crucial that’s supposed to make me a person. Sometimes, when alone, I’d feel like a puppet, with her strings cut, or a toy others might pull out and play with for a while, but then put back in the toy box and forget about until the next play-time.
Identity is a complex thing I’m sure we all struggle with at one point or another. Teenage years and mid-life crises come to mind. Questions like: Who am I? What do I want? Like? What do I think about this or that or how does one thing or other make me feel? But I imagine most people have a sense of being, something inside they can point to and say: That’s me. They might not know who they are or what they’re really like, but there’s something. A constant that’s always there. A certainty that there’s something that’s you and you do exist.
This doesn’t seem necessarily the case if you suffer from Schizotypal disorder. I don’t know if it’s a trait in every case or how severe or mild it can be for each person. For me, I do usually have a sense of self. I’m the source of my thoughts. Trouble is, I can’t always tell if it’s really a me, or stray fragments of thoughts and opinions picked up from other people and tangled up together to fill an empty void.
The worst part of it is, I think, that whenever I try to talk about what I think/feel or how I see myself, I can’t always tell if I’m even telling the truth or not. I often struggle to find the right words to describe them and I am endlessly worrying about whether or not the words I use actually mean what I think they mean. I worry constantly that I’m being misunderstood and that I in turn don’t understand others at all. Makes for interesting social interaction. Not to mention sitting down and writing a blog like this one. Sometimes it just all feels like a massive waste of time, but anxiety and depression are a topics for another day.
So, what do I do to try and lessen the feeling of emptiness, the lack of identity? I treat it like an empty canvas and paint something on it. I sit down and think about what kind of person I want to be: Honest, compassionate, loyal, kind, intelligent, confident… and then I strive to live by the values I make for myself. Of course it’s not easy and I don’t always live up to my ideals, but then no one actually does. I think of it like this: Who I am doesn’t matter nearly as much as what I do. Then all I have to think about is what do to do to create the image I want for myself. But I realize it might ring a little hollow to some. It just ends up feeling like another role to play. A lie.
Another thing I do is, I spend a lot of time pondering my interests, my talents, consider what I like to do, take the time to really think about my likes and dislikes, try to examine my feelings and emotions and how I react to one thing or another. I imagine Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) also might provide a good way to challenge the feeling of emptiness/hollowness and negative thoughts such as “I’m nobody”, “I don’t have a personality” and the like. Often times, when you sit down and really think about it, there’s usually always some kind of evidence that there really is a person inside.
I try not to compare myself to other people too much. Down that road lies all kinds of misery.
I mentioned playing a role earlier and incidentally, one of my big interests is roleplaying. I recommend it for anyone who struggles with identity problems. Or hell, I’d recommend it to anyone just ’cause it’s super fun! The gist of it is, you construct a fictional character complete with a backstory and personality and then act them out in a series of scenarios together with other players. Basically making a game out of playing pretend. There are many ways you can roleplay: Live action roleplay, a great variety of desktop games like Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and Shadowrun, as well as text-based roleplaying fora all around internet. There are also roleplaying communities in the various Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Games like World of Warcraft and the like. Roleplaying gives a great opportunity to explore roles, personalities and even sexuality without actually putting yourself out there. I had a guy in my roleplaying group once, who played a gay character before he officially came out as gay. I don’t know if the roleplaying ever actually had any effect on his decision when he did decide to come out of the closet. I never asked. But I like to think it helped just a little.
A poor sense of self can be an incredibly painful, confusing thing to live with. But perhaps there can be upsides to it too and it certainly doesn’t have to be all pain always.