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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