Our self identity is what defines us
Our self identity is what defines us. Self identity is formed in childhood, largely by our parents. It develops over time, much of it stemming from the roles we take on. These roles may be chosen by ourselves, or inflicted on us by chance. The roles we identify with most strongly are what makes us who we are, and form our self identity. My roles as a nurse, mother and wife are the ones I identify with the most.
One of my roles – My 30 years as a Registered Nurse
This month marks 30 years since I graduated as a Registered Nurse. I was one of the last hospital trained nurses to graduate from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane. Nursing has been an incredibly rewarding career, and it forms a large part of my self identity.
My nursing career has taken me to the Northern Territory where I spent a year in a tiny 10 bed remote hospital. We did everything there – Accident and Emergency, Theatre, and nursing paediatrics and adults. I even assisted the midwives deliver babies which was amazing. We had our own plane and pilot so we did retrievals to remote outback areas, and down to Alice Springs.
Most of my career has been in surgical nursing in hospitals. I did a stint in palliative care but got really burnt out – I’m not cut out for that kind of nursing and really admire those that are. It’s a rewarding job but incredibly taxing on your body, especially the type of nursing I do.
What happens when a role that we identify with, disappears one day?
I’ve been unable to return to work for over three months, since my bilateral mastectomies. Because of the demanding nature of my job, I can’t return to work until I’m able to perform CPR and all the requirements of working as a nurse. While I’m glad I’m not pushed back to work before I’m ready, I’m finding it incredibly hard to wait patiently while my body heals.
Because I haemorrhaged the day after my mastectomies, I still have residual swelling and pain on the left side. Even a small amount of activity like light housework and shopping, causes more pain and swelling. There’s no way to tell how long it will be like this.
Missing my role as a nurse
I was expecting to be able to return to week six weeks after my surgery. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know I’d be off this long as I would have seriously considered delaying the surgery. That delay could have been detrimental to my well-being as my chances of getting breast cancer were so high.
I’m able to fill my days with other activities like writing (thank God for my blog!), and cooking, but I miss working. Nursing is so much a part of me – a strong aspect of my identity – it feels like part of me is missing. Nursing is such a fulfilling career. There’s nothing better than being able to make someone more comfortable, and assist them to heal.
I miss my colleagues too. Nurses have a real camaraderie. We can laugh and cry together, knowing that our job will make us feel so many emotions, usually all in one shift. I know there are many healthcare workers working incredibly hard under stressful conditions at the moment because of all the extra precautions we have to take due to Covid-19. To be stuck on the sidelines while my colleagues are struggling is frustrating. I just want to help out!
Over the last few years my health has taken several blows and I’ve struggled with the workload and shiftwork. Physically I’m struggling to cope with the demands of my job, but I still feel I have a lot left to give. I really don’t know what the future holds but I know if I can’t return to work as a nurse in some capacity I will really miss it.
The roles we identify with may be learned from our parents
I’ve written about identity in the past, and I feel my strongest roles that I identify with are being a mother and a nurse. This month also marks 28 years since I became a mother. Being a mother has been incredibly rewarding. I had a strong role model in my own mum, and I have tried to emulate her. There is no way anyone could come up to her standard! Our mothering styles differed somewhat – she was a stay at home mum for one thing. I don’t know if she would have approved of me working throughout my kids’ lives (apart from 4 months’ maternity leave for each of them). She passed away before she became a grandmother.
My husband and I will soon be empty nesters because my son is finally moving out! I loved having them live at home but they’re well and truly old enough to spread their wings. Because I left home for good at 19 so it’s extraordinary that my sons lived at home till they were 24 and 28. I must have made it too easy for them!
Merging two families can cause conflict
My husband came into our lives when my sons were in their late teens. He doesn’t have kids of his own. He took the right approach and didn’t try to be their father, which wouldn’t have gone down well at all. We’ve all lived together for about 6 ½ years so it’ll be nice for the two of us to finally have the house to ourselves. We’re looking forward to it.
Merging two families didn’t go smoothly all the time. My parenting style was different to my in-laws’ parenting style. I was used to being independent and not having family around to help out. My kids were very independent as well. Phil’s family live 5 minutes from each other and spend a lot of time together. I can go months without seeing my family (especially with the border closures at the moment) but Phil sees or speaks to his family nearly every day.
There have been rocky patches, particularly between his mother and I. She couldn’t understand what I was going through when I was grieving my dad. My husband was working away for days at a time, week after week and it was very hard. I had a fall out with her that lasted a couple of years.
I sensed real concern for me this year when I was going through my surgeries, and that has helped smooth things over between us. I’m so glad we’ve been able to patch things up because it put a strain on the whole family. We’re having them over for Father’s Day brunch which will be the first time in a few years that they all come here.
My relationship with the rest of his family has been much better. I gained his parents, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew when I married my husband. I’m so happy to have a close bond with them because I no longer have my parents and sister, and I don’t see my brothers and nephews much (especially since the border closed between my state and theirs).
When one of our roles disappears, our self identity suffers
Mother, daughter, nurse, wife, sister, auntie, friend – many of my roles in life, and a strong part of my identity. These roles have shaped who I am and when one of the roles is absent, I feel lost. I’m able to compensate by spending more time in the other roles. It’s been lovely having more time to spend with my loved ones, and not be constantly tired from shift work. The challenge now is to accept that I am still me, even though I’m not working at the moment. I can channel my desire to help people into this blog, and still feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.
My role as a mother is changing with my sons leaving home. I’m still their mother though! That will never change. I’ve done my part – they’re fully functioning adults. Now I can enjoy my role as a wife more. We’ll have more quality time to spend together without the distraction of young people around. It’s something I look forward to, as I want to grow old together with my husband.
The roles we have help form our identity. When one of those roles disappears or changes, it can affect our self identity. We can compensate by spending more time on our other roles, and adjusting the way we think of ourselves.
What roles do you identify with? If one role disappeared, would you feel like part of you was missing?
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