The Roles We Have Help Form Our Self Identity

The Roles We Have Help Define Our Self Image

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.

On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse
On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse

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.

Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.  My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.
Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.
My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.

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!

My sons and I in 1997, Alice Springs.  Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.
My sons and I in 1997. Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.

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.

My husband and I on our wedding day, 2014.  Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.
My husband and I on our wedding day in 2014. Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.

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.

My sons and I in 2001,  Auckland New Zealand.  My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.
My sons and I in 2001. My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.

What roles do you identify with?  If one role disappeared, would you feel like part of you was missing?

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Shared at this link-up party – https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/self-care-stories-5-gratitude-34-51-lifethisweek-68-2020/
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Mixed Feelings on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day has always been a day of mixed feelings for me. My mum passed away from cancer when I was 24. She was 54, the exact age I am now. A lifetime without my mum has been hard to bear at times, especially those times when your mum would be present for you, like the birth of your children.

Mum and I, about 6 months before she died of cancer. We didn’t know she had cancer until 2 months before she died

When I became a mother, it was a time of immense joy tinged with grief. My mum had only passed away 18 months before so I was still grieving. I had post-natal depression after my first baby, and really struggled with motherhood. My baby had colic and screamed a lot, his poor tummy visibly rippling with the pain of bowel spasms. My mum would have been there quietly supporting me and giving me advice gently. Her firstborn had also suffered colic so her advice would have helped me so much.

You never get over losing your mum. 30 years later, I still miss her and wish she was still here. She was the best role model for motherhood I could have had. She guided her family with a soft hand, never raised her voice or hand, yet instilled respect and compliance from us.

Before she passed away I spent a few days sitting by her hospital bed. That time with her I hold dear because she talked about mitherhood and advised me on how to bring up my children using the same gentle approach as she. I have never forgotten the advice she gave me and used it as a basis for my own approach to bringing up my children.

Being a mother has been one of my life’s joys. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. I had trouble getting pregnant and my pregnancies weren’t easy, but it was all worth it. That intense love you feel when you hold your baby for the first time is like no other.

I have always felt very emotional on Mother’s Day. Some years I’ve been really sad because it’s a reminder that I can’t give my mum cards, presents and a warm embrace. A few years ago I decided to do something to honour my mum’s memory so I joined in the Mother’s Day Classic which is held in memory of loved ones and raises money for breast cancer research. By doing that I changed an emotional sad day into something positive.

My husband Phil, our dog Banjo and I walked 6km for the Mother’s Day Classic which raises money for breast cancer research

In honour of mum my husband and I are walking 5km today. It’s a virtual walk because of social distancing laws, which means we can’t join with other participants but the online community is very supportive of each other.

If you would like to donate the link to my fundraising page is below (click on the picture). All money raised goes to breast cancer research.

To all the mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

https://fundraise.mothersdayclassic.com.au/fundraisers/christinahenry/mothers-day-classic-2020

Click here to go to my fundraising page. Thank you!

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Letter to myself – aged 17

I have been thinking of my parents a lot lately, especially when I was writing my last two blog posts. Reflecting on what skills I learned from my parents, I realised that I didn’t appreciate it at that age. I was a bit of a handful for my parents, rebelling against their strict rules. I was able to rebuild my relationship with them in time, but I really wish I’d listened to their advice more.

This isn’t an original idea – I have seen other people write letters to their younger selves. Oprah wrote a powerful one and asked 17 well-known people to write letters as well – they’re on her website. There’s even a Grammy-award winning song by Brad Paisley:

If I could write a letter to me
And send it back in time to myself at seventeen

After reflecting on the things I wish I knew when I was 17, I decided to write a similar letter:

Me at aged 17

Dear Christina,

I am writing to tell you that you need to appreciate your parents more. They really love you and only want what’s best for you. Their rules are there to protect you, even if they are strict and old-fashioned.

Learn as much as you can from your mum. She’s a beautiful person who gives her whole life to you – appreciate her, because she won’t be there when you really need her. She’ll be at your wedding, but 4 months later she’ll pass away from cancer. You will miss her for the rest of your life but you’ll be so grateful that you learnt a lot about cooking and homemaking from her. You’ll draw on your memories of your mother when you have your own children, and you’ll appreciate the advice she give you in her last few weeks about bringing up children. Memories like that will be treasures.

You will grow to appreciate your father, but not until you have your own children. Then you’ll realise how hard it is to give them a private education, holidays overseas and a nice house. You’ll come to terms with the type of man he is and that he was very much a product of the times when men were chauvinistic and had little to do with child rearing. You’ll never want to rely on a man, and you’ll always be strong willed and independent. You’ll eventually be on much better terms with him, but it’s not until his deathbed that he’ll tell you you’re a good daughter.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It doesn’t agree with your body, and will play havoc with your mood and mental state. It won’t help at all when you’re grieving. You’ll make some pretty awful decisions under the influence, for which you’ll be regretful. Definitely don’t take drugs because the affect they have on family members will be devastating. Keep an eye on your sister – her spiral downwards in mental health will eventually have a diagnosis but not for 10 years. Step in and get her help when she has her first psychotic episode – she needs medical attention so don’t hold back from seeking it.

Learn to walk away from people and situations before they start affecting your mental and physical health. You will try to help so many people who will hate you for it, and it won’t be until years later that you learn boundaries. Find help with being assertive and only let people into your life who are authentic and care for your well-being. Even if that means having fewer friends – quality is better than quantity.

Me with my best friend Paula, aged 17

Don’t try to be a people pleaser. People will walk all over you until you learn to listen to your own inner voice and stand up for what is right. Don’t ever be a doormat. Your shyness will hold you back, and it will become so bad you’ll develop social anxiety. Seek help for it because there is treatment that will help. There will be one person who is strong enough to help you and will always have your back – you won’t meet him till you’re in your 40’s but when you do, there’ll be an instant connection and you’ll know you’re with the right person. Life won’t always be easy, but he’s the one you’ll be able to grow old with.

Protect your back. Back pain will be the defining feature of your later years. Nursing is a wonderful career which you will love, but it will take a toll on your health. Don’t stay in a job that causes too much stress. It’s not worth it and there’s better jobs out there.

Appreciate your healthy body. Look after it and don’t take it for granted. You’re in for a lifetime of health related issues so appreciate your youthful body. Get your teeth fixed while you’re young – your confidence and self esteem will improve. Investigate your migraines and palpitations – the underlying cause will shock you but you’ll be on a better pathway towards a healthier you. Watch out for weight gain – you’ll discover that more of a plant based diet is the answer to maintaining your weight and well-being.

Travel as much as you can when you’re young. The world will change so much and your health will limit how much you can travel.

Myself at 17 – I look so shy and insecure

I don’t need to tell you that motherhood will be the most rewarding role you’ll have in life. You already know you will be a mother, even if it takes you years to have children. You will guide them in the way you wish your parents had guided you – with strong communication, mutual respect, and appreciation of the unique creative people they are. They will give you so much joy and fulfillment.

Don’t ever stop writing and reading. It will give you untold joy and satisfaction. You’ll always want to learn something new, and you’ll throw yourself into new projects with passion – don’t ever stop doing that!

Above all, keep believing that there’s a higher reason for all of this. We’re spiritual beings in human form and our goal is to learn as much as we can in our lifetime. Your life will throw you many curve-balls, and at times you’ll struggle with the weight of so much burden on your shoulders, but you’ll always get through each challenge. Care for yourself, make sure you take time out for yourself. Enjoy your life,

Love Christina, aged 53

I don’t regret much – my life has been a learning curve and I’ve probably dealt with more situations than some people. Some I’ve dealt with well, many not so well. I’ve learnt to accept myself with all the traits, good and bad, that I have. Some inherited, some learnt as I’ve travelled through life.

What would you tell yourself at 17?

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