How Am I Not Myself?

My second favourite movie is I heart Huckabees (First is Memento). It bills itself as an existential comedy, which you know, fits my genre. It explores some of the absurdities with life, meaning and nihilism. One great line in it is when Lily Thomas’s character asks

“What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?”

I heart Huckabees

And the answer Judd Law’s character gives helped me with a big struggle I had with my mental health.

For many years I worried greatly about how my behaviour changed when taking my meds. I wasn’t as pessimistic, I didn’t ruminate as much, I didn’t spend as much time thinking about how the world is fucked. I struggled with it because there’s an easy trope to fall into and it’s of the tortured genius. It’s easy to point to great thinkers in the past who were tormented.

There’s also a bunch of folks online who think taking meds and “fighting” their mental health struggles makes them sheep. It’s easy to think this. Just think of Brave New World, 1984, and most dystopian books. The thinking is that if you move your focus away from everything that’s broken, if you don’t stay focused on the wrongs on the world, on the flaws of humanity, you can’t solve the problem.

It’s a very appealing theory. It means that all that suffering you’re doing, is not in vain. You’re not wrong to feel this way. It justifies the pain, both the past pain and the present pain. It means all that time I suffered wasn’t my fault for not changing myself, it’s everyone else who is too weak to sit with the darkness.

I’m not even sure who, but I think it was an aunt who, when I was 17-18, gave me a quote from George Bernard Shaw.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”.

George Bernard Shaw

When Judd law is asked “What do you think would happen if you didn’t tell the stories? Are you being yourself?” he answers

“How am I not myself?”

I Heart Huckabees

Both existential detectives then keep repeating and pondering “How am I not myself?”

And once it sinks in, once you realize the absurdity of saying or even asking if you’re not yourself you in a sense free yourself from all expectations.
You cannot be anything but yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be pleased with yourself. That you can’t improve yourself. Just that there is no need to worry if you’re yourself. Because you can’t be anyone but yourself.

(And yes, this means that, even given the good intentions, I’m not a huge fan of the “not myself” mental health campaign which implies that you can or should be someone different.)

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