“And if your heart’s full of sorrow: keep walking—don’t rest.”


I remain unconvinced that I will ever know myself fully. There always seems to be another Identity Uncertainty looming near or within me. Not a crisis, mind you. It’s just that this thing that is me is ever-changing and I’m only clued in on the conscious actions, which seems to be a great minority of who I am.

So much about me was determined the moment sperm met egg. Even more was determined before my brain had the capacity to form lasting memories. I have been entrenched in a civilization that I have all but no control over since before I took my first breath.

pathway-to-the-light-of-heaven-lee-yangMy biases were formed while I was learning to form sentences. They hardened as I created opinions. Crack them as I might, shall they ever be destroyed? Do I have that power? Or can I only let in as much light as possible and try to enclose my children as little as possible?

I’ve been called an overthinker many, many times. I tend to think this isn’t a bad thing though it has its disadvantages, one of which is constantly questioning my own motivations.

As a feminist, I wonder how much my personal preferences are influenced by patriarchy. I am an amalgamation of sexual desire and detestation. I rarely wear makeup or heels, but I shave and am counting calories to lose weight. Sure, the ebb and flow of desire is natural and losing excess weight tends to be better for your health, but how much of that is true for me personally? My perception of my body and its processes are filtered through a billion ideas about what a person should be, what a woman should be, what a woman with my racial/biological/educational/ideological background should look like, what she should think and do and feel. How much is me and how much is what I think I should be?

I heard a quote recently. It was one of those moments where someone perfectly expresses a concept you’ve had on the tip of your tongue for years. I could almost feel my brain cells shifting into a new pattern. The quote was brought up during a radio discussion about why we feel like we’re different people depending on who we’re with.

“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.”
-Thomas Cooley


Whitman was right. We contradict ourselves. We contain multitudes. So be it.

I am coming out of another long period of Identity Uncertainty. The time spent within always feels dark and depressing, but I come out better for it on the other side. Sorrow is inevitable, we must savor it as much as joy. Such is life.

My perspective has shifted again. As it should, as it must, as I am thankful for. May I never stagnate.


“So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
-Stephen Chbosky

If you are wondering where the title quote came from, check out the student-made advertisement below. If ads were like this, I would watch more television.

26 thoughts on ““And if your heart’s full of sorrow: keep walking—don’t rest.”

  1. I really love that first quote. Both that and this this post in general really resonate with me at this point in my life. Thanks for sharing.

        1. We are. 🙂 It was a couple of weeks ago. I decided we didn’t have enough Kleenex near the end so I bought three extra boxes. We now have four boxes at various levels of full.

  2. Great commercial.

    Wonderful post. Change is inevitable, and we shift naturally. I wonder if I would even recognise the JZ of, say, 15? Despite the little changes and those massive overhauls, the question we should always, always, always ask ourselves is this: If I met myself, would I like myself?

  3. This is really well put. I think about the same topic very often. At times I try to imagine myself raised in another time; how my identity would be shifted and reformed by the world around me. That has lead me to wonder if maybe I have the question backwards. Maybe I can’t think of a “real me” unaffected by time, culture and environment because that blank slate isn’t who I really am.

    We all say we are unique, but we are all of one species, with the same basic brain structure, and it seems an awful lot of our needs, wants and personality traits are shared by other humans. Brains do differ from each other in subtle ways, but how many ways can there actually be deviate from the average? Especially if we are talking about ways that would produce observable differences in personality and sense of self, in and of themselves. I really don’t know the answer, but if I had to guess I’d say a few million. So if I’m right, that means that in a world of billions and a history of billions of billions, neurologically-equivalent mes might have lived so many cultures, seen so many historical events and been so many variations on me… I don’t know if that’s a plausible theory or if I’m sounding like an idiot right now, but it’s interesting to think about.

    In any case, I sometimes think that the idea of a “real me” to find underneath all the culture is a fiction. You’re you, and you’re constantly affected by the world around you, and you’re constantly changing, wondering what those changes will be and trying to influence the you-in-the-future. All of those influences and all that evolution, for better or worse, is what makes you unique. The world that molded you is as much a part of who you are as the bonds of your DNA, as is the way you remold yourself, and the way you try to reshape the world back.

    And in conclusion, that’s my weird rambly theory on the nature of the self. Or at least that’s sometimes my theory; I’ve got a lot of them. Thanks for your awesome post!

    1. I really enjoyed your rambling theory. 🙂 All the change, all the influence, all the genes…whatever we are at the moment is who we are–little infinities of personality constantly shifting over our lifetime. I think we get caught up in the romance of our “uniqueness”, but the idea that millions of others that are on the same brainwave as I is actually immensely comforting. I don’t feel lonely when I am alone, but each of us being the ‘island’ we claim to be would be endlessly lonely. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  4. “I remain unconvinced that I will ever know myself fully.” Why would you really want to Madalyn; would that not be a rather deadening experience to have a completely accurate map of yourself to refer to? Does this notion of self-knowledge not get corralled into the idea that we are something finite, enduring, immutable, and is this not perhaps an echo of historically acculturated religious doctrines and their soul-concept which putatively holds those same characteristics? Is there not a freedom sensed in being demonstrably capable of variance, of being like water around rocks? Besides, if we are social in nature, our dramaturgical performances necessarily shift in style as we act out our varying roles and others’ expectations. Perhaps authenticity rests in accepting this, rather than in projecting ourselves as a fixity of sorts, something we know fully along with all others, and which never can be?

    1. Oh, Hariod. You always give me a new perspective. Thank you so for that. I appreciate it more than I can say.

      I think it would ultimately be stale and boring to have full of stock of self. I imagine it would also be harmful. If we could never be influenced or see the other side of things, oh my. We have enough of that form of stubbornness as it is.

      I hadn’t thought of it from the religious perspective. You’re right, it’s different lyrics, but the same tune. There is something about the idea of ‘knowing’ that offers comfort and draws people to religion. I’m okay with not knowing about the outside world, but the inner world feels different. It isn’t though. You’re right, authenticity lies in acceptance.

  5. I want to express in a thousand words or more Madalyn how big a smile you put on my face after reading this wonderful post! I wish a lot more people had (and maintained?) an attitude such as this, such as yours throughout life! I think it would cause us ALL to be a lot more understanding, forgiving, and connected. 🙂

    Thank you!!!

          1. My writing mind is always split five different ways…

            LOL…I’m guessing split between 4 kids and a hubby, or 3 kids, a hubby, and a parent? Or 2 kids, a hubby, a parent, and a pet? Or am I completely wrong all together, and you suffer from Split Personality Disorder? 😛

  6. “The time spent within always feels dark and depressing, but I come out better for it on the other side. Sorrow is inevitable, we must savor it as much as joy. Such is life.”
    i agree wholeheartedly!!!…
    i hav been doing a LOT of introspection as of late (also one of being accused of thinking too much) and life is really, REALLY interesting once you start actually paying attention to what is going on.
    great piece!!!


  7. I think that, in a very fundamental sense, we are a product of our genetic heritage and environmental influences. The question is, can we grow beyond that? Education in the Humanities is, I think, the key.

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