Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Space Between

Part of the reason I‘ve been writing this blog is to answer the question I posed in Up For Debate: what is personality? Is it more like neurons (the mechanism that releases the chemical) or the synapses (the space between, where one chemical is deposited to meet another chemical)?

The girl who sang in the shower disappeared for a few years. I’m not exactly sure where she went. Where ever I was, I must have existed. Or I wouldn't have been able to come back. So what happened in between?

Did I get sucked into an undiscovered black hole that exists, under the right conditions, in every person’s body? Was my personality so well hidden that it was indistinguishable from my surroundings, like a light brown mouse in a sand storm?

Even more interesting: I came back.

Without any focused thought or energy. No prayers or devil worship or telethons. I just reappeared one day in the hospital. It didn’t happen right after the medicine had fixed my heart. And it’s not like my ejection fraction increased dramatically right before I started singing again.

I am convinced that we’re a product of our circumstances. Yes, we have free will to be whoever we want to be, but we usually choose who we want to be based on our circumstances. I remember feeling scared as a little kid when we had a suicidal foster girl living in our home. She locked me in the bathroom with her and talked about cutting her wrists. At some point during the foster family experience (there were several living with us over a period of a few years), I wrote the Kids Helpline number on a piece of paper and hid it under a loose tile.

There was a really great girl who lived with us for a long time, someone I grew to love. But that good experience didn’t cancel out the really bad one. That fear as a child was so big that I still remember it, and I will never bring foster children – especially not teenagers – into our home. I would do other stuff to help, but never that.

Free choice is a tricky concept; maybe even an illusion. I didn’t want to disappear. I wanted to be the girl who sings in the shower, the girl who is trying to be an author. I didn’t have a choice.

I think, like most things in this world, reality is somewhere in between; not completely free will and not entirely random circumstance.

One illness, one misdiagnosis, one disappearing act and one blog later, I think personality is more like the synapses than the neurons. We don’t simply think our way into the person we become. It’s not something that just happens to us (most of the time). DNA, circumstance and free will meet together in that infinite space between to form personality.

I know I can’t control my circumstance, so I know that I may wake up tomorrow as the girl who doesn’t sing in the shower. But I can hope that I am never lost again.


  1. Hmmm... interesting thoughts. I am not a product of my circumstances or I would be the mess my parents were. Yet there are many things in my past that shaped me. At the end of the day I think we choose who we want to become. even if maybe we had no real choices in the moments of the past, we can choose to be prisoner to the past or carve new futures. At least, that is what I think :)

  2. I totally agree, Tabitha. I just also think our circumstances play a big part in our choices - sounds like you probably made a lot of choices to be different than your parents, probably because the situation had a huge negative affect on you.

    Illness and depression change the game completely, though. At least, that was my experience.

  3. I've had times in my life when things were bad and I rather lost myself, but I kept going because, well, I had no other choice. I'm wondering, and I've never been in your shoes, of course, but could there be a friend who would be your... and I don't know the word here ... person who would say, Jenn, you're changing or you're in trouble or something so that you would be aware you're losing your voice.

    Straight From Hel

  4. Helen, I'm rallying people now for when it happens again. I think it's so important.

    On a very personal note, family and friends found it hard to approach me when I was depressed because I was extremely angry. Remember portable fences? It was a bit of an understatement...

    I've made a pact to stop pushing people away with my anger so they will feel comfortable telling me when I'm losing myself.