Monday 19 April, 2021

How Being Curious Can Help Rebuild Your Identity

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Every month, the War On Cancer app offers all members of the War On Cancer community free live sessions with licensed psychologist, Hana Jamali. We recently had our first session with her about losing and rebuilding your identity during and after experiencing cancer.

Last week, we summarized the first part of our conversation about why we lose a part of our identities when going through cancer. This week, we’re picking up where we left off, which is learning how to rebuild our identities through the means of curiosity. Practical tools to implement are, as always, included. Read on.

What we’ll cover in this blog:
How do we build up curiosity when we just want to go back to life before cancer? 
How is finding a passion connected to rebuilding your identity?
Practical tips to rebuild your identity during and after cancer?

First of all, it’s totally normal to not have the energy to feel curious about life when you’re going through cancer. You’re not alone. Having those thoughts and feelings are not just normal, but they should be there. If you’ve put a lot of time and energy building up who you are, it’s obviously a painful thing to re-navigate and do something else instead. 

How do we build up curiosity when we just want to go back to life before cancer? 

A suggestion is to think about what it is that you’ve always been curious about in life that you haven’t done because you are the person you are and have put the energy and time in the things you have? 

What would awake something else inside of you, even if you don’t know the outcome of that new thing? What would you need to be able to explore something unknown that you know nothing about and how can you step into that? Try and break down the big question about your identity into day-by-day practice towards that curiosity. This could be discovering a passion of yours, for example. 

Passion is a big word. Keep in mind that being passionate isn’t binary – being passionate or not being passionate. Passion actually has a lot to do with exploring curiosity so, if you’re new to that, that’s a way of awakening passion and trying new things. Is this something that gives me energy, gives me new thoughts or ideas that I would like to explore more? 

If you’re feeling complete loss and no drive, or very little drive, then it’s not so much about rebuilding your identity just yet, because that takes energy. Instead, what little thing today can you do today, for 5 minutes, that would give you some kind of rest from negative thoughts? It’s more finding out when you have a neutral state of mind and trying to work on making those a bit longer. That’s usually when you’re engaging with something – it doesn’t have to be active, but engaging with something that can give you a mindset that is a bit more neutral than what that heavy, negative thought elicits.

How is finding a passion connected to rebuilding your identity?

If you’ve never experienced a big crisis in your life, you may never have encountered questioning your identity or who you are. However, when you are in a crisis, you have to. When you have to, there is some kind of energy in that exploration, even if you’re lost. 

It’s not only about doing, but it’s actually by doing that you explore a lot of different things about yourself, like your thoughts or feelings. You may have done things in your life that have been without hardship and now, when you’re in a position where you have to do things during a difficult time, you may have to work on your tolerance, for example, or not giving up immediately. 

It gives you other gifts as well – not just the power of doing something, but experiencing feelings you may never have experienced before.  

What are some practical tips to help rebuild your identity after losing a part of yourself due to cancer?

Identify passions and be curious

Take time to reflect on things that you haven’t had time to reflect on. What if you don’t have a passion? That’s okay. Most people don’t have a passion. We aren’t born with a passion and for most people that’s everyday life. It’s more about being curious about what gives you energy. Look for that in whatever new thing it is you’re doing. 

For example, maybe you woke up this morning and made a smoothie for yourself and found that it was quite fun. Maybe you’d like to try a more advanced cooking recipe and see how that would help you connect with a curiosity or passion of yours?

Keep in mind, it’s not easy and it’s easy to trivialize it. But if you’ve lost your identity or a part of yourself, what you can do is try to replace it with curiosity and maybe you will come in contact with passion, and if you do, that’s more than a lot of people do in life. 

Write things down

Usually when you’re in a crisis or something is negatively occupying your mind and you don’t have the energy to do things, you have more time to ruminate – negative thoughts circulating in your head. Because you’re not having a lot of other information or interactions from doing things or seeing others, you tend to fall into rumination. 

Clinically speaking, what you would do is to try to see it. That’s why writing things down can help. What are the usual things that usually come to mind when ruminating? Is it the things you can never do again or how you perceive yourself or how people perceive you? Write those things down and look at them and try to sort through them. This can help give you perspective, get them out of your mind, and leave space and energy for new ideas, curiosity, or simply, fewer negative thoughts.

Understand how your thoughts affect you 

The next step is to understand how these thoughts are helping you. Be curious about what you like doing, but what you’re thinking about. Are your thoughts making you feel worse? Okay. Is there something you can replace a bit of your time with that where you can get a bit of a break from that feeling or thought? And then, which thoughts make you feel better? How do you cultivate more of those?

Take action on what’s within your control

And remember, there are also feelings that you can do something about. For example, if there’s a change in dynamic in your relationship, are you willing to change that somehow, perhaps by having a conversation? 

After that, try and work on things that you would like to say. What is your message? What is it you want to say to your loved ones? That helps you act on those feelings and helps others see you the way you want to be seen.

Here are a few more tips on how to explore your identity during and after cancer.

Be curious about the change around you – rather than viewing your experience with cancer as a thief of who you are or were, perhaps you can practice seeing it as an opportunity to discover and be curious about a new side of yourself that you may not have paid attention to or explored had you not experienced cancer. 

Connect with others and share what you’re curious about or how you’re rebuilding your identity in the War On Cancer app

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