Not Sure Who I Am Anymore

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hello,
I am not so different from my peers in many ways, but now it feels like I’m an entirely different person on the inside. I came from a middle-class family, got good grades and worked really hard. I was accepted to my dream school with a significant scholarship, but then had to leave after my first year due to financial reasons. After moving out on my own, I struggled to pay bills and rent and became depressed after being turned away from every job I applied to. I had few friends that lived nearby. My parents were going through their own financial difficulties. I was stealing food from the grocery store to eat. Eventually I had sex with an older, wealthy, married man for $500 so that I could pay rent. I did this about 2 or 3 times.. I do not think about this very often. I became very good at compartmentalizing my life.

Now I finally found a job, and I am so relieved. I also have a boyfriend, whom I was just starting to date at the time all of that was happening… I felt so guilty, but I couldn’t tell him what I was doing. I felt ashamed, but also had a sense of empowerment at the time… like I had pushed my boundaries so far that I was unbreakable. Maybe that sounds weird, but that’s how I felt. I felt very strong. And yet, at the same time I now feel empty… like I have lost touch with my sense of reality.

Nothing feels real… I feel like this curtain has been lifted and now my way of seeing the world is completely different. I have no boundaries for myself. I have a hard time feeling like I am actually a real person… like everything is just some dream. In someways I now feel antisocial. I would never ever hurt anyone, but I used to be so empathetic.. now I find most men disgusting and weak. It’s almost like some of them can SENSE what I did.. I get approached far more often now, even though I dress conservatively and have not changed physically. I just feel different… I have a hard time connecting to people. I have become a great actress. Sometimes I feel like I am just playing a role, and I wonder if any of my reactions to situations are real at all.

I am dealing with other issues too. Sometimes it’s so hard for me to even get out of bed, I am tired all the time. I have also been drinking quite a bit, and actually shoplifting the bottles of wine since I am under 21. It makes me feel alive and awake, but I always feel so guilty. I know it’s wrong, I know the world has consequences, and yet none of it feels like it has substance to me anymore.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you will not judge me too harshly. I always thought that I was a good person, but I have done things that many would find unacceptable. Carrying this secret has changed me. What can I do to feel passionate about my life again? Why do I feel like nothing is real anymore? I cannot afford therapy at this time, but I really want to try and work on myself. I don’t know how to move on from this chapter in my life. I used to be so full of life, but everything seems so empty now. Not sad, just empty and unreal. I don’t know where to go from here.

A: Thank you for writing. You’ve been suffering in silence far too long. What I think happened is this: You crossed the line of your own values. To let yourself do it, you separated a part of yourself from the rest. You call it compartmentalizing. I think it may be more serious than that. It’s possible you actually dissociated a part of yourself. It’s a coping mechanism that is common when people do or feel forced to do something they feel is fundamentally wrong. As a tactic, it wasn’t entirely successful. The part that dissociated feels strong and powerful. But the rest of you feels guilty and depressed. No wonder it’s hard to live in your own skin!

Where you go from here is a therapist’s office or a women’s center for some counseling. Therapists don’t judge. We try to help as best we can. Therapy can help you literally pull yourself together. I know you said you can’t afford therapy but there is free or low-cost treatment available. I did a web search of “free counseling, name of your city” and found a number of resources. I hope you will do the same. I think you need the support of an experienced therapist to help you reintegrate yourself and reclaim the person you are at heart.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Mar 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Not Sure Who I Am Anymore. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/03/22/not-sure-who-i-am-anymore/