The Identification of Self
Unbeknownst to me, born as a black male child in the social discord of the 1960s, to parents of grandparents who survived the Great Depression, just two generations removed from slavery, I was already destined to be embattled with the generational curse of identification of self: self-esteem, self-worth, self-realization, and self-actualization, just to name a few.
But add to that, the childhood perplexity of being born to a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder and a father with OCD, and you have the psychological formula for the development (or rather the underdevelopment) of an overthinking, anxiety-prone, anger-repressing child, who learned to survive his tumultuous environment by turning off his emotional response-system to the world.
A world that continually toggled his evolving mind from extremes of emotional volatility and chaos to a constant demand for perfection and order. Creating the need for the development of an emotional fortress to protect and hide the wounded child.
To hide him from the pain.
To hide him from the fear.
The pain that grew out of the child’s sense of helplessness to protect his mother whenever she spiraled into an emotional breakdown.
A helplessness that ultimately led to his own emotional insecurity.
The fear that came from growing up in a household with an OCD father.
One who seemed to have anger control issues, especially when things in the home life were out of order. As they often were.
This anger control issue would occasionally result in excessive disciplinary action. Discipline that would border on abuse, even by 1960s standards.
Ironically, or maybe because of, the creation of this emotional barrier to protect the inner child, I was able to thrive and became relatively successful by the world standards, despite being seemingly deprived in some of the most important emotional traits. Traits such as compassion, patience, empathy, and even affection.
So, if all that is true, why, and how, did I decide to become a physician- the profession I considered to have been my earthly gift.
If indeed I was so emotionally underdeveloped, how did I choose a profession which required so many of these important traits.
How did I overcome these deficiencies? What motivated me? Was it my ego? Maybe it was the desire to save others who might have suffered like me? Maybe it was to save myself?
While I’ve never been quite certain of the complete answer to this question, I do think in part it has something to do with my mother. Regardless of my mother’s misfortunate emotional and mental imbalance she would often speak positive affirmations in my life.
Patterns, Puzzles, and Math
My mother noticed, as early as three years of age, my unusual attraction to making patterns, shapes, or designs with anything I could get my hands on.
Building blocks, Legos, and Lincoln Logs were my favorite design-creating toys.
Sometimes, while playing outside with the other kids, I would stop and stoop down to the ground and began to arrange random sticks or rocks into different patterns or designs.
I believe I had an intense desire to always want to put things in order.
Chaos, or disorder, caused me stress.
I felt like I had to organize things or a least arrange them into some logical or pleasing pattern.
I assumed this was in part due to my paternal OCD gene.
Or maybe not? Maybe it was my inner child seeking to organize his outer world.
And then I encountered puzzles.
I remember the extreme satisfaction I would get by successfully finishing a puzzle.
I somehow knew just by looking at the picture on the front of the box where every intended piece needed to go.
I would reportedly become so enthralled while working on a puzzle, my mother complained that I would often ignore her when she called me or tried to get my attention.
She would later explain, that while working on a puzzle, it was as if I had entered a trance-like state.
Despite this occasional disregard for my mother’s voice, she always indulged my creativity.
I would often hear her say to other people, “I think he is going to be an architectural engineer.”
While I was not sure what an architectural engineer was, I assumed it had something to do with building blocks and puzzles.
Next came math.
By age 4–5, I could already do simple math problems.
I would ask my mother to buy me math books instead of coloring books.
Even as a child, I felt as if uncovering the answers to math problems was exciting.
I especially liked that math always had a definitive answer.
I learned to solve the math problems by understanding the rules, or algorithms, to get to the right answer.
The rules represented patterns to me, and once I could see the pattern, I could always get to the answer.
I believe I longed for every problem in life to have a pattern or definitive answer, like math did, but unfortunately that was not the case.
Looking back, I’m certain I would use math and numbers as a way to escape to a more controlled and organized world, one with predictability and consistency.
In an attempt, I think, to simulate some sense of order and control in my own chaotic life.
Similarly, I believe I would find an emotional escape from my home-life turmoil by putting together puzzles.
Concentrating on puzzles and putting together the oddly twisted pieces to create a preconceived picture, allowed for a time-consuming escape from the ‘real world’, and may have somehow substituted for my inability to put the twisted pieces of my own life together.
I realized I saw the entire world through patterns, shapes, and numbers.
These childhood allures were just a prelude to a lifetime of indulging in and seeking to master my fascination with patterns.
I would later come to appreciate that some part of this genius was a gift in pattern recognition.
Early success with governing the outcome of a puzzle or a math problem reinforced my desire to look for more controllable things in this out-of-control life.
So maybe, just maybe, this was another reason I chose medicine as my earthly life goal.
If I couldn’t fix my own life, then maybe I could help others fix theirs. Or so I thought.
This course would ultimately lead me back to uncover my unhealed self- my wounded inner child.