I have been corresponding with a woman in Norway who responded to my post on depression in the face of qigong, or qigong in the face of depression. Hers was a supportive voice and also a kindred voice, and I am deeply grateful that she has been willing to communicate, since she is both a good writer and a person with things to say that have been helpful to me to hear.
We got into an exchange about the possibility of letting go of our stories, the things we tell ourselves about who we are.
A few days after one exchange, there arrived in my inbox, originally from a site called Quartz but now part of an Apple News compilation, an article with the following headline:
“By the Time You’re 77, You’ll Be a Different Person: A new personality study reveals that between 14 and 77, we don’t just age, our entire personality changes.”
The article was based on a study published in “Psychology and Aging” that began with data from a 1950 survey of 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland.
Teachers had been asked to rate the kids on six personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn.
More than 60 years later, researchers tracked down 635 of the now 77-year-old participants, and 174 of them agreed to repeat testing. They rated themselves on the six personality traits and also chose a friend or relative to do the same.
To the researchers’ surprise, they found little correlation between ratings then and now. Studies where the interval was shorter had found correlation, but apparently with enough time, our personalities are transformed.
I shared this report with my friend—but, as I told her, I’m not sure I agree that, at 75, I’m an almost completely different person from myself at 14.
It’s true that change over more than 60 years might be so gradual that even I, sitting front row center, wouldn’t notice.
However, although I have accumulated a lot of memories in 60-plus years, some of them are more than memories “about” someone or something. In these special memories I am inside myself as I was inside myself then, experiencing whatever I was seeing or feeling or thinking. (Hmmm…. I don’t hear things in my memories….)
All of these memories seem to have the same “me” inside them. Perhaps I’ve just linked them and thereby formed the story of who is me—but there is some quality to them that seems akin to a space I sometimes briefly reach in meditation, a space that also feels like me, a space without words or specific content—one might say, a space without story.
As I was pondering this notion this morning, during a meditation session where I was definitely not in the space in question, I realized that “the space” and my “inside-me” memories are observational but also rather bleak. There’s just not much sunshine in them.
Part of the story that I tell myself about myself deals with my earliest infancy. My mother used to say that because I’d had a very difficult breech birth, the doctors would not let her hold me but instead kept me in the hospital nursery for a week. (It occurs to me as I think about this now how bizarre it is that, although my mother lived to be 96 and I certainly had plenty of time to ask her what, exactly was wrong with me—was I bleeding? mangled? unresponsive? what?—I never did.) But an infant lying alone in a hospital crib—that infant would certainly have a very bleak awareness of the world.
As I continued to sit in meditation this morning, I played with the idea that perhaps I could “color-correct” my memories all the way back to that earliest “as-told-to” memory. Perhaps I could put a little more warmth, a little more sunshine into them.
Wow! This would be like colorizing old black-and-white movies. If I want to maintain the thread of the story that I call me, can I just colorize it?
Hmmmm….. which is exactly what I’m hoping the anti-depressant I’m now taking will do….
The qigong alternative would probably be some sort of energetic excision of bleak memories and perhaps bleakness in general, or some sort of simply letting go of my story or at least the parts that don’t work for me anymore.
But at the moment, neither of those things seems to be happening.
My qigong practice is sporadic, and I am taking half of a 5mg tablet of Lexapro per day, where, according to the internet, the recommended dose is supposed to be 10 mg. I was supposed to take half a tablet for five days and then start taking a whole tablet—but when I started taking a whole tablet I felt so awful in ways I don’t know how to describe, that my doctor told me to stick with half a tablet until my next appointment, now nine days away.
For now, I’d say Lexapro’s overall effect on my mood is to shift it in the direction of “whatever.”
But we shall see….
Of course, spring is coming, and I may never know what was spring and what was Lexapro….