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Will The Real Me Please Stand Up?

A night doing stand-up comedy closed one door but opened others.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

There are seminal moments in life. Those times when you need to lay down a marker, draw a line in the sand, which says, ‘Look, I’ve been here’.

Turning 50 is one of them, or it certainly was for me. I barely noticed 30, eased pleasantly into my forties, but there was something about the onset of my sixth decade that felt different.

I suddenly felt mortal. And it was only in feeling my mortality that I realised that I never had before. Felt it that is.

Until then, I was the puer aeternus, my very own Peter Pan, without a thought about longevity, getting ill, old, and eventually dying.

It just never occurred to me. I was caught up in the great games of life: gain and loss, success and failure, children and partners, jobs, careers and on and on.

By 50 (and I reach 57 next month, another fact I can barely believe) I had been a working journalist and later editor since 22 and a counsellor and psychotherapist since my mid 30s.

Suddenly, I entered a late mid-life crisis but it didn’t fall into the stereotype of leaving home, buying a motorbike and a woman young enough to be my third daughter. (And I do mean buying her: isn’t that what older men do with younger women?)

I wanted to have a shot at stand-up.

In working for some years with a client, an internationally famous comedian, and supplying him with armfuls of ideas, it seemed like a plan.

And so, after moving out of London to the bucolic west of England countryside, I wrote to various regional theatres, asking for an in.

To my great surprise, one of them wrote back and offered me the first slot during an evening of stand up, to be followed by three veterans of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, whose combined years almost nestled within my 50.

My children thought it hysterical but I set off one night on my own to do my first gig.

I had written some good material, which went down well, although the 20-somethings, who worked the audience in the moment with lightning-quick immediacy, left me rather deflated.

Did I really want a third career, toughing it out for years in clubs, trying to make it, pinning myself to an exhausting schedule? I had visions of becoming a kind of failing theatrical uncle to a tribe of young smartasses.

At other times, I am left wanting to be a kind of Renaissance Man with many different expressions for my different selves.

After reflecting for a while, I realised my answer was a firm no. So, what was up with me?

What was up with me is that I wanted to find a way of expressing my different selves, the various voices that lived within me.

Did I have multi-personality disorder? Not a bit of it. My different selves are not in hiding, appearing unbidden and taking me over.

Yet I realised I could not contain myself within the usual language around personal growth and development which — and this may be down to semantics only — seems to assume there is only one self.

At one level that seems to me correct: ultimately, there is only one self, usually known as the Self, Truth or God. If we find one, we find all three.

But usually when people refer to themselves, they are talking about the ego and there is an assumption there is only one.

One of my mentors, the late Dr Roger Woolger, a Jungian therapist, wrote a book called ‘Other Lives, Other Selves’, extending this idea to include other lifetimes.

Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, most of us can acknowledge we appear as different people at different times, depending on circumstance, our mood and the company surrounding us.

In writing on this platform these past ten weeks, the issue of voice comes up. Having a strong writer’s voice is important and can make the difference between success and failure.

Yet I find myself often wondering which voice I should be using and which do I want to use. It sometimes seems wise to plumb for only one voice and establish that.

At other times, I am left wanting to be a kind of Renaissance Man with many different expressions for my different selves.

I have found I have a funny voice, a soulful voice, my therapist’s voice, my travel writing voice and a poetic voice. This one I haven’t quite figured yet.

All of them have started to emerge more strongly here.

I am reminded of my time working in rehab and a joke I think I may have coined myself, although I can’t be certain:

‘You go into rehab with one addiction and come out with four or five. If you’re lucky you get a full set.’

Perhaps writing about the Self is similar: the more we commit ourselves, the more voices we find.

In using writing as therapy — for me one of its greatest functions — all my differing parts are coming out to play and I cannot focus on one at the expense of the others.

Ultimately, we all have to unite these diverse parts and wake up to the primordial unity that joins them in one joyful synthesis.

As another Jungian, Robert A Johnson writes: ‘The self is the balanced, harmonious, symmetrical unity at the very centre of one’s being, which each of us senses within.’

Perhaps the truth is, we all have many voices, emanating from this central hub and as long as we can have some awareness of this centrepiece, we can express in as many voices as we like.

Do I want to settle on one writer’s voice? Not just now. For now, I’m championing diversity.

Just don’t ask me which self said that.

© simon heathcote



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Simon Heathcote

Simon Heathcote

Psychotherapist writing on the human journey for some; irreverently for others; and poetry for myself; former newspaper editor.