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My History: Familial, Mental, and the Exploration of Who I Am

Taylor S. Dugan

Portland State University

Author Note

I would like to acknowledge my mother Bridget Wehde for being so available to work on

this project with me. The experience of discussing my history and identity could not have been

as thorough as it is in my first identity paper. She has been my anchor in life and I could not have

become the person I am today without her.


Writing my own narrative has given me a lot of introspection on my life and family

history and has allowed me to explore who I am and how I was shaped into that identity.

Specifically, looking at my current state of mental health and how my surroundings really played

into that. It’s given me a new perspective on the way many people look to their family’s history

and attribute that as who they are. My experience dealing with major depressive disorder played

a big role in understanding where my family is now and why I carry this disorder biologically.

Yet I’ve realized how my family’s history has been so obscured I only have three generations of

information. While this paper hasn’t given me a new perspective on who I am, I have come to

understand more of myself mentally because of it.

The overall goal was to recount my family’s history and relate that to who I am as an

individual. I know many people were able to do this with a lot of ease because their family is

very knowledgeable and proud of their heritage. My family, however, knew a max of three

generations worth of information, which gave me enough to see how my family became the way

it is and how we ended up in Oregon. I was able to create a short history starting from maternal

great grandmother, and began to notice a pattern in my family’s mental health. Depression and

bi-personality disorder, while not officially diagnosed, clearly runs through the women in my

family. The only two males I could find that have similar traits to my mental health would be my

uncle and my cousin. This was a frustrating experience because I could not communicate with

either of them due to reasons I can not disclose. I talked solely with my mother on this topic

because we share the same variation on depression. It’s been such an easy adjustment dealing

with depression because of her openness to listen to how I feel and her ability to help figure out

how to fix my problems.


Writing this narrative about my life was a much needed refresher for my self-confidence

and my willingness to work with others. Understanding my lived life experiences and how they

shaped my family and I, couldn’t have been done to the best of my ability without my mother’s

help. She helped recount a majority of my youth and helped me decide which events to write

about. With her assistance, I was able to create a powerful, cohesive narrative that I felt

encapsulated myself very well. As a scholar, I don’t like to look to others for support in my

work, I prefer to be self-sufficient in my studies. I have a very high standard for the work that I

create and I have a very difficult time taking criticism of my work that isn’t my own. Having had

this experience of working with someone else to reach a common goal was really worthwhile

because I was given a new perspective on important events in my life, such as my mental illness

diagnosis and my step father’s passing away. I’d like to explore working in groups more in my

studies and see if that is a learning style that could work for me.

A big resource for writing my narrative was Kathryn Linn Geurts ethnographic book

Culture and the Senses : Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community. In the text, Geurts

discusses her studies of the Anlo-Ewe people of Africa. She states that many of the children in

the Anlo-Ewe culture are brought up being saturated in the rich ways and themes of the land.

They are taught to identify with the culture and build upon themselves however they react to

that. I found this to be such a stark contrast with the very rigid, gender-specific and “told what to

think and how I should feel” culture that America’s youth and I were raised in. I’m not

personally envious of the Anlo-Ewe people’s upbringing, I believe I have cultivated an identity

that is fluid, built upon my own experiences. These readings did not necessarily help change my

view of identity, but gave me a clearer picture on how fluid and malleable we can be just based

on the culture we experience on and that unique way the world is given to us.

With this understanding of culture in mind, connecting it back to mental health and my

role in society is imperative to state. I feel that having written this paper and reading this journal

has brought me to the conclusion that I need to advocate more. Around 1.5% of american (3.3

million) deal with depression, and that is only a documented number of people that reach out for

help. In my culture, it is viewed as unacceptable to not be mentally perfect. It is seen as a form of

weakness and that you are seen as less than for needing help to get through a day. I feel, being

someone who deals with major depressive disorder, I need to reach out and be an advocate for

those who aren’t coping as well as I am, as well as raise awareness for how the disorder affects

people. I used to run an independent blog entitled DBTeens, it was a mental health support blog

that gave information on dialectical behavior therapy and the coping mechanisms that treatment

provides. I would like to restart that blog and possibly even lead an online group that may need it

in the future because giving a safe space for those that need it can change someone’s outlook on

life entirely. This kind of community service and advocacy is something I’ve longed to do for a

long time, because I have developed a philosophy of helping others when you can. I feel this idea

of social responsibility isn’t taught to my peers as much as I would like to see.

Evaluating my story and my new outlook on social responsibility, my views on my

identity have refocused and shed new light on my personality and what I hope to improve upon. I

would like to begin holding less judgement when meeting new people, specifically those that

come from various religious backgrounds. Not to say that I hold prejudice against those with

foreign religious beliefs, but I was raised in a community where being Christian was the norm.

Reading the article Searching for an Identity, published by Facing History and Ourselves, has

given me a new way to see religion. The article discusses Yasmin Hai and her best friend Nazia

reconnecting with their religious backgrounds. Where Nazia embraced her Muslim heritage,

Yasmin felt betrayed in the sense that Nazia had turned her back on her British upbringing. This

was a profound moment for me because I have always had the notion that everyone is given one

religious identity in their youth and sticks with it through adulthood. This isn’t the case here, and

has allowed me to see what can happen when some people embrace a religion that may be

rejected by society. I recognize this and would like to keep stories like this in my head when I

encounter people of religious minorities. I’m not aware of the prejudice that they may have

encountered in their journey to creating their identity, just as they are not aware of mine.

With that being said, everything that I have written and read has given me a much

stronger sense of self then when I began the term. Ten weeks ago, I had the belief that I already

knew everything about myself and was not open to learning about human nature through my

identity. However, as the course has progressed, I’m exiting my first term of college more open

minded to the diverse culture that surrounds me in Portland. I have gained the ability to keep in

mind that everyone has as vast and unique an experience as I do, and that I need to withhold

judgement. I have also gained the ability to be willing to normalize my mental health instead of

hiding it. Modern America has a very large problem with accepting that mental health issues

exist and normalizing the treatment of them. I would like to stand up as an advocate while I am

here at PSU and find a way to be an upstanding peer. I know from experience that seeing

someone who will raise their voice and be willing to share their story is inspiring for those who

may be scared to reach out for help.

My final goal that I’ve set because of this paper would be to engage with my extended

family and learn about my lineage. I discussed in my original identity paper that I didn’t feel any

particular way about my limited knowledge, but now I’m interested to see where my family

comes from. Connecting this back to my identity and possibly engage in my heritage would be

an experience that would allow me to connect with my historical roots and learn where I stand in


Through the My Story / My Identity paper, I have been able not only become more open

minded to the malleability of my identity, but have understood the importance of my role and

responsibility in society. I plan on taking more responsibility in the world of mental health by

joining an organization that strives to normalize all disorders, and hopefully be able to be an

advocate in my community. I also plan on expanding what I consider to be my identity by

searching for my extended family and study my lineage. This way I can become closer to where

I’ve come from and not be so ignorant to my ancestors. My identity is not limited or invalid

because of this paper, it just means that I am now open and willing to become a more positive

and aware individual in my community.



Geurts, Kathryn Linn. Culture and the Senses : Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African

Community, University of California Press, 2003. ProQuest Ebook Central,


Sua̕rez-Orozco, Carola. Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a

Changing World. Facing History and Ourselves, 2008.