“From Day 1, I felt an effortless, instinctive closeness with him that I couldn’t explain, especially given that he was not my type.”
You know what’s coming, right?
“He was in a ‘complicated situation’ and needed time to ‘figure things out’ which meant that we couldn’t really be together.”
Of course, obviously, drumroll to –
“And out came insecurity, jealousy, obsessions, fear of abandonment, anxiety, insatiable emotional hunger, and as if these weren’t a handful, there was also shame.”
Shame! Good buddy, old friend, “always the plus one”, as Judy Balan puts it in Why Am I Like This?, to feeling romantically subsumed and at odds with the “overwhelming need to be balanced, rational, reasonable, and put-together with zero tolerance for excessive emotionality”.
An analytical toolkit
This narrative might as well be the base lore of living in the modern era, of subsisting on an unholy diet of unlimited options, rampant loneliness and be-your-best-self culture. “Why am I like this?”, you might implore – to the heavens or an empathic friend or just at the infuriating mirror of your phone screen, which can magic a Butter Chicken Pizza to your door at 2 am but still can’t filter away the reality of your cringiest moments.
You might find some solace at this point by turning to Balan’s new book. Part memoir, part astrology, Jungian psychology and global mythology, Why Am I Like This? is an orchestral overview of the moving parts that come together to create what OG wellness influencer Carl Jung calls “wholeness”. Wholeness, as Judy writes, “is not about becoming better or perfect, nor is it about aspiring to some collective standard of what is good, beautiful or successful. In the Jungian sense, wholeness is about becoming yourself or all that you potentially are, by facilitating a dialogue and a connection with your unconscious, and all the parts of you that are trapped in there.”
Sounds great. Except, as anyone who has ever tried to take a tentative peek into their own inner world will know, it is a realm of chaos not easily quieted, alas, by pop psychology, random religiousity, or the all-time market leader for handling unruly feelings: denial-and-repression (also drugs and alcohol).
This is what makes Balan’s approach to decoding inner dialogue so valuable; in combining the elemental and the archetypal, the mythical and the psychological, Why Am I Like This? attempts to give us an analytical toolkit as complex and sophisticated as our inner worlds themselves.
I was introduced to Judy Balan by a mutual friend – and by introduced I mean told that I must, must, MUST speak to her. I did, and embarked on a potent therapeutic journey that involved dream analysis filtered through an astro-Jungian lens. I say this as much as a disclaimer as a ringing, clanging, wake-the-neighbours endorsement: this stuff is life-changing.
I cannot begin to explain the power of a therapy session that begins with you whinging about getting mixed signals from some boy you met on Bumble and ends with you connecting a smorgasbord of dots that includes your dreams, your astrological proclivities and current planetary weather, your archetypal parentage, ancestral baggage, physical symptoms in your body, and the myth of Herakles (spoiler: he strangles snakes as a superhuman baby and fashions a cloak out of a giant lion by skinning it with its own claws). It’s Nolanesque out-there and internal, amorphous and clarifying, humbling and transformative and deeply, movingly empowering.
To fathom the unfathomable
In Why Am I Like This?, Balan applies this heady approach not just to understanding herself in the context of romance, but also to outlining the astrological symbolism that serves as a cousin to Jungian psychoanalysis. She uses herself as a case study to examine the psychic effect of one’s socio-cultural and religious upbringing being in opposition to one’s own natural sympathies, and highlights, in essence, two principal inquiries that we would do well to make of ourselves:
Who am I?
What is god?
Casual questions, but they feel apropos for a moment in time when, in the wake of the pandemic-privilege-political polarisation triad and the advent of what seems to be an incumbent AI revolution, big, hairy debates seem to be the order of the day. Wherever you land on the various issues, one thing does seem fairly certain: we are heading towards a future where communication as we know it will change. One can (and does) imagine an almost limitless sense of possibility at the thought of AI-assisted speed meeting human creativity – and the danger with limitless possibility is, of course, that it can go either way. That, like the archetypal energy of a fiery Aries or revolutionary Aquarius, the future is in itself pure potential.
To me, this is why narratives like Balan’s matter. They remind us that the spectre of tomorrow can be glimpsed not just in a dazzle-bright AI-generated image of the future, but also in the archetypally-driven, richly palimpsestic stories threaded through our past.
After a teenage Judy has a close encounter of the divine kind, she writes “It suddenly made sense why Moses was asked to hide in the cleft of the rock when God passed him by. Or why in the Old Testament, God always showed up as a cloud, wind or fire. Not because he was trying to be mysterious but because a human being cannot survive seeing God”. Or, as the adult, Jungian Judy would say, “the individual ego cannot contain archetypal imagery in its fullness without being annihilated.”
And yet, we try. From Plato to crypto, we try to fathom the unfathomable, we try to unravel
the density of myth and map the infinite span of space and archetype. We try to play Prometheus and steal a little fire wherever we can (even if said fire is but a Midjourney prompt). For all its layers, Why Am I Like This? is an easy read, a lightly-treated exploration of some super heavy subjects. And given that we are not even a century removed from almost all of these subjects being taboo – if not outright gunpowder – it is not lost on me that the very existence of this blithely-titled hot take on the human psyche, with all its questions about neurotypicality and cross-examining of religion and alchemical mixing of psycho-socio-cosmic materials, is in itself a miracle.
The fact is not lost on Judy either – or on her unconscious. A key moment in the book describes a dream she had, one so powerful that it caused an “ego death” that facilitated her transition from a writer of comedy to psychological astrologer. The dream begins with a woman in medieval Europe escaping her underground prison, carrying with her some “big secrets”, and ends with the woman facing the setting sun over a modern city, feeling both relieved that she has made her escape but also regret and sorrow for all that she has had to leave behind.
There is a certain comfort in puzzling over mixed messages from boys on Bumble, just as there is a certain comfort to living in a way that is painful, yet familiar. It is much less comfortable – but far more rewarding – to dive beneath the surface of our psyche and learn how to swim in the ocean of our own unconscious. There, in the depths of mind and mythology, we can find a lifetime supply of wisdom from the past to ground us as we face the always-uncertain future.
Why Am I Like This? is a great place to start.
Why Am I Like This?: A Journey into Psychological Astrology, Judy Balan, Simon & Schuster India.