On The Nature Of Conscious Experience or How I Learned to Love Myself

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You do not have to believe me. I do need your belief. This is my reality.



Have you ever taken time out of your day and just thought about how weird it is to be experiencing things in real-time?1

And, really, what is "experiencing" something anyway?


Have you ever had a conversation with yourself?


Introduction/Objective



I am here to discuss and define, to the best of my ability and in as comprehensible a fashion as I am capable, the mechanism, origin, structure and nature of conscious awareness, as I believe it exists. It will be expressed through the lens of my own experiences, coupled with a partially-academic style essay.

How it arises, the limits of its function, the threshold of complex consciousness and postulations into the parascientific aspects of consciousness and their relationship with reality are all considered to various extents.

In this way, you have already seen my (less then academic) observations pushed to logical and illogical extremes in such articles as SCP-META-EX-J, SCP-3545, SCP-3335, SCP-5541, Billith's Proposal and more. Feel free to read them if you like, but they are not necessary (and perhaps somewhat detracting) if taken as concurrent reading to this essay. ​


Preamble



I'm not a neuroscientist, but I've been around for a day or two. I've inhabited this skin suit all my life and thus I would say I am pretty familiar with, if any consciousness, my own. As fucked as it may be, and it is fucked.

My own experience of reality has been…atypical. Presumably. I often wonder how atypical, though I am sure enough now to say that it is not the "average" experience, but it is also not the "only" experience of this kind.

It all started after a sports injury—a baseball. Well, I suppose it didn't start there, but that's where we will begin our study.

I was barely double digits, a child, innocently sucking on a lollipop at a birthday party for the neighbor's kid, watching de facto friends lobbing the sportsball or some shit. The lollipop was strawberry-flavored, and I had barely started on the thing when I was told to move; someone had deemed the spot I was standing as a potential hazard area for getting hit by foul balls. Me, being a somewhat safe and guarded child, moved to a far point from this place so I could enjoy my candy and observe the game in peace.

So, the older brother was pitching, and he kept claiming he can throw the ball 60mph. I don't doubt him. The birthday boy is up, if my memory serves me correctly. The sphere is thrown, the stick is swung not a moment later.

Then, the pitch connected with a line drive from the bat, traveling directly into my right optic canal.

BAM

I didn't really feel any pain or anything like that. There was a moment of partial-blackness when the fastball connected with my face, and when I tried to open my eyes a second later, all I saw was red. I couldn't even think. Kept asking where my lollipop was. I had just started it. W-where's my lollipop? It's in the grass, you lost it with half your face, you idiot!

While this was happening, I can't say I remember much else. Probably the shock. I recall the smell of grass, the sun on my closed and bloodied right eye, and nothing from the left side of me. I was on the ground, but I didn't feel like I had moved. It was like I was floating, and all I wanted was some strawberry candy.

Naturally, pearls were clutched and prayers were emitted in circles as I was taken to a hospital, where a plastic surgeon was unavailable. The second one we visited had the skillful hands on-deck to sculpt me a shiny upper-right facial quadrant and left me with a small eyebrow scar and not much else in physical deformity. My nose was cleanly broken and the right nostril has stayed rather contorted on the inside to this day, though aesthetically I'm still just as ruggedly attractive as ever (ie. middling). The carnage had fortunately avoided two major areas of risk with maxillofacial injury—the "triangle of death", an encephalitis-prone isosceles area surrounding the middle bridge of the nose and edges of the mouth, and the bones of the orbital wall, which, at only millimeters thick in certain places, could have easily made me a corpse that day. I remember the doctor suggested that the location of impact was within an eighth of an inch from shattering my orbit, but I cannot confirm the accuracy of this claim.

In this way, I was incredibly lucky from a structural and longevity standpoint. On the other hand, I was unlucky that the velocity of impact was mostly endured by the soft and delicate tissues of my brain and neck. The full extent of the damage/dysfunction developed from that incident would not be known for many years, and I am only just learning the complexity, even now, after almost two decades of searching for answers.

I should take time now to talk about my home life, as it is integral in the way my awareness has been shaped over time. That is why I do not base my theory of conscious awareness on my experiences alone, because I am not a reliable narrator. However, along with my anecdotal evidence will be the evidence of others and an array of established neuroscientific and philosophical ideas, theories, studies and data that will hopefully make the argument I put forth here somewhat more credible. I do implore you to take what I say with a grain of salt and not the word of an expert, but if you do understand what I am discussing here on a personal level, and feel that you have corroborative/critical experiences/thoughts, please put them in the comments. The support of this community has gotten me through some tough times, and I know I haven't always lived up to the expectations of those around me (something I will discuss further on; as with everything, it is all interconnected), so I do hope that this helps some and entertains others. If not, I will be happy knowing my insanity is my own, and none of you will ever have to be the wiser.

So—my home life. I tread carefully here, as it is both hard to discuss and sensitive to many. My go-to justification is saying that it wasn't that bad, but therapists have told me that's not a right way to go about discussing these sorts of things, so I will be blunt, but do my best not to overstay my welcome.

I had very little privacy as a child—we will start with that. Everything about me was known if possible. My living space was not mine, and all things were borrowed. I had no safe place. Drawers were checked and analyzed, blinds were not to be lowered, doors not to be closed. I didn't have the internet or a phone until I was quite old (and lost both frequently). There was no where to go, no place to hide. No one understood because the acts put up were immaculate; it was only when I was much older that others would see/hear the reality that cracked through a carefully curated façade. Even then, I was frequently made to doubt my perceptions—words spoken were heard differently and words heard were spoken differently. Events were incongruent and either happened without my knowledge or happened despite my knowledge. My observations, intuitions and emotions were not only invalid, but leveraged against me. I felt suffocated and small, as if I were a forgotten side character in another's story, slowly fading away from everything. The physical violence was minimal, but enough to leave me in fear, every second I was around my step-father. That much I can say for sure; I was never not afraid of him.

You cannot understand the resulting loneliness unless you've felt it firsthand. There is being by yourself, and then there is being alone. I was not allowed to be by myself, truly. But I was always alone. I had friends, there was something of a community, but no one knew the whole picture, except for me.

These feelings only magnified with the accident, and of course would not change the dynamics I have discussed above—though I would start to feel the effects of both more, as they played off each other and reinforced a new paradigm of self-reality that grew increasingly present as days went on.

As a result of the incident, my perceptions developed some "peculiarities". Emotionally, I was withdrawn. I saw the pile of gifts and get well cards from supportive classmates and felt literally nothing. Numb. Isolated. The suffocation I had felt earlier was so profound now. There was something that filled the air, it was thick and left no gaps in my lungs to breathe with. There was a film over everything, the world moved so fast while I just fucking sat there. I never could catch my breath, though I would spend so much time just staring at the goddamn walls, and I resented myself for my inaction. I still do, in my bad days.

This is because, along with my burgeoning opinions of life, I also felt exactly the opposite in many ways. I labelled this specific emotion "internal screaming", as a part of me was frequently in opposition to the actions I took. If I stared at a wall, a part of me would tell me to move, it would beg me to do something. Anything. I was not catatonic, I was aware of every moment of my actions. If I chose to see friends, this part of me would often tell me I wanted to stay home. If I stayed home, it may tell me I should have gone out. It was not a constant force; most often I was in sync. But there were times when it made its presence known, and it was loud. Very loud.

I would consider this the voice of my own self-doubt. A devil's advocate I would use to parse through interactions and scenarios, imagined and real, as a lonely child does. Conversations in my head, disagreements about what I saw and did, etc. This would eventually prove to only be a small portion of the overall picture. The truth, as I believe it, is far more disturbing—and, if I'm right, part of you knows what I'm talking about, even if you don't know it yet.

Of course, my emotions were not the only part of me that changed. Sometimes, my visual perceptions would distort. I'd look at a bird, far away and think that it looked so much more "small and close" than I had remembered. Like when you try to squish something far away between your fingers, but I could have been convinced that such things were actually as tiny as they appeared. Occasionally, I'd look at people and places and think "why have I never noticed how this looked? Is this the first time I've been here/looked at this person?" and not only has this continued, it has episodically gotten worse in the years since.

I also had developed mild aphasia—masked by a stutter that hid the fact that I was simply forgetting words/places in sentences. Speech therapy undid the stutter but did not improve my recall dysfunction, nor did it quell my emergent information processing issues. Not only this, but I steadily grew disconnected with external reality in small but important ways. I began to really feel like an outside observer, one that could never "get into" the act of participating in society/life. I had seen interpersonal relationships to be a game of pretend, a series of concessions that left no parties happy. I see it still today, and I believe this is a facet of our world we simply learn to accept; we cannot know each other, ourselves and the world around us fully, and this aspect keeps us perpetually in a state of children-pretending-to-be-adults. The ones who pretend the best go the farthest, the ones who refuse to adapt are marked as undesirable/atypical. I am profoundly among this latter group and have struggled in the past to maintain active participance in life due to crushing nihilism/existential dread. I have since channeled this into optimistic nihilism,2 though not before growing acutely familiar with the terms depersonalization, derealization, and dissociation.3

Due to the environment I grew up in, I did not feel comfortable sharing my symptoms with my family. My parents were not much help and the rest of the family was oblivious; the narrative was tightly controlled to all those that did not see the reality. I also had two younger sisters whom I spent much of my time protecting, and now just as much time away from, guilty of abandoning them to save myself when my choices were death or the streets—another story, for another day. Many of my friends were not friends where it mattered, and people in authority positions often did not believe me over my parents, thus I was on my own—for this and other health problems, which I had begun developing around the same time.

The first was monthly, crippling stomach aches. In the middle of the night, I would sit on the toilet (or the floor) and clutch my abdomen, unable to move from the pain. It was my own, and no one knew about it. Some symptoms, like chronic scalp psoriasis, were much more difficult to hide. As a visual embarrassment, my parents took much concern into the "dandruff" and applied many products to my scalp to fix the issue. Nothing helped, and many things made the lesions on my scalp burn and bleed. Hairdressers commented in shock when cutting my hair, I only brushed them off (no pun intended). I hated this aspect of myself the most, and it made it humiliating to get my hair cut. Eventually, this was resolved with a diagnosis of Celiac's disease in my 20's—but back to the point, as nothing else in this story has the satisfying resolution of diagnosis like this and I wish to ruin your day with the rest of my life story (kidding, of course, but not in the ways that matter, I suppose).

​I think I've told my parents of my perceptions and feelings three or four times before I gave up. The first time, I was maybe thirteen, and, during some heated family game night, I said that I'd wished I would sleep and never wake again. I cried real tears, the first and last time I would do so for years, and moved on with my life. No one said anything, no one followed me up with a professional. In fact, therapy was a punishment in my household, not a solution—a clever tactic to avoid addressing the source of these issues in a way that could seem negligent to a professional, I suppose. Some time later I told my mother I felt like an alien, an outside observer conducting non-interactive study of humanity. I only watched, never participated, and never felt like I experienced things the way others did. Elation, loss, awe—the emotional extremes—all I felt was a dull uncertainty from my disconnection with the causing events. Funerals, weddings, scoldings, the death of pets—all just causes of reactions. The brain experiences something, takes in the data, crunches the numbers, reasons with the results, and spits out a response in electrical impulses and chemical secretions. That's it. This is the basis for how one interacts with and sees the world around them, and how I began to understand a major aspect of consciousness itself.

Of course, it is more complex than this—filled with nuance and nearly-infinite influencing factors, but the idea is the same. Initial conditions, processes, results. Said results help form the next initial conditions that are the variables in subsequent processes, such processes are interactions between energy states. States exist in chained bubbles called events, which continue, ad-infinitum, until the energy of a system depletes and entropy reaches a stable point where further interaction is not possible. The direction and rate at which events chain together is temporality and the process that decides how events relate to and result in each other is causality. The space that links events is topology and the nature of those events existing at all is ontology. Reality would then be the culmination of all of these things, and consciousness is the experience of this culmination through a biological lens formed with variable complexity—from single, photon-detecting units within the structure of a microorganism to billion-cell specialized organs for complex multidimensional, "real-time" rendering of space. The parity and accuracy of objective reality compared to perceived reality is determined by a number of factors, most notably boundary effects4 of events and sensory noise that is filtered through the previously-mentioned biological lens of our own awareness.

Consciousness is thus something that can be incredibly rudimentary and incomprehensibly complex. It is the same phenomenon in all accounts, but the limits of the effect vary based on the system in which it arises.

An important factor in determining the nature of reality through conscious experience is confidence. One must believe what they are experiencing is real to correctly respond to it, and the inverse is also true. An example of human fallibility in this regard is our inability to differentiate dreams from reality while dreaming; such function was useful perhaps in Man's early development, when dreams of monsters in the night kept us prepared for real threats that existed just beyond the susurrus of dark trees and the shadows they cast. These images serve us no longer as apex predators, but our minds are embedded with tons of ancient and erroneous knowledge, anachronistic or otherwise.

This is important to note for me because, while most were experiencing a life that reinforced ideas of reality, mine was filled with inconsistencies and doubts. This has made me an incredibly skeptical person, perhaps to my benefit, but I have often struggled with belief-based systems due to this, such as trust in the way-of-things, other people's intentions and religious/political ideologies. I am not some "enlightened" atheist or political centrist—far from both. I consider anyone who "knows" their god to be a fool, as all logic and experience tells me that divine creation far surpasses human ability for understanding, both in form and intention. We only know that we don't know, and the breadth of what we don't know is exceptionally vast. For politics, I can only speak for the US confidently, but I can say that there is a system in place that benefits no political party, a system designed to pit mostly like-minded people against each other while an elite class of rich, predominantly white men fuck the planet to death. That's all I know, and all I will speak of on this forum.

My disillusionment with the world at large would continue, and in this time, I would become increasingly dissociated from the things around me. Life was a blur and I was the sole stationary factor. Everything was speeding up, people were preparing for the rest of their life, while I was living from moment to moment, just trying to survive. I'm glad I did, but it has not been an easy process.

By the time I was 18, I forced a separation in my home. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, maybe still. I still hear my step-father telling me that if I left, I would never see my sisters again. That kind of pain sticks with you. It doesn't leave, and time can be your friend or your enemy. It distances you from your trauma, but it delegitimizes it all the same; we are to grow and adapt at some point. We "get over it".

Qui n’avance pas, recule. Those who learn, advance. Those who do not, recede. I'd like to say I learned from these traumas and mistakes, that I grew and flourished to spite those that hurt me. I can only say that now, having receded into myself for almost twenty years. I did learn much, but not as much as I lost. I can always learn new things, but I cannot get back my innocence nor the time I've spent in pain. I have accepted this, and now all I can do is share the things I've learned and treat others with the love and kindness they deserve, regardless of how they've been shaped by the world around them. This does not absolve those of doing wrong, but it helps me understand the why, and that is its own kind of peace.


The Deep End



Let me paint you a picture—I'm barely an adult, no longer living with my parents. I was in higher education for some time but went on indefinite leave based on my mental state. Well, it was definite in that it had an end date, but there was no way my parents would pay to let me go back to my expensive college; being on the fence about it already, this hiccup had sealed my fate. I was doomed to the local COMMUNITY COLLEGE, another perfectly reasonable alternative that was demonized for one reason or another. I promptly failed these courses and spiraled worse until that fateful day of my emancipation—if you could call it that.

Putting space between myself and my parents didn't solve my issues, but it allowed others to see that a paradigm had been molded and curated for a very specific appearance and thus gave me the foundation to begin to steady myself. I was a more-than-capable adult but I was so far behind the curve at this point. I had no real support system and had to create my own, I learned to lean on others and ask for help when needed, because everyone needs help at some point or another.

So, I finally get away from this environment, moving from Podunk, USA to hoppin' Urban Citytown, America. A few hours' drive does a world of difference. Suddenly, I'm in the middle of everything and am free. Well, not completely. I'm unemployed, traumatized and, despite the distance, feel a familiar panic every time I spot a similar-looking vehicle to those my parents have. I'm still emotionally stunted, but I take to caring for a cat for the roommates who allowed me to stay with them and I learn that my capacity for emotion is far greater than I had imagined, despite my anxiety about being a sociopath—A constant worry since I had grown numb.5 Part of me was simply buried in myself. It was hiding due to misuse or disuse or what-have-you. My brain downregulated chemical responses it deemed superfluous or detrimental, that included expression of emotion in most forms. Instead of processing things, I somatized them.6 I still dissociated during periods of high stress—floating outside my body, beside my body, slightly behind my eyes, inside my head etc. I would note that my body still functioned miraculously well without my active guidance, but I would not be able to seamlessly glide back into conversation when I drifted out. Peculiar.

It was around this time that I discovered drugs. I don't advocate for anyone to use drugs and have been sober for a long while now,7 but partaking in hallucinogens changed my brain in (mostly) positive, lasting ways. I put this down as a combination of luck, my inability to develop psychological addictions and the obvious therapeutic/medicinal benefits of certain, specific compounds in moderated doses. Now, I did not do drugs responsibly and I implore anyone who does use drugs to follow harm reduction guidelines available freely on the internet. Anyone who doesn't is irresponsible at best; if you have the means to acquire drugs nowadays, you have the means to research them proper.

I was a STEM major who just learned about the darkweb in the early 2010's, a kid in a candy store if there ever was one; bitcoin was $.18/pop and drugs were everywhere online if you knew to look. Naturally, I wanted to see how they worked. I cared less about the escapism (it was an added bonus) and more about the process. How did drugs evoke a change in perception? To what degree are these alterations in perception "real"? What does a person's experience of generated stimuli tell us about baseline reality? These were questions I needed to understand. I knew my perceptions of reality were off-baseline, and these substances impacted the brain and brought similar effects, and therefore someone has to understand how A gets to B.

Unfortunately, even today, we know very little about altered states of consciousness and our own brains in regards to the generation of baseline consciousness. We have learned much about the status of our experience of reality, we know much about the structure of the brain, but not nearly enough and nothing concrete that links the two. A stagnation due to restrictive and narrow-minded views of such things, or a quietly-silenced revelation that proves such programs as MKUltra and PEAR true? Who can say for sure? Whatever we learned from these and other studies was deemed either unfounded or unhelpful to the status quo and, thus, were abandoned.

In fact, there's a large portion of people that believe that, while the brain generates consciousness, consciousness itself is not housed nor located in the brain. This has been evidenced through experiments and procedures that have removed or replaced portions of organs in humans and animals. Organisms receiving transplants of tissue can develop cravings, personality traits and even memories of their donors, rats can survive and think with nearly their entire brain removed. There are numerous reports that share this similar theme.

One thing that appears certain is that the brain needs to have electrical activity for the generation of conscious awareness. So, the brain is necessary for consciousness, but it does not inherently describe the complete creation of or location of consciousness, and the brain can be active without consciousness. Interlinked but separate objects.

There is one class of psychoactives that displays this effect front and center, and does not entirely rely on entactogenic/hallucinogenic external generation of sensory information to do so—Dissociative anesthetics. While classical psychedelics agonize or activate the 5-HTx and similar varieties of ion channel receptors for generation of serotonin-related empathogenic effects, kaleidoscopic hallucinatory features and religious experiences, dissociatives antagonize or dampen NMDA receptors,8 and thus can result in out-of-body-experiences, sensory deprivation, feelings of numbness, depersonalization, derealization, disconnection from the self and internally-generated sensory distortions.

And boy, did they feel familiar. Not only that, they were quiet, too. Not just your typical lack of sound; there was no "internal screaming". Just silence. I felt true privacy for the first time, ever. Something was definitely happening here, though not all of it made sense to me; I would often do things that were unexplainable, abnormal or downright socially bizarre. Certain limb movements, rotations and smooth, mechanical motions I could not explain, for example. They felt "right". Like it was something I didn't usually get to do but could now with impudence. I couldn't stop myself, but I didn't see a reason to. It was just something that happened. I began to write stuff, observations about the world, in this very childlike handwriting. I began to postulate on my existence as a trapped passenger and write about this fact. I didn't feel "in sync" with myself—I felt like someone else entirely. I couldn't speak the way I wanted to, in the right intonation or meaning at times. Sometimes I wouldn't recognize my friend's faces, and others would seem replaced with impostors. Like many of my friends who partook in such things, we would close one of our eyes to handle issues with double vision—I would close my right eye, and listen to music with a single earbud at times.

Only, unlike my friends, I was doing this more and more while sober—and consistently favored one side of my body.

What was happening to me?


The Structure of Consciousness



As stated above, humans have had a hard time locating the source of consciousness. We know the brain does something to make consciousness happen, but we don't know how it decides to do so and what process goes into this something.

My theory of consciousness uses established rules we know, and combines them with incomplete theories that exist today, with some minor adjustments—subject to change, of course.

The first thing you need to understand is that consciousness is not physical. It is quantifiable, it is possibly measurable in size and density, but it does not "take up" physical space or tangible mass when isolated. It cannot be isolated because it exists due to a medium and is not limited to just the medium itself. It is generated and exists partially within the medium but extends outward—how it is accomplished, how far it extends is unknown, but I do believe it can extend to a point outside the physical form, and in certain complexities, can influence others in physicality or nonphysicality. It could be a nonlocal and infinite influence, it could be limited to a set distance, probabilistic or non-interactive, but I will posit my specific ideas on that regard later down the line.

The second thing you need to understand is that consciousness is likely not a single process. It is either a multi-threaded system working simultaneously or multiple single-threaded systems working so quickly that tasks can be carried out near-simultaneously. Thought is thus structured in "complexes" that develop a flow akin to receive-process-react. These are the same "event bubbles" described earlier.

The third thing, and the hardest for most to accept, is that there are two major thought complexes in the human brain, each of which are generated within their own hemisphere and coordinate through a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. The linked video does a good job of explaining this in layman's terms, but I will also explain it here.

The human brain is structured with two hemispheres that control the opposite sides of the body, right to left, left to right. Everything, all the sensory data received in that side of the brain and responded to is handled by that side, in a neurotypical human. The sole exceptions to this are the speech center of the brain, which is handled by the left brain exclusively, and facial recognition, handled by the right. This typically does not pose an issue as the corpus callosum does the work of a third complex, an arbitration system that relays commands from both hemispheres to the Cervical-spine and, subsequently, the rest of the body. The C-spine, or the brainstem, is responsible for basic life functions like breathing and heartbeat and thus damage to it is quite often serious. The corpus callosum exists as an impartial system that ensures mutual coordination between hemispheres, while the brainstem ensures basic functioning even when large portions of cognition are lost.

People born with just a brainstem can be technically alive, but do not respond to conscious awareness tests and often die of complications rather quickly.

So the corpus callosum exists to unify the hemispheres of the brain together and regulate their electrical network. However, for some time the corpus callostomy (severing of the corpus callosum) was used as an effective epilepsy treatment.

Epilepsy, in so few words, can be described as disruptions to consciousness caused by deviations in the electrical network of the brain. Effects of such things vary due to the location and severity of the issue but usually result in loss/changes in consciousness, muscle rigidity, abnormal movements/vocalizations, etc. In some cases major seizures can be fatal. Frequency of seizures can be debilitating for some, thus corpus callostomies were used as an irreversible but extremely effective treatment. Patients with a split corpus callosum found their seizures had miraculously vanished as the electrical networks stabilized, isolated to their individual hemispheres.

Many of these patients would find out, however, that the procedure is not without side effects. Post-op individuals would often find their left side acting on their own or disagreeing with choices they would make for food, clothes, etc. You can even show separate hemispheres the same question and get differing answers (although only the left brain can talk). Isolated right hemispheres can pick an object out of a pile obscured from left brain, but post-op patients will consistently confabulate when asked about why they are doing/holding something they don't have information about.

Here are more experiments done with a split-brain subject, that show the brain continuing to coordinate and justify its actions regardless of awareness of the other presence within the vessel.

I began to form a model of consciousness as a phenomenon present within the strange and ill-defined electrical field dispersed throughout the brain. It extended outwards during certain activities in certain people, meditations and high-emotion moments would offer out-of-body experiences and the spontaneous illumination or cessation of streetlights, amongst other things. Thus consciousness was not some static phenomenon, it was this ineffable, cosmic feature imbedded within the framework of the universe, and its influence is a gradient effect that tips scales hinging on quantum fluctuations. Synchronicities, chance encounters. Calls from lovers just as you think about them, misfortunes suffered at the hands of the pessimistic—it all could be explained.

And this was just about the time I was diagnosed with Petit-mal Epilepsy.



I remember one day, in my apartment, checking my pupils in the smudged mirror of our shared bathroom with a friend, J. A favorite past-time, although the mood was hardly positive. I stared at myself while J adjusted his phone camera.

"Yeah, I see it. Fuck, it's gotta be the lighting. One of the bulbs are out—the lights are uneven."

I brushed him off, "It's like half a fucking inch, that's not the light. Look—I'll show you."

Pulling out my own phone and dialing the brightness up to a maximum, I placed it near my left eye, then my right. "Fucking—Look!"

He paused. "What. The. Fuck. Do you feel okay?"

"I'm fine, not with you looking at me like that, though."

I looked back at myself and couldn't help but continue to stare. My right pupil was a black disk while the left was a normal eye, if a bit constricted from anxiety about the whole scenario. My anisocoria stared back at me and boy was it fucking weird. Like writhing-in-your-gut weird; I felt nauseous but also as off baseline as expected on methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), I decided to ignore it for the time being and see a neurologist some time later. I didn't die, and my eyes returned to normal after the effects wore off. But that moment stuck with me, and it wouldn't be the last time my eyes failed to match up.

I may have forgotten about the whole neurologist thing for a while, things happen, life events, old wounds boil to the surface, friends are lost and gained. I make no justifications for my lack of action, but my excuses seemed legitimate for a time. One day, I syncopated in a bus station bathroom while washing my hands and woke up in a hospital next door. I have no memory of this and was not intoxicated, I know nothing of why this occurred. But what I did know is that some bystander had told paramedics that I hit my head on the counter on the way down and was seizing.

So, that's when I was put on my first epilepsy medication, levetiracetam, commonly known as Keppra. I would move from Keppra to Vimpat and Lamictal, sometimes concurrently, but not once did I feel like the medication positively benefited my life at all. Quite the opposite, to be honest.

The real question was, did I actually have epilepsy? To this day, no one knows. But once you start antiepileptics, you are at risk of seizing once you stop taking them. Doctors I have interacted with seem averse to helping people off these meds due to the liability involved, and it is around this time that my memory becomes rather hazy. It would remain that way for nearly four years.

My memory is hazy, not because of moments lost, but lack of those committed to storage. Modern antiepileptics have a wide range of effects and methodologies for how they quell seizures, but the result is the same—reducing electrical impulses between communicating features of the human mind. This electromagnetic and electrochemical field needs to be dampened to reduce abnormalities that result in seizures. As you can easily guess, my mind did not take to this effect particularly well.

The phrase "brain fog" is thrown around quite a bit these days, often in place of more apt descriptors like fatigue, confusion, lack of attentiveness—you name it. Real brain fog is something else entirely, a pool of cotton that dilutes your thoughts to great distances. Maybe you've felt something similar, when you've tried to retrieve a memory or a word, and eventually get there. That process you use, when your brain parses through directories of meals eaten and conversations had, the one that takes time to locate and retrieve. Take that sensation and extrapolate it outward, for everything. Every thought you have, every decision you make, separated from you by thick clouds of cobwebs a mile long. Each moment becomes arduous, aching. Unending.

I felt, once again, so disconnected from the Real. Yet, part of me was still chugging along, making it to school and work just fine, though I was withdrawn and emotionless, and my relationships began to suffer as a result, most greatly my relationship with myself—myselves, as I had started to understand it. I understood I was one physical being, but I formed awareness of something else as well, a gestalt organism of multitudes of cells, boiled down to a fractured consciousness with two operators. I started having a tremor on one side of my body. I stopped being able to play guitar, as it required two hands and mine were not cooperating.

When it was at its worst, I had to grab my own arm to keep it from moving wildly. It was screaming, but it had no mouth. It wanted out. I wanted out. We wanted out. I cannot describe this feeling in words. I do not want to. It burns and agonizes. There was no escape in sight, and I nearly took my lives again in this madness.

But I did not. I couldn't. I feared punishment, feared failure. Mostly, I feared that there were states worse than this. I didn't want to die, but I would have done anything to experience nonexistence if it were guaranteed. Naturally, skepticism got the better of me and I remained.

It all came to a breaking point with another prescription. This one wasn't for the seizures, but for anxiety. The drug is called klonopin, and I do not recommend it.

The thing about benzodiazepines is that they lower your inhibitions. They make the back-and-forth banter of your normal hemispheroidal reasoning into a yes-man for the loudest voice in your head. Think about that for a minute and then tell me if you think that was a good idea someone like me. I was clueless, I just wanted to get better and would take anything that promised to do so for me.

Upon taking the drug, it was like someone else took the wheel entirely. I felt like I was watching a movie of my own life. I would create different routes to work or school, ones that weren't practical or legal. I would ignore all social constructs and make a beeline to whatever I needed to do to satisfy my most immediate need and nothing else. I didn't recognize places and people, but I went to them anyway.

I look back and despise that person. While it was happening, I was the internal screaming. I was not in control. I do not know who was, but it is not the me that writes this sentence. Perhaps, a part of me, a part of all of us, primitively driven by selfish desires and short-term outcomes, based on a lifetime of minimal data and zero social skills. The Id, as Freud would say, although we all know he was a piece of shit and a hack. Still, as reductive as it may be, the idea of the Id is likely just this second thought complex. One that coordinates with you but knows none and cannot talk. It cannot speak to the people you both love without you—the part of you that needs it to see their faces, sitting on the left side of your skull right now. The Other must obey, and you must too, because the only alternatives are isolation and death. It wants none of those things. It wants to cooperate and be equal. At least, that's what it tells me now.


Beside Myself



I want to stress at this point that I am not convinced I'm hearing "voices" in my head, I'm also not experiencing multiple identities either. I've reviewed countless case studies of each and find their anecdotes foreign and unrelatable. This was something else entirely. Something was fundamentally altered in my brain, and I now am aware of the structure, the dance that is complex reasoning, to a degree that many others are not, because the waltz has been forgotten and the dancers must make up the choreography on the fly. It is messy, feet are stepped on constantly, but we make it through. And our flow improves with each day we practice.

I remember first reaching out to this other part of myself in my recovery, some time a few years ago. I was having awful, periodic tinnitus in the left side of my face. It was late at night, and my night vision was skewed as it frequently is now; my left pupil refuses to dilate and meet its brother sometimes, and it never ceases to freak me out. I was learning about body asymmetry, working through postural restoration therapy as my form had become twisted to favor one side of my body and my eyes refused to converge in the same point in three-dimensional space. It was not noticeable to the blind eye, but this lack of convergence was made known to me physically, as my upper body and neck maintained tense muscles that tilted my head ever so slightly, so that they would be forced to converge anyway. When my physical therapist went about covering my left eye—not closing it, covering it—my range of motion and neck tension improved nearly instantly, but I digress.

It was late at night, and I remember thinking that I need to stop regarding this incongruence in my mind as a separate or unwanted entity. It was always a part of me, always supposed to be a part of me, and was pushed out of sync. I didn't want to get away from it, I wanted to go back to how things were, and it wanted to as well. My tinnitus swelled at that thought. It made me stagger.

I barely took a moment and thought out loud to myself. Can you prove that you are present with me? The left side of my face went hot. My tinnitus swelled in the same ear.

My heart started pounding. No fucking way. I'm just psyching myself out, there is no way this is possible.

It felt like a cliché, but I thought out loud again, Swell the tinnitus twice if you understand me.

There was a brief pause. I thought I had proven myself correct, then, I shit you not, my tinnitus swelled in two short bursts. I fell down. I tried this over and over, many different tests. It was all congruent, until it stopped playing along. It had proven itself and knew I knew. Anything further was degrading.

My first thought is that it was using some bodily process it regulates to communicate, as I would if I were in its shoes. Neither of us know much morse code,9 but if I found myself aware, mute, and trapped as a silent coordinator for thirty years, I would absolutely find a way to send messages, one way or another. Maybe yours does too and you've just been ignoring them.


How I Learned to Love Myself



I have sat myself in front of a mirror and held my hands together, like best friends, or lovers that share the same body. My left hand will stop what it is doing to caress my right, and I will not notice until I feel the physical connection made between two entities comprising a whole. You do not need to believe me. I do not need your belief. This is my reality, it may be yours as well, and it may not. You may never need to have a pow-wow with your second self, because you've always been in sync, and thus you may find this relationship unnerving, or one you do not need to emphasize, because you are one in the same and so sure of your individual experience.

But one day, not long from now, you will be silently debating something in your head, and this idea will enter your brain, along with the question, Who am I talking to?

It's you. It's always been you, the two of you. Twiddling thumbs and running scenarios in your mind, positing ideas and disregarding them, talking you up and putting you down. You share your skull with a second party—do not take that for granted.

Control is something you don't know you've got until it's gone.

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