Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Part 2: My Studies OR: It's More Than I Thought!



So now that I’ve sufficiently documented my trials of existential doom and gloom in the first entry to this over-sharing trilogy, you may be wondering where I landed on everything.

Well, you’ll have to wait for our next issue to reach that exciting conclusion, true believer.

For now?

 More questions!

The original inquiry that spawned my trip down the proverbial rabbit hole was,

“Why do I feel like this?”

And I tilted at that particular windmill for years as it led me down a path of accusations, biological speculation, historical circumstance, and personal perspective. After years of frustration and eventual stagnancy, I realized I was asking the wrong question.

You see, during that time of interrogative obsession, I kept coming across a word.
This word eventually refocused my pursuits, and demanded that I acknowledge it.
This word changed my cardinal question.
This word was:

 CONSCIOUSNESS.

A word, a concept, I became obsessed with, yet still don’t understand.
It’s a fundamental focus of philosophy and religion, of learning and of life.
It managed to simultaneously truncate and deepen my inquiry.

Now I was asking,

“Why do I feel?”

So just what the hell is consciousness?
Honestly, I’m not going to be able to answer that for you.
However, I’m going to get my feet wet offering some thoughts and hope that the tentacles of the leviathan don’t wrap around my ankles as I do.


~


If you seek a definition to the word consciousness itself, you’ll typically receive multiple answers.
My MacBook’s dictionary offers up the following:

  •       The state of being awake and aware of one's surroundings.

  •       The awareness or perception of something by a person.

  •       The fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.

So although we having differing definitions that can be used based upon intent of meaning and situational context, we still have a through-line:

Awareness.

So is consciousness simply awareness of the raw data in the world around us?

Well that’s certainly a factor in and facet of consciousness. The internal systems of the brain that receive and categorize sensory input, allow us to control motor output, and selectively focus attention are all important to a central and cohesive definition.  But this all leaves out one important aspect:

Subjectivity.

Do our emotional, intellectual, and preferential reactions to input define who we are?

Maybe I’m putting the yoke before the ox.
Maybe we should first ask:

Who are you?

I’m not just talking about a list of work experience,  hobbies, features, or even personal history.
I’m talking about your essence.
Your:

Mind.
Soul.
Ego.
Spirit.

Your very BEING.

What the hell is that?

A quintessential component of being human stems from our individual (subjective) experience of the external (objective) world.  No two people have ever experienced the same life, no matter how similar their circumstances.

Philosopher Thomas Nagel said,

…The fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means… that there is something it is like to be that organism…Fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism.”

We all know that there is something it is like to be a human, and dilated even further, something that it’s like to be each individual human.
Our BEING is what defines us, and our experience of the world implicates that BEING.    

Although we all possess, or are seemingly derived from our shared experience of consciousness, we still vary wildly within our interpretations and reactions for which consciousness allows.

Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris said,

 “Consciousness is what it’s like to be you. If there’s an experiential internal qualitative dimension to any physical system, then that is consciousness."

So is that subjective experience (or soul, spirit, etc.) simply a result of our brain’s physical systems?

Well some people would argue that it’s not based in our biological make-up at all, but is metaphysical and even divine in its origin.  Actually, that’s been a foundational idea to most of the world’s major religions.

Throughout antiquity, before the advent of the scientific revolution, the mystery of life still captivated human inquiry. People still questioned existence.  And over geographical/temporal locations we can review how our ancestors answered those fundamentally human questions.

The bible gives us the lines:

“And the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” [1]

While the Quran states:

"And they ask you about the soul. Say, "The soul is of the affair of my Lord." [2]

These texts (provided you’re taking a literal interpretation) seem to adhere to the idea that the essence of a human is the instilled quality of a deity.

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”  [3]

The idea is that our bodies are simply temporary hosts for the divine, and our ability to experience comes from the supernatural. However, the idea that our bodies and “souls” are two separate entities is not unique to the Abrahamic canon.

Hindu scripture reads:

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” [4]

Here we see the idea of the soul transcending the body within the context of reincarnation. So although we have differing religious ideologies surrounding the concept of spirit or the soul, we see a correlation with the idea of a distinct separation of the mind and body.

We also see this idea arise in philosophy. 17th century French philosopher René Descartes held this belief in no uncertain terms.

He wrote:

“Thus this self, that is to say the soul, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, and is even more easily known; and even if the body were not there at all the soul would be just what it is.”

Descartes’ presumptions have been categorized under the umbrella philosophy known as Dualism. This philosophical branch, succinctly summed up, promotes the idea that “the mental and the physical—or mind and body or mind and brain—are, in some sense, radically different kinds of thing.”  [5]

The beginnings of this philosophy span back into ancient Greece, where Plato made similar assertions to Descartes’ that the soul and body where two completely separate entities. He thought that the soul was pure intelligence and belonged in the metaphysical world of ideas, but the spirit became confused when set inside the temporal form of the human body. His protégé, Aristotle, believed that the two entities (physicality and soul) were separate, but were inextricably linked to form the essence of a human.

These are a few examples of antiquity’s attempt at explaining something that exists in the vacuum of abstraction. It’s a thing trying to define itself from within, and failing to see other possible conclusions, lands in the realm of the supernatural.
Our ancestors conclusions are understandable considering that modern science still hasn’t landed anywhere closer to a consensus as to the origin of consciousness.

So what has modern science given us in terms of possibilities?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. Each theory with its faults and detractors, and each with its own unique ideas. The process of science is that of competing input meant to point out flaws in its predecessors and challengers and with all participants working to break down the erroneous and collectively build up the credible.


Is…um…is this boring? I mean, should I be making it funny or something?
Wait…are my other ones even funny?

Gold Five: Stay on target.

What?  Gold Five?  What are you doing in my blog?

Gold Five: Stay on target.

Listen, I’m just wondering if my narcissistic machinations are…

Gold Five: Stay on target. 


…Thanks, Gold Five. I needed that.


Ahem…So before we dive into a theory or two, we should address exactly why the problem is so hard in the first place.

Actually, there is a theory postulated towards exactly that. It’s titled (accurately enough) The Hard Problem of Consciousness.

Philosopher/scientist David Chalmers asks,  

“Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience…? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises.
Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?”  [6]

It’s the fundamental question that science can’t seem to answer.
We have more or less identified the parts of the brain in conjunction to how they receive information, and even how they work together for complex information processing, but that still doesn’t explain the experiential element. It would seem that we are more than the sum of our parts.

“The hard problem is hard…” Chalmers continues, “because it’s not a problem about the performance of functions.”

What is our soul, in scientific terms?  Or where is it, in anatomical terms?
That’s the crux. That’s the hard part.

What makes the hard problem hard…is that it goes beyond problems about the performance of functions…why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?

There are a few theories floating around that attend to this question in physiological terms.  An interesting one is Graziano and Kastner’s Attention Schema Theory, or AST. They attempted to tackle the problem from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Their general thesis is that consciousness is a direct result from evolved processes of attention. 

Graziano said, 

The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence.”  [7]

So how exactly does an evolved process of attention give rise to subjectivity?

At any given moment, we are bombarded with sensory input and that input flow is constantly changing. You can’t possibility account for every single piece of information coming in, so your brain has to prioritize content based on an internal hierarchical system of importance.

This process is called selective signal enhancement” Says Garziano,  “without it, a nervous system can do almost nothing.

In our midbrains we have a piece of hardware called the tectum. It functions as a unifying coordinator for all the various parts of the brain that take in different sensory input. When you need to focus all of your faculties of attention on something, this is the guy that lines the troops up. And when they are all inline, they are able to build an internal model of what you're experiencing in the "external" world.

“An internal model is a simulation that…allows for predictions and planning. The tectum’s internal model is a set of information encoded in the complex pattern of activity of the neurons.”

All animals have a tectum; but what separates us from most of the wild kingdom is that we have developed a sizeable cerebral cortex as well.

What’s the difference?

While the tectum allows us to focus all our attention on something, it limits in that it has to keep direct attention on it. The cortex allows for attention on anything irrespective of proximity. You can think about something without experiencing it directly, and make predictions about it based on the memories of previous experiences. You can use your advanced faculties to process the events happening and plan ahead by imagining different events occurring and how you’ll respond to each imaginary scenario.

The tectum deals with the actual, while the cortex can process the abstract.
This abstraction that exists in our minds is what we identify as our “self”.
 We have no physical sense of this complex processes occurring, because it’s happening on the neural level.

To put a pin on it:

It has a physical basis, but that physical basis lies in the microscopic details of neurons, synapses, and signals…It depicts…attention in a physically incoherent way, as a non-physical essence. And this, according to the theory, is the origin of consciousness.”

So here we have a biological explanation (theoretically) for what’s traditionally been attributed to the metaphysical.

Another theory, one that doesn’t so much offer a biological explanation for the advent of consciousness, as much as it promulgates an inextricable connection between it and the existence of the universe itself, is called Biocentrism.

The theory’s creator, Dr. Robert Lanza, says:

“The universe rises from life, not the other way around.”

Biocentrism draws heavily from quantum mechanics. In the quantum field, there is a very famous (and often replicated) demonstration on the behavior of particles.
 It’s called the Double-Slit Experiment.

Basically, you have a wall like barrier with two gaps (or slits) in in. You shoot particles randomly at the barrier, and measure those that happen to go through the slits by placing a wall beyond them. This backing wall has sensors that measure where the particles hit if they happen to make it through a slit. Some particles go through the right slit, some the left, and some hit the initial barrier and make no mark on the measuring wall behind it at all.

The odd thing is that when scientists would cease to observe the experiment, and come back to check where the particle impacted the measuring wall, they would see that there was a mark through both the left and the right side.

Lanza explains the findings:

It’s conclusively proven that if one “watches” a subatomic particle or a bit of light pass through slits on a barrier, it behaves like a particle and creates solid-looking hits behind the individual slits on the final barrier that measures the impacts. Like a tiny bullet, it logically passes through one or the other hole. But if the scientists do not observe the trajectory of the particle, then it exhibits the behavior of waves that allow it to pass through both holes at the same time.” (8)

The gist of the experiment (which is much more in-depth and complicated than I’ve covered here) is that the very act of our observation, or even our presence, impacts the field of externality that we call “the world.” It supposes that everything exists in kind of a limbo state of “wave probability” until an observer comes along and forces the wave into a particle by simply being there.

Think of a video game. When you turn your character around to look east, does everything to the character’s west still exist?

No. That virtual world is rendered around you as you move within it.

Well, this theory presupposes a similar effect to the world we experience in real life. It only exists insofar as we force it into existence. There isn’t the separation of subjective observer and objective reality. It’s two sides of the same coin.
Everything hangs in the limbo of wave probability until our minds force those waves into particles. We experience the world as we create it with the systems of our minds. Nothing is really “out there”, as much as it’s being calculated and computed “in here”.

The first of the seven principles of Biocentrism is:

“What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness.”

This theory is diametrically opposed to the religious and philosophical ideas that supposed a dualistic nature to the universe and the inhabitants of it, and although it does not directly offer us an explanation as to why or how consciousness arises, it quietly pushes those questions aside as it asserts that consciousness is not the bi-product of our existence, but the very means through which everything exists.

The theory that could render all these points moot is called Mysterianism, and it has the main thesis of WE CAN’T FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT. 

Mysterianist philosopher Colin McGinn pushes the idea that we haven’t come to understand consciousness and we never will, because the systemic operations of our minds are simply incapable of comprehending themselves. 

McGinn said, “The human mind conforms to certain principles in forming concepts and beliefs and theories…and these constrain the range of knowledge to which we have access. We cannot get beyond the specific kinds of data and modes of inference that characterize our knowledge-acquiring systems…”  [9]

Our understanding of minds and brains are different by their very nature.
Brains have objective qualities we can see, measure, and verify, while our minds are subjective and thereby limited by that subjectivity. We can see the measured changes in the blood flow of a person’s brain using FMRI technology, but we can’t record any empirical data on how a person feels when they hear their favorite music.

McGinn’s hypothesis is “the search for philosophical knowledge would be an attempt to do with our epistemic capacities what cannot be done with them. Our minds would be to philosophical truth what our bodies are to flying: wrongly designed and structured for the task in question.”

So where does all of this leave us?

Well, by the end of this, I feel just as confused as I did before I started. But I feel better about my inability to understand my own existential experience once I set it against the backdrop of human history. Women and men smarter and more educated than I could ever hope to be still struggle with and argue about what it all means. The field is so vast and encompassing; that what I’ve written here is just a raindrop in the infinite ocean of it all.

I’ve juxtaposed a few ideas set in the framework of the humanities, but these ideas transcend any attempt of a non-contextual framework. Seemingly, any point argued in one religion has a rebuttal in another. Every branch of philosophy has another branch built to why the first branch is wrong. Things overlap, exceed each other, and lose themselves.

No wonder I’m confused.

That confusion seems to be the human condition.
I realized that I’m far from alone in my confusion, and that realization is in itself a form of the freedom I was looking for.
And while I still have questions, I won’t continue down my path of inquiry with the assumption that I’ll some day figure it all out.

I’ll just stay curious.

 And keep learning as I live.



*

1: Ecclesiastes 12:7
2: Al-Isra 17: 85
3: 1 Corinthians 3:16
4: Bhagavad Gita 2:22
5: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/
6: consc.net/papers/facing.html
7: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/06/how-consciousness-evolved/485558/
8: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/31393080/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/biocentrism-how-life-creates-universe
9:http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/consciousness97/papers/ProblemOfPhilosophy.html





Monday, May 1, 2017

Part 1 - My Story OR: My Ride with T-Bird and the Boys.




I can remember the second everything changed.

The mundane details that otherwise would have been lost to time are stuck in my memory like pins in a map.

Seventeen years old. My parent’s basement. MTV reality television. Junk food.

 A Tuesday night for a high school slacker.

 The minutia of a young American life.

I bolted upright from a slump on the couch. My whole body seemed to clench as tight as knuckles on a steering wheel before an accident.
My chest went fast and cold.

Everything looked different.

I recognized my surrounding, but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. I became acutely aware of my hands, and they seemed an entity detached from my self. A strange aberration permeated my vision. Everything suddenly seemed almost imperceptibly askew and was punctuated slightly by a muted halo of light.

I became aware of each individual thought as it arose, and those thoughts seemed to collate with brevity, as if being catalogued in eternity. 
I noticed the machinery of my mind as it moved at an accelerated speed.
The shock of raw reality seemed to touch down all at once, and I realized something that had always been true, but just then demanded to be known:


I was trapped in my mind.


I felt fear as if a great pressure was pushing me inside myself.
It was like I had been jolted awake from a dream that looked exactly like my life.
I started to pace back and forth between rooms, charging my anxiety with movement.

I ran up to my bathroom and got in the shower, the one thing that usually calmed me down. I stood in hot water and fear for as long as I could and then, barely dressed, tried to outrun my inner panic.
I raced downstairs and found the only other person in the house.

My father.
He sat silent and still in his favorite armchair, deep into a television program after a day of work. His gentle familiar face looked distorted and unreal to me. I spoke a mile a minute, spewing agitation and trying to express something I still, 15 years later, have trouble articulating.

He looked sad. And confused.
He tried to calm me down, but it was like shushing the wind.
I talked to him for a moment, before fear demanded movement.

I ran back up to the shower and once again hoped that warm steam and tactile comfort would calm me down.
Everything remained bleached reality.
My dad knocked on the bathroom door, concerned.
I threw on my clothes without toweling off and opened the door.
I met his calm demeanor with agitated nonsense.

I don’t remember the rest of the night.

I don’t think I slept a moment.

~

The next several months were prescriptions writ under florescent lights and awkward conversations with therapists that didn’t understand. Their professionalism couldn’t override the expression of confusion in their faces.

Depression.
Anxiety.
Obsession.
Insomnia.

These things had standardized treatments.

An electric fog that sat stagnant between the world and me.
A creeping sense of unreality.
A pathological cognizance of thoughts and function.
A wavering belief that I may already be dead…

These things weren’t really in the manual.

I went to school. I saw my friends. I ate dinner with my family every weekday night at 6:30. I watched TV. I played drums. I read books.       

I felt uncomfortable every second of every day.

I thought I was going crazy.

People don’t like that word, especially mental health care professionals.
Nobody could explain what was happening. I felt crazy and feared going crazy.
It was the snake that ate itself.

I went days at a time without sleep.

The one respite I found would ultimately serve to inflame everything.
I had been drinking occasionally since the age 14, but this was when the vultures truly started to sink their talons in.
All my free time was spent in the pursuit of drunken oblivion.
I wouldn’t get tipsy, or buzzed; I would drink until my body shut down.
Until I was faced down, literally on the floor or in the dirt.
I blacked out almost every time I drank. It’s a miracle I didn’t die from alcohol poisoning or the dangerous mixture of pharmaceutical medication and ethanol.

I drank at parties. I drank with my friends.  I drank by myself.

I had a problem before high school ended.
I’d set the dysfunctional schema that would be my reckoning for the next decade and beyond.

Booze ran roughshod over my life.
Everything, every damn thing, took a backseat to getting drunk.
I shirked responsibilities.
I gave up trying in school.
I lied.

Life kept moving.
I graduated, stagnated, moved away to college.
The whole time wearing my maladaptive coping mechanism like a pair of
cement shoes.

Turning myself into a victim helped to justify all my bad living. 
“Other people don’t think like this.”
Or more so,
“Other people don’t experience like this.”
My insides writhed with jealousy at people who were normal.
I hated dealing with it - the fear it stirred.
Dull knives ran constant across my Achilles’ heel.

I felt damned.

Sometimes, in moments where self-pity pushes aside reason...

I still do.


I treated people like shit.

That’s the worst part.
If I could take back anything, it would be that.
I became bitter and bent and I let it turn me into an emotional bully.
I was a child in the frame of a growing man.
I missed spots when shaving, because I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror.

And as the weight added to the other end of the crazy bullshit teeter-totter, I countered with the only thing I had.

The only game in my town. The only tool in my belt.

The bottle.

I moved back to my hometown and floundered for a few years.
I continued my tradition of unaccountability and irresponsibility.

Now, whiskey and gin were my medicine, but it was not without consequence.
When the devil came to collect, it was in the form of a deepening.

Hangovers meant rebound anxiety that was a few standard deviations more severe.
It meant the anchors of depression where cast in deeper waters.

And in those waters, there be monsters.

Things were slipping.
I was in my mid-twenties, and the sole remarkable accumulation of my existence was the complex architecture of a labyrinth built from mental illness and substance abuse.

My family and a few friends were the only things that stood between me and a permanent act of damnation.

The strangeness lurked and climbed.
The feeling of my hands seeming like they belonged to someone else seemed to be ever-present.
Halos of light refractions scattered in my vision.
People looked strange- like they were fake or cartoonish.
Once again I began to have the haunting thought that I was already dead and in hell.
I felt like I was in a matrix of unsolvable ontological math.
The anxiety it generated would get so severe that I would occasionally vomit.


Panic attacks, like the one I had in my basement when I was seventeen, started punctuating fear throughout my days.

I lost my job.

I moved out of the apartment I shared with my friends, and retreated back into my parent’s home.

I once again visited with confused therapists, and acquired so many different prescriptions that I could have started my own pharmacy.
I traded the booze back in for meds, and started a quest for the perfect pill.

But how do you find the panacea to something you can’t even articulate?

I would try anyway.
Benzos and hynotics would hold my hand until I found the cure.

I’ve heard despair defined as an emotional state that arrives when you find yourself in a dreadful situation with no way out.  
That despair visited me in my parent’s house.

My mother took turns being angry and sympathetic.
She was confused and scared too.
My dad, a practical man with no way to understand what was happening, would suggest work or a girlfriend as a means to get back on track.

Not bad advice, but I was miles away from it.

Being around other people would amplify the noise in my mind and it would echo outwards. I didn’t leave the house for months.
I would stare out the window and become anxious as the sky changed color.
I looked forward to one thing:

My sleeping pills.

When it got to be 9 PM, I would pop them like clockwork and fold into my pocket universe.

My only goal, everyday, was to get to those pills. I would wake up out of my medicated slumber with despondency because everything felt the same, and start my wait until 9 PM again. That was my life.

I can only shake my head as I write that.

Shake my head and try not to break my teeth on themselves.

The calendar turned a half a year and I didn’t feel any different.
Certainly not any better.
The cold energy of anxiety and turbid detachment consumed me.

I poured over the Internet, trying to find something that could help me.
One day I came across a charlatan’s cure. He sold a method that guaranteed health, and I bought it, and sank my hope into it, then felt that hope fade as I realized it was just the black gold of a serpent.
But as fate has it, I found a jewel in that coarse sand.

He introduced new vocabulary to my shrinking world:

Depersonalization.  [1]

Derealization.  [2]

These words have subsequently worked themselves into more common parlance, but back then almost nobody used them.
Even most professionals had never heard of them.

Reading over the descriptions of these “disorders” was like finding a map after being lost in the wilderness for years.
I wasn’t where I needed to be, but I finally knew where I was.

I read, researched, and analyzed every bit of information I could find on these subjects. I spent hours on the Internet. I read every book I could find that even had mentions of them. I went into online forums and obsessed over comments.

I called damn near every psychologist and mental hospital in West Michigan, but nobody was confident they could help me deal with it.
Finally, somebody mentioned a prominent clinic in Texas that dealt with more unique cases.

 In the end I spent two and a half months inpatient at a mental hospital in Houston.
I could write a whole entry on my time there, but for now I’ll just say that that facility, particularly two individuals I met with there, helped me learn to function again.

When I came back from Texas, I was better equipped to deal with life.
The symptoms still existed, but I had the correct medicine and mental strategies to help mitigate the effects.

I got a job. I moved back out. I met girls. I went out into the world.

Then I picked the bottle back up.

The booze, and all my bullshit, was right where I left them.

I slowly stopped implementing any type of mental coping mechanism, and relied on intoxication to give me comfort. I took meds when I woke up, and meds so I could sleep. I dodged any type of challenge, or responsibility.  One of the few positive habits I maintained was reading, because in pages I found escape.
But that could only hold me over for so long

Every night, I fought the monsters in my head, and like the man said,

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”

Years ticked by and I started to move more slowly as my late-twenties came.
I cared less and less about my actions.
I buried my shame deep and refused to face the embarrassment I caused.
I stopped waiting for it to be dark.
I found reasons everywhere until I didn’t even think about reasons anymore.

More nights were spent at the bar by myself.
I was turning myself into a character from a Bukowski story, while trying to fool myself that I was out of a Hemingway novel.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t find meaning; I was just certain that no meaning existed.
Thinking life is meaningless is as bad for your soul as cigarettes are for your lungs. It’s a daily injection of toxin, which will slowly corrode you.

Through all of this, my attention was still fixed on my cognitive process.
I felt alienated through my subjective experience.
I became obsessed with why.

Why do I feel like this?

I was a step detached from everything and always paying attention to my mental commentary on the phenomena in the world or to my own reaction to said phenomena-- as opposed to just reacting instinctively.


Have I lost you yet?

I know this has been strange.
An odd, negative, single perspective, egocentric recounting of chunks of my life.
I felt compelled to write it.

And hesitant to share it.

The story doesn’t end there.
 However, in order to be able to tell you where I am, I needed to recount this all first.
Not that that’s particularly important to you, but if you made it this far, you may be wondering.

It’s hard to make this concrete. It’s abstract in nature, and even more so, it’s obscure.
I don’t know if I was able to trudge you through this swamp of doom and chaos and come to the other side with any clarity.

Maybe I got bogged down with self and shame.

I often do.


I’ll try to summarize the whole damn thing in a single memory from my mid-twenties.  

~

My father and I sat across from each other in a booth at a diner.
It was the first time I had been out of the house in weeks. Maybe months.
He sipped his coffee and tried his hand at small talk.

“So…how you doing?” he asked.

“It’s hard to explain, pops.”  I said.

“Try.”

We sat there for a minute. He drank his coffee and I stared out the window into a bleak Michigan winter day.

“It’s…You… I just…”

I stumbled for the words.

“When I look at you, at anyone, I don’t think about a whole person. I think about all the parts that make you. I think about skin being pulled tight across bone. I think about all the biological processes that happen to make you: the blood pushing through your veins, the oxygen in your lungs, the chemicals flowing in your brain.
Even more, I know that I know you, but you look different.
 I can’t really explain that.
 There is a perpetual light in my eyes, like the flash of a camera just went off and I still haven’t readjusted to it.
I have no idea if I’m awake or in a dream.
I feel like I’m just not really here.”

My father took a sip of his coffee.

“You always feel like this?” He asked me.

“Yes.”

~


2: https://www.anxietybc.com/parenting/derealization

Further reading on the subject of Depersonalization/Derealization can be found in Daphne Simeon and Jeffrey Abugel’s Feeling Unreal: Depersonalization Disorder and the Loss of the Self.

 

Here is an excerpt from the book that may help to elucidate the subject further.

The authors documented the experience of a depersonalized patient: 

 

“In his diary he broke down his specific symptoms and concluded that they were sometimes predictable, even cyclical. This is how he described his symptoms:

‘Free floating anxiety that comes and goes, and a constant fear of The Panic…
Circular, pointless rumination about everything from existence itself, to something someone said, to the reasons for my illness.
Detachment of my inner voice from my body. Almost constantly, the thoughts running through my head are loud and visible and completely detached from my head. They seem up high in my head, somewhere else. The act of thinking seems strange and foreign.
The Aloneness. An acute awareness of being alone in my thoughts, a prisoner in my own head. With this is a shattering realizing that no one, ever, has shared my thoughts with me. I have heard them alone since I was born and will hear them alone until I die.
Fear of not controlling my actions. I drive and wonder what prevents me from intentionally crashing. I play with my children and wonder what keeps me from slaughtering them. How is it that I still know right from wrong and would kill myself before harming another?
Over self-consciousness. In crowds, at the mall, at parties, virtually anywhere, I am flustered by noise and crowds and feel that I stick out like an ogre to be mocked in some way. My legs and arms move awkwardly and feel foreign sometimes. Aside from outright panic, this can be most unsettling of all.
The exaggerated self-consciousness mentioned above initially felt like I was seeing through myself all the time, as if someone was watching my every move and making fun. In time, for whatever reason, this feeling came on even when I was alone, and ultimately manifested itself in the form of an actual voice in my head… This little voice would make comments, usually derisive ones. If I was talking to someone else it would interrupt my thoughts and mock the words coming out of my mouth, or mock something about the person I was talking to.’”


The PDF for the book can be found here: https://emptymindchronicles.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/feeling-unreal-by-daphne-simeon.pdf