I have had the pleasure of residing in a homeless shelter for the past week or so – and though there’s some irony in that statement, I wish also (primacy of respectful humulity!) to emphasize an equal amount of graciousness.
With that as the preexisting stage of the drama of this post, I’ll move on to its focus.
My CBTN cohost Randi Fellows (also a PA state-certified Peer Support Specialist) did me the magnanimity of driving on the order of an hour from her home to take me to lunch today; I returned the favor (and herein is actual irony) by initiating a conversation concerning something that has been on my mind for a while now – the tripartite nature of my (all?) minds; of, perhaps, the Truth itself – and whether it really ends there.
Hang in there – it will be even more confusing in just a minute.
As far back as my early twenties (not that that’s terrifically far back) I’ve had the sense, sometimes even explicitly, that I am more than one thing – that is, John as a cohesive human body might be a singular unit or entity or (if we want to be philosophically accurate) object, but John as a mind or personality or subject (in the sense of having personhood or agency) is at minimum two discrete units acting as a synergy. This notion, or the awareness of it within myself anyway, predates even my knowledge of what mental illness is.
You might also suddenly have a better understanding of the terms objective and subjective. If you don’t need any help there, stick with me – you’re going to like this.
Before my first hospitalization circa 2012 I had a tangible awareness that I seemed to be composed of two distinct, mutually exclusive, irreconcilable things coexisting in union only in John the single-body-unit-object, not unlike our current American society being quite ideologically divided despite sharing the same arbitrary geographical construct (read: The United States). In this way I had a crude understanding of several extant noetic dichotomies – my (mutually exclusive) abilities to reason deductively (Elementary, dear Watson!) and inductively; my capacity for both altruism and selfishness; my oscillating gravitation to hard science and abstract art/music; and, as would be given a name by my psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins (Bipolar disorder type 1 – schizoaffective), my rampant departures to and travels within the bizarre yet fascinating realms of suicidal depression and messianic mania.
What took me much longer to realize – and the topic of conversation I today made explicit and forced unsolicited upon Randi’s otherwise undeserving brain – was that if I have an awareness that can reason about and analyze the dualities in my own subject, I might too have an awareness that can reason about and analyze that first awareness.
Do you smell that fourth part?
If I have an awareness that can reason about and analyze the dualities in my own subject, I might too have an awareness that can reason about and analyze that first awareness.
Allow me to be simple (and repetitive) for a moment and make something of an atlas of how my mind appears to me when I look inward:
Parts 1 and 2 (in no particular order, as linearity doesn’t seem to matter): The two sides of my inner dualities, understood in various forms that include depression (suicidal impulse) and mania (messianic impulse), good and evil, self and group, internal self and external environment, etc.
Part 3: Self-Awareness – the thing or subject noticing and considering these dualities.
Part 4: A second awareness (and i.e. fourth fundamental) that has the capability, when consciously exercised, to notice and consider the first and more primal awareness.
This raises all kinds of questions that, quite frankly, I try not to think too hard about lest it literally break my fucking mind:
- What thing is noticing the second awareness – the first? A third?
- Why does this seem suspiciously like a higher-order duality, and if it is, what does that mean? And (sweet baby JC) if there are higher orders of this nature, how high can it go, and more frighteningly, how many dualities downward within, say Depression (depressed-depressed vs. manic-depressed, broken into depressed-depressed-depressed/depressed-depressed-manic and depressed-manic-depressed/depressed-manic-manic, respectively…)
- What the fuck am I, exactly?
- The ever-present self-preserving self-imposed caveat which I’ll now exercise: Am I just losing my mind, or having some kind of delusion?
As I expressed to Randi, in now approaching thirty years old (a number that seems to have some sort of implicit, objective mathematical importance to me) I think I am beginning to understand two simple truths:
First, and more of an appreciation for than an understanding of, the concept of INFINITY; Second, an a priori understanding that the gap can’t be bridged with discrete units like words.
At this point in the conversation both of us started getting the glossy eyes and disobedient tongues of severe introversion; I like to think we were both advancing/retreating into this weird double-awareness, this most fundamental, paradoxical duality of our nature as objects and subjects and our objectivity and subjectivity thrown’ ‘bows for-fucking-real inside our heads, effectively rendering our secondary meat-sack bodies naught but drooling quasi-nirvanified zombies.
To clarify that nonsense:
I don’t think you can be both at once – present inside and out, in the world of discrete units (words, numbers, particles) and continuous concepts (emotions, infinity, waves) simultaneously. Perhaps the analog of uncertainty will make me sound a little less ridiculous – in quantum mechanics it’s called the uncertainty principle (or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle), which states that one can’t know both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. Courtesy of the links just provided, take a peek at this image and tell me if it (and its taxonomical nature) remind you of something I said just a few paragraphs back:
In fact, there is even uncertainty within the concept of uncertainty itself:
“Uncertainty is an unintelligible expression without a straightforward description.” [SOURCE]
I’ll here caution you, as I caution myself, that the most difficult thing when confronting an infinite continuum – particularly its possibility within yourself, particularly-particularly if it is also self-aware – is the tendency to do it with the first awareness that thinks in finite, discrete terms (words, numbers). I think – it seems – that this half of me is only accessible through itself, and if done properly, doesn’t really do the conscious, more normal part of me any good. As I said to Randi, I think this is what Buddha was getting at when he talked about nirvana, minus maybe the soteriological flavor, as utter internal bliss won’t do you much good should a hungry grizzly bear come a-knocking.
I think mental illness – bipolar anyway, or my version of it, whatever the fuck it is – is not a disability at all, but more a (naturally occurring) phenotype in which the agent has heretofore unprecedented access to this most deeply buried bios or fundamental operating system (here again the issue with trying to make sense of it with words, yielding clumsy analogies).
I’m not sure I even ought to be screwing around at this deep a level – in fact, I am damn sure I ought not to, because I can’t handle it if I err just slightly in trying to force it into words; you know, like I’m doing literally right fucking now.
But my soteriological concept is at hand, and the timing sublime – the nine o’clock homeless shelter group meeting, where I – John the singular-body-unit – must sign up for and follow through on certain simple chores and basic responsibilities, which – oh, Serendipity – is exactly what the four of me needs.