This essay is intended for publication in the next issue of Ex Abyssō, but we wanted to present it early, as a meditation on the eve of the second anniversary of the events described here.
We wrote this earlier this year during a major depressive episode. The text is representative of the most nihilistic, downcast view of our history and situation. Right now, we usually feel better or more neutral about it, but it is still an ongoing struggle.
Content warning: suicide, depression, crises of identity—OAOS, November 2019
In a significant sense, I died on the night of November 19th, 2017.
Several factors contributed to what happened: mounting anxiety and the medication I took to combat it that day, positive emotions associated with being at a big event for trans people, a modest amount of alcohol, a lurking sense of being trapped inside my life and body.
I know what happened, but almost all of my memory of it is gone.
I know that I was so stressed and ill that I vomited heavily, hunching over the edge of my bath for many minutes.
I know that without consciously choosing to do so, I eventually cleaned the bath, put in the stopper, lay down in it in a fetal position, and let it fill with cold water.
I know that if my wife hadn’t been in the house and hadn’t come to check on me after a while of changing sounds – the sudden silence, the water rushing differently – I might have died there and then. Instead I was rushed to the hospital, hypothermic and delirious.
In a significant sense, I did die that night.
My body lives on, but I am no longer myself. In fact, I feel like I never have been, though it’s impossible to tell.
I was hospitalised for roughly three weeks after this, and during that period I was confronted several more times with an entity that wanted to destroy me, itself, and everything. An entity that existed inside my own body, and could wrench control of it from me. It made me shake, made me fall out of my bed, made feeble attempts at strangling me while paralysing the rest of my body.
I was forced to ask myself: if this entity is also me, then who am I?
It took me all of the months since then to gradually develop a new answer to that question, because I was confronted quite harshly with the fact that the old answers just didn’t cut it for me.
My answer now may not be my answer in another year, or two, or five. But it is the best I can do.
Who am I? I am no one. I died on November 19 2017. There is only a collection of nothings and noones, my different drives, emotions, lust, and loves. There is no I or me.
At the moment, there are four noones. Masks that occasionally come forth from the mist of my (sub)consciousness. I’ve painted them nicely, I must say. They have evocative names, and typical personalities that people can sometimes relate to or latch on to. But they are no one. They are not persons. Nor am I. There is no I. There is only the mist, and the occasionally emerging masks.
I keep writing I, because no alternative appears preferable. I is the body moving these fingers across these keys, driven by imperatives from somewhere within the mist. I is whichever mask, if any, is presenting itself.
If you ask me, a person in fact is nothing more than a particular mask. And it appears I have etymology on my side. Latin persona, like its Estrucan ancestor 𐌘𐌄𐌓𐌔𐌖, meant ‘mask’, ‘a masked individual’, ‘an actor’. Only later, in mediaeval times, did the word come to be used for the concept of personhood which leads to how we roughly understand it today, as something individual, whole, and core to our identity as humans.
But we don’t really understand it, do we? Person is just a word we use to talk about things that are whole that suddenly becomes useless when things are broken.
I want to say that all of it is real. The body, the mist, the masks. But it doesn’t feel real. Nothing ever really did.
Despite that, I have to believe it’s as real as any other entity that we call a person. Because there is nothing else to me. No hidden layer, no deep core that is the actual ‘me’. Just surfaces. Just masks and mist. What you see is what you get.
There is no I or me. They died on the night of November 19 2017. But there is still this. This body. The things it does and says. The mist it has to wade through and reach across to make sense of living. The masks it paints to be able to show at least some face to the world, something for you to look at, and to make myself understandable to myselves. Because without those, behind the masks and the mist, there is an emptiness we are not ready to face until the very end.