I, Myself, and Me

I am 2 people.

Those 2 people have identical values and a similar worldview, but nearly opposite temperaments. I spend 6-8 months a year as one of those people, and the other 4-6 months I gradually morph into the other. I don’t know exactly when the split took place.


Before I tell you about the 2 people, I feel the need for a few preemptive caveats. I know there is a clinical diagnosis called bipolar disorder. I know there is a clinical diagnosis called manic depression. And I am positive (or as positive as I can be given that I am not a psychiatrist) that these do not describe me. So please know that I am not in any way trying to conflate my experiences with those of people who struggle under the weight of actual mental illnesses, many of which are debilitating. The low-end struggle I will describe here is entirely manageable, and none of it constitutes what I would describe as depression. I have witnessed a bit of depression in my extended family — in some cases of the crippling variety — and while I know it’s possible that will afflict me someday, I have not yet been bitten by it.

So I want you to meet the 2 people inside me, who are both… me. (I hope you’ll bear with me as I introduce the first guy, who’s a bit of a bear.)

The first person is — no, let’s be clear, I am — paralyzingly neurotic, lacking in confidence, devoid of creative inspiration; and also fully functional. I genuinely don’t know whether my colleagues know when I am in this state. I think I can hide it fairly well at work. I’m not sure my kids know either, at least not at their current ages (3 and 1), although it’s possible that I’m underestimating them. But my wife knows, better than anyone, and she gently and gracefully bears with me until I get my sea legs again.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, I find it brutally hard to wake up early. My usual weekday alarm the rest of the year is 5:00, for blogging purposes, but during my doldrums I can quickly convince myself to go back to sleep for an hour or longer. And even when I do manage to crawl out of bed at the desired time, it’s exceedingly difficult to summon a writing topic or to conjure up the verve needed to put pen to paper — finger to keyboard — and ruminate freely. So instead I end up turning off my brain and watching goofy clips on YouTube until the kids wake up.

This chronic writer’s block, combined with the fact that I view myself as someone who needs to write in order to feel fully myself — creates a billowing cloud of self-loathing that then makes it even harder the next day to wake up early, or to write, or to feel clarity. Writer’s block begets shame, and shame begets more writer’s block.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, I am also crippled by self-judgment and second-guessing. I morph into the hyper-neurotic character that Woody Allen played in most of his 1970s films — but without the sardonic humor that made that guy halfway watchable. I become cripplingly indecisive. I can make a case for every possible course of action, and so I find any course of action difficult. I subject myself to withering internal critiques of almost everything I say and do, even down to the most innocuous of workplace hallway exchanges. (No one would not want to be a fly on the wall of my brain as this thought process unfolds.)

My self-judgment in turn makes me far more inclined to judge others as well, and I find myself vexed all day as I observe human behavior in the world around me. I become a front-row critic of mankind. But ultimately that judgment brings me back again and again to a feeling of teeth-grinding self-flagellation. Never feeling I’m good enough. Never being able to quite make peace with myself.

When I am this un-awake version of myself, reading the news is a nearly unbearable act that fills me with despair. Now to be fair, reading the news in the Trump era is already a brutal slog, a sad truth to which morally sensitive folks of any political persuasion can attest. But when I am un-awake my internal mechanisms for preserving hope and sanity start to fray, causing them to malfunction. It’s like knowingly exposing yourself to a room full of sick people while your immune system is already compromised. Infection is inevitable. So my un-awake self, already tainted by some fear and inertia, reads the news and then plunges deeper into paralysis.

Just like the writer’s block thing, it’s a vicious cycle.

In this state of mind, I also avoid excessive conversation as a general rule. I keep my head down at work, hoping not to be engaged too often, and my brow is furrowed for much of the day by some unarticulated burden of worry. I worry about things that merit some degree of concern, and I also worry about things that it makes no sense whatsoever to concern myself with.

As a result of this burden, I end up feeling I have nothing particularly worthwhile to offer others in conversation. And I find myself irritated by the mundane demands of small talk. In short, I’m not very enjoyable to be around.

One more thing: My un-awake self is not that great of a husband. Just picture living with the guy described above on a daily basis. Sound fun? I wouldn’t imagine.

My un-awake self usually emerges — or un-emerges — for about 2 months at a time, twice a year. Strangely, it’s almost like clockwork since it usually happens during summer (oddly enough) and early winter (perhaps more understandably). December is usually a low point. And somewhere around July or August is the other epicenter. So a compelling case can be made that this is a textbook case of seasonal affective disorder.

But it feels like more than that to me; I just haven’t been able to pin it down yet. I hope that by writing this all down I might find some solidarity with, or advice from, others with similar experiences that might help me do just that. I want to understand my un-awake self and learn how to sedate it (preferably without medication).

Because I don’t want to live with that guy anymore. He’s a drag.

Click here to read part 2 of this blog: My Self When I Am Myself.

One thought on “I, Myself, and Me

  1. Pingback: My Self When I Am Myself | life of papa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s