Brief Observations on Self & Character

Posted on December 14, 2011 by


When I was young, I had a psychotic break. I don’t remember exactly how long it lasted — it was quite a while before things settled to the point where I could reasonably claim that my experiences were within normal psychological limits. To put it plainly, I went utterly insane for a period of several years between the ages of fifteen and twenty.

My concept of self split into three distinct parts: The Hag, The Child, and a nameless something that just listened and observed without having any opinons at all. At my very worst, I experienced a selective psychosis that was nevertheless consuming: I was convinced I was with child, and that this child was actually formed from all the tiny bits of me that were left untainted by a sort of cancer that represented all my faults. I had infrequent, spotty periods because I didn’t eat much; after about six weeks, I got my period and couldn’t maintain the delusion. The Child still existed after that, but wobbled between a “metaphor” and a delusion proper, eventually fading away completely under the influence of The Hag.

The Hag was my most persistent personality fragment; she lasted for many years. She frequently expressed her disgust and rage by hurting me, through my own hands, whilst I watched passively: she liked starving me, scratching my face with her fingernails, and using razors on the backs of my hands. She called me a bag of stinking rot inside human skin, and she told me I was lucky she made me starve myself, because the less garbage I had in there, the less likely it was someone would notice the smell.

I have not once been on regular medication for any mental disorder; I’ve never even seen a psychiatrist. I was a highly-functioning psychotic; I didn’t have outbursts and kept my thoughts to myself. Well, there was that one week I flinched away from plate glass and parked cars because my reflection made me gag involuntarily — and unluckily for me, it rained quite a bit so I had to avert my gaze from the puddles that were everywhere.

I was in particular very good at hiding things from my mother. She was an excellent single parent, but she has a powerful need to normalise the world around her. She thought that perhaps I had a few more problems than most, but when she sent me to a psychologist to make certain, the psychologist told me I was fine — just neurotic. I didn’t tell the psychologist about the demarcations that had formed in my concept of self because even though I listened to them and let them tell me what to do, I didn’t really think they were other people and I wasn’t seeing coloured dragons or wrapping tinfoil around my head, so it was fine. Right? I wasn’t that crazy, was I? Just a bit melodramatic, that’s all. To this day I’m not certain what I experienced. Perhaps it wasn’t psychosis, but rather a severe dissociative episode.

I’m lucky — my symptoms didn’t last. I’m currently a little neurotic (just like the psychologist said, fancy that) but otherwise normal. I still don’t know what happened that affected me so deeply. But I’ve had a very clear look into how strangely coloured the world can be when your filters and processors work differently. I have my troubles, and they still carry with them the faint scent of that teenage insanity: my expressions of insecurity are worded in…familiar language.

I think this is the kind of thing that is meant by “write from life”. Not necessarily “pluck people from your surroundings and drop them, word for word, into your manuscript after changing their names a bit” but also “attempt to remember what it was like to look through this or that filter”.

I hope that when you (finally) get to read a copy of Maybe & the Wolf that my account of mental illness is plausible to you. I didn’t go through the same things my character did, but I did write that viewpoint carefully, as though describing a memory. My character’s delusions were written in the same way I would have written my own.

Ta for reading!


A note from the future (spring 2013): Well-done me for being optimistic for once. Turns out I have a chronic case of post-traumatic stress disorder with perhaps some other things thrown in for fun. PTSD is a classic source of dissociation. I’m currently on meds, and they’ve been helpful.

My main character also got diagnosed with PTSD. In related news, my psychologist is amazing.