There’s a lady I work with, let’s call her K, who talks to herself so much she basically narrates her life. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Everyone talks to themselves at some point or another. Still, it is a little weird. I am often confused by it, wondering if she’s talking to me or not. There are two ways I can go when I’m unsure what is happening. I can say, “What?” and if she doesn’t answer I know she was not talking to me. On the other hand, if I pretend I didn’t hear and she repeats herself more than once, I know she was talking to me.
Either way it is harmless stuff albeit awkward.
My dialogue with myself is interior. Like K’s, it is mostly harmless. I write “mostly harmless” because occasionally the inner voice can be nasty—a jackass that only finds fault and is quick to disparage whatever I’m doing. After years of listening to it, my emotional well-being has gone from alright to all wrong.
When I’m writing the voice is particularly vicious.
That’s fucking stupid!
You can’t write that. You’re an idiot. If you try you’ll just prove how dumb you really are.
What is wrong with you? That’s not how to use a comma. How the fuck did you get out of college?
That’s the kind of vitriol that drifts up from the dark recesses of my psyche. Most of the time I will stop and obsess over what the voice said. I will usually erase what I wrote, or more often than not, I will switch to something else entirely (like watching re-runs on Hulu).
This is distressing. Not just because it is abuse, but because I’m addicted to writing—an outright junkie. I mean, the obvious answer is to stop writing. If the abuse is so bad sever all ties with the problem, right?
Thing is, I have tried. Repeatedly. And as much as I wanted to walk away, I always returned. Just like it is difficult to diet in a house full of junk food, it is impossible to get away from writing when there is a moleskine notebook and pen close by; when there are any number of word processing apps on my phone and tablet; when there are countless social media outlets and websites where I can spill my guts.
When I tried giving up, although I swore I would never write again, somehow I would find myself staring at a blank page or screen. How did I get there? Why was my hand scribbling across the page, my fingers typing away on the keyboard?
The words always came pensively at first, but the flow opened more and more in the following days and weeks.
All said, as miserable as the inner critic made me feel about my writing, not writing was always worse. The longer I would avoid writing the more I would succumb to the black wolves (my anthropomorphization of depression), and the longer I would wallow in dark places they would leave me.
Ironically, as apathetic as I got, all the torment fueled my desire to write more. Being devoured by my demons, I was confronted by an endless stream of existential questions. Without money for a therapist, all I could do was write. Granted, it was all self-absorbed garbage, but I was writing.
And the little voice was always there, reminding me how pathetic and whiny I was being.
And yet, the voice wasn’t all bad. Despite the heartless delivery of its gripes, the voice was often right. Granted, it could have gone about telling me with a bit more care. Thing is, while I was in the throws of my depression, I wasn’t ready to hear what it said, regardless of how it phrased things.
Round and round I went like this. There were occasional flashes of clarity, momentary glimpses through the fog, showing how I was hurting myself. They came through meditation, mindfulness practice, and studying existentalism and Buddhist philosophy. Despite the insight, none of it really clicked. I was looking for answers, which was exactly what I needed to do. Problem was, I was looking for the answers outside of myself. That is, for something outside of me to fix my problems. What I didn’t realize was I had learned all I was ever going to learn “out there.” What needed to happen was the tough, unflinching introspection and for me to take responsibility for what I found.
Last month (November 2017) I was as low as I have ever been in my life. I had lost all interest in everything. I was fond of saying—jokingly but not joking—, “I’m just waiting for death.” Life had become a vacation I had been on for far too long. I was ready to return home, crawl into bed, and sleep.
Because writing is so important to me, I wanted to give it one final chance. Something deliberate and grandiose. And it just so happened that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a perfect, over-the-top writing challenge. I had no commitments to interfere with my participation so I thought, “Why not?”
Was this the hand of Fate? I don’t know, but I have heard when depression really gets on top of you the best thing to do is continue doing the things that brought joy and meaning, and here was something left at my doorstep as if by Serendipity herself. Regardless of how things had shaken out, this was a no brainer.
For those unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November (between 12:01 a.m. November 1 and 11:59 p.m. November 30). There’s no rules, and no one to check your work—though there is a word count validator to “officially” win. It’s you against yourself. And the clock.
My plan was to write every day in November. It was important that I write everyday for two reasons. First, I wanted to get into the habit of writing everyday, weekends included, in order to see how that would affect me, as opposed to writing when the feeling struck me. Second, writing everyday, and stopping at the 1667 word mark (that’s the number needed to reach the 50,000 word goal if you’re pacing yourself), meant I would not fall behind. More importantly I would not race ahead either. Left to my own devices I would probably have pushed to get ahead in order to “be done with it.” Did I have something else pressing to do? No. I’m just a creature of the times, habitually racing, in rush mode by default.
Where the stated goal is to write a novel, I was undertaking this challenge to explore what fully committing to the act of writing would do for me. The ultimate word count and daily goals might have been in the foreground, but my objective was to write, a lot, every day.
That said, 50,000 in 30 days is quite a feat, even more so for me because I’m a slow writer. I also have a hard time sustaining long pieces. I’m more of a essay/short story/poetry writer. Back in 2009 I struggled horribly with NaNoWriMo, barely managing to complete it. I got through by spewing stream-of-consciousness mental diarrhea. So I knew I needed something that would carry me through all thirty days. A few days before the start the perfect idea came to me. As I was writing in my journal I realized that I should write a factionalized memoir in journal style. I would be the main character. The story would be about me going into my shadow (psyche) to find the parts of myself I’d lost through either depression or repression. It was perfect. Write about my neuroses and depression? Are you kidding me? I could write 5,000,000 words on that topic.
(famous last words)
A little over a week in my go-go juice ran out. I found myself staring at the blank page with nothing to write. Fuck!
(smooth move ex lax. what’re we gonna do now?)
With my word count for the day looming over my head, I decided to write about not having anything to write about. It wasn’t my “novel” but I was writing, and that was really the point of this exercise.
(nice justification for cheating.)
And then I wrote about how disgusted I was in myself for writing about not having anything to write about.
All the while the little voice was nagging me about what a cheat I was. And then the idea hit me like a sledgehammer between the eyes: give the voice a “real” voice on the page. And so I did. I skipped down a line, dictated what it said, and then set it all off in italics couched in parentheses.
And in that instant the voice transformed. I’ve had epiphanies before, but never did they manifest such sudden changes. He was still snarky and persnickety, but there wasn’t the bite, nor malice, anymore. Rather than being mean for mean’s sake, what he was saying was just the uncomfortable brutal honesty. He was annoying, but he was telling me things that would keep me honest, or more honest than I might have been otherwise.
In the past it had been so very easy to blind myself, to plow on through any cognitive dissonance rather than face any inconvenient truth. I still do it, but having him call me to task is strangely liberating. Ironic how responsibility can free oneself. What’s even more difficult to wrap my head around is the fact he’s not some friend or family member—or even a separate person at all, though I speak of him that way. He is me. By writing about going into myself I had actually taken the journey. What I had set out to write about was literally happening. I had managed to pull myself out of myself.
Looking back, of course he’s a smart ass and difficult and yet somehow a good guy, if a bit gruff. He is me. He was vicious because he had be locked away for years in the shadow. All the while, I had been crying about all the suffering and wrongs the world was piling on me. Had I been in his place I would have been pissed off too. And then I remembered: he is me. I was pissed off. I was vicious. I was hurt. I was scared. I was everything he was because
(we are the same person)
And so I’ve decided to give him voice in as much of my writing as I can. Whenever there’s a line break, parenthesis, and text in italics, that’s him. He has asked me to represent him in all lower case because that’s a visual cue to the quiet nature of his “real” voice in my head. Also, he uses the royal “we” rather than I.
All of this raises the question: am I going mad, kinda like Deadpool? I don’t know. Maybe? I mean, what am I, a psychologist?
(eh… if we were only so cool as deadpool. if anything we’re the sickly wade wilson before he got his healing factor, minus the cool fighting skills.)
(actually, if we’re like anyone we’re like gollum.)
Yeah… I guess. Gollum is not as sexy as Deadpool, but the truth isn’t necessarily pretty, is it?
(no, it’s not.)
So where does that leave me. Well, it leaves me with what I hope is a unique and entertaining writing style. For several years now I have been calling my writing damnable humbuggery. I figured if Hunter S. Thompson had a name for his style, gonzo, I needed one too.
(we have delusions of grandeur, as well as schizophrenia.)
What exactly is damnable humbuggery? It’s my neurotic, multiple-personality, fictionalized memior prose.
(sounds… uhm… a bit tedious. we’ll see how long it last.)
Yeah. I guess we will.