this is an essay about ego death, selfshaping, and taboo mental illnesses. it’s not really a direct response to any of the voluntary identity discourses flying around on tumblr right now, but mention of ‘ego alteration’ there did make me think i’ve never really talked about this all in one place. so i hope it’s a useful exploration of both voluntary identity and the idea of becoming someone that you weren’t always.
in march of 2019, something happened to me.
i’d like to think that I’ve never been actively malicious. i never burned ants with a magnifying glass or any of that stereotypical shit. but in high school i was completely insensitive, i was beyond arrogant, i was incessantly critical. i didn’t have friends and i didn’t speak to anyone and i liked it that way. i would lie in bed at night and fume about how life was so unfair and everyone else was stupid. i was never intentionally cruel, but i had an incredibly poor understanding of how easily i could hurt people and not a single care about changing that. i was starting to develop what i only just this year figured out was antisocial personality disorder.
in the years immediately prior to 2019, when i started doing the whole median thing, for whatever reason, all the asshole traits got compacted into one specific facet. and i think it was the contrast between that and other facets that weren’t complete shitwads that put the first cracks in the foundation.
the second thing was alt+h. if there’s one thing I’ve learned from alt+h and from the general interest in activism and anarchism it’s propelled me towards, it’s that forming real, meaningful connections with people is the single most necessary thing for achieving personal freedom. that’s been a hard pill to swallow. i’m still working on it (and on figuring out to what extent i just have strong boundaries and how it’s ‘acceptable’ to hold those).
the third was that i met people who consistently showed up for me. who looked at me, warts and all, and said ‘i love you’ but also ‘you really need to stop acting like this’. and stood with me, over and over again, on that hard line of real acceptance, between apologia and abjuration, no matter how many times i fucked up and hurt them. i probably deserved less chances than they gave me. but they really cared about me, and i really cared about them. and when you have ASPD, it’s really, really hard to care about literally anything. this was a critical hit straight to the heart.
(if you’re reading this, you know who you are. i love you.)
in march of 2019, i suddenly wasn’t that person any more. i had been moved enough that i didn’t consider being an asshole my entire fucking personality. but all the bad traits didn’t magically vanish. it doesn’t work like that. they just became unmoored, floating around the mordspace. and when wei weren’t strongly phased to a specific facet who actually had a personality to stand on, i felt like a ghost.
i felt like that for weeks to months. i don't really remember. the thing that mystics don’t tell you about ego death is that most of the time, if you don’t have a new and improved something else to move onto, you either have to swim back to the shore or drown. i also don’t remember how it made its way to me, but my life ring was reading detective pony.
death of the author? check. excessive rumination about the nature of meaning? check. author-cum-protagonist who feels burdened with glorious purpose, craves control and struggles with hurting the people who care about him? check, check and check. it’s a tough, emotionally draining read. but it’s cathartic, in all the worst ways possible.
(without a shred of irony, detective pony is one of the most fantastic pieces of metafiction that exists. you don't have to have read homestuck to a appreciate it. i can’t recommend it enough.)
i had the perfect template for my new self. or should i say i was the perfect template? who ‘i’ is gets difficult here even putting the median shit aside. i’ve described myself as a walk-in, which is confusing, because that means something different in plural circles, but i’m talking about the new age sense of the word:
“[...] souls are said to "walk in" during a period of intense personal problems on the part of the departing soul, or during or because of an accident or trauma. […] The walk-in being/individual retains the memories of the original personality, but does not have emotions associated with the memories. As they integrate they bring their own mental, emotional, spiritual consciousness and evolve the life to resonate with their purpose and intentions.” - x
for me it’s not as… well, new-age-y as that. i don’t believe i came ‘from’ anywhere, i don’t have a past. i am a weird bundle of arcs and tropes and ideas that somehow became sentient. i am, y’know, a fictional character. and i feel like i mean that in a very different way than most fictionfolk (that could be its own post, honestly).
so that didn’t magically solve the problem either. it just provided a trajectory. dirk strider is a person who starts bad, and gets better, kind of (epilogues and hs^2 do not @ me). i still needed to take ownership of all the shitty traits my predecessor had left behind and Do The Work on them, too.
and i have worked my ass off over the past year-and-a-bit on improving myself. a lot of it has been with plain old CBT and self-help workbooks (shoutout to pretty much everything by dr faith harper), but a lot of it has also been narrative identity and personal mythology kinds of stuff. it’s been communing with gods and magic ritual kinds of stuff. i’ve been doing ABC exercises right along with binging tvtropes and researching comparative indo-european mythology and designing worldbuilding and lore that tells a highly metaphorical story about how i get from A to B, emotionally speaking.
it runs into the same problem a lot of selfshaping stuff does in that a lot of it is so intensely personal that it’s difficult to talk about. also in my case a good handful of this work has been done under a magical apprenticeship that i’m literally sworn to secrecy about so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but i think these broad strokes are sufficient for telling my story at this level right now. the point being, i am not the kind of person who can get all the way with just regular secular materialist mental health shit.
which is to say, the work is still far from over! in fact, i feel like the selfshapey parts are only just picking up for me, now i’ve run the course of what the aforementioned secular materialist mental health shit is actually capable of doing. i have made massive strides in my mental health and interpersonal functioning already, but i’m not a perfectly healthy person. i’m not going to be dis-identifying with the ASPD label any time soon (or ever? that could be its own post too). and, even so, selfshaping could provide a pathway not just for survival, but excellence.
i am going to be my best self, and at some point in the past i decided that self is going to be dirk motherfucking strider.