I have voices in my head. Apparently everyone does, based on writings and conversations. I suspect some of mine are a little different. But maybe not; there are certain topics that get avoided in serious discussions, and unseen voices and alternate personalities don’t always go over well with “normal” people, so I may not have a large enough data sample.
Some of the voices I put there. Strictly speaking, I guess I put them all there; some of them, however, I’ve been able to maintain source code control, but others not so much — they’re more like firmware.
(Yes, I think of them in computer terms. I’m a techno-geek wacko, it’s what I do. You want a different metaphor, go find a liberal-arts wacko.)
My cast of characters (some with more character than others):
My Vulcan Half
I discovered I go calm, unfeeling, and unfazed when crisis hits. My first crisis (“somebody could have died” kind of thing, I mean) was when our boat crashed. I was 15; our power boat was going along in the somewhat spotty fog, which turned out to be very thick fog near the shore, and we crashed into a seawall at top speed (maybe 25 knots). I was thrown over the bow, but landed on sand; the other passengers bashed into seats, woodwork, and each other. When I crawled back on board, I found the afterdeck covered in blood, with more leaking out of people.
[I don’t do blood well. Really Not Well. I get light-headed waiting to get my blood drawn for blood work. I almost fainted getting ready to drain a blister on my wife, and there was essentially no blood involved (but there might have been!). I have other examples, but trust me, I do not do blood well.]
Yet instead of getting all queasy and faint, I felt myself getting detached. Totally. My dad was lying on the deck, barely able to move, bleeding and moaning in pain. Okay, whatever. Our guest was bleeding profusely from a head wound. Fine, basic wound from Boy Scout training, get the aid kit from below deck (taking on water as the boat was sinking), treat the injury. Sound the horn to attract attention on shore, get people to call the cops, keep sounding the horn to warn others. Mechanical. Unfeeling. Dealing with the situation. No big deal.
I snapped out of it when I got to the hospital. It was… interesting. Could I control this? Apparently not (and I still haven’t figured out the triggers, beyond Well Crap We Seem To Have An Emergency). So, could I create something I could control? As it turned out, yes; thus was born:
Hindbrain isn’t a real, full-fledged personality. He (or it — “it” fits better, most of the time) can handle really basic responses, and only ones I’ve anticipated in advance. It doesn’t really talk much, beyond basic information. But the cool thing about Hindbrain is that I don’t have to be awake to use it.
When our submarine was in the yards for refit, I stood engineering duty officer watch, which consisted mostly of double-checking work that people who knew what they were doing had just done. For a 24 hour shift. With sleep when available.
So when I wanted to catch some rack time, I determined what check points were coming up in ongoing jobs. Then when the phone rang next to where I was trying to sleep (as it did every hour or so), I could pick it up, get the report, compare that to what should be happening, give the order to proceed—and be sound asleep the entire time. If something was amiss, I would actually wake up (sometimes not being fully conscious until I had my boots on and found myself walking back to Engineering), but otherwise I’d be good until I had to make my morning inspection.
Hindbrain is also great at evaluating sounds. On a sub, you learn “good sounds” and “bad sounds” from what’s going on around you. I could wake up from a sound sleep, adrenaline kicking in and getting ready for action, if Hindbrain heard something it didn’t like or didn’t understand. People running, for example. The sound of running on a sub on patrol is always a Bad Sound. Or blowers that stop operating suddenly. (Blowers move air. Air Is Good. No blowers = no air = Bad.) BAD SOUND WAKE UP NOW.
Hindbrain is also not self-programming or adaptable to changing conditions. When I was stationed in South Korea, after the sub, I lived in base bachelor officer quarters with two other guys. One was married, but didn’t have married quarters available yet, so his wife and young kids would visit on Saturday mornings. When I liked to sleep in. And the kids (being kids) would go running through the hallway. Which had linoleum flooring very similar-sounding to sub passageways. Hindbrain freaked. THERE IS RUNNING GOING ON WAKE UP NOW and I would wake up with my heart racing, play back the sound Hindbrain had heard, recognize it was the kids, and go back to sleep. THERE IS RUNNING GOING ON oh jesus h christ it’s just kids will you please shut the frack up!
Hindbrain is still useful. Hindbrain gets me up when my blood sugar is crashing at night. (Why am I going downstairs? Oh, because that’s where the peanut butter is; never mind, we’re good.) It flails my body on the left side of the bed at night, but not to the right, because that’s the side my wife sleeps on. (Even when she isn’t; I’ve woken up facing the right side of the bed with my arms tucked in so I wouldn’t disturb Deb, who is sleeping at her mother’s place because Mom needs help at night. Like I said, not adaptable.) Like most couples, we’re set in stone as to who sleeps on which side of the bed; the one time we swapped, Hindbrain totally freaked (THERE’S SOMEONE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF US) and I got very little sleep.
Hindbrain has the personality of a programmable toaster, but it’s useful.
I had trouble with depression during my divorce from my first wife. Situation normal, right? Well, one night, after a bad incident with my ex, where I spent the night curled up under the desk in my bedroom — where it would have taken little effort to crawl three feet to my bed, but I just really wanted to stay under that desk for some unknown reason—I decided I really needed to start working to keep myself together. (Therapy? I had no money. Not enough for therapy. And no insurance after we filed for divorce.) So I programmed Mr Happy.
Mr Happy is happy. Mr Happy doesn’t let personal problems bother him. Mr Happy doesn’t think about what’s gone wrong. Mr Happy basically doesn’t give a damn. Everything is fine. Everything is wonderful.
I could hang with friends. I could hang with my ex. I could watch TV and not think about the third job interview in a month that didn’t have any encouragement at the end. Mr Happy didn’t give a damn.
I could cut myself off from family. I could ignore phone calls and emails from people trying to help. I could live in my own little world. Mr Happy didn’t give a damn.
Upon reflection, Mr Happy may not have been one of my better coping mechanisms.
OTOH (pronounced Otto)
I think most people have an OTOH. He’s my internal smart-ass voice that provides a running commentary at odd times. He gives me alternate perspectives at odd times (hence the name). He’s the one who feels like me talking to myself, except sometimes he’s smarter than I am.
ME: (glancing out window without looking hard) Snowing again. (moving on)
OTOH: (whispering) Wait for it… Wait for it…
ME: Hey wait, it’s over 50°F out there! So what was that stuff? (moving back to window to observe ash blowing from nearby construction site)
OTOH comes up with alternate lyrics to songs, which I sing to my wife or nieces & nephews. Alas, OTOH has the retention of dynamic RAM, so after we move on to something else and the kids ask an hour later, “Uncle Jack, sing us that song again,” I got nothin’.
OTOH comes up with smart-ass remarks during staff meetings. I’ve learned to mute OTOH at those times.
OTOH has brilliant ideas for Medium articles. I jot down notes for later. I have half a dozen notes for brilliant Medium articles, and I have not the slightest clue how to finish them. [No, this wasn’t one of those.]
LBS — Low Blood Sugar.
I’m Type 2 diabetic. I have hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes. Effects vary. Sometimes I have trouble with speech; sometimes I get the shakes, or have trouble with fine muscle control; sometimes I lose decision-making ability; sometimes I get argumentative. Sometimes my body spins the symptom wheel more than once.
My wife learned to spot signs early. Initially Deb would ask if I needed peanut butter (our go-to recovery food; the commercial variety has sugar and protein, good for short- and long-term fixes), but that would butt against the decision impairment problem sometimes (“Do I need peanut butter… ummmm…”). Then she went with strong suggestions, but that might get arguments, which I would lose (because if I argued, that proved I needed it, right?), but it was stressful for her. So I programmed LBS, whose purpose in life is to sit me down, shut me up, and eat the stupid peanut butter when my wife suggests it.
I’m guessing almost everyone has That Voice. The one that points out faults and failures. The one that spins every goof into a major screwup and every major screwup into suicidal ideation. “You stupid worthless piece of shit you should kill yourself you’re so worthless she doesn’t really love you anyway kill yourself everybody will be happy you won’t be around to fuck up everything you do is fucked up worthless shithead kill yourself make everyone happy…” Yada yada, ad infinitem.
Mine sounded like my dad, once upon a time, but it’s been sounding like me for a very long time now. Pity, in a way, since sometimes it sings to me (not nice songs, basically the usual stuff set to music), and Dad has a much better singing voice than I do.
That Voice can be distracting at times. But mostly it’s just background noise, like my tinnitus. [For those who aren’t familiar with tinnitus, it’s like cicadas in the trees. All year. Everywhere.] I can’t talk to it, like some of my other sub-personalities. But what would I say, beyond “Yes, she does,” and “Shut up”?
There are others, but they are, shall we say, a bit too odd to document.