And Then I Thought I was a Fish

IDENTIFYING INFORMATION: Peter Hunt Welch is a 20-year-old single Caucasian male who was residing in Bar Harbor, Maine this summer. He is a University of Maine at Orono student with no prior psychiatric history, who was admitted to the Acadia Hospital on an involuntary basis due to an acute level of confusion and disorganization, both behaviorally and cognitively. He was evaluated at MDI and was transferred from that facility due to psychosis, impulse thoughts, delusions, and disorientation.

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Observations of a Straight White Male with No Interesting Fetishes

Ever wondered how to justify your own righteousness even while you're constantly embarrassed by it? Or how to make a case for your own existence when you contribute nothing besides nominal labor to a faceless corporation that's probably exploiting children? Are you clinging desperately to an arbitrary social model imposed by your parents and childhood friends? Or screaming in terror, your mind unhinged at the prospect of an uncaring void racing to consume the very possibility of your life having meaning?

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This is the story of a boy, a girl, a phone, a cat, the end of the universe, and the terrible power of ennui.

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Composed on the 11th of October in the year 2006, at 1:37 PM. It was Wednesday.

My brain is fucked.

Don’t misunderstand. I love my brain. We’ve gone a long way together. I’ve lived most of my life on the principle that there’s nothing I can’t learn, and my brain’s been pretty good about it. I’ve fed it many drugs, bounced it off walls and pavement, and I’m still whittling those extra neurons with alcohol, but my brain has forgiven me the worst sins, and continues functioning.

In general, I trust that I won’t have the faintest clue when things start going haywire, which they will someday. But when major things go wrong with the brain, it changes the way the brain interprets things, so you can blissfully maintain a fairly unbroken internal narrative according to whatever new reality a sharp blow to the head has left you with. Aside from being extremely adept at coping with physical abuse, signifigant alterations in the sensory paradigm leave you pretty much where you started, at least according to you, the proud owner of the sketchy brain in question.

I never worry about big things, because I know most of them will deprive me of the tools I would need to know or care.

It’s the specifics that get you. People will blissfully refer to their mother using the wrong name for days until someone points it out, and then they pause, and look into the middle distance, suddenly scared, blinking away the fear of Alzheimer’s. I have a terrible time remembering names. In fact, I have a phenomenally bad memory in general, but forgetting my own name for five minutes scared the Hell out of me a few years ago.

I’m willing to write off the things that have always been wrong, but now and then, there are things that seem too far from normalmy normal or anyone else’sto be okay with.

For instance, I’m used to some mild brain static. I think I have an unusual number of internal muscle twitches. Nothing that anyone would notice, but when the muscles around the left side of my chest start tweaking, it scares me. I have hypersentive skin. Nearly everything causes tingling sensations. Everything. You would be appalled, or possibly aroused, by the number of sensations I could describe as electric. In fact, when I pick up an old skill or habit, it causes tingling sensations in my head. At this very instant, the parts of my head that usually hurt from writing for too long are starting to go off in a pleasant but worrisome manner, once again making me wonder when my first stroke is due.1[1]

What’s really bugging me now is Sudoku.

I got into this through a girlfriend, and got hooked. If you’re not familiar with it, Sudoku is a game played on a nine by nine grid, divided into nine three by three grids in which, according to a few starting numbers, you have to fill in each line, row, and mini-grid with all nine numbers. Takes about fifteen minutes once you get the hang of it.

It’s a game of elimination, and there are a few standard tricks you learn at once. Personally, I liked the tricks, and being able to nail a few possibilities right off the bat, but the fact is that in difficult puzzles, it boils down to eliminating things row by row, box by box, column by column.

Once you’re in the elimination phase, there are still some tricks, and two in particular that are driving me crazy. Consider, for simplicity, three boxes in a row:

000 | 000 | 000

00? | 000 | 0?0

00? | 000 | 00?

I’m limited because of the way text renders and being too lazy to draw a picture. But say you’ve gone through the puzzle for a while, and you’ve narrowed things down, so you know that each of those four question marks might have a 3, and that for each box, the 3 can only be in one of the question marks. So, since the two boxes have only two possible places for the 3, if it’s on the bottom row in the left box, it must be on the middle row in the right box, and vice versa, so it cannot be on either of those rows in the middle box, hence the 3 must be in the top in the middle box.

Not so bad.

Now this:

000 | 000 | 0?0

00? | 000 | 000

00? | 000 | 00?

This layout tells you nothing about the middle 3, because it could work out to any of the following:

000 | 000 | 000

003 | === | 000

000 | === | 003

000 | === | 030

000 | 000 | 000

003 | === | 000

000 | === | 030

003 | === | 000

000 | 000 | 000

Any of the three middle rows are potential possibilities. I know this. I can explain it. Yet every single time, without fail, I think, for some reason, that one of the 3’s must be in the bottom row. The thought process runs something like “Well, each of these 3’s must be in the bottom or somewhere else, so one of them must be in the bottom” without ever making the connection that the 3’s alternatives are not mutually exclusive.

Invariably, when I play Sodoku, I see this pattern, and I start eliminating the bottom row, and it’s only after hundreds of games that I get a vague warning feeling that something is wrong, and I need to remember what it is.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for whatever reason, my brain can no longer make this logical jump. I can remember why it’s wrong, but my brain is always trying to make the wrong conclusion, reflexively, and it bothers me on a gut level that this is wrong, even though I know it’s wrong.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that I’ve been a programmer for almost three years now. I work with logic every day. I deal with flowcharts and functional logic constantly and intimately. I teach it five days a week. I make long winded speeches about grammar and if/then structures. I know logic. I debate like a fiend.

Yet, on a fundemental level that must reach down to a missing pack of synapses in my brain, I truly operate as if given any two things with only two options, if they share an option, one of them must choose it.

I can’t for a second believe that some abtract meta-pattern of my life experience has trained me to think this way. I thing I took a drug, got particularly drunk one night, or whacked my head the wrong way, and permanently lost some portion of my brain responsible for making this logical connection.

I do wonder how this might affect my everyday thinking. If I’m avoiding an ex-girlfriend, and I only have two places to go, and she only has two placs to go, and we’re thinking of the party at a mutual friend’s house, do I feel impelled to go if she doesn’t? Do I assume she’ll go if I don’t? If I’m allergic to red and my date’s allergic to white, will I insist on the blush?

It’s the specifics that bug me. One particular name I swore I’d never forget, one connection I cannot make, one skill I cannot relearn. You never forget falling off the bike.

1 There is absolutely no direct physical way to feel parts of your brain working. The sensations are hallucinatory feedback, but still.

When potential jobs ask me to fax a resume, I just stop taking their calls.

Hi there! You should totally go buy my book for the low low price of 6.73! It's like buying me a beer at an out-of-the-way dive bar in Brooklyn! Not in Manhattan. Manhattan prices are ridiculous, though there are a couple of decent Irish dives where you can snag a drink for five bucks. Otherwise, you're looking at a two or three book beer.