My answer will be limited by two constraints. First, I don’t know what it is like to be you, so I will inevitably miss certain points of difference. Second, I don’t know what it is like to be me. Experiencing my conscious existence and remembering it are two different things, and expressing it is something different altogether. That’s three constraints. I lied.
Given these difficulties, I will now try, as best I can, to give you some sense of what I experience on a continuous basis, being identical with myself.
First of all, I think in a constant monologue. Perhaps you do too. It is on basically from the moment I wake up, to the moment I disappear into sleep. It may be going on whilst I dream, my memory is not reliable enough to answer that with any certainty. If I sit down to write, then the monologue – which speaks in an entirely neutral tone automatically, but can take on an accent if I wish it to – will slow down to my typing pace, which is considerably slower than my speaking or reading or thinking pace.
As I type, my monologue speaks with me. As I read, it speaks with me. When I am alone, I often speak it out loud because it is more effort to keep it silent and internal than to let it out. And because I love the sound of my own voice. Those people you sometimes see talking or shouting at nobody in the streets? A lot of them are probably vocalising their inner monologue. YouTubers? They’re letting their inner monologue out. People who talk a lot about the same subjects? Monologing. Monolinguists.
I’m not a psychologist and I won’t pretend to have the final answer on what the monologue is or how it comes about, but I believe that it is a vital part of what makes me me.
Often the monologue turns into music, which is another fairly continuous element of my experience. At the moment it’s the car wash song. The underlying rhythm and tone of a song is almost universally in the background for me.
Since four years ago I also have tinnitus – a high pitched ringing in my ears, like the sound of a television on standby. The tinnitus is different from the music or the monologing, in that it sounds to me identical as if there is actually a high-pitched noise in the world. The monologue and the music, by contrast, are not the same as actual noises out in the world. The tinnitus is more intermittent, somewhere between 50% and 90% of the time I am awake. Sometimes I can’t hear it, either because it has resided, or because I can’t make it out amongst other sounds I can hear at the time. I have tinnitus in my dreams.
Second, I have a more limited ability to visualise images. I can’t “see” any memories or imaginings to the same fidelity as I can “hear” words or music, and I certainly don’t see a stream of ‘inner’ images constantly when I walk down the street as I do hear a stream of ‘inner’ words.
Third, my body is generally united in purpose. Most of the time it is solid and responsive. It does not weigh me down, or tense up uncomfortably or generally emote in ways that are unhelpful. My hands are sometimes inaccurate, missing the keys I tell them to press, but not to an extreme degree. Sometimes when I try to hit a tennis ball, I see the right movement to make, and my arm simply fails to make that move. Occasionally,when doing a maths sum, I will visualise one number, but I will ‘hear’ my inner monologue say another. The inner monologue is almost always wrong in these cases.
Fourth, I am very rarely sad. My mood is generally either directed purpose, or happy realisation. My “highs” come with realising things or coming up with new takes on things. Sometimes tiredness takes over and I have less energy.
I have generally cried less and less as I have got older, changing from a child who would cry quite dramatically, to an adult who has cried perhaps once in the past two years. Those times that I did cry, I was not devastatingly sad.
I have been sad more often in the past, and it took the form of a sort of heavy weight and longing to hold onto something that is not around.
I do get angry, and that takes the form of me raising my voice and swearing a lot. I get angry almost exclusively with inanimate objects, and of those, I am nearly always angry with a computer not doing what I want it to/what I believe I told it to.
I shout a lot, and I am generally not aware when I do it. Do tell me if I shout, I won’t be offended. I need to shout less.
I am not regularly stressed, but when I am, I feel it in my chest and – this may be unusual – in my crotch. I am more inclined to be stressed about things progressing to slowly/being to boring, than about there being too much going on.
Fifth, I rarely “switch off”. I learned as a child to sit through church services, but I hated them, and I still do. Church, like bad movies or padded-out TV shows, is unbearably boring. I need everything to be constantly stimulating. I can grind on a game (although less than I used to), as long as it involves a lot of little decisions I can think on.
My hands, too, are interminable fidgets. A phone or a portable console will keep them occupied.
That’s me. I hope you feel ever-so-slightly enlightened by this article.