At the risk of sounding too reductive, please allow us to bluntly suggest, that the answer to this question does not matter.
In response, we are certain many of you already have your thumb ready to swipe away from the rest of this exposition, and who could blame you when our society, indeed our very nature, seems to suggest, that the question of personal identity is more important than any other. We understand that gut reaction that instinctively follows any suggestion, that who you are as a person bears no consequence on either the world at large or your personal sphere of influence, but on the off-chance that you’re still here, reading these words and wondering where they’re going, please allow us to pose a couple questions before we continue:
Had Martin Luther King, Jr – easily one of the most recognized names in the civil rights movement of both past and present days – decided to focus all of his energies on anything else, would Jim Crow laws and the divides between people with different colored skin be the same today as they were in the 1960s, or do you think someone else would’ve stood up to accomplish the same goals?
If Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been too overwhelmed by child-rearing and a sick husband to attend school and, consequently, rewrite the laws governing women’s equality in America, would the female portion of the population still be man’s property, or would another woman have filled the role to lead by example and pave a better way forward?
We grew up with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Not many people have heard of it, but when we bring up its outdated label, multiple personality disorder (MPD), the light bulb turns on even though most still don’t know much about it beyond what they’ve seen in the media. Back in 1994, MPD was retired from clinical use, because experts finally realized, “Two people with MPD cannot be treated in the same way.” As it turned out, every single person with MPD had unique causes, triggers, manifestations, and they were even seeing, that one’s ability to discern the difference between what’s real and what’s fantasy varied wildly depending on a number of unknown factors. As a result, multiple personality disorder was reclassified into several “subcategories” under the umbrella of personality and behavioral disorders, the most common of which being Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Dissociative Identity Disorder, and Schizophrenia (SCHZ).
We don’t want to get into an endless list of diagnoses characterized by technical jargon and inconsequential rambling, though, so to put it in the simplest terms, think of BPD, DID, and SCHZ as varying degrees of one’s ability to connect with reality, BPD having the fewest difficulties and SCHZ having the most. We fall into the mid-range category. From here, we have nine unique personalities that make up the person known as Kamon Perez (which is a pen name, by the way); stressful situations tend to force switches between those personalities, and with the switches come changes in mood, speech patterns, preference, and even gender; and during particularly stressful situations, sometimes episodes occur wherein one personality overrides the rest, thereby taking control of our [shared] body to do as he or she sees fit. When the episode is over and all personalities return to the “center” (as we call it), we have no memory of anything that happened from the moment the episode began until the time we reconvened.
To put it plainly, we’ve been called “crazy” more times than we care to count, we tend to learn toward the role of “guarded introvert,” and lasting relationships of any kind remain few and far between. On the flip-side, however, coming from such a unique perspective has afforded us ample opportunity to see the world from the outside-in and not just through the subjective interpretation of everything he or she sees through a single lens but through a variety of lenses each with a different color, shape, and range. Of the nine of us, for example, two are 18 years old and twins, another is 63 (and cranky as hell most days), another is female, and each of us, including the five not yet mentioned, have completely different backstories that contribute to the content not only of this website but also to the content of the person, Kamon Perez.
All of that being said, we realize there’s a solid chance, that those of you who remained after reading our initial comment are probably dwindling even further. “Get to the point,” right?
Okay, but we’ll warn you: if you found our first statement offensive, this one probably isn’t going to win you over. You can’t say you didn’t ask for it, though! To be frank, we are all narcissists, and we’re not saying that in terms of the “we who make up these nine personalities.” No, we’re talking about humankind as a whole. I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, I am a narcissist, and you are a narcissist, too. Now we will grant, that many if not most of you are probably not as self-absorbed as the people we have all so readily labeled “narcissist,” however, to continue forward without recognizing the truth for what it is, unless we change the way we perceive the world around us – people, land, ocean, sky, animal, and every other context the word encompasses – we are going to drive ourselves into an early and unnatural grave.
Assuming that your interest has been piqued (or at the very least, you have chosen to continue reading for the purpose of formulating a comprehensive argument), let’s pretend that, for you, narcissism is a new term. The word comes from an ancient Greek myth about a demigod named Narcissus. The tale has a few tellings, but the general idea holds that Narcissus was so beautiful, that a mountain nymph named Echo fell in love with him at first glance. After he spurned her profession of love, and she faded away leaving behind only her voice, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water where he, too, wasted away until all that remained was the flower which, today, we call the daffodil or narcissus. The term, narcissist, has been used ever since to denote a person who is unhealthily self-absorbed or otherwise preoccupied with their appearance and perception among peers, and we are suggesting here and now, that the question, “Who am I?” is little more than a practice in narcissism.
Let’s shift gears for a moment.
Have you ever had a roommate? Maybe you lived with someone in college or post-graduation, maybe you’ve shacked up with a significant other, or then again, maybe the only people you’ve ever lived with were siblings and parents. If you have spent any amount of time sharing your living space with another person, then you know full-well how important it is to be able to leave, right? To spend some time alone, get some fresh air, or sometimes simply not be in the same room. Now try to imagine not being able to find that empty space, or to put it more accurately, imagine that every time you needed to separate yourself from that person, whoever it is, they follow you everywhere you go. Everywhere: out the door, into the passenger seat of your car, to the restaurant, to the bar, to the park, to the bathroom, and not even just in the same facility, but right there in the stall with you. You might freak out a little, right? You might yell or start slamming doors, and who knows? You might even threaten that person with bodily harm if they don’t back off and give you a little fucking room to breathe.
That kind of reaction is definitely relatable, even understandable to a certain degree, but what if you had absolutely no choice but to allow that person to keep following you? That’s what DID is like for us. As alone and cut off from the world as we often feel, we have never actually been alone, and for a long time, we couldn’t figure out a way to cope with that stress. The first two decades of our life, we were highly volatile 24/7 and prone to dramatic mood swings regardless of who was lead (and by lead we mean, the alternate personality, or alter, who is currently occupying our body), we were violent and harsh in the majority of our interactions with others, and for most of our high school and college careers, we didn’t have much sense of how many of us there were or what might trigger a switch. To put it simply, we were a mess. By 2011, though, we had spent a significant amount of time and energy identifying and attempting to understand each of the nine as individuals which lead to our first decision ever as a group: we needed to move.
The deeply religious background of our upbringing (and the Midwestern US, in general) had created a significant amount of anger and resentment among our collective selves, and because we were too afraid at the time to tell anyone about… well, us, we decided to move south and, more or less, begin anew. That is when we began our journey of “self” exploration which eventually lead us to the expression of more than 1,000 pieces of poetry and artwork, the creation of this website, and this essay, as it were. Our theories or beliefs or whatever you choose to call them have been works-in-progress for almost twenty years, and while we understand, that they aren’t likely to be widely adopted or even accepted by others, we can safely say, that the practice of these beliefs is the only reason we nine personalities have been able to establish and maintain any sort of internal harmony.
Let’s bring it full-circle, then.
When you’re locked in a room with eight other people (or three other people, or one other person – however many they may number), after a while, “Who are you?” stops mattering. Think about it: we can know every last detail about your motivations, your preferences, your goals, your desires, and all the little things that make you tick, but every piece of information we learn about you – whether or not we’re locked in a room – is instantly relocated to the past tense. That’s how time works, folks: what was the future becomes the present which is now, instantaneously, the past, and being creatures locked into that repetitive time loop, we are constantly changing in accordance with it. To illustrate this point more simply, when you and Stranger A entered the locked room, people who whistle didn’t bother you, and people who breathe heavily didn’t bother Stranger A, but introduce time and the inability to remove yourself or Stranger A from the vicinity, and voila: you can’t stand how Stranger A whistles to pass the time, and Stranger A can’t take your heavy breathing for one more second.
We realize this is a very simplistic way of looking at things, but it nevertheless explains why the question, “Who Am I?” does not matter: because who you are is changing as quickly as the hours and minutes and seconds of the day. So to ask, “Who Am I?” with the expectation that a succinct and well-defined answer will follow automatically implies, then, that the question will be asked and answered over and over and over again until time itself prevents you from moving forward.
Honestly, we aren’t really sure when the transition occurred, but somewhere along the line, the nine of us had stopped caring who the other eight of us were – if that makes any sense. Instead of trying to get to know one another as would be considered the natural way, we had begun asking, “What can I do for you?” Admittedly, at first the question was slightly more selfish, taking a form more similar to, “What can I do for you that will make you shut up, so that I can get some sleep?” but once that worked, and moreover, once we registered that a change had taken place, the question eventually turned into something more like, “What can I do for you to make you more comfortable?” and “What can I do to improve your current state?” Sure, at first we all felt somewhat indentured, because a life lived in service to others – even alters – wasn’t one we were accustomed to, but similar to the way a barking dog becomes white noise in the early hours of the morning, given enough time and practice, placing the needs of our alters became second nature.
Now, we say second nature, because we realize, that there are some key differences between our situation and a typical roommate situation as we utilized for illustration purposes earlier: primarily, that with roommates, anyone can, in fact, leave the room entirely thereby fixing or possibly even preventing the problem outright. We also call it second nature, because we understand, that placing the needs of the other eight alters is still, technically speaking, putting our personal needs first (because we’re all the same person). Putting this belief into practice with other people is a much more complicated matter, because 1) we will never know another person as well as we, the nine, know each other, and 2) no matter how much we know humankind could benefit from being locked in a room without escape, technically, that would be considered kidnapping which, ironically enough, would get us locked up.
Even still, the lesson is no less applicable however complicated its real-world application may be. The fact remains, that as long as we all act as individuals instead of smaller parts of the greater whole, this world and all of its inhabitants will never know peace or harmony. As long as we continue to ask, “What will make me happy in this moment?” instead of, “What can I do to improve your state?” our thinking and, though direct correlation, actions will remain firmly rooted in narcissism.
Sustainability is a hot topic these days, right? Even if you’re one of the stubborn remnant who believes that climate change and global warming is all just propaganda, it’s a commonly held belief, that we as a species, should be doing much more to curtail the impact of our actions on the environment. Rainforests around the world are disappearing dramatically faster than they can replenish themselves, the ocean is slated to contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050, and widespread drought which is always the precursor to famine continues to spread across former areas of so-called “advanced agriculture.” So how does our societal narcissism contribute to these global issues? Two words: comfort and convenience. Okay, three words: comfort, convenience, and specialization. Okay, okay, four words: comfort, convenience, specialization, and future…
You know what? That list could keep on going and going, so in the interest of saving your time and no-doubt blurring vision, we’ll summarize: humans, especially those living in “first-world nations,” are obsessed with everything listed above. If it doesn’t make your life easier somehow, you’re not interested; if you can’t have what you want when you want it, it’s just not good enough, right? That’s why we have grocery stores that carry, year-round, every kind of produce and prepared food known to man, and consequently, that’s why said grocery stores end up wasting almost half of what they stock their shelves with. That’s why we have “smart” phones which act as telephone, camera, computer, gaming console, entertainment provider, and even makeshift WiFi routers. Because who in the world wants to carry all of that stuff around with them everywhere they go? Disregard the fact, that old phones and electronics comprise more than 50 million tons of waste annually, most of which winds up in landfills where it will never decompose. That’s why we have WiFi now instead of wired internet connections, because who wants to deal with a bunch of cords when I could just pick up the internet from the air? Interesting fact, though: did you know, that a bunch grade-school girls performed an experiment testing the radiation – yes, radiation – emitted by common WiFi routers, and they found that seeds planted next to a router didn’t sprout even once while seeds from the same fruit, placed in a WiFi-free room sprouted with a germination rate greater than 95 percent?
We get it. We really do. The person who reads all of this, reflects and meditates on it, and then applies what they learn to their day-to-day life is a pretty rare breed. Even we, the nine communicating this ideology, struggle every single day with putting ourself on the back-burner so that the needs of others can come first – and not just other people but the needs of the land, the needs of the ocean, the needs of plants and animals and even the creepy-crawly insects that make 1/3 of us cringe. Denying one’s self goes completely and often abrasively against everything our society as a human race holds dear. It rejects the necessity for competition. It erases all lines between what’s considered right and wrong. It assumes, that everyone is capable of change, growth, and improvement, and denies the opportunity for exiling anyone for any reason, because “another chance” is always freely given and not an object to be earned. It is, at its core, altruism, and as such, it is thought of as radical, unobtainable, and by some, not tethered to reality.
And maybe that’s why it’s an ideology, that we – a system of multiple minds, passions, and motivations – can get behind. After all, DID is well-known to characterize people who have trouble drawing the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy, but in a world where what’s real will assuredly and inevitably lead to our own destruction whether by nuclear warfare, widespread famine, ozone depletion, or the death of our oceans, and what’s fantasy embodies ideals of hope, freedom, equality, respect, and selflessness, isn’t the inability to discern one from the other a good thing?
Narcissism is not a death-sentence, and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of all comfort and convenience either, but it is a condition that demands an objective identification. Not coincidentally, admission is the first and most difficult step in the recovery process, and that’s why we’re not going to be upset if this essay goes unread or receives no positive feedback. Our line of thinking is definitely not going to be a popular one, because admitting that you’re part of the problem means admitting to some level of personal failure. To that end, though, we would encourage you to adjust your perspective: don’t look at it as a failure. We’re all learning and growing and changing with every tick of the clock. Failure is part of life, so who you were a second ago does not matter. All that matters is what you do with the time you have left – the time we have left. Let’s make it count, together.