[TW: chronic illness, depression, suicide]
We are our bodies.
That sounds obvious, but it isn’t. Cartesian dualism thoroughly infiltrates the English language and many others. Many of the ways in which we talk about our bodies describe them as things we own, or carry, or inhabit, as though we were somehow distinct from the skeletons and meat.
My sense of my own consciousness is firmly anchored in my eyes. Everything else is ancillary, a wall of sensation at a distance or a weird intrusion from the outside. When I dream, I rarely have legs. My dream avatar pushes itself through crowds with its arms, or it is nothing but disembodied eyes, watching more than participating in the dream’s events. When I am more than that in dream, I am watching myself do things from the outside, a lucid vantage point on third-person adventure. In those dreams, my oneiric body is usually someone else entirely: a minotaur, a Mexican woman, a robot. I don’t have a sense of touch in my dreams, even when I have hands. Those differences are how I tell when I’m dreaming, or when I’m recalling events that happened in dream: I can’t touch anything, I don’t have feet, and people don’t have faces. And the world is usually in hazy grayscale with flashes of red or green to indicate the assorted Chekhov’s guns my dream-narrator likes to set up on my behalf.
There may or may not be anything to diagnose in those patterns. But all of them are illusions, the fantasies of a mind that often feels estranged from and confused by the letters its frontier outposts deliver to it. For the rest of us, our bodies and minds are not as distinct as my oneiromancer wants me to think they are. Within this lipid-rimed assembly of motors and struts is a complex of sensors and wires, connections that make the events of the hands and intestines and small of the back as real and immediate as any thought or emotion—and every thought and emotion as real as leaving one’s hand too long on the stove. The brain is only the largest and foremost organ of the self, anchoring and integrating the activities of all the others.
We are our bodies.
And when those bodies go wrong, it attacks the very definition of us.