I could tell you that your thoughts are just electrical and chemical activity. I could say that your thoughts make your personality, at least in part. This would mean that tweaks to your electrical and chemical stew would change your personality. In theory, you can handle that.
You might say, the real me is me when I’m sober. I don’t have a brain tumor, or Alzheimer’s, or any other kind of dementia. And before I drink those three mimosas, I am me in the morning.
Maybe. We have Descartes to blame. You think, you are? How do you know?
My grandmother has started losing details and sequence. At a family wedding, she asked over and over again, What were we doing next? The rehearsal dinner. What’s a rehearsal dinner? Some of the time she seems perfectly with it. Then her brain is all blurry in the “rehearsal dinner” section. Sometimes her confusion makes her more irritable, sometimes it makes her more grateful. Is she really a more grateful person, or a grouchier one? Or do all these years at the end not “count”?
Once a minister at our church had a heart attack. He came back from the hospital a different person: grouchy, unable to remember anyone’s names. Which person was he? Before or after?
After three months of recurring panic attacks, I started taking antidepressants. I’ve always hated the idea of psychiatric medication. I’ve exercised hard and meditated and taken supplements and talked my neuroses out, begged and bargained with God and doctors, but I was still a mess. Unable to stop a normal train of thought like, “What if I need to get out of here?” or “What if I freak out again?” Normal brains just rattle on past those kinds of detours. Mine required full effort to resist them. It was exhausting.
Nine days into the antidepressants, I noticed that when I started to worry, I couldn’t worry with the same gusto. I could worry for the normal minute, I just couldn’t get myself inspired to follow the same detour. I kind of wanted to, I had the instinct to, because my brain has gotten used to doing that. I couldn’t, though, any more than I can cry on cue.
Emotions are electrical and chemical reactions. Thoughts are electrical and chemical events. Me as cool customer and me as sick with anxiety are different personalities, different people, even. I thought the former was normal me. I think on the medication I feel like myself again. But what do I know?