Confessions Of An Artistic Schizophrene

Or, Understanding The Alter Ego

Now right away, you know there has to be at least a small element of truth to my confession, as it seems I can’t even pick which headline I want to use. But it turns out that schizophrenia is defined as “a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.” Hell, I’ve been accused of that off and on for years. But that’s not really me. What I’m trying to confess to you is that I suffer more from what might be called a split personality. Schizophrenia is too strong a term for what I want to explain. Damn… because I really like that word.

Oh well, bidding a fond farewell to schizophrenia, I now confess to having an artistic split personality, which is generally thought of as an alter ego. And what the hell is that? Well, “An alter ego (Latin for “other I”) means an alternate self, which is believed to be distinct from a person’s normal or true original personality.  Finding one’s alter ego will require finding one’s other self, one with a different personality.” Now that I can live with. Okay then, I am publicly admitting to struggling with my artistic alter ego.

And as long as we’re in definition mode here, why artistic alter ego? Because noticing the difference in jazz pianists back in college was the first time I discovered, and learned to deal with, my alter ego. Upon hearing some young piano players that were so much better than I, my first response was an almost unbridled jealousy. That jealousy slowly morphed into an understanding of why they were so good, and why I didn’t/couldn’t play that well. With all that came the realization that we’re all different, and that I was becoming the best I could be, albeit a little sad about my continual comparisons to better players.

Slowly I began to realize that comparisons were dangerous, and I was able to stop always comparing and began to simply appreciate what I was able to do. And over time, that morphed into admitting to a grudging respect for the really good players… all players. At that point I finally discovered my other self… the self that appreciated art in its many forms, along with the artists who have found a higher level of their art than I.

Finally I found that I had this alter ego, this “other person” that was unselfish, objective, and appreciative of the good works of others, without judging, or comparing… things I always did in the past. Wow! Should I support this “new” person inside me, or dismiss it as a passing fancy that had no place in my daily reality?

Could We Alter Our Ego?

In the interest of self-improvement, I began wondering if one’s alter ego could become their primary ego, thereby switching the importance and  daily activity of the two egos. Unable to find any relevant answers to that question, I began a series of small mental and emotional exercises to determine whether I could actually change into my alter ego, which I found I had a much deeper respect for.

My statement above, “ Unable to find any relevant answers to that question,” turned out to be false. I later looked up this question on chatGPT – “Is it possible for one’s alter ego to overpower the ego, and become the primary personality?”

And AI’s Response, Which I Still Trust (For The Time Being)

The answer was surprising, and a touch unnerving, for it pointed to potential psychological problems that should probably be looked into. In its 5-paragraph response, which was medically diagnostic and far deeper that I had expected, it stated that if the alter ego were to become the principal ego, that would probably suggest a mental problem for that person that should be pursued and treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Hm. Here’s a short excerpt of its answer –

“If we consider the alter ego as a consciously adopted persona or a facet of one’s personality, it might seem to “overpower” the ego in certain situations, especially if the individual actively adopts and emphasizes the characteristics associated with that alter ego. However, if we’re discussing a situation where an alter ego is taking over to the point of disrupting a person’s sense of identity or causing distress, it could be indicative of a psychological condition.”

Yikes! It suddenly seemed like I was playing around with an idea that could turn into a serious mental condition. What I had thought was an innocent exercise into an alternate personality turned out to be a warning of a potential personality disorder!

“You go first”

We’ll never know if I could have pulled it off or not, for just about this time I was introduced to Atlanta’s group of Buddhists, and without realizing it for a time, I went to them like a duck to water. Their teachings were closely connected with my search for a better ego, and their path to peace and self-understanding started with killing, or at least defusing, the ego. Not the personality part, just the inflated sense of self-worth part.

Again, how very un-American, but it worked for me, and within a four-year period of study, my real ego pretty much flew out the window and I became my alter ego. And how did that show up in my daily life? Ha! Depends upon whom you asked. A few would say I grew more passive and quiet, to the detriment of my bill-paying business persona. But some noticed that I became easier to work with, easier to play my jazz gigs with, and a new confidence grew, to try things outside my arena of music, such as teaching meditation, and writing articles for environmental magazines. Good god… who was this new person?

I began taking gigs with bands I didn’t particularly care for, and did pretty well with them for a time. Of course part of that was in an effort to simply survive financially, as my music career began to tank. I was 55 now, and the Atlanta music community had decided to move on to greener, and younger pastures..

After being a studio rat for 18 years, I was forced back into playing piano in hotels, clubs and parties… even retirement centers. Argh. But it was okay, because my original ego, while not yet dead, was certainly dormant, and was causing me no problems with artistic jealousy or judgmental attitudes.

Turns out my original ego never did completely go away. To this day it lies silent for months on end, only to surface briefly and harmlessly, triggered by some person from my past, or a certain song… anything like that. It’s always a surprise, and I am always embarrassed to temporarily feel those old, ugly feelings. It reminds me how small, selfish, inconsiderate and judgemental my former self, and ego, was.

I realize that the Buddhist’s answer to controlling and removing the ego was not, as I thought, thinking more inwardly, but actually thinking more outwardly! Putting the self in perspective to the rest of the world, my little interior world didn’t seem so important anymore. Funny, huh?

Steve Hulse

One Reply to “Confessions Of An Artistic Schizophrene”

  1. Interesting. I’m not sure this is related, but maybe in some sort of strange way it is. Seems like it to me, but what do I know?

    Recently I was playing at an on-line open mike. Now, I’m not a bad guitar player, but I used to play a lot more and in a lot more contexts, so I used to have better chops. The last four years I have hardly played, so I’ve lost a lot.

    Anyway, I muttered something about how mediocre a player I am and then played whatever it was I wanted to play. And then my friend said, “hell, if you’re mediocre, what am I?” And that was not at all how I intended it. It wasn’t meant as any sort of comparison to anybody but me. In fact it wasn’t even meant to be heard.

    But it was. I explained as to how I was mediocre compared to what I wanted to be, and that was the end of it and we all moved on. That explanation’s not untrue, but of course if I REALLY wanted to be better at music, I would play a lot more and work at it. So it’s only sorta true, I guess.

    Well that kinda bugged me. Was this some weird ego thing? Maybe.

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