I'm not the same person I used to be. Perhaps that's true for everyone. But I think in my case, I can be more literal. I used to be someone else. And what's interesting is that I don't remember much about the person I used to be. A nervous breakdown will do that to you. I changed my name. That's a very old idea. Change the name, change the thing. Names are important. Some days, it feels like I can barely remember the one I was born with. I've made myself an archaeologist of sorts, digging through layers, uncovering clues to the life I used to lead. Here are some things I know about it:
When I was three years old, they stopped an express train so I could be carried into an ambulance and rushed to hospital. When I was three and a half, a doctor examined me for suspected brain damage, and told my parents I was 'a timebomb waiting to go off', and told them not to let me out of their sight for a moment. I was in the room. At three and a half years old, I could read. And I knew what 'suspected brain damage' meant. I think that makes me precocious. Apparently having a seizure that leaves you completely unresponsive for over an hour at that age worries doctors. Before I was five, I had been to ten different hospitals. I had an MRI scan, and was too scared to stop moving, so they had to do it again with me under anaesthesia. I spent I-don't-know-how-many nights in wards alongside kids covered in burns, or with cancers, or any number of horrific conditions. My parents were convinced I was going to die. I remember none of this.
In my first year of school, I had another fit, got carried to an ambulance again, and thereafter every teacher had a picture of me and my medical history in the room just in case. Every time I looked even slightly wan, everyone assumed it was the thing that was wrong with my brain, trying to kill me. This went on for a while. I don't remember it. All I remember of the fits was feeling woozy and falling asleep. I had maybe two or three, and that was enough to keep everyone around me paranoid. Before I was out of infant school, I was a case study in paediatrics. Apparently I'm on a training video for GPs with my brain waves being measured. It seems I was a textbook case of an apparently rare brain condition whose two key attributes are being utterly harmless, and scaring the shit out of medical professionals. Essentially an unusual form of epilepsy that recedes with age. I'm told I should count myself lucky they didn't crack my head open and go poking around inside. So, in any case, I went through school being pale, awkward, and convincing everyone around me that I could shuffle off the mortal coil at any moment.
Perhaps not surprising that I was miserable. Or that at eight, I apparently threatened to kill myself with enough conviction to have everyone freaked out, whereupon I got sent to see a psychiatrist (very nice woman, M&S cardigan, got me to draw my anxieties like a pre-teen HR Giger). She measured my IQ, and apparently it was decided that the local school wasn't very challenging, and so I got put into a private school. Where I waited a couple of years, and then did the suicide-threat thing again. I don't remember either time. I don't even know if I meant it or not; kids are histrionic, and probably neither time warranted a headless-chicken response. The second time, the head of school called my mother in a panic and told her what had happened, to which her response was along the lines of, 'fuck's sake, not again, stop taking him seriously'. You can imagine how well that went over, despite being... well, accurate.
I got over it. I don't mean any of this as self-pitying, especially given the frankly astonishing amount of privilege involved. I'm just baffled that I don't remember it. It's strange to me that I can have a copy of an MRI scan of my brain in my desk drawer and have only a vague, abstract recollection of why. All the same, I spent my teens being anxious and depressed, and not really eating or sleeping, and sooner or later it was bound to get intolerable. Which it did, and at sixteen I spent what felt like six months in bed, unable to think anything, let alone do anything of use. Left school.
I got over that, and all the shit you pick up in adolescence, too. But it's only really after that, that I remember things. I ended up changing my name by deed poll. The old one wasn't doing me any favours. I was embarrassed by it. So I plucked a new one out of the aether, and started living it. It's a pretty common belief that a lie, repeated often enough, becomes the truth. The scientist in me rebels at that, raging in my head about empirical results and observed reality. But truth can be a subjective thing sometimes. I have scattered memories of my old self, human traces left behind, but they're tenuous and fleeting, and I don't go looking for them. Mostly that's out of fear that I'll turn over a rock and discover something nasty, something that I didn't want to remember. With huge gaps in recollection, I think that's a possibility, and I'd rather not know.
Mostly what I feel when I think back on myself, though, is pride. I'm impressed with the old Montag. I wasn't much enjoying life, so I built myself a better one, piece by piece. Maybe founded on things that weren't true, but time and belief have a tendency to solidify, and these days I don't look round when someone shouts my old name in the street. Maybe everyone does this. I know people reinvent themselves. So maybe everyone's sense of self, sense of their own history, is in part a mythology they've made for themselves. Their origin story. I spent most of my youth inside my own head. That's what I learned.