It had been a few weeks since the dream in which i'd lost my right arm to the mysterious surgeons, and i began to wonder if they would ever actually return. Something just didn't add up about the whole event; the experience was so surreal that it had to be a dream, but yet the fact remained that my right arm was (and is) in fact, missing.
So i've spent the past weeks puzzling over the paradoxes that my life had become, reviewing the events of that night in my mind, over and over and over again... and i reached the inescapable conclusion: it WAS but a dream. There were no mysterious surgeons who appeared in my room, whisked me away, removed my arm, and returned me to my bed before morning - with neither blood nor wound on the amputation site. While i generally try to avoid calling anything 'impossible', that night's dream experiences stretched the limits of even my credulity. However, this still left the unanswered question: if there were no dream-surgeons, then where is my arm?
It had become clear to me that my own perceptions could no longer be trusted, since i was perceiving utter paradox. The question i then needed to address was to ask exactly what had been going on in my mind to cause this unreliability. I decided that the place to begin was by trying to get an objective view of the current state of my body as it exists now, and work backward from there. I knew that i would need to discard any preconceptions, and leave my mind open to all possibilities - no matter how disquieting or inconceivable they may seem - because the approach of accepting direct perception had failed me.
The more i tossed around the question in my mind, examining my perceptions and my surroundings, the more disturbed i became by what i found there. The big question that weighed on my mind was not about physical perceptions, but about psychological motivations: why in the world had i been seeking limb removal in the first place? While not unheard of, the BIID condition is still somewhat unusual, and i wanted to understand why i'd been suffering from it. I had previously satisfied myself with the abstract concepts that the limbs just 'didn't feel like they belong' or 'felt like they were just tools, rather than actual parts of my body,' but those answers were no longer sufficient to satisfy me... so i found myself taking the question to the next level, and asking 'why?'
About a week ago, my perceptions started shifting a bit - probably induced by the deep questioning of reality that i had been pursuing - and rather than finding any nice convenient answers, i only found more paradox, and stranger questions... When i looked at where my arms should be - either directly or in the mirror - i would see one (or sometimes more, superimposed) of three things there: sometimes i see my arms there, although the appearance is shadowy - as though they are mere ghosts of my arms; more often, however, i see no arms at all - not just the absence of the right that was removed in the dream, but also the left; but the one that fascinates - and disturbs - me the most is when i see bilateral prostheses. I no longer can ever see my natural biologic arms there in any substantial way, even when i am using them and trying to perceive them; i also have no feeling in them at all, except an occasional chill...
The thing that bothered me most about the third image is that it was not something that i could envision conjuring in my mind: to my conscious awareness, i never wanted prostheses - as i'd frequently said among the BIID support groups, if i wanted arms, i'd keep the biologics i had, since they're generally much more useful, efficient, and lighter weight than any available alternatives. Why, then, would i picture myself wearing them? Unless... and this is the thought that disturbed me most of all... unless i really WAS wearing them, and i had no arms in the first place. Could it really be the case that i'd been armless the whole time, and that my mind had created a delusion that the prosthetics i'd been using for years were actually my own natural, biologic arms? Were my BIID desires merely an expression of my mind trying to catch up with my body in accepting myself as armless, rather than trying to bring my body into alignment with my mind by removing limbs that were already gone?
Certainly, my perceptions were leading me inexorably down a path toward the inevitable conclusion that i currently do not have arms; but i still was not ready to accept the implications of where this led. I had opened Pandora's Box, and was trekking full throttle past the warning signs reading "Here There Be Dragons!" - but i needed to know the truth, one way or another; if it cost me my sanity, sobeit - my perceptions had become sufficiently unreliable that this may have already been a casualty.
If i accept my current set of perceptions as reasonably accurate (i.e. I now have no arms), then logic would dictate that there are two possibilities: either i had them and lost them, or they never were there at all. The former case yields two corollaries: there was a time, before which i had them, AND there was at least one specific event which caused them to be lost. Obviously (or so i thought), this could easily be checked, but first, the initial assumption upon which all was predicated must be verified. While my arms were off, i posed topless for the camera, and snapped a photo of myself; i couldn't get far enough away for a full body pic and still reach the button with my toe, so i framed it from chin to waist. Sure enough, the photo showed nothing dangling from my shoulders, but i already knew that my own perceptions were not to be trusted, so i shared the photo with several friends (online, of course - my severe social anxiety/phobia prevents me from interacting with many people irl).
I'm not sure exactly what i was expecting, but sharing that photo yielded many different responses. All who saw it agreed on one point, though: it definitely depicted an armless torso. The primary questions were: was it edited, was it really me, or was it somehow staged. Despite being unable to trust my own perceptions, i felt confident enough in my memory of the answers to those three questions (no, yes, and no, respectively) that i felt it was safe to proceed on the assumption that, at present, i am indeed without biologic arms on my body. For awhile i toyed with the paradoxical idea that i simultaneously both have arms and do not have arms, but common sense rejects that hypothesis as irrational. This leaves very few possibilities, including: (a) the now-obvious fact that i have no arms, (b) a massive conspiracy amongst those around me to encourage me to believe that i have no arms, or (c) a severe schizophrenic condition in which the people around me, who see the same thing that i do, simply do not exist.
Once i finally accepted that i now have no arms, the next logical step for me was to try to figure out when i'd lost them. This was not the trivial task i'd expected it to be. I started by asking the few people who had known me in real life and seen me face-to-face if i had arms when they last saw me. Most simply dismissed the question without answering it either way - since the answer (whichever might be the truth) is so incredibly obvious as to make it unworthy of a response. A few were kind enough to respond 'of course you did', but hedge it with a 'but' - and continuing by backing away from anything that would indicate natural biologic arms, instead making their answer fit more neatly with prostheses. I went searching for old photographs of myself, but only found face shots - none showing anything below the neck. Quite simply put, i came to the disturbing realization that i could find NO conclusive evidence that i had EVER had natural arms.
Suddenly, much fell into place... my prosthetics were the only arms that i'd ever known, so they were 'my arms'; my mind had created within itself the belief that they were 'natural', but always remained nagged by the sense that they were not truly part of my body, that they didn't belong, and that they were mere external 'tools'. It even accounts for my social anxiety/phobia - my overwhelming fear of meeting people in real life, where they would see what a 'freak' i am. It helps to explain why i've always been so terrible at any kind of 'real-time' video games, only being competent at those which are turn-based. It explains why my typos are phonetic, rather than key-proximity related (e.g. i'll often typo 'awake' as 'away' by slurring the final consonant into my voice-recognition software, rather than typing it as 'awale' by having the right-hand shifted to the right by one key). So many of my peculiar, idiosyncratic conditions would be so neatly and easily explained by accepting this one simple fact.
Now that the delusion of my arms has been fractured and has begun (ed: once again, i catch myself in phonetic typo - the word that initially appeared on the screen as i typed that was 'become') to dissolve, and i'm ready to accept the truth about my lack of arms, i'm left with yet another somewhat disturbing question: why does my BIID image portray me as quad? Is there also something i should know about my legs, as well?
...to be continued.