Depersonalisation and Me

Sorry for the radio silence, everyone.  Jet lag and I have a hate-hate relationship, and this time, she decided she’d really kick my ass.  It was my intention to blog yesterday for a posting later yesterday, but I went to bed the night before at around 11 PM and sat and stared at the ceiling, walls, clock, ceiling fan, etc until I finally fell asleep at around 5 AM, only to wake up at 8 AM, sore and uncomfortable.  Last night was definitely a better night for sleeping.

Speaking of last night, Noel and I went over to Darcie and Brian’s for dinner.  We had a great time and enjoyed spending time with the kids too.

During our conversation, my depersonalisation came up somehow, and I tried to explain it to Darcie but I was still pretty tired and out of it, so instead of being in danger of repeating myself a few times, I thought I’d put it down on paper.  Or screen.  You know what I mean.  (I’m a poet…)

Depersonalisation is a dissociative disorder that happens mentally, usually after something stressful like a personal trauma: witnessing something our minds can’t process very well, being attacked, dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, those sorts of things.  In my case, on-going anxiety and stress, coupled with the fallout from the earthquakes, many deaths of our pets and family members over the last few years, and a sharp, deep bout of depression, triggered my case of depersonalisation.

Depersonalisation is the feeling of a separation of a person from their body, usually mostly a separation of awareness of emotions from feeling of emotions (the act of laughing from feeling actual joy in laughing) but sometimes a separation of physical awareness from physical feelings (our hand touching our head and knowing it is our hand opposed to our hand touching our head and not feeling as if it’s our hand).

In the illustration above, I wrote about the separation of the act of laughing — the creeping smile, the welling up of laughter, the physical shaking as the laugh comes forth and grows — from the actual joy and happiness felt during that laughter.  This is mainly what I have been facing.  I can laugh; I look happy; I sound happy.  But I feel no joy, no happiness: only a flatness.

We all face depersonalisation in our lives, but with most people, this happens in short, quick bursts, and most of us remain unaware of this.  As I explained in my previous blog, “Fallout“, we came back from Chicago in September 2014, and I fell into a deep depression.  This lasted for a few weeks until, suddenly, I felt nothing at all.

So if we think of our brains as an electrical system in a house with a safety shutoff system in case of an overload, this can help us visualise what depersonalisation is. Imagine there’s a surge in your power supply.  Your fuse board throws the switches, and your house is plunged into darkness.  Most (if not all) of your appliances should be saved from the power surge but, unless you throw the switches on the fuse board again, your house will still be in darkness.

The anxiety and emotional turmoil in my life was that surge, and my brain threw all the switches to protect me emotionally and stop an overload.  Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to throw the switches back on in this case.

There is no medication to cure or ease depersonalisation.  I may face long bouts of depersonalisation in my future as sometimes it relapses.

I do not need to take days off work to deal with it.  It does not affect my day-to-day work life for the most part.  I wouldn’t see how it would make me need to take a day off work in the future, either, because it’s not that sort of illness / condition.

In some cases, people with depersonalisation face events like seeing themselves outside of their body, feeling as if body parts are not theirs or detached from their body, and other such things.  I haven’t really had many of these happen to me, although one or two times I have felt a pulling sensation and another few times I’ve had a few seconds where I have touched my body and felt as if it wasn’t connected or where an arm or leg feels like I am carrying it instead of being my own.  Many other people with depersonalisation fare much worse in these areas.

As I spoke with my counselor about depersonalisation, he pointed out that I take negative emotions and turn them inward instead of using them positively or expressing them.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and stress.  Part of my problem is I can be unaware of the physical responses the anxiety triggers: tight jaw, tense shoulders, butterflies in the stomach.  (Over time, these have faded with the adrenaline fatigue I have from every flight-or-fight response from every aftershock.  I likened this to an adrenaline junkie who needs a bigger daredevil challenge to feel the same rush he felt in a smaller challenge earlier.)

After several sessions, the emotions started to emerge at random times, and this also was a very disturbing sensation in its own right.  I’d suddenly get overwhelmingly sad about something, the feeling spiralling out of control, suddenly to feel the depersonalisation kick in.  The only sensation I could liken this to was it was like a midget was sitting on my shoulders and pulling my head back.  A tightening sensation wrapped around my brain and squeezed, and the lack of emotion would be there again.  The harder I fought back, the worse it got.

(Imagine learning emotions again for the first time.  This is why it can be so overwhelming.)

Both Noel and my counselor (at least) have seen this take place on my face.  I’d be facing these emotions when suddenly a wave washed over me, which I can only describe as it is above, or sometimes it was as if I suddenly had become overwhelmingly tired, and my face went completely blank as the depersonalisation flowed onto my beach.  The counselor helped point out that maybe I shouldn’t try to fight it so much; be aware of the emotion, allow the emotion to take place and run its course, and if it fades, let it go.

When I started to do this, I found it helped.  Trying to fight back created more anxiety, which, in turn, would make the depersonalisation worse.  So why fight back?  If I didn’t, the anxiety wasn’t there.  The depersonalisation was there, sure, but it was at the same level as it was before and not worse.

As time went by, it was as if emotions would bubble to the surface on the ebbs and flows of my personality, then sink back into the dark depths of the ocean that is me.  Slowly, with time, these emotions became more accessible and not as sharp as they had been once I started reassociating with them.

But the depersonalisation is still there.  When we were flying back to Chicago, I was excited, but I got so excited that by the time I arrived in Chicago, I was emotionally flat again.  I have been feeling a lot more in bursts, like when we went to Culvers with the entire family for lunch on Wednesday, the first day we were here.

At other times, when things that probably most people would easily take in their stride happen, I feel overwhelmed and the depersonalisation kicks in.  As I said before, it’s like a safety goes off, and my brain triggers it to protect me.

One of the other problems about my depersonalisation is the disconnect with myself.  Living in New Zealand, I have become somewhat isolated from others, and while sometimes I cherish that isolation (as I sometimes like my own company), sometimes that isolation can be crippling as well.

I’ve helped others with their dreams, their visions, their goals, their lives, yet what do I want out of life?  What are my dreams, my visions, my goals?

I’ve become so disconnected from myself, so isolated from myself, that I don’t know.  I don’t know, I can’t remember.  In one way, this can be exciting, dealing with a blank slate; in another way, it’s very scary.

But, going back to the isolation: its effect grows stronger and stronger by the day.

The problem is, if I can’t connect to myself, how can I connect to other people?  Some people have been very understanding of this, and you know who you are; thank you.  Other people haven’t been so understanding, and that has hurt me.  I can’t try to take care of myself and stoke their ego at the same time.  I am unwell.  I am fighting to get better.  I can’t handle trying to get better and help them feel better about me not responding how I used to respond.

I find it hard to concentrate sometimes.  I might ask you to repeat something.  If you talk a lot, or if I am involved in a conversation where I am having a hard time getting a word in edgewise, or having trouble keeping up, I either get shitty or I give up and zone out completely.  I might need help in completing what, to you, might seem like a simple task.  I am somewhat forgetful.  I sometimes need my own time and my own space, to regroup and recharge, and I need you to leave me alone during that time; this doesn’t mean I want to be isolated.

I don’t need to be treated with kid gloves but I do need your patience.  I don’t need you to explain something to me like I’m a 5 year old, but you may need to slow down when you’re explaining something that involves several steps.

Most importantly, remember I am still me.  If you are someone who knows me and loves me, be tolerant and be supportive.  I am getting better.  I am working hard to get better.  I am determined to get better.  I want to reconnect with my emotions. And if you’re not sure about something, ask.  If you know me, I don’t get offended that easily.

If you’d like a really good resource to read about helping a person with depersonalisation, I have linked to this article before on my Facebook page: “5 Tips On How To Help A Loved One Suffering From Depersonalization or Derealization” by Madison Murray on Thought Catalog.  Fluro lighting isn’t really an issue for me and neither is the drinking part, but the rest really rings true.

Thanks for reading!