Recovery from illness is difficult, especially a major one. I have dealt with recovery before: from broken bones, from earthquake injuries, from depression, from inflammatory disorders, from a mystery virus that caused me physical exhaustion and mental anguish. But somehow, this recovery from depersonalization is different.
I hadn’t really noticed it much in the last few months since I became mostly free from this somewhat rare yet very disturbing disorder that robs a person of access to the feelings his emotional responses create, but I’m more disturbed now. Feeling happy? As the feeling goes along its merry little way, an analytical section of me hijacks the afterglow of the feeling, scanning every second, demanding to know what triggered the happiness, why it faded, how long it took to fizzle out, and, finally, the fear of wondering: will it ever come back? Will the happiness ever return for longer than a few seconds? And the double-edged sword of a question: will I always be this numb from now on or will I return to normal ever?
I am an optimist mostly. I want to get back to “normal” and I’m working hard to get back there. Even in a late April session with my counselor (I wrote this post on 22 April 2016, the day after we discussed this), he told me that he can tell I’m working extremely hard to recover.
But he also said there’s a danger that the constant critic in my head is expecting too much too quickly, and the critic has the potential to do so much more damage than what’s already been done.
It made me pause. And the answer came back that the critic in my head echoes how that part of me believes others perceive me with this illness I’m recovering from.
There are no wounds you can see. There are no scabs where I’m healing, there are no scars where I’ve healed.
This war has happened, and continues to rage, on the invisible battleground in my mind. Part of me thinks everyone must feel I’m making it all up, for attention or for sympathy or for an easy ride. But I know the reality is, I’ve had a major mental dissociative episode (which could have been a lot worse), and it’s going to take time to heal, visible scars or not.
Like a stroke or a heart attack, there’s a period after of recovery, of hopefully returning to normal, or as normal as anyone can become. Learning to reconnect with my emotions has been a struggle, because we take these connections for granted normally, but when I lost mine, it shook me deeply to my core.
There’s the odd sensation of realizing I’m feeling something again, the struggle between conflicting emotions, the analysis of what triggered this, why it triggered it, how, and, as the feeling fades, how can I trigger it once more and when will I feel that way again? That process causes anxiety, and sometimes despair and anguish, which can fuel the dissociative depersonalization, which seriously impedes further emotions and… I’m sure you get the idea.
Lately, a lot of my life feels flat. It’s mostly like keeping afloat: sometimes thinking I’m doing okay, other times panicking I’m going under soon. The stimulants that normally jolt me back to a happier place aren’t working. Then, suddenly, something comes along, makes the emotional responses pop, pop, pop until anxiety overwhelms me again or the quick fire of emotional energy makes me suddenly mentally tired. That upsets me a great deal.
So, what can you, as my friend, as someone who loves me and cares for me, do? Just keep interacting with me positively. Even a laugh or a smile makes my day a zillion times better. Be patient with me. I get upset or angry so much quicker than I used to because I’m frustrated with myself for being a lot less able to cope than I used to be. Understand it’s really hard for me to multitask sometimes. I have a hard time focusing, which makes it difficult for me to complete any task well, and if I do, I feel burned out really quickly. I know you have problems, or you’re excited about something amazing in your life, but I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with that sometimes because, at times, I can barely look after myself and my needs. (I feel very super guilty about this because I feel selfish. But I can’t help you or feel for you if I’m burned out myself.). And stressing me or giving me too much to do? Forget it. Anxiety overwhelms me, and I can’t focus, and you might as well set my computer on fire because the heat generated by that fire will at least be more productive than I’ll be.
Thank you to those of you who’ve been supportive of me. Thank you to those who might not understand but don’t judge and roll with the punches. Thank you to those of you who’ve held my hand, even metaphorically, to guide me along when recovery hasn’t always been easy. And thank you to those of you — and there have been many in my life — who have taken the time out of their busy lives to simply listen or read me talk about this disorder and who have gone out of their way to cheer me up, even through what might seem like a small act of kindness to you; it means the world to me.