Depersonalization and Creativity

I know my blog has covered a lot about the dissociative disorder known as depersonalization, but since there are so few people who are diagnosed with it, and some people who have been diagnosed with it have reached out to talk about it, I thought it was best that I cover my experiences so others might learn from them.

Anxiety is not really fun, as probably many people can attest to, and it affects various aspects of our lives. When anxiety and depression combine to create depersonalization, this can have a profound effect on a person’s livelihood and outlook.

One of the most frustrating parts of my journey with depersonalization has been the impact it has had on my creativity.

As a child, I had an amazingly active imagination. Some teachers grew completely frustrated with me as I’d day-dream away in class (I was actually paying attention to what they were talking about too, which is why they were frustrated) or doodle my ideas down on paper. My mind was this wonderful imagination factory. Sometimes, I’d even hide away in the basement or my bedroom and act out these scenes blossoming in my head.

At the beginning of 2014, my creativity coursed through every inch of my body. I had what I felt was an awesome idea for a novel, which I started on. This spurred me to look at refining my writing abilities as well, so I ended up enrolling in Advanced Fiction Writing at Massey University. (If you are going towards, or have, a degree in English, and you are eligible to study this course, I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

In short, I was a mean, lean, writing machine. My creativity exploded like a volcano, and it kept erupting, erupting, erupting with so much energy and life that I felt like I had rounded a corner in my life and my creative energies could easily be contained and channelled as a never-ending source from some deep well within me.

Due to several external reasons that one day I might expand upon, my anxiety and depression gnawed away at me later that year, until, quite suddenly, they consumed me. The warning signs of a major depressive episode were flashing, and I took heed, arranging to see a new counselor, but by the time we had our first session, all the connections to my emotions were gone. Depersonalization had settled in.

I’ve covered how that specifically felt, and the recovery itself, but one of the most frustrating things during my recovery has been reconnecting with my creativity. Before the depersonalization, worlds would blossom in my mind like a field full of wildflowers, and I’d have no problem traipsing through, picking the choicest blooms. But now, very often, the field is brown and withered. When something sprouts, I have to approach with trepidation and care, because it could die if I rush it, and then I’m left with nothing.

Sometimes, I’m easy on myself. Sometimes, the idea finds its way to a note on my phone or the first few sentences meet the page, get saved, then filed away for future reference. You see, the first several words emerge, and then the energy simply drains away from me. Part of me grows angry and wants to keep going, but if it keeps going, I lose the magic, which frustrates me further, which makes me even sloppier, which frustrates me further — wash, rinse, repeat. Another part of me is afraid; I’ve already lost my creativity once and I don’t want to lose it again, perhaps forever.

So this delicate waltz keeps being danced inside me: the spark of inspiration, the scribing of words, the creativity dying. One-two-three, one-two-three, like my Mom teaching me to dance in our kitchen when I was 12.

I fought through depersonalization by sometimes going outside my comfort zone and sometimes taking it easy on myself. With previous injuries, continuously pushing myself only led to a longer recovery, and I was mindful of this during those recoveries.

Part of this reason is why I go through fits and starts of writing blogs. Blogs, for me, are easier, because they don’t need as much creativity or energy because, well, I’m writing about real life. My life. There’s no “right” answer or “right” way of arranging the words.

I’ve said in previous blogs that part of me is excited because depersonalization has given me a blank slate, in many ways, in my life. What I once enjoyed is merely tolerable now — neither enjoyed nor disliked — and that unfolds other opportunities to me. That’s at least how the optimistic side of me sees it.

But the pessimistic side of me is frustrated. Angry. I feel robbed. The only thing I can compare it to is what I imagine what losing a limb must feel like: the phantom sensations, the dreams of being whole to awaken to the harsh reality of being not as complete as you once were. I feel like I’m driving on the highway of life while looking at the rear view mirror.

Will the creativity come back? I think so. Maybe differently. I feel it surge in me sometimes, and I need to learn to pin it down better and flow with it until the energy is gone. This is how I recovered my emotions when I had depersonalization. The emotion broke through the wall of depersonalization — sometimes very quickly and very harshly and very strongly — and I learned to acknowledge it, ride the emotion out, deal with it, and then let it fade naturally. (Using the limb lost imagery: imagine losing your leg and learning to walk again. That’s what reconnecting to my emotions has been like.)

There have been good things to nudge me in the right direction with my creativity. This year, I refined my story “The Replacement” a few times, and even made the ballsy move to submit it to The New Yorker, and, after not hearing anything back from them, to The Atlantic. No answer means rejection from those two publications — and let’s face it, the odds of me getting published in either one at the moment is really minuscule — but I reworked parts of the story and expanded more parts, as per the feedback I received on Scribophile, and submit it again to Glimmer Train Press for consideration in a fiction-writing contest they were holding. While this isn’t creative as much as refining the story I have, there were small creative elements to it this latest round by adding scenes. Do I think they are as strong as the other scenes in the story? No. But with more revisions, especially when I have that creative spark flickering, it will get better.

What am I saying here? If you have depersonalization, or any other condition that’s stiffled your creativity, be patient, be kind, be strong, be resilient, and keep working at regaining it, slowly but surely. You will get there. Have faith.