I’ve written about the familiarity in dreams, the missing of what was once there with someone else but amplified so there was a sense of longing and desire in recovering what was lost. This has been an ongoing dream state in my mind over the last several years, even stronger after the quakes, during which we lost so much: not only physically but also spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
Since my depersonalization diagnosis, a more disturbing dream state has emerged: not recognizing myself. On very rare occasions, this is quite literal. I’ll look into a mirror and not recognize the person gazing back. It’s not me — something isn’t quite right about my face.
This has happened only a few times in my waking life. I remember a high school friend posted a photo of me from a musical we were both in at Prospect High School. I stared at the photo on Facebook on the screen, and while the outfit was familiar, the face wasn’t. Asking a few other people, I found out that yes, it actually was me. I chalked it down to the expression on my face and the facts that I wasn’t wearing glasses and the photo was taken around 25 years ago. That was enough to spook me.
In my dreams, the unfamiliarity with myself leaves me haunted when I wake up: the same feeling I get in the other dreams of familiarity, like some piece is missing inside my memory.
The first major dream I can immediately recall was one where there was an anniversary coming up of a reality television show I’d been involved in when I was in university. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t involved in a reality television show when I was in university.) I don’t quite know the details, but part of the experience involved the castmates being interviewed individually. Part of me pretended I knew what was going on, but part of me betrayed that and let everyone know I didn’t remember the experience at all. There, on the monitors in front of me, my life in the show’s timeframe was shown in all its glory: some of it familiar, most of it not. Even to this day, that feeling of not knowing myself and my own memories chills me to the core.
Another dream involved various parts, but, in one part, I was going out to dinner for a work-related function. On the walls, there were photos of previous dinners who had come in for one important function or another. On one wall, there were two or three photos of me with the people I’d dined with all those years ago (probably 20 years prior), but I didn’t remember the dinner or the restaurant at all. There I was though, smile half-sure, in those photos so it must have been true.
There was more to that dream — it morphed into The Man I Once Loved, his partner, and his children showing up at the restaurant, he ignoring me but his children begging him, then me, to talk — and that compounded the feelings. The children asked me questions like, “Don’t you love me any more? Is that why you don’t talk to me?”, and other such heart-breaking queries. Obviously that only amplified what I was feeling and made me remember the dream more.
In my counseling, we have been discussing issues related to this lately. My previous counselor and I touched on it, because it disturbed me so much: me not recognizing myself. What does that mean?
My current counselor (and my previous counselor addressed this too, before we segued on to another subject) believes I’m so worried about other people, what they think, and how my actions will impact on them and their lives that I have lost track of who I am and what I want.
They are right. I think part of the depersonalization, the part where I feel like it’s both a whole new, big, bright world with so many new options and also the depressing thought that so much that I used to enjoy is no longer enjoyable, is related to this. I had lost the access to my emotions, sure, but this was a part of a larger trend; I lost sight of who I am and what I want out of life. It’s something I am still struggling with and forging ahead on.
There are parts of my life I’m not happy with, and maybe the way I deal with it is by glossing it all over. If I’m numb, I can’t feel disappointment, can I? No. I can’t feel much of anything. Comfortably numb, that’s what I’d be. But it’s not comfortable being numb. Not at all.
I have to admit, the dreams of me not recognizing myself are not as prevalent as they once were, but maybe because this has shifted to torture me in my everyday waking life.
I have to make changes in my life to make myself happy and whole again, to glue the fragments back together. And I have to make those changes soon.