Part of depersonalization has been reconnecting with my emotions. Sometimes, that has been easy, and sometimes, that has been a struggle.
As I’ve written in previous blogs, when I started to reconnect with my emotions, they were in short, sharp, very unsettling bursts. After going a while without feeling anything, to feel something can be both overwhelming and foreign. It’s like what I’d imagine learning to talk again after having a brain injury would be like; everything we took for granted, everything we learned so very long ago, now pushed back to near square one. Frustrating, scary, overwhelmingly difficult. But we push through.
Dreams can be an important tool for us. When I was younger, I used to remember a great chunk of my dreams, but as I grew older (and got a CPAP for sleep apnea due to a malformation in my throat), this ability decreased.
There have been times where a dream I have will bring closure to something. I kept having recurring dreams about my Oma in the month after she died, until one night, about a month or so after she lost her battle to cancer, I had a hyper-real dream — in these dreams, there is a “message” and the people, situations, and locations seem sharper, clearer, the colors stronger, as if something is saying, “Pay attention” — with my Oma in it.
We were in the kitchen in their house on School Street, the house we’d visit for every-other Christmas Eve and after church a lot of Sundays. Oma loved giving Brian, Jeremy, and me Gummi Bären (gummy bears for you non-German speakers) in these little wooden-patterned bowls, and we’d sit at the table in the kitchen and eat them; this time was no exception.
It was only me and her in the kitchen. The colors were vibrant; the sunshine was a bright, warm orange; the olives and yellows and oranges in the kitchen popped.
Oma was standing near the sink, looking out the window, and the sun was streaming in. The conversation went something like this:
“I got you some Gummi Bären.”
“I don’t understand. I thought you were dead.”
She shrugged as she approached. “We never really ever die. We move on.”
“It’s stranger and more complicated than you can imagine.”
It was around this point I started to cry and told her I missed her, and how sorry I was that I didn’t get to say good-bye.
She was upset as well, and she pulled me close as we cried together. She told me she loved me, and she would be with me in one way or another forever.
Oma seemed to hold me in that space for a long while, and I remember feeling safe, happy, and loved as she hugged me close. There was an underlying strength in the hug, as if she was trying to give me as much of her strength as she could.
The transition between dreaming and waking was a smooth one, a kind of fading out of the world of dreams and fading in to the world of life.
And things felt different. I wasn’t exactly happy, but I was at peace with Oma’s death. It no longer felt surreal, but something real that happened, and that something real that happened was now something my mind accepted as fact instead of some abstract notion.
Whether you feel that that dream was a transcendental meeting between our spirits — me in the world of the living, she in the world of the dead, assembling in some neutral space between — or that it was merely my mind reconciling her death to help me accept it is honestly neither here nor there. There are hues of truth in both statements, I feel. It was an amazing experience in every sense of the word, and it brought me an island of peace in an ocean filled with an emotional storm.
So, to me, dreams can be an important tool to help us reconcile and recover. If we’re able to access them and their meanings, they can hold important clues, messages, and tools to help us in our waking lives.
Last night, I had a myriad of dreams, but one stood out more than the others.
I was walking through an airport or a train station or some place where there are a lot of people going from one place to another. There were towering windows and ceilings in the intersection of terminals where I was at. The ceilings arched quite high in that middle section, and were still pretty high in the connected terminals I could see. Outside, through the skylights, it looked like a fine afternoon. The color scheme of the place was grays, dark blues, and the people all fit into this scheme except two people.
There was a man sitting at a bank of chairs to the right of the area I was walking through, helping another man who was somehow mentally and physically impaired. That second man had barely any control of his functions; the first man appeared to be the one who had to feed him, wheel him around, and so on. Unlike everyone and everything else, they had brighter colors on their clothes: reds, yellows, lighter blues.
As I walked by, the carer did something strange. He took the man’s hand, scooped a bunch of a stew-like meal on a large spoon, and flung it at me. It landed on the back of my head, all throughout my hair, and I could feel the liquid running down my scalp, into my neck, and throughout the top of my shirt.
I stopped. “What the fuck did you do that for?” The emotions seemed distant but swirling: anger, sadness, frustration, fear, shame.
Grasping at the back of my neck and shirt and through my hair, I looked up and noticed everyone had stopped and was looking at me.
The carer got up and was near me, saying, “It was just a joke, man.” Pointing back at the person he was caring for, he added, “Isn’t it funny? He thinks it’s funny. Look at him. He needs some humor in his life.”
I was in shock. I thought, Oh my God, I am going to have to be in transit with this stuff all throughout my hair and in my clothes and all over me for hours. I’m going to smell and be sticky and uncomfortable and it will be so embarrassing. The shame and humiliation would be compounded over the hours.
Somehow, the carer had led me to a private room adjacent to the area, and he was gabbing on about any pointless thing that he could as I felt shame and sadness and anger growing deeper and stronger within me. All the years of being bullied, all the years of gaslighting, all the years of mixed messages and unrequited love, all the years of feeling isolated, all the shame and hurt and humiliation I’ve had to endure throughout my entire life, swirled into one big deep well inside me, and the threads of connection to these feelings kept braiding until mooring lines tethered me to them and yanked me close.
The sorrow and grief were deep. I could feel this endless depth to those feelings, but I could also feel that depth extending to the surface. Over four decades of pain finally surfacing at one time.
A deep sobbing started. I could feel all the pain and anger and frustration and sadness and grief surging with every contraction, every intake of air, every sob. Complete, overwhelming connection.
Then, like as what happens in any dream where I feel threatened, my mind woke me up.
It seems that maladaptive coping mechanism is buried a lot deeper than I thought.