The Depersonalization Strikes Back: 5 May 2020

Since I’ve returned to working on campus at The Place Where I Work, my depersonalization symptoms have been very strong.

There’s been a disconnect for hours, or even days, between me and my emotions, and as I said to my counselor today, I’m not sure if it is anxiety or stress or some other aspect coming out to play. Is it a response to the threat of COVID-19? The overwhelming amount of work I need to catch up on? The scattershot approach to work some days? At first, I wasn’t sure.

One thing I am sure of though: this week, I’ve hit the pillow and kept a pretty solid sleep going on for most of the night. I changed my magnesium supplements (to stop the occasion cramps but ever-present muscle tremors) and that seems to help. But there also seems to be an element of fatigue and over-tiredness at play too. As if the only time I can rest, can let my guard down, can finally relax is when I am asleep.

In my counselling session today, we spoke about the return to the depersonalized state.

Yesterday, for example, I felt very little stress and anxiety but kept ebbing and flowing with depersonalization.

Today, I woke up sore and feeling physically unwell, and that built as I didn’t have a chance to address it right away, but then the depersonalization symptoms kicked in a little.

After working on a spreadsheet (yuck) dealing with funding numbers and accounting stuff (really yuck) and struggling to deal with that (ugh) because anything dealing with money and finances and accounting is not my thing (blah), the depersonalization symptoms came on stronger. Stronger as in there were moments where I was experiencing derealization too.

But still, we fight on. I did fight on through the spreadsheet. And then, I had trouble concentrating on tasks, so instead of doing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, I was doing 1, 5, 4, 6, 2, 3, 5, 4, 7. Really not the ideal way to complete things.

My counselor and I spoke about how I was frustrated with myself because of this, but the frustration was boiling deep inside with a mismatch of connection with me, and then a lack of connection showing the rest of the world. He seemed to start chiding me about it — “I can’t see it, you aren’t exhibiting it” — but I’ve become a master at hiding what I feel so I don’t become a target. And that’s a painful place to be. Disconnected from others but disconnected from myself and my emotions too.

There’s a strong fear that an extreme emotional response might occur, where I fly off the rails completely and that threatens the way others see and perceive me.

And then there’s the strong lack of emotional response — the depersonalization — that pulls me back to the other extreme.

See? There’s no middle ground. I don’t allow myself to have a middle ground. It’s either fear of the extreme or the lack of emotional connect in the other extreme. I don’t trust myself to handle the emotions, so I default back to no feelings.

That’s not living. That’s barely even surviving. That’s being a robot. Going through the motions. Making it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, a heart beating buried in a bunch of meat, wrapped in flesh that’s numb inside and out.

I hate it. I hate it, and I am frustrated by it, and I am sad by it, and I am angry this is what I have become, and I don’t want to be like this any more.

I need to work on it, I told my counselor. I’m frustrated because I worked so hard on it for such a long time, and I seemed to be at some semblance of human again.

But I’ve lost so much of who and what I am through this illness, and what I haven’t shed (which is a lot) has retreated into a small space inside of me, wagons circling, too afraid to venture out in case the rest of me is lost in some grand final stand against depersonalization.

The options presented to me have become the opposite poles of emotional response: rage or numbness; deep depression caused by sadness and grief or numbness; annoying frustration or numbness. There’s no middle ground presented. There’s no normalcy around.

But sometimes when I push back against the numbness, it strikes back harder, with physical symptoms like someone pulling hard on my brain. And it seems strange that when I feel like muscles are pulled in my body, I get cramps, I have a stress headache, these things finally can numb out into a depersonalized type of state.

So it’s not always mental or emotional pain but physical pain too which is causing it.

By the time the session ended, I was feeling more human again. Grounded a bit more. Reconnecting with my emotions.

But this burned out in the evening.

We watched a show where a British family are placed in Africa. They have their house, their belongings, their way of life completely replicated on the edge of an African village, where the women have their breasts bare and the men are married to more than one woman. There’s a disconnect there between the cultures, but the people themselves find the common spaces and there’s such love and such compassion and such caring that the viewer can’t help but feel moved.

And I do feel moved. This is humanity at its best and finest. Language is no barrier. A touch, a smile, a laugh, a shared experience proves to us that we can get along, we can do this as a species, we can find common ground and work together to survive.

I think I feel jealous. I understand the concepts. I feel moved deep inside me and want to be a part of that: no judgment, no judging, just acceptance and love both given and received. And I do get that in some aspects in my life, and I can cope with the concept between others but not between me and other people in my life. So I exclude myself automatically as I tell myself I am not good enough for these things. I push love and happiness and care away from myself and then away from others showing me those things.

We shifted to a gardening program we are watching on Netflix, and I am inspired by the originality and creativity some teams are exuding. And again, I am moved by the emotional bonds between the individuals in the teams — a gay couple hugging, another gay couple (of friends?) holding hands, other members of other teams consoling each other, working together, laughing, having fun — and that stirs up something in me and I deaden inside.

It’s a very hard place to live.

It’s something I need very much to work on.

Today in New Zealand, we had no new COVID-19 cases again. It’s been around 3 cases over the last month in total. The last hospitalised person was sent home. We’re down to 21 active cases. On Friday, gatherings increase from 10 people to 100 people. And it looks like we are moving on with things.

There’s a real disconnect, as I wrote about before, between New Zealand and other places in the world. And that causes me anxiety and discomfort too.

I have to admit that I’m feeling very tired right now, even writing about this, but I felt it was important to share.

I hope you are safe and sound, wherever you are, and you are staying in your bubble. Stay kind and love freely.