I haven’t been writing blogs lately. I have been writing — I am really enjoying my creative writing course through the Hagley Writers’ Institute, even catching up with my fellow students over our 5 week break between classes — but I haven’t been up to much blogging.
To bring you up to speed — and I might write more about this in another blog — my husband Noel had a routine medical test earlier this year, and it prompted having a more major but routine medical test on 11 March. The specialist found pre-cancerous growths, they were removed, but the 1-in-3,000 complication of bleeding further happened to Noel. I had a bad feeling when I went to work the day after the procedure because he looked very pale, and my gut feeling told me to come home early. I did and just as well; he collapsed soon after I got home.
He went into quite a severe state of shock. An ambulance arrived. We spent over 5 hours in the emergency room. Luckily, he’s a pretty stoic and healthy guy. The combination of blood loss (around 2 litres over the period of a day) and not eating and drinking meant he’d passed out. He was pretty close to having a blood transfusion. They admitted him overnight, and I went home by myself, which is a strange situation to be in since we are pretty much always together.
He was discharged the next day, but spent the next week on bedrest, and it has taken weeks for him to regain his energy and strength. He seems a bit better now.
But on to what I really was going to write about today.
As many of my loyal readers know, I have been trying to recover from the dissociative disorder known as depersonalization. I bob back and forth between feeling normal and feeling numb. The recovery took a big step back with Noel’s collapse; even speaking about it at first aid training over a month later, I was overcome with a lot of anxiety, and that flared up the depersonalization really strongly that day to the point where my colleagues (God bless them) stepped in and covered for me because I had no idea what the heck I was doing. Basically, I struggled to put into action what we were learning.
Yesterday was my first counselling session for three weeks due to school holidays and my counselor having other commitments.
I was feeling moderately “normal” — and I did have to define that, and what I mean by “normal” is being emotionally connected to myself in a way most people are to themselves — and I felt I could discuss things openly.
We spoke about this shifting in my emotional engagement, and how it doesn’t seem to be consistent now. Think of a trombone and how the slide moves back and forth; that’s how my emotional engagement feels now. Never a slow movement, quite sudden and without any sort of pattern. And that led to more personal stories about me and my journey.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my bed, trying to put socks on. And then, suddenly, I struggled to comprehend how to put my socks on. Part of me grew extremely frustrated. Another part told me, “Breathe. Stop and breathe.” Another panicked; “What the fuck is going on? They’re socks! You’ve put on your own socks since… well, a long time!”
I can’t explain what happened other than the act of putting on socks suddenly and completely became foreign to me. It was like I was putting on a piece of clothing on another person and couldn’t remember how to do it because I wasn’t doing it to myself.
My counselor Michael was a bit shocked. He said, out of everything I’d ever told him over the years, that was the most striking and most emotionally harrowing thing I had ever said. I think it was because it was so very much a raw confession of how utterly hopeless I can feel sometimes. How this disorder can render me to a very vulnerable and very basic state at times.
I continued. Sometimes, my hand or arm feels like someone else’s. In the shower, putting gel on or cleaning myself, I’ve had times where my hand feels like it is someone else’s, and it makes me feel very uncomfortable. By saying uncomfortable, it’s like when someone you don’t really like touches you or makes an inappropriate comment that makes your flesh crawl. That kind of uncomfortable.
When I stand in front of the mirror sometimes, I look at my reflection, but I don’t recognize it as me. Or I recognize it as part of me but not fully me. Like, the jaw line is familiar but my eyes aren’t (so I concentrate on the jaw line). Sometimes this can last for seconds, and sometimes this can last for days. There are days where I can’t look at myself in the mirror because I am scared, or I am wary, or I can’t deal with that level of dissociation.
The most frequent thing, I admitted, was when I am speaking to someone, but it’s an autopilot voice saying a laundry list of things from an automaton that looks like me. In those moments, I feel like I am a ghost or a spirit, slightly to the side of, or behind, my doppelgänger. He’s confident, he knows what he’s talking about, he’s having an adult conversation; I’m to the side, shy, reserved, but what does it matter? When I try to speak, he speaks for me, so my voice isn’t important.
And then I struggled the rest of the session to engage emotionally. See, something inside me gets tired. Emotionally drained. I’m not really sure what that mechanism is yet, but it happens a lot. I likened it to watching a really good movie. You’re really into the movie, it gets to the climax, and maybe you feel happy or sad or angry: a really strong set of emotions because you’re really engaged in this story. And when the denouement happens after, those emotions drain as you get ready to leave the story. You walk away from the movie feeling emotionally spent but satisfied too. The feeling I get is similar to that.
There are other examples of these moments, though.
Back in the States one year, my brothers, my nephews, Noel, and I were playing Monopoly. It wasn’t the paper money one but one you got a play credit card instead. That threw me for a loop. My brother Brian kept looking at me, and I think part of him was horrified that I kept repeating the same questions over and over. I couldn’t understand how to play that part of the game. What was this credit card? How did it work? How do I do this again? And Noel, God bless him, stepped in and kept showing me how to do it. There was a lot of grace in those moments. But I keep thinking about Brian and how utterly shocked he was how strongly this mental illness had a grasp on me.
Another time, we were at Garth and Renee’s house playing a game I hadn’t played in a long time. Something like Yahtzee I think. Noel was there too. I was very open and honest with them that I was struggling to play because it had been very long since I had played, and the game was chaotic as-was, and that completely fucks with my depersonalization. Again, they all helped me out. I appreciated that very much.
One of the tenderest of times was when one of my closest friends Anne, her husband (and my friend) Steve, Noel and I went out to lunch one day in the States. There were chopsticks involved. I was so anxious about using chopsticks that I completely fell apart. I struggled with everything. Anne saw this — she’s the Leia to my Luke — and she got up and helped me by holding the utensil in my hand and moving my hand to get used to the motion again.
I felt utterly helpless and utterly hopeless, but there was such serenity in that moment, such care and love and understand, and most of all, lack of judgment, that I could relax and let her show me.
In moments like that, you feel the true love and true care other people feel for you.
Noel helping me play a new form of Monopoly.
Garth and Renee patiently explaining the rules to Yahtzee and making sure I understood them.
Anne stepping over and taking my hand, placing the chopsticks in them, and mimicking the movements, slowly, with care, with patience, with love, and helping me use them so I could eat.
There is something very difficult in surrendering and saying you need help, or accepting help. But there’s also something very strong in admitting you need that help and accepting it too.
Back to counselling yesterday: at the very end of our session, I seemed to return to some semblance of emotional connection although not a strong one. But I think he was haunted a little by my admission that I was so brutally honest about how depersonalization can affect me. He did say, at one point, that we normally see the happy-go-lucky Scott, and yes, that’s true. That’s what many people see most of the time. But that’s not always the true me.
The true me struggles with basic tasks sometimes.
The true me wonders if there’s something more wrong with me than a dissociative disorder.
The true me has fought this monster for over 6 1/2 years now.
The true me has contemplated ending things so I can be at peace.
The true me finds it difficult to express how truly helpless I feel at times.
The true me is too proud to ask for help a lot of the time.
The true me is humbled (and a bit embarrassed too) when people (loved ones or strangers) step up to help me out.
The true me is frightened I will never be myself again.
As I said to my counselor, I want the slide of the trombone of emotional engagement to become steadier. I need to dismantle my depersonalization all together. And I have made progress, I won’t lie. But I need to keep working on it to get back to the emotionally-engaged person I once was.