Today’s post is going to be about something a little different to the previous two that I have posted. Im not even completely sure that I will be able to describe this in a way that makes sense, but I am determined to give it a try, in the hopes that someone might be able to relate (and also reassure me of my normality/sanity).
I recently read an article about depersonalization and derealization (my first time being introduced to both of these terms), and I wanted to share my experiences, that I think may align with some of the characteristics of these disorders.
*Please note, however, that these are not disorders that I have been clinically diagnosed with (I have discussed my experiences with my doctor though, as you should with any of your health concerns), and I am in no way claiming to fully understand what it is like to experience the level and extent of disconnectedness, that those suffering from diagnosed depersonalization or derealization face.
So without further ado (I cannot believe I am actually sharing this, holy heck), here we go:
From a young age I have experienced this strange phenomena, where by, sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I don’t relate to the face staring back at me at all. I look at the features of the reflection staring back at me, and it is unfamiliar, completely empty of meaning, like a stranger. During these experiences I begin to feel very disorientated and disconnected from my surroundings. I begin to wonder why this person staring back at me is some how attached to my being. Why this oval, splotchy face? Why those big blue eyes? They do not represent how I feel at all. Wait how do I feel? Who the hell am I? S**T
I remember this occurring when I was as young as 10 years old. I was looking at a photograph of myself that someone had taken, where I was pictured standing outside one of my childhood houses. I felt confused about why I didn’t feel any connection with the little blonde girl in the picture. It frightened me, and I spent the next 10 minutes staring at myself, in my full length mirror.
I had this overwhelming feeling that this wasn’t who I was. This wasn’t my body, or my life. This couldn’t be my room, it looked blurry and distant, like I was looking at it from a far away vantage point. Then to make things even more puzzling, I realised that even if I tried my very hardest to conjure up a clear mental image of myself, I couldn’t do it. It was like I didn’t exist, and all I knew was that I was looking in at a world, and a life, that I was in no way a part of.
Now, I know, this sounds ridiculous (and probably crazy to those of you who consider yourself 100 percent sane). I should have told someone back then how I felt, right? But, you see, the thing is, I always seemed to be able to snap myself out of it. No it wasn’t like I suddenly felt “normal” again. Instead I would shake off the feeling, and distract myself, until I didn’t notice it anymore.I had to, or a panic would begin to writher around in my chest. The panic hurt (turns out this was the beginning of many anxiety issues to come), It frightened me, and made me worry that maybe I was going insane. So instead of questioning myself, I forced myself to forget about it, by watching a movie, or spending time with my siblings, whenever the feeling began to bubble to the surface.
This sickening feeling, which I have grown to fear immensely over the years, has never truly gone away. Sometimes when I am sitting at my mirror, doing my makeup for some special occasion, I will get a pang of sharp pain in my chest, as I realise that I am no longer seing myself. It frightens me so much sometimes, that I have to drop the powder brush in my hand, and get up to pace around my room, to avoid going into what I know, would turn into a full blown panic attack.
What I have grown to wonder, is if maybe everyone would feel this way if they questioned their existance, and their appearance, for long enough? Am I experiencing some kind of dissonance with my body and mind, that needs to be fixed? Or is it simply a matter of over analysing my identity. I will admit that when I first noticed this happening, it was in lieu of spending largely extended periods of time staring at myself (I was an unusual child okay).
I would sit by myself, and analyse the shape of eyebrows, until they looked strange and caterpillar like. I would stare at my mouth, until I began to ponder what a mouth was, why it sat exactly in that spot on my face… maybe I was just an overly paranoid child, as a result of some of my suppressed emotions, or perhaps I have just discovered why we are truly told not to be vain, and to never stare at ourselves for too long. Alas I have not found the answer to these questions yet. I am a working progress, this is what I do know.
My latest method (actually suggested by my lovely councillor a while back) of managing such confusing questions, and sensations , is to simply not dwell on them. I will accept that I have noticed them reappearing, which mostly occurs when I am looking at an image of myself, or into a mirror, and then I will chose to push them back out. This keeps them from interfering with my happiness, and my anxiety levels. I also apply this to other thoughts, such as eating disordered ones, that I know, are only going to have a negative effect on my emotions, and my health.
I guess, the take home message from this blog post (is there one, even I’m confused now), is that you don’t have to let what scares you, control you. You can choose to accept that it exists, whist still not acknowledging it enough, to give it any presence in your day to day thoughts.
I hope that some of you can relate to this, otherwise I am probably just confusing you all (crap, oh well, sorry!), and I hope that it makes at least one person feel a little less frightened of life’s bigger questions. Also if anyone does understand what I am describing, I would love to connect and communicate with you about it all. Thank you all so much for reading, yet again xoxo
P.S If you are interested (which you really should be in my opinion), I have attached below the medical definition, for the conditions that I mentioned at the beginning of this post:
Depersonalization-derealization disorder occurs when you persistently or repeatedly have the feeling that you’re observing yourself from outside your body or you have a sense that things around you aren’t real, or both. Feelings of depersonalization and derealization can be very disturbing and may feel like you’re living in a dream.
- Feelings that you’re an outside observer of your thoughts, feelings, your body or parts of your body — for example, as if you were floating in air above yourself
- Feeling like a robot or that you’re not in control of your speech or movements
- The sense that your body, legs or arms appear distorted, enlarged or shrunken, or that your head is wrapped in cotton
- Emotional or physical numbness of your senses or responses to the world around you
- A sense that your memories lack emotion, and that they may or may not be your own memories
- Feelings of being alienated from or unfamiliar with your surroundings — for example, like you’re living in a movie or a dream
- Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall
- Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings
- Distortions in perception of time, such as recent events feeling like distant past
- Distortions of distance and the size and shape of objects
- Certain personality traits that make you want to avoid or deny difficult situations or make it hard to adapt to difficult situations
- Severe trauma, during childhood or as an adult, such as experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event or abuse
- Severe stress, such as major relationship, financial or work-related issues
- Depression or anxiety, especially severe or prolonged depression, or anxiety with panic attacks
- Using recreational drugs, which can trigger episodes of depersonalization or derealization
- Difficulty focusing on tasks or remembering things
- Interference with work and other routine activities
- Problems in relationships with your family and friends
- Anxiety or depression
- A sense of hopelessness
Reference: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization-disorder/home/ovc-20318895