Photo is the cover of the graphic novel, Fight Club 2, written by Chuck Palahniuk, illustrated by Cameron Stewart, and David W. Mack
Trigger Warning: mention of suicide and self harm.
The first time I felt it I was staring at my favorite blanket I have hung on my wall that I bought myself for my birthday. I’m the type of person who feels a connection with my possessions. My clothes make me feel something, my decor makes me feel something, my blankets make me feel something. I know they are mine. I remember the connection I had with it when I gave the teller my money. But this day, I walked into my house and felt nothing. I didn’t even feel like I was in my own home. I could remember buying it, but it’s like it wasn’t my memory. If I looked in the mirror I wouldn’t recognize my face. I would know its me, but I wouldn’t feel that thing that makes you a person. That feeling that there is life in my veins. I’m just completely disconnected.
It’s hard to describe depersonalization exactly. My best way to describe it is, it feels like when you drive home from work one day, and pull into your garage and you think, whoa how did I get here and not crash! Was I even paying attention? Is this even my house! Only when you are depersonalizing, you can’t just shake it off and connect, you just sit behind your eyes and wait for the connection to happen again. It’s frustrating when I’m with my kids and I know they are looking for something from me that I cannot give them, emotional connection. In a moment of depersonalization it is impossible for me to connect, so I have ways of faking it for them while they are young. Fake smiles, connected responses. I’m just mothering on auto-pilot hoping that they don’t notice for now. It’s not like I can control this.
It’s not fun, its not cute, it’s mostly harmless, but its scary as fuck. There isn’t a medication to make you come back to reality, you just float there. Your spirit isn’t connected to your body and your mind is trying to talk the three of you through it.
I walk around my house and think “I know this is my couch. I don’t recognize this couch but I know its mine I have the receipt. I know this is my home. It doesn’t feel like my home but I can check my bank account to know I pay my mortgage.” Depersonalization is just like the movie Total Recall. You have all these memories but you question if they are truly yours. Maybe someone just downloaded them into your head.
This is a symptom of psychological abuse people don’t really know about. Maybe people don’t even know this is happening because in the culture we live in we are constantly disconnected from reality and connecting to our phones, scrolling socials and distracting ourselves from our pain. For me, its triggered by stress and I had a very stressful day yesterday. It doesn’t happen a lot but I am depersonalized right now. I’m slowly coming back to the present. Describing what it feels like is helpful.
I have depersonalized while driving. Mostly when I have been at that dangerous-suicidal level of depression. I can hear myself having suicidal thoughts but it’s like my spirit cannot talk back to my mind and tell myself no. Sometimes I wonder how dangerous that is. I’m not suicidal today though, or lately so I’m not going to fear it. I can only be aware this happens to me.
The biggest problem for me is the inability to emotionally connect. I’m personally an emotionally dependent person (working on more self reliance) so when I know I want to connect with someone and cant, it enrages me. And I can’t bring myself down from the rage because I cannot find empathy in my heart. It’s like I am split, disconnected, turned off? All those things, together and separately.
I don’t have any helpful tips yet except to maybe find something real. Once I was so scared while I was depersonalized that I had to force myself to go outside and stand in the sun. I could only know that the sun is real. Everything else seemed like a lie. It was the summer and the pebbles in my back yard were absorbing all the heat of a 100*F day. I stood on the pebbles and waited until I felt them burning my feet. I wonder if that Kanye song “Ghost Town” is describing depersonalization. Some people hurt themselves when they cannot connect. I could understand that entirely. Pain is something powerful. Today I played my guitar for the first time since 2010 and the pain in my fingers from playing without callouses was enough to bring me back to the present for a while. See, not all pain is to be avoided. So don’t avoid it.