Depersonalization and Derealization

Depersonalization and Derealization

My mental health has taken a hit recently. Unfortunately, I am person who will struggle with my mental health all my life. In the beginning, it was difficult to accept that I would never be ‘cured’ but, now I have, I am able to work on levelling out my peaks and troughs, while taking comfort in the knowledge that when I am down, I will come back up. In a way, this acceptance has helped me manage my chronic illness too, but that’s not the point of this post.

Today I want to talk about, not what caused this bought of depression, not how I’m managing it, but how I experience it. Today, I want to talk to you about dissociation.

When a brain is exposed to prolonged, sustained trauma, it will often learn to dissociate as a coping mechanism. That is, it will remove your consciousness from your body, from the time and place where you are, and give you an alternate reality to focus on so that you don’t have to endure what is happening to you.

For those of us with CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), even after the trauma has passed, the brain can continue to employ this technique to every day stressors. This can be a blessing and a curse. It means that when traumatic events do occur, we are better equipped to deal with them than the average person. We are often calm in high-stress situations because we are able to emotionally and mentally remove ourselves from it. But it can also caused severe mental illnesses such as DID, OSDD, sociopathy, psychopathy, psychosis and others. In me, it has distorted my sense of reality. The more stressed or anxious I am, the more I dissociate, so I struggle to remember some of the biggest moments in my life, like my wedding and my graduation.

Before I was able to name my problems, I always knew that I had difficulty distinguishing the difference between truth and lies. And not just the lies that others told me, but the ones I told myself too.

When I was a child I had imaginary friends who I sometimes forgot weren’t real people. Sometimes I even heard them speak to me. It didn’t help that my real friends and I would talk about them as if they existed in the world, but nobody else ever got confused like I did.

When I was a teenager I was a pathological liar (I’m sure I’ll get into the reasons for that in another post some day). In order to make my lies believable, I would envision the made-up scenario in my head. I would submerge myself in every detail so that if I was ever quizzed or questioned about it I would be able to give accurate, consistent information. However, the more I told a lie the more I began to believe that it was real. There were a couple of times when I was presented with witnesses and hard evidence that a thing had not in fact occurred, and I flat-out could not believe it.

As a young adult I became fascinated by conspiracy theories and repeated to myself the mantra “question everything”. I became paranoid about everyone and everything I thought I knew. During this time I was also romantically involved with an abusive narcissist, and by the end of the relationship I genuinely believed that he could read my mind.

When that relationship ended I tried to commit suicide by overdose. The drugs made me dizzy, hazy, and sleepy. For about year after that, I was convinced I had actually died from the overdose and that everything I was experiencing from that point onward, was some form of afterlife.

There was a time where I hadn’t slept in several days and my skin was itchy. I thought that if I cut my skin open then the itch would be able to escape and I would feel better.

Often I recall things, and I’m not sure if they actually happened or if I dreamed it. I have been wrong in both directions too (thinking something did happen but it turned out to be a dream, and thinking I dreamed something that turned out to have actually happened).

The pandemic has been the definition of a stressful/traumatic experience for everyone. When it first began, I basically ignored it, thinking of it like another swine flu that is blown up by the media but will ultimately not effect my life in any real way. When lockdown began, that was when I realised my own vulnerability and the immensity of the destruction this virus could cause. That was when I started to flip-flop between “this can’t be real. It’s not really happening” to “this is the most important event of my lifetime and everything that happens now will effect our lives and the lives of generations to come.”

I need to explain though, the “this can’t be real. It’s not really happening” thoughts are not the general disbelief that everyone feels in these kinds of situations. The kind where they don’t want it to be real but ultimately they know it is. This is the kind of disbelief where I am questioning my own existence and the existence of the world around me.

The first time I saw people wearing masks out in public, I thought that it was a simulation. I thought they were holographic projections of what a futuristic world could look like. When I went outside during the first lockdown, the streets were abandoned. There was no traffic and no people walking around. I thought I was in a post-apocalyptic film or game, I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing did.

I’m not completely detached from reality though. If I was, I wouldn’t be able to communicate these things to you. It’s like I have a split brain and while one part believes that nothing is real, the other part is well aware of what is actually happening. It’s difficult to explain the disjointed feeling of unreal and real at the same time.

Here’s an example from the other day: I saw an electric scooter abandoned in the middle of a green area between roads. I saw it there a few days in a row and it became part of the scenery, so I stopped noticing it. The next time I saw it, it was laying on its side, on the verge of the green rather than in the centre. The most obvious explanation for this is that somebody moved it. Maybe they used it and returned it to a slightly different place. Maybe it was in their way so they pushed it to one side. Maybe some kids were messing about and it got shoved a little way away. However the exact movement came about, it was most likely a person that caused it to move. But I didn’t see that happen. From my perspective, it was in one place, then it was in a different place. So what if it disappeared for a day or two, then on its reappearance, it misjudged the time and speed of its arrival and ended up in the wrong place? What if it teleported to somewhere else entirely and when it tried to come back it got it’s co-ordinates wrong and missed it’s spot by a few feet? You see, even though it’s highly unlikely that this is what happened, I didn’t see it, so I don’t know for sure. I can’t know for sure, so in my mind any of these scenarios are equally possible.

It’s like man landing on the moon. We know that’s probably what happened, but we didn’t see it happen ourselves, so how can we know for sure that it actually did?

My most recent dissociative thought was that I was a game character that was stuck in first-person mode. I found it irritating and wanted to switch to third-person so I could see where I was going better. I know I’m not a character in a game, but if I was, would I know?

For a long time I thought (because my psychiatrist told me) that it was caused by my having an “overactive imagination”. But I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I believe it’s actually because people close to me have been fucking with my sense of reality all my life.

It started with my Mother. With things as small as “you did ask for a cup of tea, I wouldn’t have made you one if you hadn’t”, all the way to keeping the details of my Father’s illness a secret. I knew they were going to hospitals a lot and I knew he was in pain all the time, but they never told us what was going on. Maybe they were trying to protect us, or maybe they are terrified of being vulnerable in front of us. Either way, the outcome was the same. I have many memories of my childhood that my Mother completely denies happened, but I know that they did because my brothers can confirm them.

Then came a whole series of people who would tell me one thing, then do something else. My first boyfriend who said he loved me, then hit me. My school friends who said that we would all go to Sixth Form together, then left me on my own and went off to college together instead. The narssacist who lied about pretty much everything and made everything my fault some how. My best friend in the whole world, who I’d known and loved for 10 years who told me that no matter what his new girlfriend did or said, he would never lose me from his life because I was too important to him, who then ghosted me at the worst time in my life (I only knew he wasn’t dead because his Mum would have told me if he was). The girlfriend who played the domestic abuse victim who was actually an abuser herself. The boyfriend who told me he loved me, then took it back the next day. Everybody I ever trusted, lied to me. Is it really any wonder that I don’t know what’s real and what’s not?

My husband knows how important open honesty is to me. In our marriage hard truths are a sign of love and respect, even if they hurt us both, because it’s a demonstration of trust. Promises are a rare thing between us, because we won’t make one that we can’t be certain we’ll keep. All too often people will say things like “I promise I will always love you/will always be here/will never hurt you/will keep you safe” but people change and no-one has that much control over life.

I am a scientist and I believe that empirical evidence can prove or disprove the existence of something. I am religious and spiritual, and I know that there are some things in this world that we cannot explain, but that doesn’t make them any less real. I am a fiction writer and I spend a lot of time “off with the fairies” imagining made up people and places and events. I am a philosopher and continue to “question everything” in order to find deeper meaning. I am a survivor of trauma and abuse, I know that sometimes things that you didn’t believe would ever happen, do happen. I am neurodivergent and the world is not how I was taught it should be. I also have minor prosopagnosia (face blindness) so strangers all look like generic NPCs to me. All of these things effect how I experience the world around me, and inside of me. Sometimes I wonder how many other people experience the world like I do.

From time to time this dissociation can cause an existential crisis in me, but I am aware when that is occurring and can take the time and space to reconcile this. For the rest of the time, as long as I’m rational and not a danger to myself or others, does any of it really matter?

A Dream (or A Commentary)

A Dream (or A Commentary)

Last night I dreamt I was on a starship. There were only about 20 people on board and we were all young, inexperienced and not particularly knowledgeable. But, we were part of a larger fleet and in constant contact with the fleet commander who had a lifetimes worth of experience and knew exactly what he was doing. Unfortunately for us, our captain, and owner of our ship, was impetuous and eager to prove herself. She attempted a maneuver that was not sanctioned by the commander. Something went wrong and we ended up warping to God-knows-where, losing all communication with our fleet.

After some time trying to regain communication and failing, the crew determines that we are actually caught in the gravitational pull of a large star. We have burned all our fuel in the warp so are unable to break free. We will be burned to death in approximately 7 years. Some time is spent trying to figure out if there is a way to stop it, but none of us really know much about space-travel or the inner workings of the ship we’re on, so people quickly give up and calmly resign themselves to their fate.

The ship we are on is huge and was built for habitation, so it contained anything and everything that you could ever want. Everybody swiftly went about making the most of their final 7 years. Some focused on learning things that they wish they knew, some busied themselves with hobbies, from gardening to crafts to fitness, some indulged in entertainment and gluttony, attempting to pack in as much care-free fun as possible. Whatever the people chose to do, they did it whole-heartedly. Not me though. I could not ignore the fact that we were headed towards our death. I began by trying to find a solution, but I knew I wasn’t smart enough and it would take me decades to learn everything I needed to know before I was even able to implement anything, so I gave up on that. I tried to do things that used to make me happy but everything now seemed frivolous and pointless. I would start things half-heartedly and then give up before I finished it. I spent many hours just sitting or lying down, staring at nothing and sighing deeply.

I envied everyone else for being able to find joy in a hopeless situation, and was simultaneously infuriated by their willing ignorance. I felt utterly alone, like I was dying a slow death while everyone else was “living their best life”.

I woke up before we reached the star, but I was left with this feeling of apathy for life.

Gender Identity

Gender Identity

How I Identify

Last night I dreamt I had a penis. This isn’t an unusual occurrence, I often dream that I have a penis. When I wake up, I have a few moments of phantom limb sensations, then as my full consciousness returns, reality takes hold and I’m left with feelings of loss and emptiness.

I also dream that I have a vagina. I dream that I have a slender body with perfect breasts and smooth hips. I dream about being an icon of femininity, a perfect 10 that draws eyes from across the room. When I wake from these dreams, I am disappointed with the lumpy, bumpy shape that I am and vow (yet again) to do something to change it.

I was born into a female body and, as most females do, I have a number of general insecurities about my body, but I don’t hate my female sex organs.

I have always had a significant amount of “penis envy”. Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, before gender identity was a common topic of discussion, I thought my feelings came from growing up with two brothers, being a “tom boy”, and the fact that I generally got on better with boys than girls. Learning a little bit about feminism made me think “Well, of course I want to be a man, life is so much easier for them,” but even now, when I believe this is a woman’s world, I still miss my penis.

The language used to describe the way that people identify, and which pronouns they like to be addressed with, is always changing and adapting and means different things to different people. I often use the term “non-binary” to describe my gender, as that’s generally accepted to mean neither male nor female. However, the term that more truly represents myself is “gender fluid” since I don’t reject being in the binary, I just switch from one to the other. Allow me to explain:

I was born with “normal” female attributes. In fact, as a mature female I have predominant female features. I have an hourglass figure, large breasts and hips, delicate wrists and ankles, an upturned nose and a dimple in my cheek when I smile. I also have long hair and don’t bite my nails which contribute to the female identity, though these are choices and not genetics.

Sometimes I love being female. I will wear makeup, do my hair, put on a well fitting bra and tight top to show off my curves. I enjoy feeling sexy and desirable as a woman. On a deeper level, I love and respect what my female anatomy was designed for. I love that I am able to carry a foetus through development then birth the child through my vagina and feed them from my breasts. That is miraculous to me and I am so grateful to have that capability (even though it means that I have 7/8 day-long, heavy periods).

Sometimes I hate being female. I see my body and cringe before looking away with disgust. I wear sports bras that hold my breasts as flat as possible against my chest. I wear loose, baggy t-shirts and hoodies to disguise any shape that I have. I put on boxers and baggy trousers and sigh deeply for my missing appendage. I do own a “packer” (a synthetic, flaccid penis that can be placed in underwear to simulate the “lump” that men have in their trousers) and I do wear it on the occasions that the loss is particularly painful, just feeling the weight and presence of it between my legs can bring me a little relief, but I’ve not had the nerve to wear it publically yet.

I don’t know how to describe to you the feeling of loss for something that you’ve never possessed. Especially when the thing you’re missing is integral to your understanding of who you are as a person. Call to mind something that is a part of your personality and identity, something that is you, that you could never be without. Now imagine you don’t have that thing, and you can’t even openly express the fact that you miss it because you were never supposed to have it in the first place. Imagine how it would feel to not have the thing that makes you who you are, how lost and unfamiliar you would be.

Operations exist to alter the bodies of males who wish to be females or vice versa, but no doctor would be willing to give a person two sets of genitalia. But I do still suffer with body dysmorphia, so I have to choose whether to remain female and live with the grief of not having a penis, or transition fully to a male and grieve the loss of my female anatomy. I am living in the lose-lose purgatory of gender identity. It is common nowadays to encounter transgender people, and their needs are becoming more openly discussed and met, but there are a plethora of other genders out there who are going underrepresented and who need guidance and assistance to make their bodies more comfortable to live in.


Gender and Sexuality

I don’t know how common this is, as I feel that it is impolite to ask people about their sexuality, but my gender identity and sexuality are intrinsically linked.

I am bisexual and have known so since I was very young. When I first started exploring my sexuality, I thought I was a lesbian since I found that I was only sexually attracted to women. My attraction to men came later and remained at a lesser level, but I am nevertheless, bisexual. However, the link that this has with my gender is something that I’ve only recently begun to understand.

When I am attracted to a man, I feel like a straight woman. When I am attracted to a woman, I feel like a straight man. During sex, I wouldn’t want a man to treat my body as masculine, and I wouldn’t want a woman to treat my body as feminine, both of those scenarios make me feel uncomfortable. In past situations when I have been with both men and women simultaneously, I assumed the gender that was opposite to the person I found most attractive, and I gave my attention solely to them. I could not, and can not, change my gender identity at will or switch from one to the other at a moments notice.

So that then begs the question, am I actually bisexual? Or am I straight and gender fluid?


What is Gender/ Coming Out

If you are transgender, coming out is an important part of the transition process. You are announcing to the world (or at least, your loved ones) who you are and how you wish to live. It is your declaration that you intend to shrug off the old you that never really fit, and begin your journey into the you that you know yourself to be. It is also an opportunity for you to inform others of your preferred pronouns and new name. It is the beginning of your rebirth.

If you are non-binary or gender fluid, your identity is not so clear cut and it can be difficult for others to understand. Some non-binary people may choose to adopt the pronouns they/them or ze/zir (or something else) and this is something that they can request of people, but other than that, what parts of their lifestyle will be different? They may cut their hair differently or wear new clothes, but they’re not adopting a whole new persona that people will need to adjust to. In todays world where gender stereotypes are no longer expected, what difference does it make if you are male, female, both, or neither?

I’ve gone back and forth on this idea of whether it’s necessary for me to come out. I don’t know until I wake up in the morning which gender I will identify more with, and therefore I am happy for people to choose whichever pronouns they think best represent me at the time. Nothing about my lifestyle or the way others treat me will change if I announce that I am gender fluid, but I also feel like, by not telling others, I’m keeping it a secret, and I don’t want to do that either.

Well, I guess you can consider this my public coming out. My name is Belle and I identify and gender fluid. Nice to meet you.

Hope and Hopelessness

Hope and Hopelessness

I have been planning a different post for you to read, but yesterday the Great North Run was on, so I decided to give you a more emotionally driven post instead.

This time last year I was running. I couldn’t run very far or for very long but it was more than I had ever run in my life before. I got ill around March 2016 and after I’d had enough doctors appointments to know that I wasn’t going to get better any time soon, I decided that I would not let my illness control me or dictate what I could or couldn’t do. So I started an exercise regime. It was simple and easy at first, then got harder and more intense as I grew stronger and more capable. By September 2016 I was running three or four times a week around the local cricket pitch. I was heading off to my first year of University and I had plans. I was going to join the running club, swimming club and play badminton at the weekends. I had bought myself a cheap, collapsible cane just in case but didn’t think I’d actually need it. I had been walking unassisted for months, I was actually fitter then than I had been before the illness arrived.

So I went off to Uni full of hope, comfortable in the knowledge that I had taken control of my illness and I alone would decide what I would or would not do. I joined the running club and signed up for Swimfit sessions, I was playing badminton at the weekends and I felt great. Then November happened. I still cannot say whether it was because I came off of my medication, or if I had simply pushed my body too hard, but either way I succumbed to an almighty crash. My body stopped working the way it should, the way I expected it to. The furthest I could walk was to my bathroom and back, the rest of the day was spent sitting or lying down. I couldn’t even stand in the shower to wash my hair. I was taking Ibuprofen every four hours to keep the pain at manageable levels and I barely slept.

A year on and slowly but surely I have regained a decent amount of my strength and for the most part I am satisfied with my abilities. I can care for myself, go to the shop for things I need, I can study and I can even have the occasional day long outing. Relatively speaking, I am fortunate that I am able to do so much. But yesterday the Great North Run was on T.V and I am reminded of my goals and ambitions. Not only was I going to run a half and full marathon, but there were mountains I planned to climb and lakes that I was going to kayak across. I wanted to play Badminton on the University team and I was going to be a Nurse and travel abroad with Doctors Without Borders. Now my goals include being able to walk without a cane again and enjoying a whole day out without needing a days worth of bed rest to recover. These thoughts sting at the eyes and throat.

I think that staying positive can have its place. I think that seeing obstacles in life as challenges to overcome can make you a stronger person. I also think that there is a time to mourn the loss of dreams that may now never be. I have overcome much already. My past is nothing but boulders and hurdles that I have struggled over and it seems sometimes that the euphoria of having overcome your last challenge acts as a mirage, obscuring from view the minefield ahead. I think that, when the mirage fades and you can clearly see the nightmare that lies ahead, positivity is of no use. I think in a situation like this, all you can do is keeps your eyes down and place one foot in front of the other. “Plodding up the hill” my therapist used to call it. Feel sad for your perceived loss, feel sorry for yourself and your struggles, accept that life is hard and that it may be that way until you die, but keep plodding up that hill anyway.