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?

Everything Happens for a Reason

Everything Happens for a Reason

I am a person who believes that everything happens for a reason. I have to with everything that has happened to me. If I didn’t then the universe is just cruel and unfair and what’s the point in struggling against the tide? But in stead of hopelessness, I chose to believe that, although I may not know why, and may never know why, the things that occur in my life have to happen in order for some other event to happen that creates balance in the universe. This belief brings me peace of mind and allows me to carry on trying when everything is telling me to give up.

5 years ago I went back to college to do an Access course so I could go to University. Halfway through my college course I got a very severe flu-like illness and never fully recovered. I got M.E. I was still able to complete my course (just about), but was unable to get the work experience required for the University course that I wanted to do. I was rejected from all four of my University choices and left pretty distraught. I was on the verge of giving up when my favourite University offered me a place on a different course. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it was close and it could lead me to what I wanted to do, so I accepted and went to University.

1 year of that course and my health had deteriorated to the point where I was almost completely bedbound. I was still managing to get the work done (and was getting good grades) but my tyrannical course leader said that if I didn’t show up for class then I would be kicked off of the course. If I was kicked off of the course then I would be kicked out of my campus accommodation, making me homeless. I somehow managed to get a meeting with the leader of another course who said he’d be delighted to take me on. I ended up loving that course and that department and they supported me with my illness so I was able to graduate this year with excellent grades.

If I had been accepted onto the course that I originally wanted to do then I wouldn’t have wasted a year on a terrible course and I would have graduated last year and been in work this year when the virus hit. And what was that course that I wanted to do? Child nursing. Yep, if I hadn’t gotten M.E, I would currently be a Nurse in the NHS right now.

Just saying… everything happens for a reason.

Trading Places

Trading Places

To listen to me read this blog post, please click here: Reading “Trading Places”


My partner is ill. He has shingles. He has been describing to me the kind of pain he’s been feeling, a sensitivity on the skin and shooting pains like electrical shocks through him. Everything he talks about is very familiar to me. It’s the kind of pain that I get in my legs when I’ve over-exerted myself, or I’m in a flare, or sometimes if I’ve just been wearing tight trousers or leggings all day. I told him, “That’s what I feel when my legs get twitchy.” I call it that because the ‘electric shocks’ make the muscles spasm, and my legs literally jump and twitch, sometimes even while I’m sleeping. Again, this is something he is experiencing and also describes the muscle ache that feels like you’ve been working out.

As much as I hate seeing him in pain and I want him to feel better, I feel a strange kind of validation that he now knows my pain. From this point on, when my legs start to twitch he’ll have a better, fuller understanding of what I’m feeling. He’s always been sympathetic and caring and understanding, so it’s not like this new knowing will change his behaviour towards me, but I will feel more understood all the same. Like trying to explain colours to a colour blind person. They might sort of understand what you’re getting at but they can’t know what those colours really look like without seeing them.

It’s also a strange experience being on the other side of this dynamic. Seeing his pain and understanding what it feels like. Knowing that there is nothing I can do to help. Appreciating for the first time what it’s like to see the person you love in pain and being unable to do anything about it. I wish that I could take it from him since I have more experience with this kind of pain.

In a way, it feels personal, like it’s my pain. Like the universe accidentally gave it to the wrong person and I want to be able to say “Oops, that was meant for me” and take it from him. But of course, I can’t. I just have to watch and wait and remind him to take his pills and bring him cups of tea.

I guess every now and again, a little role reversal is useful in a relationship. Being able to view a situation from the other persons perspective gives you a kind of empathy that you can’t get any other way. It might not change the way you behave but I believe that sharing that experience increases the bond between you. Therefore, as much as I hate that this is happening to him, I’m also really glad. I just hope it’s over soon.

There is No Spoon

There is No Spoon

Today I am having a flare up. This happens to me when I try to use more spoons than I have, or if I regularly deplete my spoons without having a rest day to replenish the stocks. Usually, I would have one rest day a week, sometimes two if I use up all my spoons in a day, or more if I do this continually. At present, I have gone 2 and a half weeks, using up all of my spoons every day without taking a rest day.
For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Spoon Theory is a commonly used method of explaining what it is like to live with a fatigue inducing chronic illness, where spoons represent units of energy. Here is a brief video that explains it (not mine, borrowed from NewLifeOutlook on Youtube) but there is loads of information about this online if you’d like to look into it further.
For me, a flare up consists primarily of pain. It’s not all that painful but is simultaneously unbearable. The only way I can think to describe it is like a toothache all over my body. I’m also shivering a lot. Not because I’m cold but because my autonomic nervous system is panicking right now at how much pain I’m in. My senses are hypersensitive so I have to keep noise volumes as low as possible and keep the curtains closed, even food smells could set off a migraine. My ability to stand is limited to 3 minutes before I either sit down or collapse to the floor, whichever comes first. My only job for the day is to rest and recover as many spoons as possible. But this becomes problematic when standing, sitting and lying down are all painful, or when I’m unable to cook myself food or get myself anything to drink, and when sleep is nearly impossible.
So all I can do is take as many Ibuprofen as possible (without overdosing) cry, and hope for the best.
Grant Me The Serenity To Accept The Things I Cannot Change…

Grant Me The Serenity To Accept The Things I Cannot Change…

…the strength to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

I am back at Uni for my second first year. My first first year was failed because looking after myself became more important than passing a course I didn’t enjoy doing anyway. I have been housed in a handicap accessible flat with a seat in the shower, hand rails, and a lowered hob and sink in the kitchen. I was ecstatic to discover this as it meant that looking after myself would be so much easier than it has ever been before and I could therefore put more energy into actually studying. The flat is old though and definitely needs updating, but I’m not complaining since the benefits massively outweigh any of the insignificant issues I may have.

Today was the Freshers Fair. It’s the day when all the clubs, societies, sports groups and local businesses set up stalls to try and entice students to sign up to their thing. Last year I was dealing with anxiety levels that made crowds terrifying, but I pushed myself to go anyway because I had such lofty goals for myself and wanted to sign up to all of the things. This year I remembered how much I enjoyed it last year, but forgot to consider how much my health has declined since then. This year I had to manoeuvre through the crowds with a cane. This year I found myself looking at stalls and thinking how much I’d love to do that but, knowing that I am not capable, having to walk on by. Every stall I passed made me slightly more depressed. I can’t even take part in medical research because they need “young, healthy specimens”. I went to the library to distract myself away from crying, because at least I can still read… for short periods of time at certain times of the day assuming I’m not being badly effected by ‘brain fog’. I went back afterwards to sign up for the things I had previously decided I was going to do. I joined the Biology Society to facilitate my learning (I’m studying biology), The Pagan Society for religious support (I’m a Wiccan), The Sustainability Society so that some days I may be able to work on the allotment and the Sign Language Society since I’ve always wanted to learn but never had the opportunity to do so.

I compare my past self to my current self more often than I’d like to. It depresses me because even though I know I have to accept my limitations, there is always a part of me that resents acceptance and equates it to weakness. This is particularly annoying because when I think of my current self without the comparison, acceptance comes naturally and I am excited by things like living in a specially adapted home.

So here is the daily challenge to my mental health; accepting the change that brought about my limitations and learning to live within them, identifying the things that I am still able to do and pursuing them while disregarding the voice that tells me I’m useless, and learning how to differentiate between the two effectively.

Not Enough ‘Suffering’ to be a ‘Sufferer’.

Not Enough ‘Suffering’ to be a ‘Sufferer’.

I am a writer. Not professionally or anything, but it’s my preferred medium of self-expression and creative outlet. So, once I’d come to terms with the fact that I was living with a chronic illness, it seemed obvious that I should write about it. I went back and forth on the idea of blogging about my experience. There are pro’s and con’s to any balanced argument, but the thing that held me back the most was the feeling of lacking the authority to talk about this illness publicly. Let me explain:

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis does not have a definitive diagnostic test, it is a diagnosis of exclusion. It takes a long time and a huge number of tests to rule out what it isn’t before doctors will come to the conclusion that it’s probably that. Therefore I cannot say definitively that this is the illness that I have. Also the list of symptoms that are associated with M.E may not all be present and can also overlap with other illnesses (Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Lyme Disease etc.), and these illnesses may also lack a diagnostic test or they may have an inaccurate test that gives off a number of false negatives. To add to the confusion, some people may have more than one of these illnesses at a time or may have an obscure or rare manifestation of the illness(es).

Secondly, M.E effects every individual differently, firstly in which symptoms a sufferer may or may not exhibit, and also in the severity of their symptoms. It should also be noted that severity of symptoms can increase or decrease from day to day depending on a wide number of variables. The severity of the illness can also be changed over time through medications, therapies and lifestyle changes. The M.E Association has a Disability Rating Scale which briefly outlines the capabilities of sufferers at different levels of symptom severity. I would consider myself to be in the ‘moderate to mildly affected’ section of this scale, being at 20-30% disabled. On a bad day, or if I’ve had several bad days in a row, I could be considered to be up to 60% disabled, but only on extremely rare occasions have I been worse off than that.

To consolidate and sum up, reason number one for my lack of authority on this subject; I don’t know for sure that M.E is even the illness that I have. Reason number two; I am a ‘mild to moderate’ sufferer, meaning that I don’t know what it’s like to be really disabled by this illness.

But as you see, here I am starting this blog about being an M.E sufferer. So I must have reconciled these arguments against such a thing. This is how I intend to over come these issues; with a disclaimer. This blog shall be a sharing of personal experience living with a chronic illness that, for the sake of understanding and categorisation, I shall refer to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (or M.E). I am not a professional on this illness and therefore nothing I say should be taken as medical knowledge or advice (unless followed up by a source, in which case it’s your responsibility to follow up and decide whether or not that source is reliable).

Now I am free to share my experiences, opinions, stories and emotional journey without feeling the responsibility of being an authority on all things M.E. Now I can breathe, relax and write with ease. I hope I can be a source of entertainment, comfort and/or comradeship for everyone that reads my words.