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?

Gender and Sexuality Update

Gender and Sexuality Update

I wasn’t going to make this into a blog post because I thought this was something I talked about only recently. Then when I looked back, I found that my previous gender and sexuality post was back in August 2020, so yeah, update time! 🙌🙌

If you haven’t read my last post, you don’t need to but it goes into more detail about my self identity. Essentially, I decided that I was gender fluid and bisexual. Since then, I’ve done more soul searching, more research (do you even know how many different genders and sexualities there are out there?) and, SURPRISE! I am officially coming out as a bi-gendered omnisexual who goes by the pronouns she/her, he/him, or they/them.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, you can find definition of terms here. Honestly, I am not familiar with all of the labels myself, because there are so many and some of them are really specific, but I feel like bi-gendered omnisexual describes me perfectly, so I’m sticking with that.

I have identified as bisexual since I first discovered it was a thing. Back in the day, the only commonly known sexualities were; straight, gay, or bi, but these terms assume there are only two genders. In todays world of “your gender is more than what your genitals look like”, I’ve discovered that sexual attraction is also far more than just what genitals a person has. When transsexuals started becoming more commonplace, I realised that I could be attracted to them too, but still considered myself bi because I figured they were either male to female, or female to male, remaining in the binary. Now, of course, I’m far more aware of the spectrum of genders out there and it feels ridiculous to restrict your attraction to binary people only. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would reject a sexual partner because their gender was “wrong”, that just seems arbitrary and weird. I am physically attracted to humans. So I’m pansexual, right? Not quite. Pansexual people are typically ‘gender-blind’. They either don’t see gender or gender has no influence over their attraction to a person. My attraction feels different to me depending on an individual’s gender or, more specifically, their presentation of their gender (masculinity vs femininity). I’m going to oversimplify things now to help readers understand, but obviously it’s far more complicated than this: Essentially, I prefer feminine women and masculine men. Again, this is a massive oversimplification, but this is the thing that makes me omnisexual rather than pan.

I have identified as non-binary for a while, simply because I knew I didn’t fully identify with the female gender I was assigned at birth, but I also wasn’t trans. Non-binary is a nice umbrella term for “I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman either.” However, this never really sat right with me because it sounds a lot like agender. I definitely have gender, and binary gender at that, my problem was that it was always switching. I took a couple of online quizzes and spoke to a few trans and non binary people online and, more often than not, was given the label “gender fluid”. This is closer, but still makes it sound as if I’m in between male and female, like my gender is on a sliding scale and I could be 65% female and 35% male (for example) at any given point. Again, this is inaccurate, I am 100% male or 100% female depending on my state of mind. My dysphoria goes along with that, I either love my body or totally hate it, I never like some parts but would change others. So I had a little read of some gender terms and found bi-gendered. Perfect. I have two binary genders. Some bi-gendered people can be both genders at the same time, but that’s not true for all. Maybe one day I’ll discover a gender term that exactly describes me, but this one is pretty damn close.

And on that note, let me tell you about Kai. Kai is my male counterpart. That’s right, my male gender is so different and separate from my female gender that he gave himself his own name. He’s not only different from me in terms of gender and sexual preferences, but in personality too. We have similarities but he’s more like a twin brother than my own self. Maybe one day I’ll do a full post about him, or by him, but for now I would briefly describe him as outgoing, cheeky, charming (or at least he likes to think so), and carefree. He’s much more “do now and think later” whereas I’m all “think so much that you never get around to the doing part”, and together we form a functioning human being.

So there you have it, the latest epiphany in the never ending search for labels that can accurately describe my personality so that I feel less weird about how unique I am. Any questions, feel free to ask, I am an open book.

Being Bullied into Being a Better Person

Being Bullied into Being a Better Person

The hot (and seemingly unavoidable) topic right now, is that another White American Cop has killed another Black American Citizen by ‘restraining’ him with a knee to the neck until he suffocated.

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ hashtag has resurfaced after the last attack, and there have been protests, riots, speeches, viral videos, and instagram black outs, to name a few, in response.

I don’t want to address the initial event, nor am I going to dispute how people wish to show their outrage or support. That is not my place and I don’t have the authority. What I do wish to talk about today is social pressure and how that has been made exponentially worse by social media.

I, personally, have chosen to abstain (until now) from commenting on this event on any of my social platforms. One reason for this is that so many things in the world upset me today that I have to pick and choose what I get emotionally invested in, or else I’d be unable to function. The other reason is that the topic is far too inflammatory. No matter what I say on the subject, I will offend someone. Even not saying anything can be seen as ‘choosing the side of the oppressor’. It’s a lose-lose situation, and that’s not how social media should be, but it is what it has become.

Social media is supposed to be a platform for us to express ourselves, join complementary communities, and to connect with people all around the world, but it is being used as another form of bullying. This isn’t new, it’s been the case basically since the internet found its way into peoples homes. The thing that I find to be most despicable about this is that, when a major tragedy or event that effects millions of people happens, social media could be an immeasurable force for good.

No doubt, that is what some people are intending with the hashtags, the clap for the NHS, and the do-a-thing-and-then-nominate-other-people-to-do-the-thing challenges, but what it actually causes is a social pressure to conform, with the threat of ostracism, confrontation or worse, abuse if you don’t contribute in the ‘correct’ way. Therefor, what was originally intended to cause a positive influence in the world, has actually become toxic. The general consensus being that if your opinion differs from the majority then you are part of the problem and should be extinguished.

In order for a society to grow (spiritually and intellectually), we must be able to express and discuss opinions with open minds and open hearts. You must always be open to the idea that you may be wrong and allow your opinions to bend and change. You must be willing to accept that, even if you believe your opinion is right, that doesn’t make the opposing opinion wrong. Everybody is entitled to their own thoughts and has the right to express them publicly if they choose.

The irony of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it is ultimately a fight for equality, but the methods employed are actually alienating some people, dividing communities, and redirecting hatred. And that is generally the order of business. Somebody is mistreated and the public, in their outrage, overcompensates by hyper-focussing on everybody who shares their race, gender, sexual identity, occupation, or other attribute, and everybody must agree with the public opinion or else they are bigots.

“On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, … and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals … they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces—at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.”

“One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.”

– Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell. Part 2, Section 9

As always, my blog posts are intended to trigger thought and self reflection. However, if you would like to open a discord then the comments section below is open. Or if you would like to discuss this topic privately with me, you can use the form on the ‘Contact Me’ page.

I am a know-it-all

I am a know-it-all

I am a know-it-all and no-one likes a know-it-all. I am the one who says “Actually” and “Technically” and “I think you’ll find that” and I know that people don’t want to hear it and hate being corrected, I see their eyes roll and their mocking tones and jeering points but I can’t help myself. I have to be right, I have to know and I need people to know that I know. I hate to fail, to be wrong, to make a mistake, and it does happen because I am human. What makes it worse is that the people who are there to see me fail, to prove me wrong, to witness my mistakes, they take such glee in it and point it out and rub it in, because I am a know-it-all and no-one likes a know-it-all.

What and Why?

What and Why?

Last night I felt a rush of very strong emotions. My partner was away for the night and I was alone in the house overnight (apart from the cat) for the first time since we started living together.

When I think about the chain of events, I guess it really started that afternoon when I abandoned my plans to get some work done that evening. Then on the way home I decided to order in junk food in stead of making myself a good dinner. Then I wouldn’t make myself a drink even though I was thirsty. I put on a film but divided my attention with games on my phone so I wasn’t fully enjoying either activity. I put off doing chores that I said I would do, claiming I was too tired and I’d do it later. When the film had finished and I didn’t know what to do next, that’s when the wave hit me.

It began with a tight anxiety in my chest, then I started to cry and I held the cat on my lap, even though he clearly didn’t want to be there, and began begging him not to leave me. I let him go after a couple of minutes because he wasn’t happy being held, but that made me cry harder. I felt desperately lonely. My partner wasn’t easily contacted and I’d also been hoping to hear from someone that I haven’t in a long time but they never responded to my message. I was chatting to one friend online but that contact wasn’t filling the need I had. I remember having the thought “I wish I was somebodies everything.”

My practice when I get uncontrollable feelings like this is to ask myself what exactly it is I’m feeling and why I am feeling it. More specifically, where are those feelings coming from? What triggered them in that moment and what is the underlying psychology that caused this response to that trigger. In the moment I tried to ask these questions but the feeling was too overwhelming and all I could come up with is “I’m just a depressed person. This is my default setting.” This is an old habitual response, something I told myself for years to excuse my behaviour and avoid dealing with my issues. I recognised that then and told myself that it probably wasn’t true but my mind refused to entertain any other idea, so I employed distraction techniques until I was tired enough to sleep reasoning that it could be stress related.

This morning I still feel the residue of last night’s experience but I have a clearer head so I can analyse it more carefully.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong fear of abandonment. This is a learned behaviour. As I eluded to in my earlier posts, I have always been a vulnerable person and as such I would cling to others for support. I have had a number of people in my life whom I loved and trusted and who promised that they would always be there for me. However, when I became difficult, needy or combative, I discovered that those promises were conditional and more often than not those people would disappear without a trace. This inevitably left me feeling unwanted, lied to, betrayed, vulnerable, created ideas about my own lack of value and triggered unhealthy behaviours such as pushing people away when they are present and clinging to them when they are distant. I also formed unhealthy relationships with people who were emotionally unavailable and then tried to manipulate them into fulfilling my needs. Then, of course, when those relationships don’t work out it feeds into the ideas about my self worth and how no one can be trusted.

I also felt and feel extremely unloved and unwanted by my family who were also emotionally reserved. My family dynamics are complicated and not something that I will delve into here but suffice it to say that I was a child who needed a lot of attention and desired clear and obvious affection, but those needs were never met. My memories of my childhood are almost exclusively negative. This is not to say that there were no good times, only that the mind clings to memories that have the most emotional impact and for me very few of the good times were good enough to leave lasting impressions. I also wish to mention that I no longer harbour any ill will towards my parents for their failings. I have held a grudge for a very long time, even entering adulthood and being able to reflect and understand that they did the best they could in a difficult situation, I couldn’t let go of the anger and grief of never feeling loved. It is only since starting this journey that I have been able to look at my parents as people who were also conditioned by the world and their experiences and who were ignorant to the harm they were doing. I can’t be angry at them anymore than I could be angry at a child for doing or saying something hurtful, they don’t mean to, they just don’t know any better. But, nevertheless, trauma and conditioning from your childhood is some of the hardest to overcome so those feelings of being unloved and unwanted are like thin scars on my soul and it doesn’t take much to open them up again, and when they do I bleed heavily.

Understanding my psychological history makes it easier for me to forgive myself for having moments like this one. I don’t remember a precise trigger, it could have been building for a while with stress, lack of sleep, the moon phase, stories I tell myself about how the world should be, but it definitely wasn’t just because ‘this is how I am’. It happens, I recognise why it has happened, I forgive myself for reacting that way and I try to spot the signs before it happens next time. I know that the best way for me to keep my mental health on track is to make plans and stick with them, and yet on this occasion I abandoned one plan after another. I also know that waiting to hear from people can trigger my fear on abandonment, so I should send a message then make myself busy so I’m not consumed by the waiting. I didn’t do that either. I know that I gain more pleasure and distraction from games than film and yet I chose to not fully engage in either. All of these things are tools that I could have implemented to get me back on track but sometimes, in these moments, you can think of nothing but what you are feeling.

Sometimes all you can do is ride it out. And that’s okay. Wait for the storm to pass then reflect, forgive, and try again.