steeped in unreality
A couple months ago, my therapist and i were talking about what we could work towards in therapy next. My initial problem, the reason i went into therapy - feeling depressed and burned out, and wanting to feel like i would want to work again before getting a job - seemed to have borne fruit and been successful. Especially now that they were starting to be able to take insurance, it would be helpful to say that there was something concrete being worked on.
I said, “what about DPDR?” Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder was something that had been on my mind for a while, but that we hadn’t spent much time talking about in therapy specifically. Based on our prior conversations (and ultimately breaking out their copy of the DSM-5 and going through the criteria), they agreed that it was a marked enough factor on my life to warrant a diagnosis, and that we could spend time working through its effects. (And, importantly, stamp it on the information sent to my insurance so that they would have an easier time accepting why i would go to therapy!)
I don’t have a quick, jaunty way to break down depersonalization or derealization for someone who doesn’t experience it. Unlike, for example, ADHD, autism, or depression, there aren’t cute little comics cropping up in my Twitter feed periodically from people who talk about how it affects their day-to-day life. While i would love to make one of these, i don’t have much practice drawing, and my experience of DPDR is something i personally have problems putting into my usual word-flood, so i can’t really contribute much to that space myself.
However, i can give a few examples of things in my life that i’ve attributed to depersonalization or derealization. These are fairly personal peeks at the inside of my head, which i personally believe reflect a history of persistent depersonalization/derealization.
I don’t think i’ve ever had a really solid “sense of self”. There have been incidental things that i’ve attributed to my personality, like “a warm demeanor” or “a go-with-the-flow mentality”, but nothing that i’ve synthesized into a “whole person” that i can point to when i want to point to “me”.1
- This was actually the thing my therapist and i talked about in the anecdote that led this post, but the thing about calling it DPDR and dealing with insurance did happen that day as well.
Certain fictional worlds, like those of movies and TV shows, can sort of “carry me away” for a while, as i imagine myself in that space and lose track of the fact that the rules in that world aren’t the ones i live the rest of my life by.
A similar thing can happen for dreams as well; in fact i almost lumped it together with the previous bullet point since that’s how i tend to reflect on it. It tends to happen more often, though, mainly because i don’t watch movies or TV shows that much, but i do tend to dream most nights.
On stressful or low-energy days, the “space of known reality” can kind of close in around me, making me feel like the only thing that exists is the specific room or building i’m in. It creates a bubble where everything on the “outside” feels like something fake my brain made up, and everything on the “inside” is colorless and abjectly uninteresting.
It’s sometimes easier for me to understand things by giving them a fantastic or otherworldly metaphor. There are more touch-points for my understanding by leaning on something completely unreal than by comparing it to something concrete. This can be great if i’m making jokes on Twitter, but it can also sometimes be difficult to convey how i understand something if i have to use arcane leaps of logic to translate it out of the inside of my head.
I could probably come up with others, but hopefully this gets the point across.
I wanted to write this post so i could explain a bit of my own struggle with my day-to-day life. Like i mentioned earlier, this isn’t something i see periodic reaffirming messages about on Twitter, so it can sometimes feel lonely or unreal (if you’ll excuse the parallel) trying to make sense of it. Hopefully this helps someone else understand a little more about depersonalization or derealization as a phenomenon, or at least about the inside of my head.
I don’t really have a grand conclusion to write here. I’m starting to work through finding (or synthesizing) a personal identity as a “whole person”, and to better ground myself when i need to. I expect this to be a long process, without many “grand revelations” or singular “perfect strategies” to dot my progress with. Maybe i’ll have more to say about this after a while, but for now i just want to thank you for reading.
An important thing to note is that this didn’t change or go away when i started taking HRT or transitioning! Trans people experience depersonalization more often than cis people, but usually, medically or socially transitioning is an effective treatment for trans-related depersonalization. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for me. That lack of clarity on my self-image after taking hormones or “living full-time” has created a sort of “gender impostor syndrome”, so to speak, where i compare the common narrative of “strongly feeling trans” or “lifting the veil shortly after taking hormones” against my experience, and feel like i’m “doing it wrong” somehow. ↩