One day, when I was ten years old, I approached my dad. With one idea in my head, one sentence on my lips and one thought circling and circling around my mind. It was relentless and I simply didn’t know where it was coming from. I wondered whether there were other people in my life who felt the same, so I went to the person in my life who I trusted the most, the one who I knew would be honest with me no matter how ludicrous I sounded.
I sat beside him in the garden, feeling every syllable of this question stinging my lips with its painful, intrusive thoughts and finally said (as if it didn’t scare me at all and it was the most ‘normal’ question in the world),
“Daddy, do you ever just feel like nothing is real?”
As the curious and inquisitive child I was, I waited for an answer, studying my fathers every small expression, every raised and furrowed brow, every pursed lip and eye roll. He sighed, “Yes, when I was about your age I did, but when I got older it just went away…”
Now there were even more questions! How long is ‘when I got older’? How much older will I be?! I didn’t want to bother with incessant questions, so I just sat and looked out to our yellow slide and back drop of fields, rock and the never-ending sky.
Today I am still asking, How much older will I be? How long will I have to wait until I feel connected to my surroundings, be fully immersed into my reality and finally feel ‘whole’ again? The sad thing is that this question may not ever be answered. I have learnt, over time, to stop pinning my hopes on a feeling, or the end to a particular feeling, because some things will just stick with you, as unfortunate as that sounds.
It is no secret that I was always an anxious child. Perplexed by both life’s complexities and its simplicities too. Often, still, I sit and look around to see a world I know I will never understand, and might always be left wondering, How is any of this even real? Anxiety, though, may not be caused by this feeling of uncertainty about reality, and instead be the thing causing it!
What I have been experiencing for all these years, and what confused me for so, so long, has a name: Derealisation defined as: where you feel the world around is unreal. People and things around you may seem “lifeless” or “foggy”. You can have depersonalisation or derealisation, or both together. It may last only a few moments or come and go over many years. It is very common in anxiety, stress, depression and panic attacks.
This became more of a constant in my life when I began to experience regular panic attacks at school. The world I was in, the room I was in, would fade out of existence and it would seem like I was looking through a smoke screen and observing my own life as a second party. Never feeling like my own life experiences were ‘real’ often made me extremely low. I would want to escape to fictional worlds I would write about and live in my imaginary forest in my head, because I would feel safer there, I would feel comforted, rather than having the harsh sensory overload and overstimulation that life presented to me.
When I first asked that question when I was ten, there were still aspects of myself and the world around me that I felt connected to. However, over the years and over numerous hospital admissions, I feel I have drifted further from what I considered to be my life and reality itself. Fortunately, there are things that I experience that fill me with so much joy and fulfilment that I never thought I would have the capacity to experience, due to feeling ‘distant’. You don’t have to know that something is real to feel joy from it, otherwise why would so many people engross themselves in fictional worlds and characters and stories?
A psychologist I used to have said a lot of interesting things to me. A lot of them, admittedly, I don’t agree with. Despite this, there is one thing that he said to me that has stayed with me, that I can neither agree nor disagree with (as it hasn’t happened yet), and it was this,
“Well, one day, you will feel back in touch with reality again, and it will be the most enlightening day of your life, but also the scariest,” my only response to this was,
“I think I’ll just stay as I am then!” but just as with a panic attack, anxiety, derealisation and depersonalisation, you can’t choose when this will happen, you can only use coping strategies to make yourself feel better when it does happen.
So, really, almost ten years apart from each other, I was told a similar thing about my derealisation and depersonalisation. Maybe it’s true, when I get older, it’ll just fade away…