Nothing is R E A L

I haven’t written in a while, for several reasons, mainly because A) I was writing about other stuff and my brain has a habit of getting obsessed with things and running with them and B) because nothing felt real enough to form sentences about. The whole ‘not real’ thing is something which I carry around with me and have done for a long time now. There’s no clear cut day when I remember waking up and feeling that the world had changed but I can’t remember the last time I woke up and felt that the world was real. So a while. It has a name if what I have described to you sounds crazy (and yes, it really is a lot of the time) – I deal with depersonalisation and derealisation. For me, they both interact and have their tentacles wound around each other so tightly a lot of the time I can’t distinguish which one is worse then the other, and I think that’s true for a lot of people who live with this too. There’s a lot of us out there – around 1.3 million people in the UK, or 2% of the population – about the same percentage of people who have green eyes (so also me).

Depersonalisation/derealisation is a way for your brain to protect itself. I’ve heard it described as a sort of parachute for your brain – it gets itself into a situation where it is panicking, and it is dangerous for it, and it responds by just checking out and removing itself from the situation. Which is great protection because it means that you don’t have to deal with whatever situation you are in, whether that be a car crash or in the stressful situation that you can’t get out of (that might have been happening for a long time). Whatever the actual cause is, DP/DR means that your brain checks out for a bit, and leaves you feeling numb, emotionless, spaced out, or like a robot.

For me, the strength of how spaced out or unreal I’m feeling varies from day to day. Today I woke up and everything felt unreal, as if it was a story I was telling myself in my head, but I could also appreciate that everyone around me bought into the real-ness of it and it felt somewhat believable. A bit. Yesterday it felt like a buzzing in the front of my head just behind my eyes, that everything was a bit too bright and a bit too real, like it was trying too hard to be real that it inadvertently revealed itself. But other days I wake up and I feel like I’m able to peer between the atoms of the world and pull the fabric of space out a little, to peer behind the lines and see what’s actually out there. And then there are the days when I’m a crumbling shell of panic because i’m-not-real-and-you’re-not-real-and-nothing-is-real-and-why-are-we-here-and-if-they-find-out-i-know-it’ll-end-what-happens-if-that-happens and it’s terrifying. That’s the derealisation – the sense that you are disconnected from the world around you. However, depersonalisation is the sense that you are disconnected from self. So, I can look in the mirror and recognise that the face that reflects back is the one that was given to me, but it doesn’t look quite right, the eyes are off, and the shape of the face feels wrong. I can look at my hands and my breath catches because they’re not my hands, the fingers are too long/short/pudgy/skinny, that mole that I used to have has disappeared, and that’s the depersonalisation talking. It can get really bad and it becomes a sense that my thoughts are living in someone else’s head because nothing about the body I’m in feels like mine, that I am some sort of walking machine that thinks. It’s weird, I know.

Admitting that the world isn’t feeling real (or isn’t real because you know, it’s not really) is really difficult, especially when you don’t know how other people are going to react. Mostly, I would bring it up as a joke, throw it in at the end of a sentence filled with sadness and emptiness, a kind of twisted punchline – ‘so yes, i’m going to fail my degree, and my coursework is piling up and everyone hates me, but it’s okay because none of this is real anyway‘. When you throw it in uncaringly, whilst panicking internally, people tend to laugh it off, as if it was just a way for the hurt in the sentence to be ameliorated somehow. Which is what you wanted. Because what happens if you admit to what you’re feeling and they think you’re mad, right?

I think because of that uncertainty as to how people are going to react, coupled with the DP/DR itself, it’s not something that is talked about often, or at all particularly. Fundamentally, it’s difficult to talk about something that you *know* is true because you feel it, so why talk about the world not being real when it isn’t real anyway? Even doctors have trouble recognising DP/DR when patients bring it up, and often skim over it to topics that they feel more comfortable dealing with.

Recently, luckily, people are talking about it. There are articles written about how it feels to like with depersonalisation or derealisation, there are YouTube videos talking about DP/DR and treatments and things that work for them. And no, it’s not an easy fix, and it’s not as acknowledged as other mental health conditions like OCD or bipolar, but with people talking and sharing it becomes less of an unknown.

I’m not going to offer any real tips or things that could help because I spend my days treading water in the universe of unreality hoping that the days when I’m sinking through the panic become less frequent. Part of me kind of appreciates it in a way. I have a brain that checks out, and then gives me the space to imagine terrible and beautiful things. I live in my head more then I live in the world because I know what happens in my head isn’t real, but could be just as real as what is happening in the world.

If anyone wants to watch a brief video (it’s 10:35 minutes long) if nothing I’ve written makes sense to you please please go check out Dodie’s video with Kati Morton – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6iVspBWzZU the descriptions of feelings, and explanations are really really informative and some of the stuff really hits the nail on the head.

 

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I am the 1 in 4

I’m really tired of the ‘us and then’ mentality that some people have regarding mental health. Usually, the ‘them’ are people with a mental illness or who are in mental distress. After recent trips to A & E to visit a relative, I have had to listen to this kind of damaging opinion being thrown about (usually about other people in the hospital) and it has made me annoyed enough that I thought I would shout into the void about it. And if I’m being honest it might not even flow properly because I wrote this at like 11pm last night and I am still annoyed.

I think what irritates me the most about this mentality is because it really doesn’t mean anything. These people are drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and saying that everyone on the other side are ‘crazy’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘not okay’. And I have several issues with that.

Firstly, how on earth can you assume that you are never going to be in mental distress or experience mental illness? 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year (Mind, 2017) and it is estimated that 1 in 6 people will experience a mental health problem in any given week (Mental Health Foundation, 2017). Over a lifetime, 20.6 in 100 people will experience suicidal thoughts and 7.3 in 100 people will self harm (Mind, 2017). I’m going to relate this to other statistics because sometimes numbers on their own seem meaningless. 1 in 11 children have asthma in the UK (Asthma UK, 2017). Less than 1 in 5 people are smokers (ASH, 2017). Less people have asthma then are likely to experience a mental health problem and yet asthmatics aren’t told that they are not like the rest of the population and are not seen as ‘other’.

I think the thing I’m trying to say is that there is no way to know that you won’t struggle with your mental health at some point. It can happen and there’s no real way of saying whether it will or won’t. Another thing to point out is that mental health and mental ill-health fluctuates. It may be that one day you draw the line and I’m on the side with you, and the other people who decided that having a mental illness makes you ‘other’, and on another day I might be on the other side of the line as an outcast.

By making this divide you are stigmatising thousands of millions of people by effectively saying, ‘you’re broken and we don’t want you around’. It’s a bit like the ‘not in my back yard’ mindset with wind turbines. When I was at school, the company that owned the building next door wanted to make it into a secure mental health unit, primarily to treat eating disorders, when the nearest inpatient unit was in the next county. That was in 2011. I was 11 years old and didn’t really pay much attention, but I knew that a lot of the parents weren’t happy about this plan because these patients would be ‘crazy’ and ‘needed to be locked up’. I was 11 years old and hearing these things. Roll on 5 years time when I’m developing an eating disorder, it makes things a little difficult to try and tell people what you are experiencing. This is what makes it so difficult to talk about – if you know that people are going to view you as someone who they are frightened of, or who they don’t want around, you aren’t going to express that you are struggling.

How do you divide people up like that though? Earlier I wrote that mental health fluctuates, but our ability to hide it also fluctuates. The ability to blend into everyone else, everyone with stable mental health, does not equal the severity of what you are dealing with. You can be suicidal and still make it into work. You can be having multiple panic attacks a day and still make it into school. You can be hallucinating and still go out with your friends. It isn’t a cut and dry issue. On the other hand, you may be experiencing these things and not be able to go to work, school or out to town. And that’s okay.

However, if you can hide what you are dealing with enough that people aren’t aware of it, it can lead people to say ‘well you’re not like them‘. Who is them?  Is the ‘them’ the people who live with voices or who have to carry out compulsions in order to quiet the obsessive thoughts? They are us. We are all the 1 in 4 because who knows which 1 in 4 it will be? If you are going to shut them out then I’m walking right out with them. This divide is pointless and damaging. There really isn’t that much difference between us all, I promise you.

It just makes me really cross that people automatically assume mentally ill means dangerous. Sure, you can have a mental illness and be dangerous and violent. Just as someone can be dangerous and violent and not have a mental illness. People who have a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime then commit crime – those who have a serious mental health problem are 10 time more likely to be a victim of crime than the general population (Mental Health.gov, 2017). Don’t paint everyone with the same brush.

People who are experiencing mental distress or who live with mental illness aren’t necessarily dangerous (just as someone who is mentally stable isn’t necessarily not dangerous). We aren’t broken, our brains just don’t work like the average human brain. We might need medication to make it work in a way that we can deal with, and that’s okay. We might not need medication or it might not work in the right way for us or it might take several attempts to find the right one. And that’s okay too. I am in awe of everyone who carries on with their problems, mental health related or not because life isn’t easy. And people making such ridiculous divides between us doesn’t make life any easier. There is no us and them. We are all the 1 in 4. And maybe if we didn’t make such divides it would make talking about it easier by accepting that this is a human experience that we might all experience at one point in our lifetimes.

References

http://ash.org.uk/category/information-and-resources/fact-sheets/

https://www.asthma.org.uk/about/media/facts-and-statistics/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/index.html

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-uk-and-worldwide

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.WWCwvYjyvIU