Fairy Cake, Please

All is well. As well, at any rate, as it can be in the middle of this depressive episode. Today I went to one of my regular meetings, and managed not to stare through everyone too oddly. It’s hard to be around people when I feel this way, but I know that missing too many meetings is not a good idea, so I forced myself to show up. To those who asked, I tried to reply very matter-of-factly that I am going through an episode, am getting appropriate help, and have faith that it will pass.

I feel less of the intense shame and despair that shadowed my last post, although I am still emotional. My biggest symptom now is one of my least favorites: I have that feeling.

It’s my name for it, chosen because I can’t describe it well. The closest term I’ve found in my psych books is depersonalization, or perhaps derealization.

“Individuals who experience depersonalization feel divorced from their own personal physicality…Often a person who has experienced depersonalization claims that things seem unreal or hazy. Also, a recognition of self breaks down (hence the name). Depersonalization can result in very high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions.” Wikipedia

Derealization is similar, but in this case it is the outside world that seems unreal or “other.” That feeling is like a mix of both for me. I remember a day in 2004: I was on a family trip, standing in a hotel gift shop, when it hit. Every physical sensation I had was now coming through a filter: it was not my jacket sleeve brushing against my wrist, but the jacket sleeve of some character who was standing where I thought I was standing. The thoughts and feelings I was having were no longer mine, but those of a character in a play written by a temperamental playwright. I had no anchor. The shelves and knickknacks around me seemed to become translucent, letting unreality shine through and around them.

Drugs can cause such phenomena or make someone more prone to them. Unfortunately, so can conditions such as bipolar disorder, so it still happens to me in recovery. The frequency with which I get that feeling is diagnostic for me. It can happen even when things are going well, but it is rarer.

Today, I flip back and forth between having a sense of self and not: even as I write this, it happens. One minute it’s me writing it, and the next minute it’s as if the camera pulls back, and back, and back until there’s a picture of the galaxy and who knows where I am, or if there’s an “I” at all.

Call it intense existential anxiety. Call it a taste of Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex. Or just call it a cab and get it the hell away from me. It’s one of the hardest feelings for me to tolerate, because it strips away many of my coping mechanisms. If I’m not real–if none of this is real–what does anything I write, or say, or do, matter? What does it matter if I eat something, or take something, or do something to make this disorienting illusion more bearable? What is this strange concept called cause and effect?

This is a moment when ritual comes in handy. When talismans are useful. When a healthful habit can be my friend. I went to the meeting this morning because it’s my custom to attend that one: I negotiated, so to speak, that I/we/it/unknown were going to go whether the meeting actually exists or not. During the meeting I found myself staring at my tattoo, remembering when I got it done and why, telling myself the story of it. Linking a physical thing with a story to make it seem more real.

If past (presumably real) experience is a guide, the intensity of this episode should respond to the (presumably real) meds adjustment pretty soon. But I wanted to check in, so that my (presumably real) readers continue to get an honest picture of living with a dual diagnosis.

Oh, and 500 geek points to anyone who gets the meaning of this entry’s title.

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