This will not be at all like my usual writing, if for no other reason that it was written eleven years ago, in 2010, by an eighteen-year-old Evan. I’ve decided to post it because the contents have to do with a surreal, absurd, but also real and formative year of my life.
Image by Wombo
I had just graduated high school, and had gotten into journaling — especially during my travels to Costa Rica.
I began to experience what I came to call “DPDR” (my shorthand for depersonalization/derealization). Reflecting back, the most pronounced part of this experience was losing my sense of self, my grip on reality, and my sense of emotional connection to people. But, as you will see in the writing below, it was also simply an ineffable “weirdness” which plagued me for over a year.
I may write further on this topic, but for now I think these selected quotes from my old journals do a good job of conveying what this experience is like. Perhaps it’s better than anything I could write now as someone who no longer experiences DPDR. If there is one missing piece from this post, it is how I regained my reality. To that end, I’ll simply speculate that this descent into unreality was an important step towards my currently strong sense of selfhood and deep love for the world.
I came across a description in a book recently which I found strikingly resonant with what I had felt, so I will quote that here for context. Patrick Harpur writes:
“The primary cause of illness in traditional societies is `loss of soul'. Here, the word `soul' refers to what we think of as our sense of ourselves, our ability to say `I'… Westerners are not so prone to loss of soul in this sense. Our egos are not at all fluid and vulnerable; nor are they susceptible to getting lost in the Otherworld. Our problem is the reverse: we lose the Otherworld…We lose the dimension of imagination which gives depth, colour, connection and meaning to our lives. In extreme cases we suffer from a condition which psychology calls depersonalization… Depersonalization is not, in other words, a medical condition. It is like a vision - but one in which the world becomes `weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable', as Hamlet perceives it… It was like St John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul, when the suppliant feels the remoteness of God and the waste of the world. The depersonalized individual no longer recognizes himself as a personality. He observes his own actions as if from outside, an onlooker to himself. He is not depressed exactly; rather, he suffers from that deadness, emptiness, apathy and sense of monotony for which dryness is the most apt metaphor. Loss of soul is also loss of world-soul, so that he is not only estranged from himself, but also from the world, which seems alien and unreal.”
And with that, I wish to share the following — verbatim but arranged for clarity rather than chronologically.
First experience I clearly know to be a derealization was at Jackee's grad party... I had one beer, and remember things being slightly off, weird, after... I went out to my car to be alone. Anna sat with me while I was in some kind of stupor. The best I can do in remembering specific thoughts is that I felt like butter melting on a hot rock.
In the same afternoon, I began to feel very uneasy in my environment. Felt very artificial, and I remember feeling like I was on a stage, or better yet, a snow-globe. Like someone was outside my surroundings, watching. I imagined my house melting around our fireplace, such that only a natural, outdoors environment was left.
Some recurring ones: Everything is artificial/unreal; surroundings are 2D; micropsia/macropsia; the world isn’t "loaded" beyond my visual field.
You know, I more or less believe that nothing beyond our current sensory scope is "loaded". It's weird to have assimilated a derealization.
I still view things not directly related to me as only projected... Things happening not in your life need only be computed and not manifested. Saves CPU, so to speak.
Earlier, scenery flickered on and off, like a hologram running out of power. Only I could see it.
But, you know, I try not to get too attached to people who are going to stop existing moments after they’re out of my sight.
I was driving... I became part of the gears of the car. I was the machine, and it was the person; passing quite quickly past other people, each with their puppets inside. I felt upset at being a tool.
I am externally watching the scene I'm in.
I have to wake up from this dream.
On the drive here I saw a monolith of some kind (for water divination, I'd say) and a cardboard mountain being employed to make the ridge more impressive.
World is shrinking. Unnatural. Can't drink anymore water; it's too sad, murdering the microbes. I have no sense of where I am. Frankly here is the same as there is the same as there. I have no perception of how anyone feels.
Today, I had the notion to snatch up the short trees and eat them like broccoli.
Today, on the walk back to my house I was in an old time silent movie.
Despite feeling like I was in an aquarium while I was talking to Geneva, I had a very good time.
Some gaps in my memory of last night but no big deal.
Just got my body back... As the night, for some of us, was winding down, I started feeling a bit weird. Very typical DPDR weirdness. Then it was full blown like I have never experienced it before. "I" as a being was confined to my mind, while somebody else was in control of my body. I nearly fell into panic trying to fight for my body... All I could do is watch the stranger run my actions... After the cab dropped me off a block or two from my house, I reached into my pocket for my keys. And, as if saying "fuck you" to my physical body, I gripped the keys as hard as I could so they'd dig into my hand — causing the intruder pain... I went to bed, woke up at 6:45, and then again at 9:00, and was almost amused at the stranger's take on "me" interacting with people. On the walk [to classes] I wanted to step in front of a car to free my mind from my captured body. Sometime during my class, I started regaining control, and now here I am.
I've come to terms with the "stranger" I've referred to. We had a meaningful conversation and decided it would be in our best interest not to clash. We simply thrive in different environments, at different times. Does being one with the stranger defeat or substantiate my DPDR?
I really don't feel like myself here. I kind of remind me of old Evan.
I haven't written much about DPDR lately, I don't think. And that's probably because it hasn't been in the forefront of my mind. But, as I remind myself, just because I'm having a reprieve from things changing size and depth and from being two people, doesn't mean I'm symptom free. The most constant, persistent aspects of DPDR are still here: I'm going through the motions, nothing affects me in the long-term, and I can't form deep connections with people... Like white noise in my mind that may coax me into submissive sleep but that doesn't ever go away.
I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror. I even lifted it off the wall to make sure it wasn't really a window.
Just had an ambulance pass by me; now I remember my derealization from the other day. I heard a siren, and it reminded me of a carnival, cartoonish siren. And there I was. Bumper cars on the streets, cheery carnival music, and the best ride of them all: El Gigante (which, for the record is an auto-supply store.) Probably my most upbeat derealization yet.
Had a brief derealization where Amanda became very carnival-like. That's not the first one of those — weird.
Their coupleness hits me the wrong way. I think I'm jealous. Not of them or any couple specifically, but the feeling of having someone to count on. Actually, maybe I miss feelings.
Anyway, towards the later end of the evening the depersonalized detachment really set in. I more or less have no interpersonal connection these days.
I continued and had two very successful dives... But what struck me the most was the unison of movement... All creatures, myself included, are moved by the same current. Really, I think I felt closer to the fish than I have with people.
I know my log of derealizations has fallen off, but it is by no means gone. Rather, I have so many, many small ones that by the time I could write them down they are as blurred as faces of strangers.
This can't be it, can it? I think one of my biggest fears in getting "treated" is that things won't be as fixed as I had imagined.
I sat in my living room... There was a food platter and it suddenly struck me as very weird to eat. It became akin to eating a chair, or window. "I'm eating my environment", I thought about the food. I ate a carrot, amazed.
Nothing more today. We're in-between worlds and there's nothing more to say.