Hello, and a merry Christmas to you. It’s been so long since I wrote anything, and to be honest I’m not sure this is much cop as a Christmas present, so many apologies for that. I’ve been trying to write this for quite a while now, but have really struggled to convey what I want to in a concrete way… which is actually very fitting, because the thing I’ve been trying and failing to describe is the feeling of not even being real.
Sounds insane? Tell me about it.
The idea of actually compiling these thoughts into something resembling a coherent text is pretty damn scary to me. The thing about a blog is that anyone can find it: friends, family, colleagues, romantic interests, family pets (?). Unless you’re kind of a dick, you will probably care that something you write may hurt or scare someone you love. I can be a dick sometimes for sure, but I do care, I really really do. So, I’m sorry, but thankful in advance for your understanding. Bear with.
I’ve come to understand that people who face the isolation of not being sure of who they are, or feel that they or the world around them may be unreal, are dealing with something called dissociation. This can manifest itself in a few ways, including derealisation and depersonalisation. Maybe take a sec to look up these terms if you’re interested in the difference – I don’t feel very qualified to give the best definition. As always, all I can give you is my own limited experience.
Instead, I’ll take you back to the confusing end of a weekend away.
A few weeks ago I spent four hours in a shopping centre in Warsaw.
Coming to the end of the weekend trip, I felt like I’d done a pretty okay job of keeping my emotions vaguely under control/ not holiday-ruining, with crying and general “I need to lie down on the floor now because I am made of nothing and it hurts” type stuff kept to a minimum. But then again, I guess it’s not so difficult to have a lightness in your step when you’re exploring a great city with a friend you love, dancing and singing randomly in the street, fuelled by beer, cake and pierogi.
Now all I had to do was fill a few hours on my own, and get on that delightful Ryanair flight home.
I had had aspirations to visit a gallery, ride the metro, take some ultra hipster-looking photos on my new film camera.
What I actually did was sit hunched over on a couch, eyes moving between unfamililar faces and my feet, which seemed to have lost all connection to my body.
After I watched my friend’s train move swiftly out of the station, I saw myself amble aimlessly down the platform and stand stationary on an escalator, mindlessly following the flow of people from the station into a huge shopping centre.
There everything just ceased, like someone had decided to pull the plug. It was time to stop, switch off, shut up shop. Empty, but heavy. This is how I found myself on the couch.
Sadness is a funny thing. How does it manage to both numb you, yet make this numbness roar from within the blank space you’re sure you’ve become? How can you not know why you’re sad, but know nonetheless that you are? These were not questions I was reflecting on while scrunched up on the sofa; a painful lack of feeling took me over.
After not moving for about an hour, my legs began to scream silently, bringing me abruptly to my feet.
Walking, walking, walking. Just keep walking. Look normal. Don’t think, don’t cry, and certainly don’t lie down with your face against the cold floor like you want to.
I rode the escalator. I considered what it would feel like, if anything at all, to throw myself over the edge of it, into the juice bar below. (Free spaced-out Brit with every smoothie, come and get it).
Despondency moved into panic.
As the world took on a glassy quality, it seemed to be drifting away into the distance. I stood and watched the outside move near silently. Could I reach out and touch it? Who are these people? Do I know them? Do they know me?
I looked around myself intently, searching for something to recognise, hoping to catch myself in a familiar scene in one of the reflective glass shop fronts: ah, there you are! No luck. I began to doubt whether I really was in Poland and if I did, indeed, even exist.
A voice: “You’re in Warsaw! Don’t you know how lucky you are? Do something!”
Another voice: “Who? Me? .. But why..who am…how did I… where do I go from here? Just take me home. Where is that?”
When I go through dissociation, in times of panic or a particularly tough depressive episode, I have learned to repeat certain very simple phrases to myself.
I’m Elise. I’m 24. I’m from London. Travelling is exciting. Friends are great. I like tea very much. I know some Russian. God is good and with me always.
Simple things to reassert an identity.
Other times I might try to assert a new kind of identity, changing my appearance in a more or less drastic way. I have a little note on my phone reminding me not to attempt to get a piercing or tattoo on the spur of the moment… go for something a little less needle-based. That’s how I ended up lopping lots of my hair off twice in the last few months. Don’t look at the back, it’s not even.
This is where I’ll leave you for now – there’s only so much existential doubt one can handle so close to Christmas.
Love and blessings xx