Depersonalisation: Understanding Why You’re Numb, and What Can Be Done

“How do you feel?”

“I don’t know.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does that mean you don’t love me anymore?”

“I don’t know how to answer that. I just don’t know.”

Sound familiar? If so, then you may have found yourself as a subject of depersonalisation disorder. Depersonalisation disorder, or DPD, is one of a group of conditions known as dissociative disorders, mental illnesses that cause “disruptions of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception.” – webmd.com. Depersonalisation can be experienced on a wide spectrum, ranging from having out of body episodes, to simply feeling disconnected or detached. One of the most commonly shared symptoms people have reported is having a warped perception of themselves and the world around them. Those affected have also mentioned experiencing a ‘numb’ state, unable to feel or explain what they are going through, and the ability to switch unexpectedly between a state of awareness and a disconnected one.

Sounds scary? Well thankfully, for those with this disorder, you are not alone. Depersonalisation disorder is actually more common than you would think, being the third most common mental illness, falling short just behind anxiety and depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health 50% of adults in the United States experience depersonalisation at least once in their lifetime, with only 2% being diagnosed for chronic reoccurrence. Sadly, it often gets misdiagnosed or mistaken for other illnesses, as doctors still are unravelling and learning about the disorder. So for those who are left in the dark, what are they meant to do?

For a long time, I was convinced that there was something severely wrong with me. I had a history of being in relationships where I could just shut off at any minute. One minute I had feelings, the next minute I was completely indifferent. This yo-yo of emotions made it difficult for not only me, but also my partner, to maintain a functional relationship. I can only imagine how stressful it would be dating someone so extremely hot and cold, who had the ability to just drop you at any second when they are feeling numb. Experiencing a lack of, or an absence of feelings can be quite daunting; having an overwhelming abundance of emptiness really does wonders in making you feel completely alone. How was it possible that all of my feelings could just disappear, in a split second?

I went on for years moving in and out of relationships, barely functioning with depersonalisation, but not caring enough to figure out why, or what was going on. It wasn’t until I started dating my current partner, whose extreme patience and ability to relate, prompted me to undergo some investigation. Up until that point I was under the impression that I was just mentally ill, possibly dealing with PTSD that was a result of years of trauma, stemming from my childhood and into my adulthood. My symptoms just didn’t make sense to me; I knew that PTSD could trigger reactionary episodes at any time and could also make you feel numb in day-to-day life. However, it didn’t explain the symptoms I experienced as a child and as a teenager of heightened awareness of my surroundings, and a warped perception of time.

After many years of fighting an internal battle, I discovered DPD and instantly related. It was such a relief to see all my symptoms spelt out for me on a page, letting me know that no, I was not losing my mind. Now, that I am aware of what I have been experiencing, I have made a conscious effort to take note of my triggers. Understanding what can spark an episode is vital in being able to function not only in daily life, but also in a relationship.

There have been more than a few circumstances where certain behaviours have triggered my DPD and lead me to breaking up with past partners in a hot minute. I have now realised that when it seems like the best option to instantly sever ties that were previously important, it is vital to step back, and sensibly process the situation. Jumping to rash decisions with DPD can be quite common. In one instance of extreme DPD a woman divorced her husband, as in a split second she couldn’t feel anything for him. So she came to the conclusion that she didn’t love him anymore. In a similar situation, I almost ended my current relationship with my partner because I couldn’t feel anything, and was convinced that I was possibly just over him. It wasn’t until I started questioning my thoughts that I realised there was a much deeper issue at hand.

Getting on top of your mental health in 2018 is just as important as brushing your teeth, or getting your regular STI check-up. Self-care means doing what you can to ensure your physical and mental wellbeing. You shouldn’t have to go through life sacrificing relationships and opportunities because you are not on top of your mental game. If you can relate to the symptoms listed, or are just looking for someone to talk to there are many avenues available. In-person therapy is one option, however, if you prefer to talk to someone from the comfort of your home, online therapy is another option. Whichever avenue you prefer, just know that there is support out there, and living life as a half-functioning human should never be an option.

Written by Sara Nicolette.

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