Story by "Anonymous"
the start of my life until 1997, I would describe myself as having, for
want of a better word, a Ďnormalí state of mind.
I experienced ups and downs, had likes and dislikes, and felt
entitled to my hopes and expectations.
I was happy enough in my day to day life and was looking forward to
thing which I used to love about life was its intensity.
Intensely good times were obviously better than intensely bad ones,
but for better or worse I was always able to feel
things. I felt terrible
when a boy I fancied at college didnít feel the same way about me, for
example, and I remember crying on my bed for hours when I lost my
virginity to someone who didnít deserve it.
I felt entitled to feel bad and was able to vent my feelings by listening
to music, writing a poem or just talking to someone. These Ďbadí experiences never dented the core of who I
was and the intensity with which I felt them made me feel very, very
August 1997, when I was 20, something profoundly awful happened to me,
which I have never been able to successfully describe or explain to anyone
else. It was so catastrophic
as to completely undermine everything that had preceded it.
Metaphorically speaking, it was something akin to the bottom
falling out of the world. Anything
that I had thought to be the case prior to that moment was nullified.
I had been spending my days in the college Library,
reading books for my final year dissertation. I donít know which
particular book I was reading when it happened, but I distinctly remember
feeling an overwhelming wave of devastation come over me.
It was kind of like a cold wind Ė as if something threatening and
deathly had brushed past me. Everything
else in the library remained the same, but I felt utterly changed.
The change was total and a phrase, seemingly from nowhere, planted
itself in my head: ďThatís all there isĒ.
The ďthatĒ, in this case, was life.
To this day I donít know what the catalyst for this was. Maybe it was something particular that was written on the
page, or a picture I saw, but it felt like the flick of a switch.
From that day, I lost the ability to live in the moment; something
which I had always taken for granted and had believed to be an innate part
of being human. For twenty
years I had believed in the reality of the present moment, but this, it
seems, was a privilege and not a right.
To the naked eye, nothing had changed:
I continued to sit at my desk.
Emotionally, I felt like I had flat-lined.
remember leaving the library in a state of shock.
If someone had slipped me a note on my way out informing me that
this feeling would not lift for a further three years, I may have been
tempted to throw in the towel there and then.
As it was, I tried to behave as if everything was normal.
When I look back on this time, I canít help but kick myself for
not having demanded help, but I couldnít help but think how laughably
illogical my unhappiness looked on paper.
I remember one particular evening when a friend took me to a pub to
cheer me up. The scene was
set: beautiful weather, good company and a bottle of wine.
We talked a lot, particularly about the extent to which the world
was my oyster, but I felt unremittingly dreadful and nothing could lift my
defining characteristics of this state are many.
Most frighteningly, everything feels like fiction; not only my life
and my immediate surroundings, but history and the world as well.
I find it unbearable to hear the radio or to read novels as I feel
like I donít understand them. The
news seems like a radio play and novels donít engage me as I assume that
all the characters feel like I do (in which case, why does anything that
happens to them matter? How
are they able and, more importantly, why are they bothering to travel,
fall in love, marry or murder?) I
cannot relate to stories because, without exception, they assume that the
reader has a basic understanding or empathy with the human condition.
am also consumed with very ugly feelings of jealousy.
Everyone is a potential target for this.
The very young (who have their whole lives ahead of them), the very
old (as their past is preserved and not at the mercy of any kind of
existential breakdown), the dead (particularly those who wrote
autobiographies regaling me with how colorful their lives were), the
yet-to-be-born (their lives are completely blank canvases) my
contemporaries (who, whilst caring for me are still, first and foremost,
interested in number one), my elders (who have had their
youth and have been informed by the experiences of it) and animals
(who are the undisputed masters of living in the moment).
It saddens me to confess that I have a particularly vivid memory of
being jealous of a fly. It
follows that I would trade places with anyone
if it meant that I could feel.
Chop off my leg and force me to gain fifteen stone and I would
think it a small price to pay for being able to experience things again.
also have a sense of everything being inconsequential.
If I were to write a diary when I am in this state, every page
would be filled with doodles. My
diary prior to summer 1997 was not only full, but carefully crafted.
The past was real and good and worth committing to paper. I remember writing on March 5th 1996: ďToday I
am 19. I hope this year will
be epicĒ. It is no
exaggeration to say that I do not recognize the girl who wrote that,
something which I find almost intolerably sad.
is an enormous regret of mine that I didnít realize that feeling this
way was not something which I had to take lying down.
I finished my degree, moved to London and spent two whole years at
drama school before the switch flicked back at the start of 2001.
While I can remember what happened in those years on a factual
level, I have no emotional response to those events.
I remember feeling constantly frightened and sad and, worst of all,
utterly convinced that things would never change.
Looking back, I wouldnít stand by any of my actions or feel
responsible for the choices I made during that time, although I always
tried to do what I thought Sarah would have done.
In this respect, I tried to stay true to what I knew to be right,
though I was in an altered state, I still tried to think of others, tried
to be a good friend and worked as hard as I could.
I have always thought of this as a kind of simulacrum Ė I was
certainly faking it to a fairly impressive level.
Indeed people who knew me before, during and after this period saw
no perceptible difference in my behavior, something which I find
though it sounds, I didnít experience pleasure at all during that time.
I did grow very used to the feeling of emptiness though, so the
initial sense of devastation lost its edge a little.
Feeling so hollow meant that there was nothing to be gained from
introspection. My emotional
landscape was so barren that I became entirely outward-looking. I had a morbid and obsessive fascination with other people
and their lives. Standing on
a crowded train platform, I would feel consumed with jealousy and entirely
alone. I couldnít hate the
people standing around me Ė they had, after all, done nothing wrong -
but I felt horribly bitter. It
was as if my ego had died or, at the very least, gone into a long
hibernation, leaving me vulnerable to being blown by the lightest of
breezes. Happy occasions and
good news did not raise my spirits in any significant way because my core
felt numb. At the other end
of the spectrum, danger did not particularly frighten me and recklessness
didnít appall me. I did not
have inhibitions in the same way as I used to and was far more sexually
voracious than Sarah would ever have been.
the start of 2001, I went for an STD test.
I had had unprotected sex a number of times and was becoming
increasingly worried about the consequences.
In retrospect, this sudden concern for my health was a good sign,
and probably largely due to the fact that I had just finished my first
professional acting job, which was a painfully good experience (painful in
the sense that I couldnít
experience it). When faced
with the fact that I may have done myself some lasting damage, something
in me started to stir. In
the week before I received the results I became extremely anxious, and
convinced that I had a terrible, fatal disease.
Maybe this was the wake-up call I needed.
I suddenly felt robbed of my future and the sheer injustice of it
all really galled me. When
the results came back negative, I found myself to be back Ďiní my
life. To me, it felt like I
had fallen from the sky and plummeted back to earth.
My ego awoke from its long sleep and the world was
three-dimensional once more.
most recent bout of DP crept up on me while I wasnít looking.
It certainly wasnít akin to the flicking of a switch as it had
been the first time. All
the other features are back in force though Ė and seem oddly familiar
now that we are reacquainted. On
paper things are better than they ever have been.
I have just had something of a career break, I have lost a stone in
weight (which I have been meaning to do for ages) and I think I have
fallen in love. I shouldnít
be suicidal, but I am, as I feel that I am viewing my life through thick
glass. I feel no pride in my
body and feel no pleasure when my boyfriend compliments me on it.
I like fashionable clothes, but dressing myself feels like dressing
a doll. The doll feels
nothing, but other people think she looks nice.
It seems academic whether I look ok as I merely inhabit my body;
itís something I have borrowed for a while but which doesnít
ultimately belong to me. While
my recovery from this condition is logically possible, the ageing process
is a certainty, a thought which frightens me witless
those three years, and for the last six months (since my condition has
returned), life has perplexed, troubled and often horrified me.
I see other people ďgetting on with itĒ wherever I look so am
very limited in what I can do to avoid crossing their paths and thereby
feel vaguely OK. Crosswords,
sketching, eating and sleeping are just about tolerable, which seems to me
to be a very sorry state of affairs.
I feel like I am wasting my life and, most importantly, Iím
convinced that on some subconscious level, I am doing it to myself.
A voice in my head is constantly telling me that Iím lucky to be
alive, but what is the use an amazing gift if you donít know how to
are slipping through my fingers at an astonishing speed and they are all
essentially the same. Whatever
the day holds on a literal level, does not alter this monotony.
I have always thought that Kafkaís Metamorphosis is a brilliant
allegory of this type of condition. No
matter what Gregor does, or what the people around him say or do, he is
still a dung beetle. No
amount of effort on the part of others can change this and life goes on
around him. It is a
last few weeks have been spent in a kind of cocoon.
I feel completely trapped. Ironically,
it is my love of life that makes it so unbearable to contemplate living
with the knowledge that things could have been very different.
I donít want to be a spectator.
The belief that I have unintentionally squandered the years in
which I was supposed to develop into a young woman makes me inconsolably
sad. I feel like I
donít know who I am, particularly sexually,
and I am trapped in a way of thinking that tells me I canít have
a future if I donít have a past.
Maybe itís arrogance that makes this so intolerable.
I have never doubted my talents, my intelligence or my inherent
worth as a person, but feel like I have been denied access to these
things. I still feel like a
prize-winning potato, but one which has never been unearthed and has now
begun to rot beneath the soil.
I cannot live like this, but have to remind myself that, despite
its dream-like quality, this is real to the people who love me.
I canít live purely for the benefit of others, but I canít willfully
ruin anyone elseís life by taking away my own.
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