Bernadette

“I’m scared of myself, I’m scared of people, I’m scared of the world I live in and the life I’m leading. These thoughts hide behind fake laughs, awkward movements and sunken eyes, they consume me. I feel their intensity as I stare at this blank page. Every movement of my pen is the result of a forceful nudge from some trapped version of me, to a hand I don’t recognize. I look up at my reflection in the mirror and I don’t see myself anymore, my face is dead and old, there is nothing there, I look and feel like a comatose patient. There is a definite subjectivity to how I have to come to view the world, I am removed from the experience of watching, as I observe a group of friends sitting and talking, almost as though I see them through a life size television. A few years ago I would have tried to view this experience as empowering, having convinced myself that I felt detached because I was somehow better than these superficial, shallow people that surround me. But now I know it’s because I’m dead, and I have nearly lost the energy needed to pretend to be alive.”
I wrote this passage on a napkin when I was 17 years old, before I knew anything about depersonalization and before I had even dreamed about getting help. I am now 21 and have recently left hospital where I was admitted for 3 weeks after suffering what my G.P called a “nervous breakdown.” It was a Monday morning I was getting prepared for university that afternoon and filling in some forms for my part-time job, I try very hard to keep myself distracted from the invasion of thoughts that eat away at me and that Monday was no exception. As I was finishing my jobs the thoughts began to creep in, suddenly my mind was a flurry with antagonistic debates and rhetorical questions, what was wrong with me, was I going insane? and if I was, why was it taking so long? Then the last thing I remember was putting down my pen and staring as hard as I could at my reflection in the glass cabinet a few meters in front of me. I didn’t recognize myself, in fact its been so long since I did recognize myself that I don’t know if I ever will again, I’m dead I thought,  and with what was either my body finally giving up under the weight of my own thoughts or an act of rebellion on my part, trying to take back control of my body by “deciding” to lose my mind once and for all, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t remember waking up on my first day in hospital because I never remember waking up, most of my life has felt like a dream, my memory is dreamlike and I have trouble separating fact from dream like fiction. As I walked around the hospital at a speed that seemed much slower than everyone around me, I did something I have not done since I was a child and unfamiliar with the laws of the universe, I laid on the floor, curled up and clutching my knees, closed my eyes and begged whatever mighty power may exist to let me please wake up, or perhaps if I would never awaken, to let me die. With that thought and right on queue, my thoughts began to harass me, “maybe you are already dead, perhaps this is your punishment for being such a self-absorbed emotional robot…never knowing whether you are asleep or awake, living or dead.” I quickly picked myself up hoping not to have drawn attention to myself, however it was too late and a few concerned nurses had gathered around me. They asked me what was wrong and I tried without much success to explain it to them. As I fumbled through the vague descriptions I began to feel that intense burning panic I sounded sane enough, but what I was saying was far from sane, were they buying my performance, would I personally give it a good rating, perhaps I should have thrown in some hysterical screams for dramatic effect.Later that day my mum and a family friend came to visit, they hugged me and there eyes showed genuine concern for my well-being, but I didn’t feel it. I looked at my mum’s hand that was holding my own hand, she was squeezing it, but I felt nothing, no love, no squeezing, all I felt was a general disgust and a burning desire to tell her to stop touching me. It was not because I thought she didn’t love me or because I didn’t love her, I do and she does but I didn’t want her to touch me because I didn’t want to feel that nothingness, it made me think I was some sort of evil entity. It has been so long since I felt anything genuine, besides fear and my own forced pain, that I inflict on myself by trying to get close to people who treat me poorly, because its familiar and I think perhaps if this person hurts me enough I will feel something again, but I never did, I simply forced out those predictable tears that have become second nature to me, and waited for the real feelings to follow After a week in hospital I had settled into the routine well, since it allowed me to maximize my distractions, but the activities weren’t enough, so I began to try and help the other patients through their problems. My desire and efficiency in helping them sort out welfare issues, or liaison with their fed up family members caused some of them to question whether I was in fact a patient or perhaps an informer of some kind sent to spy on them under the guise of a regular patient. When I was confronted with these theories I simply laughed and thought to myself, I still am the best actress around, people still buy my performance. But was this caring and helpful person the performance or was it the old me trying to force its way through, I began my performing career at a young age you see and now almost 15 years later I have forgotten which parts of my so called identity are me, and which are merely part of my automatic performance. I spend so much time distracting myself by caring for others, do I really care or is it just easier than thinking about or trying to take care of myself. I settled into the routine of antidepressants and counseling. The drugs robbed my mind of the cognitive ability to obsess over my own thoughts, but it didn’t reattach me to my life, it didn’t wake me up. The counseling began to help, slowly I allowed myself to feel pain, but I’m still not sure what the pain is from, my memory is so confused I cant connect the traumatic events in my life…that I can remember with any sort of affect. I am home now and still going to the hospital as an outpatient and hopefully if I put in the work I will one day wake up, but perhaps I won’t but at least I know I’m not alone and there are many people going through something similar. To everyone who reads my personal story, I offer you all my best wishes and support.

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