In the words of the Grateful Dead and Soul II Soul, what a long, strange trip it's been back to life, back to reality. I finally seem to be coming out of a soul coma. For the last few years, I've been plagued by a sense of unreality, a feeling that the world and its inhabitants are unreal or (more often) that some inter-dimensional haze separates me from everything (and everyone) else. The effect is mainly emotional, but I'm most aware of its visual component. It slightly blurs my vision, softening all edges.
Apparently, this is a symptom of Depersonalization Disorder. I discovered
this quite by accident when I looked up Adam Duritz of Counting Crows on
Wikipedia. On an episode of the hit podcast Jordan, Jesse, Go! one of
the hosts (Jordan) said Mr. Duritz's dreadlocks were fake, so I decided to
conduct some independent research. I was unable to confirm that claim, but I
did learn that he experiences the aforementioned disorder, which is marked by a
feeling that the world isn’t real.
Usually, I would be relieved to learn that my condition has a name and
afflicts others too. But that revelation increased my anxiety. For some reason,
I wanted to keep this malady to myself. I wanted it to remain personal, unique
and nameless. I didn't want to label it with a clinical diagnosis. My bouts of
depression often provoke this reaction: “Must sadness always be pathologized?
Can't I just be bummed out? Isn't there enough pain and suffering in the world
to justify being down in the dumps?”
I've been out of phase with Reality since the fall of 2010, but it feels
like I’m almost all the way back. I keep bursting through fuzzy membranes of
distortion that were cutting me off from the Real World. It's like I'm
traveling through dimensions, getting closer to my home dimension, but never
quite there. I'm striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping that the
next leap will be the leap home. (Sorry, I had to.) The goalposts keep moving. The closer I get to Reality, the more I notice the sensations
that are still missing. I didn’t even notice my sense of smell had diminished until
it returned in full force a week ago.
This case of Depersonalization Disorder must be a result of repressing
emotional pain. I think my mind has tried to escape reality to avoid the stress
and misery of my situation. My closest friends stopped calling me back, and I
failed to find any new friends with whom I connected emotionally. The only jobs
I could get were of the soul-crushing corporate variety. My cousin, with whom
I’d been living, moved back home to Chicago, and I didn’t want to live with
strangers anymore. Therefore, I moved in with my parents for what was supposed
to be one winter, but which just passed five years. My relationship with them
was still broken from adolescence and fraught with tension and anger. By pretty
much any measure, I should’ve been despondent. Internally, I conformed to that
expectation, but I was unable to process my grief.
In the absence of constructive action to extricate myself from this
predicament, my brain took me out of my rut and whisked me away to the Shadow
Realm. The world became a ghost town and the people tumbleweeds. I could still
see and hear them, but their actions didn’t have much positive effect on me. However,
even benign comments and deeds were enough to trigger my anxiety. When nothing
anyone is saying or doing makes you feel better and often makes you feel worse,
I guess turning everyone into a wraith is a logical defense mechanism. It comes
in especially handy when your friends disappear, because the transition from
ghost to empty air is less jarring than that from corporeal being to nothing.
This parallel universe was safe, but it was also boring and lonely. Nothing
was worth doing, because I was numb. Since everyone was a shade, physical
contact felt illusory and emotional connection vanished completely. I wasn’t
willing to open up to the only people who were emotionally available to me at
the time. I lost the ability to connect with new people. I was too afraid to
open up to them, feeling like I’d been emotionally abandoned by my family and
all my closest friends.
This isn’t the first time I’ve withdrawn from the world. It’s a habit I
developed as a child. I would routinely plunge into the abyss of TV rather than
attempt human contact. My parents had to force me to go outside and play with
the other kids. Socialization has always offered me greater rewards than television,
but it also offers greater risks, foremost among these, rejection. Being a
sensitive boy, I was an easy target for verbal abuse as the new kid in
elementary school and then as any kid in middle school. By the time I got to
high school, I’d already had my fill of rejection.
That pain has driven me to flee the company of people many times. I often
wish I could live alone and keep the world at arm's length to avoid being hurt
anymore. If it were up to me, I would live Jorge Luis Borges's "life of
the mind." I would lose myself in fantasy, TV, movies, music and books. For
about half of my two years in Chicago, right after college, I realized that
dream. Discovering that all my bachelor’s degree entitled me to was a seemingly
infinite string of temp jobs left me bitter. I wanted nothing more to do with a
society that had convinced me a college degree was the Key to the Kingdom and
then, once I got one, still denied me a stable, white-collar job. I retreated
into my apartment and spent my days watching TV and playing video games.
But the peace of solitude quickly curdled into paranoid isolation. Each day
became a repetition of eating too much, watching too much TV and staying up too
late. I was lonely, depressed and obese. This is what happens whenever I spend
too much time alone. Physical symptoms crop up that are severe enough to convince
me I need to overcome my fear of rejection and re-engage with people. Ultimately,
my body is the one that keeps pulling me back into the World.
There’s always been a tension between my desire to be in the middle of Life,
amidst teeming Humanity with all its joys and troubles, and my desire to be
free of those obligations, indulging in solitude and serenity. I assume most
people have to deal with that tension and strike a balance between the stress
of engagement and the loneliness of isolation. I’m usually overwhelmed by the
stress and easily hurt by my family and friends’ perceived rejection or
abandonment. If you’re grateful for my continued participation in Life’s Grand
Pageant, you can thank my unconscious. If it were up to my conscious mind, I
would’ve checked out a long time ago.
I think this desire for escape is fueled by our Lonely Society. I doubt it
would be so easy to slip into the Shadow Realm if I were part of a true
community, like in the Olden Days. Those personal connections are what keep me
rooted in Reality. Having supportive family and friends gives me a feeling of self-worth
that convinces me living in the Real World is worth the pain and struggle. On
my own, I’m liable to lose touch with Reality and fly off into a void of despair
at the apparent futility and cruelty of Life. The love of my family and friends
(eventually) convinces me to stick around by renewing my faith in Humanity and
giving me hope for the Future.