For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from disturbing episodes of feeling like I’m not real. Everything around me stays the same but I go into a state of being disconnected from it all, like it’s just a movie I’m watching on TV. Usually when this happens you can’t see it on me because I go on as usual but I’ve had episodes when the depersonalization becomes so intense that I’m incapable of doing anything but stare in front of me.
How long the depersonalization lasts varies. It can be minutes, hours or even days. It can be triggered by things like fatigue or stress but one of the biggest causes of it for me is being misgendered.
A lot of people won’t get this. Some would say I’m being an overly dramatic “triggered SJW” so just let me explain: when you are trans, you spend all your life pre-coming out as someone you are not. You get up every day and act along in what feels like a play, a farce where you never feel you are allowed to just exist and be yourself. And when you don’t get to ever be yourself, sometimes it can trigger a feeling of not being real. That’s the depersonalization.
Every time someone calls me she, or a girl or my very feminine birth name, it’s like they say: “You don’t exist”. If that happens enough times in a day, I can start to dissociate. Especially if I’m already dealing with stress or anxiety.
For the longest time, I didn’t even know what depersonalization was. It was one of those aha-moments when I finally learned about it. I read up on what to do when it happens and on grounding, a technique to connect yourself back to reality.
There are many different variations of grounding and it’s good to try different ones to figure out which ones work for you. Here’s how I personally go about it.
First, I do some mental grounding. It ask myself questions, sometimes out loud if I’m alone, to focus my attention back on reality. I start with “Where am I?” and “What am I doing?” Then I might ask some additional questions like “What year/month/day is it?”, “What’s my name?” or “How’s the weather today?” I take a moment to answer them to myself and it often is enough to help me snap back to the moment.
If it doesn’t, I do some sensory grounding. It can involved doing a motion, like wiggling my fingers, and focusing on that for a while. Or it can be eating something and focusing my attention on the taste and texture. I’ve found it’s best if the sensory stimulation is something pleasant, as unpleasant sensations can increase anxiety and make the dissociation worse.
If the depersonalization is so intense that no grounding works, I remind myself not to panic and that it will pass eventually. As scary as it can be, depersonalization is temporary. Sometimes you just have to ride it out before you get better.
Lastly, I’d recommend seeing a mental health professional if you can. I’m not one myself so don’t take anything I write as gospel. An expert can help you much better and follow you through your progress.