Real or Not Real?

Here is a list of scenes that I can give you: the cover of an old Reader's Digest magazine. A half-empty water bottle. A blinking Gmail icon in the corner of my desktop, 1 new message. The clock's minute hand hovering at exactly 8:34 PM. Those four images are crystal clear in my mind. Honestly, I think that is the funny thing about it - that even in the haze that surrounds this evening, I should pick up those rather insignificant details.

At 8:34 PM tonight, I realised - probably belatedly - that there was something very wrong with the way I was existing. Which is to say: I was not quite sure whether I was existing at all, or perhaps, if I was some figment of the world's collective imagination.

I pinched myself a few times. And then I took a long, cold shower. And then I locked myself in the bathroom with a Sharpie and wrote I AM REAL on my skin - unfurling around my kneecaps, snaking up my forearms, meandering across my stomach. Over and over and over, those same three words, until the ink was fading from my marker and the words glowed bright on a tingling canvas.

I am still trying to figure out whether they were telling the truth.

I think derealisation is one of the most alien experiences I've ever had. (Am still having, possibly, as I write this post.) It's defined as "a sense of the world not being real", a side effect of multiple mental illnesses - and while that might seem rather ridiculous to those who have not experienced it, it is something profoundly unnerving to those who have.

For me, derealisation is something that comes on suddenly - often after a normal, even happy, day - and one that I am rather horrible at identifying until it becomes overwhelming. It leaves me feeling as if I am floating, not quite sure whether I might crumble at the slightest touch. It clouds my actions and makes me hyper-aware of only certain, minute details (Reader's Digest, water, emails, 8:34 PM), as if there is something important lying in the half-finished jigsaw puzzle, the mystery gathering dust in the corner. If that jigsaw even exists.

The thing is, even with panic attacks, even with depressive episodes, there is a grain of ineffable reality to the madness. Perhaps not a very beautiful one, but a reality, all the same - and yet, when I experience derealisation, it is difficult to find a place of grounding. I think we as humans need that - something to point at, to say here is a thing I know to be the truth. But derealisation is a hurricane of raw uncertainty.

You are real. You are here. You are holding together.

This is a text a friend sent me a few months back, on a night much like this one, when I could not separate the gossamer dreaming from real life.

With derealisation, I often wonder whether other people are telling the truth when they say such things. It is an easy thing to disbelieve during a time when nearly everything is a cause for scepticism. And after all, when one is in the passenger seat of one's own mind, who's to say that there is any comfort to be found in words whispered between phone screens, blown across the fickle lines of cyber-communication?

Still, though, I find comfort in that. A mantra of sorts - that even when I am drifting through life, here is one thing I can grasp onto. Even when I can't believe it, I think it is nice to know that someone else can. That amidst the hurricane of derealisation, here is something to point at, to say here is a thing I know to be the truth.

You are real. You are here. You are holding it together.

Even on the days with jagged edges, I try not to forget it.