Mental Health

Derealization Metaphors


Today I want to talk about derealization. The feeling of being detached from reality.

Whenever I think about it, I come up with a new metaphor to describe it. At the moment, I think of it as like being a perfectly fitting middle piece of a puzzle to which I do not belong.

See, I know that I’m part of reality. I know that I’ve been living a life and affecting things for – as of today – twenty-one and a half years. However, when I experience derealisation, there’s a part of my mind that doesn’t.

Imagine those times in the car as a child, when you were on a long journey at night, but you had fallen asleep before it had gone dark. You’d wake up, gently disturbed by the feeling of the car slowing down, just as the person driving was pulling into a petrol station.

Disoriented by the transition into night-time, you’d sit up and yawn. The car would wobble slightly from the force of the driver’s door slamming. Perhaps, a couple of minutes later, the passenger door would open and you’d be asked if you wanted something, and you’d reply almost under your breath because you didn’t know how loud your voice was going to be.

Then the journey would continue quietly and you’d watch dimly-lit scenery slide past your window, not quite sure where in the world you were. Everyone would talk in hushed voices and all the sounds would blend into a low rumble.

Think of going to bed early. Everyone else is free the next day but you have to be up in the morning. You’re not tired and yet you’re in bed, waiting to go to sleep. As each second snaps by like pulling an elastic band off a nail, you can hear the other’s laughing and talking in the room below you.

You can hear them, and you know they’re actually there. You can even pick out individual voices, as though you are in the room with them. But you’re not. You’re in your bedroom, only slightly tired, and the air around you is still.

In an airport when yours was the last flight. Walking through the deserted space to collect your luggage.

The sound of footsteps and suitcase wheels rolling against the silence.

The weird peacefulness of waiting for your taxi while the cold air bites your arms.

The moment you realise how drunk you are on a night out.

You’ve stumbled, giggling, to the toilet. It’s getting to the end of the night and you’re the only one in there. The heating’s turned up really high and you can’t really feel your hands.

You’re looking into the mirror and everything seems a little bit airbrushed. You lean in, squinting at the glass. It seems more like an image of someone who looks like you than a reflection.

It’s 4am and your eyes feel fuzzy.

When you step outside in autumn, fully expecting the weather to be ice cold because of the wind, but it’s not. It’s a mild breeze which is the exact same temperature as the rest of the atmosphere.

It’s the times you’ve been home from work or school and woken up in the middle of the day, and you’ve gone downstairs to discover the house is empty because everyone who would usually be there is out, just like you should be.

The strange feeling of not having to turn a light on for hours and hours because it’s daylight and the curtains are open.

How loud the kettle boiling sounds when there’s no-one talking over it.

Picking up an object which looks heavy with too much force, only to realise that it’s light as a feather.

The moment between when you lift it and when you bring it back to waist height, when you’re trying to regain control.

Derealization is like all of these things, but the feeling can occur at any time.

Because, when it comes on, the car you’re in is on a busy main road in the middle of the day. You don’t have to be up early, and you’re sitting with your friends and family while they laugh and make jokes. It’s a midday flight landing in a crowded airport. You’re sober. The weather is freezing. You went to work or school and everyone is at home when you get back. The item you picked up is just as heavy as it looks.

And it’s a peculiar feeling. I don’t really see it as good or bad, it’s more in-between. Neutral.

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