Things that make me anxious, part 6: Derealisation
When I was 7, I caught the dreaded chicken pox. Terrified that I would suddenly sprout feathers, I tentatively settled myself in for a week on the sofa. Mum was temporarily employed as a Lucozade delivery lady, and dad was on hand with cuddles and reassurance.
Although itchy, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared and I soon got used to the idea of no school. The feathery coverage I had been so afraid of never materialised, and there was always some vaguely Rugrats-esque background noise to doze to. And that TV chatter, both far off in the distance and amplified x10, combined with the forever floatiness of spending my life caught between asleep and awake had me totally confused and asking: is this real?
Derealisation is a biggie. It’s possibly something you haven’t really heard of, if you don’t suffer from anxiety - or maybe even if you do. Nevertheless it is one of the first and most common symptoms of a panic attack and if you suffer from them, you have probably felt it.
It’s the feeling that everything around you is somehow not real. It feels like there’s a fog between you and reality. It feels fucking awful.
As if we didn’t have enough to deal with; sweating, shaking, palpitations, loss of breath, hot flushes, chest pain, headaches, choking sensations, neck pain, nausea, dizziness, numbness and tingling - we are now engulfed in a thick mist of doubt.
How did I get here? Did I lock my door? Why can’t I swallow? Am I having an allergic reaction to something? How do my legs know to walk by themselves? Is my skin a funny colour?
And all the while the world goes by; muffled, and you're watching life like it's a shitty, made for TV movie. Like the Hollywood remake of Holby City, the Bollywood adaptation of Last of the Summer Wine. Except it's somehow scary. Like the Birds meets Heartbeat meets Water Colour Challenge. And you're quarantined in this world (probably because of your weird new skin condition), and the only way out is to walk another 200 yards and sit through a murky coffee with someone you now consider an imaginary friend.
But nobody ever talks about it - so we all think we're going slowly insane. And you're expected to go outside and do "normal" stuff, like buy socks, or eat a biscuit or meet your future husband. And you have to try to sit next to your equally anxious best friend, sipping tasteless cappuccinos, neither of you brave enough to ask the other one the question that's burning into your very soul: is this real?