Text by Helēna Berga
Illustrations by Linda Karlsone
Imagine you’re dreaming. Imagine everything is covered in a light, dream-like veil, imagine yourself looking down upon yourself and feeling unreal. Imaginary. Imagine seeing your parents in a dream – do you even know them? Do you know anyone around you? Are you yourself even real? Imagine passing every waking moment in this state, only distracting yourself with reckless decisions that do not feel real anyways. Distracting yourself from the constant horror your mind experiences while being stuck like this, stuck for moments, not being able to move, just looking down and saying to yourself, this is me this is me this is me.
I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. Okay is a bittersweet lie I keep telling myself as I look upon my body that I have no connection to. It’s called depersonalization, a struggle that has marked my coming of age story for as long as I can remember. I do not know how unbothered adolescence feels like, repeating my ,,I’m okay’’ mantra always always always. I’m the mere shell of a human, living a dream I can never wake up from. Often everyone in my life feels like a stranger. I keep searching for familiar faces – everything is a punch in my throat as I look upon my parents, living in this stranger’s that I call myself life. My life is a movie I have seen before but not paid much attention, bits of this and that springing to mind but not quite the full picture.
One, two, three, four, five. I count my fingers again and again and again, repeating to myself that as long as there’s five of them everything’s okay – a reminder of panic attacks from an early age, they ripped down everything in their path and left me crumbling with fear and fury. I move my leg up and down just to convince myself – I’m the one in control I’m the one in control I’m the one in control. But I never am, not really. Impossible scenarios taking over me, installing in me a deep fear to leave the cozy abode of my home, my throat being choked by invisible hands, reaching deep into my lungs until there’s no room left for air.
I invite pain into me with a welcoming hand, invite it to make a home in my weary body. It pulls me back into reality for at least the time being as I pinch slap bite hurt hurt hurt. (At least it makes things interesting in the bedroom.) Searching for an upside while falling deeper and deeper down has been my life’s work. Ending every sentence with ,,hey, but at least I’m alive’’, my trademark, worried my parents endlessly but, hey, at least I was alive. Was I really though? The never-ending story of looking down on my hands that might as well be my mother’s and I’d never know took a severe toll on my well-being — surely I must be going crazy.
Turns out it is not as uncommon as one might think – everyone experiences depersonalization every once in a while, though only ,,the worrier types’’ notice it. It is not fair, I thought. Why me? Why do I have to fight a constant battle with myself, trying to convince myself that I’m real, that I’m okay? I felt upper-handed by the Universe itself, her winning a fight I didn’t even know we were fighting. I kept losing and losing and losing. Keeping myself busy is what usually helps – that’s why even in these fear-stricken times I cannot allow myself to sit idly.
It’s not always as bad though. The feeling, much like everything in life, come and go in waves – I remember last summer when I felt as alive as anyone could ever feel. Reminiscing on those times makes me appreciate every moment when the waves calm down, a lake on a warm spring evening with tiny ripples passing through. Now it’s a stormy ocean that does not care about sailors trying to make it back home to their families, waves spilling up and crashing down with reckless abandon.
I’m used to it though – the feeling of looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger. I find comfort in my caffeine-fuelled discomfort, I do not know who would I be without it. As I lie awake, I dream of this girl who is hiding somewhere deep inside of me, battling the obstacles restricting her from coming out of hiding. I hope one day she’ll feel the light on her face as her feet caress the deep green soil of the forest. Hope surges me onwards, in spite of this monster pulling me into its depths. Hope is the meaning of life – at least for me, it forces me to open my eyes every morning and charge into the day head-on. Only hope.