Transgender depersonalization testimonies around the web, 2018

Throughout numerous articles, I’ve covered many aspects of the experience of chronic depersonalization among trans people, a condition of persistent feelings of unreality or having “no self” that’s especially common in untreated gender dysphoria. Symptoms of depersonalization disorder are wide-ranging and can include (Sierra et al., 2005; Fagioli et al., 2015):

  • Disturbances in sense of self: Feeling “robotic”; a sense of seeing oneself from the outside or being an observer of oneself; lacking a sense of ownership over one’s body as if it does not belong to oneself
  • De-affectualization: Emotional numbing; not “truly” feeling emotions when expressing them; a sense of having an empty head or having no thoughts at all, or as if one’s thoughts have a life of their own; not experiencing pleasure or displeasure at the taste or smell of things; detachment from the sense of pain
  • Derealization: Feeling detached from one’s surroundings; seeing the world as colorless, lifeless, or flat; a sense of being unreal
  • Disruptions in sense of time, memory, and perception: Objects appearing smaller or far away; a sense of not being present in one’s own memories of life; feeling that recent events took place long ago

The feelings associated with depersonalization disorder can be particularly difficult to describe, as it fundamentally affects the texture of one’s own conscious experience; most people don’t know about depersonalization and some do not even realize that such experiences aren’t normal. The phenomenon of chronic depersonalization in trans people follows a similar pattern, and many sufferers are surprised when these symptoms abate after transitioning.

I’ve previously gathered both contemporary firsthand accounts of depersonalization experiences in trans people as well as reports of what appear to be depersonalization symptoms from trans people throughout history. These vivid and detailed descriptions provide an important touchstone for trans people who may be experiencing these phenomena but don’t know how to put this into words or that this is even a known disorder. As awareness of depersonalization in trans people continues to spread among the community, additional personal accounts can be found in trans support forums such as Reddit’s AskTransgender. Below, I’ve collected some recent examples of descriptions of personal experiences of depersonalization symptoms among trans people, for the benefit of those who may find that they share these experiences – and that they are not alone.

 

Nobody noticed probably because I didn’t notice in the first place, because it’s how I felt all my life so I just assumed it was normal and never expressed it outwardly, and plus how do you recognize signs of dissociation? Sure most people could see that I was depressed, but how could you tell that I didn’t feel like an actual person? Now it’s undescribably better, at some point starting HRT I was able to look in the mirror and for the first time in my life recognize “this is me, I am myself”, like I had just become an embodied entity, and from then on it just got better, I’m no longer depressed and I now feel that I am the person who has control, like I moved from spectator to an actual acting agent in the world.

Steamtide

 

I never quite felt like someone. I didn’t feel like I was myself but I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. Basically everything I did and everything I “liked” – clothes, taste of music, hobbies etc. – was not “developed” by myself. I just did the same thing others my age did, although I had no real interest in that stuff. I don’t think I liked anything at all, but I had to do something..

A month ago a good friend of mine kind of asked me the same question. He asked me out of the blue: “Duck are you even a person? I know you for quite some time and I know how you think and I know your humor but do you even have your own personality? I don’t mean to offend you but I’ve never seen you do your own thing.”

It all crashed down upon me. It was an epiphany. I was already questioning myself at that time and that just confirmed all my doubts.

Now I’m slowly exploring myself and what I like to see what brings me joy.

Duck-Egg

 

Not really. I was just kinda here, navigating my life like a captain in fog. I felt like being in this body was just kinda my job, and I wasn’t really attached to it, but it wasn’t so bad I was going to throw myself overboard.

SchopenhauerIsRight

 

One day a few weeks after starting HRT and after starting to see some physical changes, I looked down in the shower and had a very weird feeling of being in my own body–very much an “inside of body experience,” compared to my usual experience of being a camera hovering six feet off the ground.

Then I realized I had never actually felt that before.

After that sharp moment of perspective it’s been a slower burn into normal existence.

Slavaa

 

I felt like an alien. Here visiting, able to blend in and understand concepts and facts and ideas. But I couldn’t integrate it with my emotions. There was no fire, no connection, no real understanding until my hormones were in line for the first time in my life.

ellehutton

 

I felt like a cloud of intellect evaluating the world. Transition was very much about me gaining personhood in the sense that other people always were persons to me.

sofia-miranda

 

For the longest time before I realised I was/am trans, I thought my numb / depressed state of mind was normal. Dissociation is one hell of a thing when you are not aware of it. But no, did not feel like a person at all, at most a passive spectator, who only played an active part whenever beaten/bullied, which was a lot…

LillyStephanie

 

I didn’t even feel like I was alive before I started to accept myself as a woman. One of my common thoughts before my egg cracked, was that a cruel joke of purgatory had been pulled on me; never really knowing if the numbness I felt was depression or if I was just actually dead. Sure, I was expressive, but everything was a performance, as if I was just a puppet and any day now my body would start rotting away. It’s not until recently did I really start considering myself an actual person. Like, a real, bonafide, all natural, genuine person. Funny, the government doesn’t want to consider me a person right when I start wanting to be one.

ParanoidMaron

 

Perhaps the most rewarding change of all is the mental one. Emotions are far more layered and nuanced than they used to be. Things such as anger, for example, can be peppered with hints of sorrow and jealousy at the same time. It’s not that these things were never present before; I just didn’t notice them. It’s like eating a bunch of candy and tasting the candy shell for the first time. I also used to be the kind of jerk who would make fun of girls for being too “emotional” and crying at the drop of a hat. Yes, I know that there are women who feel the same way about other women, too. However, what I notice is that feelings, especially sadness, tend to go from zero to a hundred very quickly. Things become very intense and, like a preschool child, the tears just flow. It’s as if the body knows that the pain I feel is worse than what I make light of. As a result, life now seems to have a tempo and a rhythm I never noticed before. The ocean of my mind isn’t just this massive body of water I once thought it was. Even when it’s calm, you can now see ripples and tiny shimmers of light on its surface. This alone is worth the price of HRT and I would never go back.

SnowRabbit7

 

As a kid, that is, before about the age of 14 or 15, I felt like I was forcing so so many reactions. Like I would get christmas presents and my reactions were 100% forced. Like, thinking to myself, “This is what I am supposed to do right now”. … It’s like you’re a spectator in your own life, you don’t really have control over it like you think. And then when I realized I was trans, I started actually playing the game because whoever else was handed to controller over to me.

jsquared89

 

I used to have suicidal thoughts that came naturally on a daily basis (I wasn’t actively seeking to kill myself, though) and disappeared after a few days on T blockers.

The libido drop is also a good thing. I don’t really have a sexual attraction to people, but I had this need to somehow fight the depression away through masturbation. Thing that stopped, thank god because it was awful.

After one week on E, I suddenly started to cry after thinking about something painful (real crying, not just 3-4 tears rolling down). Getting this back after at least 8 years where I couldn’t cry, even in the most painful moments, or by forcing myself, was actually a relief. I think my emotions might be getting back slowly.

I wasn’t expecting much either, but I’m glad and going back would be terrible.

Notevensurewhoiam990

 

I felt clarity and freedom after a few months of mood swings into HRT. The world was brighter, smelled better, felt so much more real. There have been instances where Im off of HRT due to lack of meds and it’s always a nightmare. I never want to go back

Melissa-Crown

 

I don’t really know what it means to “feel like myself”. I can’t tell whether the one I’m looking at in the mirror is me or not. I like my face aesthetically, but… I don’t know. I don’t know what’s real anymore, but I think I never did. I know who I am inside, but outside… It’s like… A blurred photo. I’m looking at it, it’s a real picture, but I see it blurred. I can’t tell what I’m actually looking at. I don’t think I’ve ever felt connected with my body and what I see in the mirror. Just… I know it’s be because this body acts under the orders of my brain. It moves when and how I tell it to move, I logically know it’s my body, but… I realized this only lately. I’ve always been like this? Maybe. I read about depersonalization, but I don’t remember feeling like this before. Maybe I just realized it now? Maybe it’s because today is the first time I felt like I could identify as a girl since when I started questioning? I don’t remember feeling exactly like this, but maybe I did. I did feel like I wasn’t experiencing life yet, most of my life. I felt like I only had to do things I was told and supposed to do. I remember thinking this, but I don’t remember whether it was constant or not. I think this changed a bit when I started identifying as a boy, but maybe it didn’t. In certain situations I remember feeling like I was supposed to feel certain emotions, but I wouldn’t cry or panic or what. I remember wanting to feel things deeply, I still want it, but I feel like I need to force empathy to get those. I’m very empathetic, I want to be good to people and I think I have a good understanding, but it feels more intellectual than something that comes from the guts. I truly care about others’ well-being and I love the gratitude, I also feel compassion, but… I feel like I’m acting on my ideals, then on morality and intellect more than emotions and stuff. Maybe it’s stupid.

What is this, anyway?

–Pascal–

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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