TW: Derealisation and Depersonalisation
I woke up Wednesday morning, feeling the same way I had done for months, when I found I could slip out of my skin. It was the most remarkable thing.
I watched myself hide under the covers for ten minutes after my alarm went off, wishing what I’d wished for the night and morning before – begging I’d somehow repair, dissolve or die in my sleep. I was beginning to find that the higher being who grants these kinds of desperate wishes, never seemed to get mine. I even tried praying for a while but felt guilty, considering the closest I’ve been to religion is season two of Fleabag and a drunken rendezvous outside St. Mary’s church. I was depersonalised, distressed and begged God to save me, but that’s another story for another time. Anyhow, I began another day, observing myself as I avoided the mirror above the dresser, and made for the bathroom where I often witnessed a sensation of dread.
I saw myself shrug off a cardigan, Alec’s t-shirt and the floaty trouser things I substituted for pyjama bottoms – grimacing slightly at the state of myself – and when I took off my underwear, my skin came off with it.
All of it. My scalp, my face, all slid away from my body, leaving my shiny skeleton self shimmying off the skin around my legs and feet in the bathroom. I heard my heart and stomach and other innards fall to the floor, and tried to frown, but found I had no eyebrows, nor a frontalis, to frown with. So, I picked up my body casing off the bathroom tile, and checked it was all there. With the exception of a few eyelashes, it was.
Bizarre as it may sound, I was surprised to find it looked like me – more than it had in months. Having the odd, deer-like face I do (pointy chin, square forehead, with eyes much too far apart), I don’t enjoy looking at my face in the same way everyone doesn’t – but I never detested it. When I was in a good place, I’d even pride myself on having a bizarre, zoomorphic appearance.
In the past few months, however, looking at my face had become another action I dodged throughout my daily routine. When I’d confront myself with a looking glass, my face would distort into some disturbing transfiguration, a doe-fish hybrid instead of pure Bambi – something that looked like me, but not quite.
Whilst I wasn’t truly confronted with a blue face, antlered head and gills in my cheeks, everything seemed slightly unrecognisable. When this is mixed with a physical feeling of bodily separation, it can be petrifying, especially when you expect to look in the mirror and see the same person you’ve seen for twenty-one years.
But that morning, there it was, upon my skeletal lap: a deer-like face I could recognise without hesitation.
Propping myself up against a cabinet, I started feeding my skin through my skeleton hands, travelling to everywhere I despised – everywhere I’d scratched, bitten, pinched – and traced my bones along them. Caressing teeth marks, stroking red trails I’d created in an attempt to ground myself, to drag me out of the floating disconnection I’d spend my days engulfed by. I held her (Her? It? Me?) close to my sternum, breathing in my hair, and felt a wave of warmth wash over me as I wondered when was the last time I’d been this kind to my body. With the tips of my fingers, I cleared the sleep out the corners of my tear ducts, the dried drool below my lip, and detangled the silver chains strung around my neck.
Running my thumbs over the eyelids, I hung my skin on the door with the towels and stepped into the shower, where I felt everything.
I’d seen myself shower for months – hovering slightly above, beside or opposite my body, as I turned up the heat and scraped a loofah along my stomach with a desperation to feel something. When I couldn’t, I’d sit myself in the bathtub for too long, frantically attempting to remember what I’d been up to the day before as the water scalded my scalp without me noticing. It would take Alec yelling through the door about the water bill to get me to stand up again.
But on Wednesday, I felt everything.
As the water trickled through the gaps in my bones, traced each vertebrae of my spine like a xylophone, I revelled in every sensorial aspect showering has to offer. The sensation of massaging shampoo onto my skull, the lemon sherbet smell of my shower gel, the sound of Alec telling me that we’re broke as fuck and don’t have an endless supply of water… I indulged in it the way actors in adverts indulge in Ferrero Rocher, tossing my featureless face back under the showerhead like a Pantene commercial. Existing – no barriers, no separations – in the moment. Then, stepping out of the bathtub – bones wrapped in a clean towel, my hairless skull in a turban – I felt fresh out of an underworld spa retreat. I breathed in the cosy humidity that swirled around the four walls of the bathroom and (lighting a candle that supposedly smells like goji berries) I sat on the closed toilet seat, drying my body.
It was quite the variation from my previous showers, and when I cleared away the fog on the bathroom mirror that day, I was thankful to be met with my skinless skull, rather than the features of my face I didn’t seem to recognise. Dissolving into a crying mess upon the bathroom tile was becoming a regularity, and it took up a significant chunk of my day. Hence, when I gazed at my spooky self this Wednesday, I released the largest exhale from the lungs I didn’t have, and a feeling of complete liberation engulfed what was left of my body. I embarked upon the rest of my day, living life in skeleton – a lifestyle which proved to be rather amusing.
After resolving I looked much too spooky for clothes, I sat myself down before the floor length mirror, preparing to put concealer on my skin, eyeshadow on my eyelids – and was rather amused to find I had no skin to conceal, nor eyelids to shadow. Alec nearly had a heart attack when I was dressed and downstairs before lunchtime, where he handed me a coffee and didn’t seem confused when he held me close and felt nothing but bones. Nor did he mind when I gulped on the liquid, and it had nowhere to travel to – simply forming a creamy coffee puddle on the kitchen floor.
As I bent down to clean it up, my knees clinking along the tile, he told me, you seem different, in a good way – more like yourself, and I said I felt extraordinarily ordinary. He laughed a pity laugh, tugging me up by my wrist and running his palm along my spine, sacrum, coccyx. I felt his mouth on my cheekbone and butterflies swam through the air where my stomach had been, and when he kissed me goodbye, I had no protests. I waved him out the door like a good skeleton should, and embarked on my day, in all its ghoulish beauty.
Checking off my daily to-do list – wake up, shower, coffee – I seated myself at the kitchen table and started my work for the day. (It doesn’t sound particularly ghoulish, but I listened to Phoebe Bridgers in the midst of it all, which felt rather appropriate).
I met my mum for lunch, and we had a conversation – a full one, free of pauses and misconceptions – about her day and what I’d been up to. She told me she was doing okay – that Dad was busy working, and she missed him a lot – the puppy was adorable, but a fucking nightmare – and otherwise, she was just worrying about Lily and me. In the way all daughters do, I told her not to. To which she simply raised her brows in the way all mothers do, and said, it’s my job to worry… although, you do seem brighter today, and offered me some homemade jam. It was a mundane conversation, it was ordinary, but I heard every word and responded without stumbling over mine.
Waving goodbye with a jam jar in hand, I climbed into my car and drove the long way into town.
I adore driving more than one should – an adoration that roots from being stuck in a small village in the middle of nowhere throughout my adolescent life.
However, much like calling into work sick, driving depersonalised is one of those things that feels illegal but isn’t. The kind of ghostly otherness and all-encompassing apathy is something akin to being drunk and high, but less extreme and infinitely less enjoyable. When – amid my drive to the Chiltern MS Centre art show in Wendover – I felt that lethal separation, the split between myself and my body, slowly descend upon me, I had a panic attack on the side of the A41 that lasted two hours. Partially because I knew I’d have to cross ‘Chauffer’ and ‘F1 Driver’ off my list of potential career choices, but mostly due to the realisation I could no longer engage in my favourite pastime (at least, not safely). It had become more a form of therapy, than a means of transportation, and I was devastated, to say the least.
But that Wednesday – bones against the seat, skull against the headrest – I basked in each turn, every gear change, that came so naturally to my skeletal self. I sang to the Kinks and blasted Gimmie Shelter as I sped past Ronnie Wood’s place in Little Gaddesden, I played a Thoreau audiobook as I made my way through the Walden-esque Ashridge, before pulling up behind a Tesco with dreadful parking skills.
Walking through town, past the market and four pharmacies, I came across the costume shop, where a fake cobweb and inflatable Jack Skellington greeted me at the door. It was a tiny, hidden box of a store, between a Papa Johns and a Crew Clothing – and without the oversized Tim Burton character, one may miss it entirely. I made my way inside, to find an entryway shrouded in glittery, black fabric, draped from the ceilings and brushing the skin (or bones) of those who entered.
If Alec had seen it, he’d have said, I bet you feel right at home here. He’d have been right.
I delved deeper into the store, walking past decorations of ghosts, zombies, mermaids, and a spider – which, to put it poetically, scared the shit out of me. Aside from my habit of discarding my medication the second I think I feel better, my inability to warm to spiders definitely falls under my greatest flaws. In my first year of uni, someone told me I seemed like the type to harvest tarantulas, and truly, I wish I was – me not liking spiders is like Lorelai Gilmore deciding she doesn’t like coffee. It simply doesn’t make sense, considering my fondness for all things spooky.
I spent the duration of my parking ticket in the costume store – admiring the skeletal physique I was donning, in ceiling to floor mirrors, trying on Halloween masks and suppressing my laughter at the irony no one else seemed to notice. I bought a figurine of a skeleton in Sukhasana, and departed the spooky Xanadu with reluctance.
It was late by the time I returned home, finding Alec lain across the couch with his eyes half closed, mouth half open. I intertwined myself around his body and he ran his fingers along my skull as I told him I could remember everything. I told him everything we’d had for dinner last week even though he knew, and he marvelled at the normality I exhibited. I told him about my day in town – the store, the spider, the Jack Skellington – and he said, I bet you felt right at home there.
When he fell asleep, I sat upright with my skin from the bathroom stretched along my femurs, caressing my casing with care – honest, true, self-care, that would make Adriene (from Yoga with Adriene) proud. I took my fingers like a wide-toothed comb and ran through my hair, slowly, softly – feeling a shiver (the kind that people say signifies someone walking over your grave) through my scapula.
In bed that evening, clutching a pen between my bones, I wrote how wonderful it was, to not spend a day waiting for a feeling to fade away.
About The Author
Lauren Lewis is a writer and poet from Hertfordshire, studying at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her work, mainly of the literary genre, focuses around themes of mental health, modern relationships and other topics which often go undiscussed. She is currently working on a debut novel.
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