7 Years After the 22 February 2011 Quake

Memorials at the CTV site, where 115 people died in the building’s collapse on 22 February 2011. Credit: Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Today is an anniversary date in my life that I could live without.

Actually, it’s so bad that the other day Noel asked me, “Isn’t the anniversary of Grandpa’s passing about this time of year,” the day after that anniversary, and I felt guilty about forgetting that. (My Grandpa passed away on 19 February 2004.)

Last year, I spoke about feeling stuck, like 22 February 2011 is a fixed-point in my timeline, and, like a black hole, the rest of my life slowly spins around it, stuck in its gravity.
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Depersonalization and Creativity

I know my blog has covered a lot about the dissociative disorder known as depersonalization, but since there are so few people who are diagnosed with it, and some people who have been diagnosed with it have reached out to talk about it, I thought it was best that I cover my experiences so others might learn from them.

Anxiety is not really fun, as probably many people can attest to, and it affects various aspects of our lives. When anxiety and depression combine to create depersonalization, this can have a profound effect on a person’s livelihood and outlook.

One of the most frustrating parts of my journey with depersonalization has been the impact it has had on my creativity.

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Reconnecting and Dealing With One Negative Emotion at a Time

Yesterday, my counselor and I were speaking about my recovery from the dissociative disorder known as depersonalisation.  I’ve written about it a few times if you want to check out the backstory — you can in my posts “Recovering from Depersonalisation” and “Reducing Anxiety through ‘Staying Present’“, or any entry on depersonalisation through looking up the tag #depersonalisation on my blog.

I am not sharing this because I want any pity or my friends and family to feel they need to wrap me in cotton wool. I am writing this so people who are diagnosed with depersonalisation or any similar dissociative disorder or similar disorder can understand they are not alone, that this does happen, and they may be able to recover. This is my personal experience with dissociation and depersonalisation, so mileage and outcomes may vary from case to case. Now on to my post…

Learning how to deal with emotions again is difficult.  I’ve touched on it before in previous posts, but yesterday’s discussion touched on this again.

My mind seems to try to distract me from dealing with negative emotions.  I internalise anger, grief, sadness: all these emotions churning inside me.  Anger has been easier to confront; instead of letting a simmering rage build within me, I’ve found a way to express my frustration verbally, which, in turn, helps empower me to push through my anger and emerge a strong person.  It sounds easy to do, but it’s not that easy, sometimes.

Grief and sadness have been harder.  I clam up.  It feels like these emotions run around as I try to catch them, sit with them, and let them run their course.  My previous counselor — the one I accessed post-quakes — felt I may have complicated grief, where grief builds up over a period of time and expands exponentially until it is difficult to manage.

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Reducing Anxiety Through “Staying Present”

In my last post I spoke about my recovery from depersonalization and what a difficult journey that has been. One of the problems I have — and this was diagnosed years ago as well — is my mind often is full of random information, so whereas you may see a rose and think, “Wow, that’s a beautiful rose”, my mind starts going through different random thought-pathways like, “What type of rose is that?” and “If the wind were to blow really hard all the sudden, what would happen to that rose?” and “How difficult would it be to grow that rose at home?” and then those thoughts take on several thought-pathways of their own, and soon, my mind is super-busy processing a million different thoughts.  The thoughts unfold like a flower blooming.

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Recovering from Depersonalization

Recovery from illness is difficult, especially a major one.  I have dealt with recovery before: from broken bones, from  earthquake injuries, from depression, from inflammatory disorders, from a mystery virus that caused me physical exhaustion and mental anguish.  But somehow, this recovery from depersonalization is different.

I hadn’t really noticed it much in the last few months since I became mostly free from this somewhat rare yet very disturbing disorder that robs a person of access to the feelings his emotional responses create, but I’m more disturbed now.  Feeling happy? As the feeling goes along its merry little way, an analytical section of me hijacks the afterglow of the feeling, scanning every second, demanding to know what triggered the happiness, why it faded, how long it took to fizzle out, and, finally, the fear of wondering: will it ever come back? Will the happiness ever return for longer than a few seconds?  And the double-edged sword of a question: will I always be this numb from now on or will I return to normal ever?

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Five Years after the 22 February 2011 Quake

We really didn’t need the earth-shaking reminder on Valentine’s Day that the fifth anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 earthquake was coming up.

Somehow, it (literally) shook my confidence that everything was settling down again, and the ground below me could be trusted like it had been before the 4 September 2010 quake and its “rich aftershock sequence”.

Last year, on the anniversary, I turned to Jacqui and said, “I’m over it.  It seems like so long ago.  It’s time to move on.”

I don’t feel that this year.  Maybe the Valentine’s Day quake coming so close to the anniversary has caused me more damage than I know.

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I’ve always done it.

As long as I can remember, I associate the frosts and snows of winter with renewal.

I don’t know when the idea first crept into my head, but I remember distinctly when I was about 14 or 15 (or maybe even 16), looking out the front window of my parents’ house after a heavy snow during Christmas break (sometime after Christmas and New Year but before school started again) and think, “This is God’s way of renewal.”

As I type this, there’s a heavy frost outside. The grass is a combination of green and white, more light mint green (like the colour of those chocolates you used to be able to get from Marshall Fields) than anything. The spa cover, chairs, tables, and all the fittings outside are covered in a fine white powder-like coating. The ball fountain (stop thinking dirty, Muriel) has water bubbling out the top but the base has a frozen layer over it.

Some people hate winter. They think it’s cold, it’s miserable, they have to bundle up, they have to wait forever for their car to warm up, yadda, yadda. But I think of it as a season of renewal. Winter comes along, kills all the bugs or at least puts them to rest. She pushes trees and other annual plants and shrubs into a sleep, to awaken when her sister Spring comes along.

And if it snows, that first look is amazing. The pristine, untouched snow glistening and fresh on the yard reminds me of something wonderful, something new.

In this world of uncertainty and the rising tide of madness, maybe we need to hold on to the most basic components of humanity.

There are mad people out there, and a rising tide of them, who are willing to do almost anything to either make their point or significantly damage others to get their way, or both.

They won’t win. There are too many of us normal people out there to let them win.

I’ve been seeing a lot of TV programmes as of late on World War II. For those of you who don’t know, my dad’s side of the family were in Nazi Germany during World War II. When I was “old enough” to have it, my Dad gave me a tape my Aunt Lisa had made with my Oma and Opa about World War II and their experiences. I was reluctant to listen to it at first — by this time, my Oma had been dead for over a decade and I felt guilty that time had robbed me of how her voice sounded — but I did, and I learned a lot about the evil side of humanity.

And the good.

You see, for every bad story, there are ten more good ones. The media focuses on the negative ones because, as a species, we are more likely to pay attention to that. Somehow, we are psychologically wired that way.

But the stories that rise from World War II paint a story, eventually, of renewal. Europe rebuilds herself. Not just into any old Europe but, now, a European Union. Countries that once fought one another are now working together (maybe not in the best way but they are working together) towards a common goal.

And it’s a pattern we are following around the world. The United Nations. APEC. All these organisations and people from sometimes radically diverse backgrounds are working together: all the aftermath of a world war. All renewal.

So, looking at the crisp frost on our lawn on this chilly winter’s morning, I think of the positive traits we have as humans, ones to win against those who seek to impose their own will on us or destroy us just because we don’t have the same God or the same ideas on freedom.

Hope. Sanity.

Rationale. Diversity.

Determination. Forgiveness. Peace.

And Renewal.