I’m in my room. The area around me is familiar, but alien. I reach out, but it feels as if I can’t touch anything, like I’m some ethereal entity that can’t influence the physical world around them. Nothing around me moves or changes, it’s as if time has stopped. Maybe it did. I move my arms and see my hands, but I’m surprised to see them move in response to this command. Why is my mind connected to these pieces of organic material? It doesn’t seem to be a part of me at all. I lie down and put on a video to distract myself from the agonizing pressure that builds up in my mind.

This is an instance of some of the depersonalization and derealization that I’ve been going through recently. Depersonalization is a state of being disconnected from one’s own body or thoughts, and derealization is a sensation that the world around you is not real. These can, in some instances, be symptoms of gender dysphoria for trans people.

For me, they start to creep in in response to some of the greatest moments of joy that I’ve experienced recently, moments of pure gender euphoria. These can come up in response to experiments with gender presentation that I’ve tried recently, involving makeup, removing body hair, and clothing. When I see myself in the mirror during these experiments, I feel like I see myself more clearly than I have in a very, very long time. It’s like seeing an old, old friend that you’re really happy to see and can’t wait to spend time with. It feels calm and relaxing, yet exhilarating, I feel endorphins pumping into my body and my smile radiates outward. But this feeling doesn’t come without a cost. Physical dysphoria can set in soon afterward, and I’ve written bout that before on this blog. It’s really hard to deal with, but not what I’m talking about here. This comes hours later, or maybe the next day. It creeps up on me little by little. Maybe it starts with small thoughts about how disconnected my feelings are from my life as it appears to others. Maybe it’s the disconnection from the way I identified growing up. Maybe it starts because my subconscious is now processing what my conscious self has been exploring — that the gendered characteristics of my body are disconnected from my self-perception. In all of these instances, there is disconnection, and that seems to manifest as a disconnection between my mind, my body, and the world around me.

It’s not something I can cope with well right now. I spend many hours lying in bed and numbing out my feelings, and sleeping for long hours. I’m avoiding work or anything that will put me in my head for extended periods of time. I’m avoiding exploring my gender or reading the books that have helped me to better understand myself. All that’s left is ruminating on how painful everything feels and putting on a mask to deal with the other people in my life.

One of the things that hurts the most right now is how alone I feel in my life. I have friends in my life, but few that I can share this with. I tried sharing some of my struggles with a close friend recently, and he tried to advise me to try to put gender aside for a time and focus on more fundamental values in my life. I tried explaining that his advice wasn’t really applicable, but it was very hard to get him to understand. I left the conversation feeling even more alone. More shut down, like I needed to numb myself out from my feelings and the world.

I know in my heart this can’t last. I tell myself that I have to give up my pursuit of identity and self-understanding in order to function in the world, but deep down I know that isn’t true either. So I’m left with holding on for dear life and trying to make it through. I don’t see the path through right now, but I can focus on holding on. Because whatever I’m holding on to must be worth it for me to be me. Because I’m a person, and I’m real.

Pseudonymous Canadian under the trans* umbrella. They/them