Daily Archives: February 10, 2012

Episode: Numbness & Detachment

Something I’ve been pondering lately goes a little something like this:

A person (well, many actually) says to me, “my medication makes me feel numb and totally detached.”

So I reply, “are you sure? Because I feel that way and I’m not taking any medication that might cause it.”

Then we stand for a moment, shuffle our feet, one of us coughs, and we go our own ways.

Seriously though, if I had a dime for every time I’ve been told medication was producing some kind of detachment/disassociation, I’d be rich.

I’m not saying that it isn’t the medication, because (clearly) I’m not a doctor and can’t tell you what any medication may or may not be doing. Multiply that by the fact that each human appears to react to medications differently, and we’ve got a real puzzle on our hands.

What I said, though, is true.

I often feel numb, to some degree at least. For me it is like the 3rd, hidden episode. There’s mania, depression, normalcy (which isn’t an episode at all) and then this. The void. The black hole of feelings.

It is something that can be hard to describe if you haven’t felt it, but it is sort of like having a gaping hole where your feelings were, previously.

Let’s say I have a wonderful friendship with my dog, we’re best friends. I love her, we do everything together. Then one day, I suddenly realize that those feelings of love have vanished for no apparent reason. My brain is telling me, “well of course you still love her, she’s your buddy!” but I can’t seem to feel it.

This is the part where people really start to freak out, and I’ve done so myself in the past with a few relationships. Talk about shaking things up, how fun would it be to break up and then have that numbness vanish in a week or two on its own? It can make for some horrifying and awkward moments! Thankfully I’ve learned my lesson there, and like all other episodes, it is generally temporary.

I would say that for me, the absence of love is the easiest to identify. I love a lot of things, you know. Like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Macaroni and cheese. Love is the first thing I notice when it is mysteriously out back taking a smoke break instead of being present and available.

Sadness is another one that really scares people when it mysteriously fails to show up, usually in an already upsetting situation. When my grandma passed away I was extremely detached from the whole thing, I didn’t cry once at the funeral, but it wasn’t for lack of wanting to or trying. The sadness had just escaped somewhere else.

You might think that being unable to feel sadness would be great, but even just with my grandma’s funeral, I had to wait months before I was finally able to grieve. It wasn’t until I had the numbness abate on its own that I could start to move on.

And chick flicks? Don’t even get me started. I couldn’t cry watching those for the most part even if I wanted to! The numbness led me to watch all sorts of terrible things when I was young, simply because I couldn’t feel the effects of them. Hannibal isn’t nearly as frightening when you’re numb to his charms.

It isn’t that this numb state is particularly detrimental or uncomfortable, but it is boring. Oh, so boring. And what usually gets me into trouble is trying to shake things up because of how bored I am. Really, I should probably be more thankful it isn’t worse.

So it got me to thinking, all of this, and the idea that it could be caused by medications is annoying, to be sure. But the idea that it isn’t caused by that for me is considerably more annoying, because that means it is coming from within.

Having bipolar disorder, I experience all sorts of emotions, even when I shouldn’t. Is it reasonable to consider I may have birthed this numbness and detachment as a coping mechanism?

Sometimes I have emotions that don’t fit what is going on, or they’re extreme, or completely unreal. It seems only natural that I distance myself in some way from my emotions, don’t you think? If I really hung on every single feeling I have, I’d be much worse off than I am right now -overwhelmed to the nth degree, probably confused, and exhausted.

My emotions can be very unreliable, so I guess I’ve just discounted them completely. I’ve detached myself from them so they aren’t as heavy.

A couple of weeks ago I talked to 8 different people with bipolar disorder who said they have experienced the same thing, in regard to feeling numbness/lack of feelings. Is this just how we’ve evolved in order to cope with our extraordinary feelings?

And if that is the case, could it be possible that it may not be the medication, it is just us?

I don’t have any research today to confirm or deny that thought, because I’d really just like to leave as that: a thought.

I’d be really interested, though, if I could potentially hone this ability to have an on and off switch. In times of crisis I couldn’t imagine a better mechanism, but in times of peace… can’t I just feel a little love for my macaroni and cheese?

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