“So, when was the last time you disappeared?”
I slouched back into the leather couch, making myself cozy. Her office had a homey feel to it. Bits of art hung on the creme colored walls and a packed, dark bookcase lined the wall opposite me. A potted plant rested in the corner, and a small coffee table sat between us. The lights were kept to a relaxed, dimmed amount making the room look like it was blanketed in perpetual dusk. I felt comfortable here, at ease to disclose things that don’t make sense outside these walls.
“Disappearing” is like abruptly waking up from a dream...or maybe it’s closer to rapidly falling into one. Either way, one minute I’m here and the next I’m there. I’ve slipped from this world and into another one.
“It is another world, this is true,” she had told me in our first session. “But we must remember that the world you enter when you disappear is a byproduct of cognitive distortion. It’s a place very similar to our own, but it’s been altered by your own thoughts. Disappearing and reappearing are like switching between two different lenses through which we see and interpret the world around us. When you disappear, you’re looking at a world that’s been clouded by those distorted thoughts. If our world is a mirror, the one you go to when you disappear is that same mirror--but shattered. What you’re seeing in the mirror is the same, but it’s been skewed.”
She ended that first session with a goal: keep disappearing to a minimum, and reappear quickly when it happens.
“It’s been a few weeks,” I said.
“A few weeks? This is progress. Last session you told me you were disappearing most days. Where were you the last time you disappeared?”
“Home,” I said. It’s easy to disappear while at home. Something about it makes me especially vulnerable to distorted thoughts that she had mentioned. It’s almost like a gravitational pull slowly swallows them up and then amplifies their energy.
“Tell me again what disappearing at home is like,” she said.
“It takes me somewhere that’s like my house but...different. There’s never anyone there but me. I can’t see anything outside of the windows--not the porch, not the streetlights, not the neighbors houses, nothing. It’s as if they were all painted over with thick, black paint. Like nothing else is out there.”
“Disappearing can be a very isolating experience.” Her pen scrawled swiftly across her notes as she jotted down this information. “And the layout? I believe you mentioned it’s always changing?”
“Yeah. It’s never the same twice. The pieces are there--the rooms, hallways, and those sort of things, but they’re rearranged. Like someone held up the entire house and shook it around. It never feels right and I’m always disoriented. I know that isn’t actually how my house is, but I can’t figure out what’s off about it until I reappear. It’s like in being in a strange dream. You don’t question any of it until you’re awake. But when I’m back, I immediately notice that everything was wrong.”
“Of course,” she said. “Home doesn’t quite feel like home, does it? Can you describe the layout in this most recent instance?”
“Some of the hallways seemed to go on indefinitely. Oh, and all the doors led to my bedroom. No matter what I did or where I went, I would end up there.”
“This is a very common phenomenon,” she said matter-of-factly. “Disappearing takes a lot of energy, even if it doesn’t seem like it would. Many individuals feel exhausted once it happens. It’s quite possible that your mind just wanted rest, and it kept leading you somewhere it could shut off for a while.”
She’s right--I do feel exhausted every time I disappear. It’s like my body and mind are running on empty. The smallest things take a great deal of effort, like each movement is wading through thick, muddy water. Though I often disappear at home, it can really happen anytime and anywhere for that matter. I was reminded of an instance when I disappeared in the middle of a session, here in her office. That window was painted over black, too, and her words seemed to quietly float away until they were unable to reach my ears. I tried to remember them when the session ended, but it seemed I was too bleary to properly file them away. Her words got stored in the wrong place in my mind, or more likely, were tossed out.
“So all the doors led to your bedroom,” she continued. “Was this like your normal bedroom?”
“Everything except for the ceiling.”
She paused a moment to think, clicking her pen and anticipating the answer to her question. She must have already known, but asked anyway. “Was it the eye again?”
I slouched even further into the chair, deflating my posture as much as possible. Often times when I disappear and try to go to sleep I’ll lie awake staring at the ceiling, and hear a noise that sounds like crackling and crumbing. A tear forms in the ceiling that spreads and grows into a hole and a single large, yellow eye rolls into it and stares back at me all night. It rests comfortably in the tear in the ceiling, just large enough to not slide through, gazing back at me and making wet mushy noises when it blinks. It’s presence makes me uneasy, which makes it nearly impossible to get any rest with it lingering over me.
“Yeah,” I said. “It was the eye.”
“This, too, is common for many individuals who disappear. The other world makes rest very difficult. Rest comes at random--either frequent, giant handfuls, or tiny bits that slip through your fingers. But, the important thing is that you reappeared. Judging by your progress, I am willing to bet you reappeared more quickly than normal, too, didn’t you?”
Her words held truths I hadn’t considered. Maybe I was making progress after all. I considered this before answering.
“I think so. When this first started I would be in the other world for long stretches of time, often unable to track how long I was gone. The last time was much quicker, though. It didn’t seem so long.”
“Slipping back into this world more easily is a good indicator that the distorted thoughts are dampening. The other world should stop appearing as often, but when it does, you’ll find that you are able to handle it better. Continue doing what you’re doing,” she said, clearly pleased with these results.
It seemed as though all the work I had put into these sessions was actually starting to pay off. I allowed myself a fraction of a smile and nodded before getting up to leave.
“And one last thing,” she said, pausing to make sure I understood. “Don’t beat yourself up when it happens again.”