I feel like I'm constantly acting a role. Is this a known condition?
December 21, 2018 11:32 PM   Subscribe

At work and at home I always feel one step removed - almost like I'm adlibbing my entire life. How can I snap out of it?

I successfully do a demanding job reporting to C-level executives with lots of meetings, presentations etc. To get through the day, every day I have to "act out" the role of doing my job. Not just rehearsing presentations or rewriting emails, but all day every day I am responding and behaving as I feel someone doing my job ought to, rather than just being myself.

At home I'm doing the same thing - I always feel like I'm playing the role of being a husband and being a father. I've been happily married for 12 years but I've been doing it for so long I can't really remember what just "being myself" is.

I don't really have any emotions any more, for example I have to force myself to get angry or to pretend that I'm happy, if I feel the social situation demands it, so that I can fit in.

But the thing is, I don't actually do anything differently, I don't behave in any way that I wouldn't expect my actual self to do. But I always feel like I'm watching myself do it rather than just "being me"

This is starting to have more consequences as I'm vaguely aware I have a few health conditions I should get checked out, but I feel that they are just happening to the "character" that I play every day, and not to me, so I can't muster the energy to go to the doctors.

This all seems very hard to describe and even as I'm writing this I feel like a fraud.
Is this a known mental health condition? Has anyone else ever felt this way? Any other suggestions gratefully received. Thankyou
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I experience something very similar, very aware/outside of myself, numbness, inability to be 'in the moment'/stay present. I am not a doctor, nor have I any personal experience with psychology or therapy, but my thing aligns with symptoms of Depersonalization and Emotional Detachment, which I assume come from (Undiagnosed) anxiety, attention deficit, and depression.

So, for your questions, you aren't a fraud, things similar to how you are feeling are recognized, you are not alone, and if you feel that it is having a detrimental effect on your health and the well-being of your family, you owe it to yourself and them to seek assistance in dealing with it.
All the best to you.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:11 AM on December 22, 2018 [14 favorites]

I experienced this as part of my recent severe depressive episode. I felt like I was observing my own emotional state and life, and while I could perform the appropriate emotions etc, it didn't feel 'real'. This is a known feature of mental health problems like depression so I think seeking professional help to understand and treat it is the answer. My own sense of detachment has improved a lot with a few months of therapy, so it is possible to overcome, and the difference in my life is significant. I wish you all the best.
posted by daisysteiner at 1:25 AM on December 22, 2018 [6 favorites]

Imposter syndrome?
posted by Middlemarch at 1:59 AM on December 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Welcome to alienation!
posted by Chitownfats at 2:30 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

No, this isn’t just alienation. What you describe sounds like dissociation. Please find a trauma-informed therapist, even if you feel like there’s no trauma in your past. Even if trauma isn’t an issue they’ll have experience with dissociation. Also please note that traditional talk therapy might not be great for you, given these patterns, because it would be easy and natural for you to dissociate your way through that, too. (Another reason to find a trauma informed therapist.)

I would recommend looking up somatic therapists your area. Talk to them on the phone, tell them what you told us (even just read this question), and give it a go.

It’s often the case that dissociative coping mechanisms chug along just fine until they don’t, and incipient health problems are a good indication that you’re hitting the point where this is no longer sustainable. You’ll want someone to help you out of this.

My memail is open if you have questions or want book recommendations.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:11 AM on December 22, 2018 [31 favorites]

I want to second what schadenfrau says. It can be a symptom of many mental health conditions but trauma informed therapists are really the best equipped to handle this and help you feel connected to you.

It's a tricky thing because it is incredibly pervasive , and getting that connection can take time. It is possible to feel differently.

If it is due to depression or anxiety, medications to treat those conditions will help.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:36 AM on December 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

Therapy as suggested above is probably the best place to start. I kind of wondered, reading your question, how long it's been since you had a real vacation, or got to have a relaxed dinner with people who love you, or went for a walk in the woods. Stuff like that helps me feel more grounded, as do singing and meditation. And really long hugs.
posted by bunderful at 4:37 AM on December 22, 2018

Any chance you could take a break from everything and just go for a one week vacation alone? Maybe for a long hike or to a retreat center. If asking for this (from either work or your family) sounds overwhelming, consider starting by telling them what you told us here.
posted by tinymegalo at 5:54 AM on December 22, 2018

I agree that you need a break, for starters. You need to take some time out from the world and just spend it alone in your head, doing something. I like to go for long hikes by myself, every once in a while—take a day out in the wilderness, just me and a mountain. It's very grounding, very mentally refreshing, makes me feel much more like myself and much less like a buzzing, fluttering collection of needs and anxieties and half-formed thoughts. Winter is a particularly good time to be outside in this regard, especially if it's a sunny day and there's snow on the ground, because everything feels so fresh and bright and quiet.

Maybe something else would work better for you, maybe hiking (or just walking in a forest or on a beach or wherever, there doesn't need to be a mountain) isn't your thing or isn't possible in your area, but you need to find something that nourishes your spirit and makes you connect with yourself, something that engages both your mind and your body simultaneously, as a cohesive unit. My dad likes cycling, my sister runs, other people enjoy making music or art, or crafting—you need something in your life that's just for you, something that isn't a performance.

That may not be the whole solution to your problem, but it would probably help a good deal.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:30 AM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is a known issue (dissociation) and it is very positive that you are noticing it and wanting to address it. I echo the recommendation to find a therapist experienced with trauma for the reasons above. But other experiences that have helped me are:

- travel, as noted, even with kids along...there is something about an immersive new experience that involves physical activity that triggers the brain to Pay Attention. This won’t work if you are also hyper vigilant.

- for me, yoga and martial arts. I know how tiresome the recommendation for yoga and its ilk can be but it is a discipline which creates awareness. The movement makes it different from meditation (something I find not right for me, meditation tends to make me more dissociative). Martial arts is my killer app because of the *kapow* but ymmv

- look for mind-body resources

Mostly though I wanted to really encourage you on your path to address it. It’s not just your health; you sound caring and capable but you are also missing out on a lot of deep joy in your life because of struggling to be present.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:42 AM on December 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am certainly not suggesting that this applies to you, and there are many, many other things that can cause depersonalization. But for whatever it may be worth: for me, this was a symptom of being a trans woman in denial, trying to convince myself to keep living my life as if I was a man.

I've heard similar things from people who were in denial about being other kinds of LGBT or genderweird, trying to pretend in other ways that they were straight and gender-normative. Faking a part of your life that's that fundamental can make it feel like everything about your life is fake.

Again, this is far from the only thing that can cause depersonalization. If it doesn't feel like it applies to you, ignore it. But if it feels like it might apply, know that you're not alone — and that for a lot of us, it goes away when we come out (or transition) and start living the way we're supposed to.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:56 PM on December 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

What you are experiencing is called dissociation and you should sit down with a professional to discuss your options for dealing with it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:02 PM on December 22, 2018

Oh, also:

How can I snap out of it?

Even without knowing a shred about your life or how you’ve ended up where you are at I can guarantee you that you will not snap out of it. What’s going on with you is every bit as real as a broken leg: you don’t just wake up one day and it’s gone, it will take time to heal.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:07 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dissociation can also be a symptom of bipolar disorder.
posted by bq at 6:40 PM on December 23, 2018

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