by Rileigh Thompson
Rileigh Thompson is a 23 year old Student Affairs Educator. In the Fall semester of her freshman year of college, she experienced sexual assault at the hands of another student. Spending the rest of her freshman year working through the Title IX system, she found writing about her experiences empowering. This creative nonfiction piece was written for her freshman English class and was later published in her University’s literary magazine in 2021.
You are the master of your own reality. What you see, hear, feel, what you know is all based on what you believe is the truth, what you think is real. You go about life with a sense of purpose, belonging, clarity; the world is something to experience. You are comfortable, happy knowing that your life is your own and you control your fate. You have dreams, ambitions, things you aspire to become and accomplish. You’re driven by the idea that what you do matters and you can’t think of anything you’d rather do. This is your reality.
Then it hits you.
Your eyes. Everything becomes warped. Colors are shaded differently than you remember. You look around the room, objects jump. Out at you as if your eyes were a threat to attack. The room is spinning slowly, but you are completely still. Sounds. People speak, you hear laughter, whispers. You can see the words being formed in your friend’s mouth, but her voice is strange. You feel you have heard it before but in another moment that you don’t quite remember. You speak, and your voice floats away into an abyss. Did you really make a sound?
You stand up and walk around, your feet aren’t on the floor. You’re drifting down the hall, knowing exactly where you are supposed to go, but feeling like you aren’t the one taking yourself there. Nothing is real. You aren’t there. You try to decipher what you are feeling, but the feelings are new. The world around you is artificial. But do you believe in your existence? You know who you are, yet you don’t know your environment. The confusion
weighs on your skull. You feel the pressure behind your eyes, in your chest. Your stomach is hollow.
But where are you? The land is soft with cotton candy grass and gingerbread walls. The sky is milky and sweet. The sense of relief surrounds you and you feel at peace. You know where you are.
Or at least in another galaxy, you can believe you have left Earth and have traveled a long ways away. This place you have found yourself in is comfortable, you’re happy. Should you go back? What is for you on Earth? Here, you can float down the river to a meadow filled with daffodils that hold you and you feel safe. You can stay here. You are safe here and you can live here. Sweet laughter fills your ears and the air is crisp. Rays of sun light up the sky, everything is bright and warm. You lie in the meadow and the luring aroma of the daffodils surrounds you.
But then the daffodils turn to spears. Your body is pierced. Hands grabbing. Pulling down. Struggling. You’re screaming, no sound. You see all the people you love. You see your mother, she is smiling. There is fear in her eyes and concern on her lips. You can see her pain, you don’t want to feel it. You can’t stay here. You must go back, she needs you to come back.
But you’ve been gone for so long. All you remember of Earth is the pain, the fear, the emotions you never want to feel again. That reality isn’t what you want, you never asked for it. The world is the Master of your reality; the controller of your fate. You are a puppet, you know there are strings attached to your arms and legs, forcing you into a life you don’t want. You want control.
But you can’t bring yourself back to Earth, the Master won’t allow it. You try to pull away, but your arms and legs are made of wood. The gingerbread walls turn to iron bars. The milky sky is black with ash. The ground is made of tar. You want to leave, you want to go back to Earth but the Master won’t allow it. He pulls you back. The galaxy is spinning, your chest is tight and your lungs won’t fill with air. The Master pinches your puppet throat with his fingers. You can feel your heartbeat throughout your body as the galaxy spins. Get out. Get out. Get. Out.
Someone taps you on the shoulder and everything stops. You open your eyes and suddenly you are with your friends. They ask if you are alright, saying you seem a little out of it.
You say you’re fine.
This is not something most people experience. Most people are aware of their surroundings and interact normally with the world. For me, however, reality is something I am not connected with. Dissociation is a mental state where your brain separates you from something else. This can take the form of depersonalization where you are separated from yourself and your body, or derealization where you are separated from reality. I suffer from the latter. After experiencing a sexual assault in the fall of 2018, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When experiencing an overwhelming flow of anxiety or depression, my brain goes into defense mode and pulls me from the world. Derealization acts as a coping mechanism for flashbacks and panic attacks that I experience almost daily. I have no control over this detachment and it happens so suddenly I often cannot find what triggered it. This essay is my attempt to describe where my brain goes when I dissociate from the world. I know it is confusing and disorienting and scary, but that is my reality.