Dodie Clark

If I had to describe my brain  before  I started  experiencing darkness,  I would  say  it was  deep-thinking,  excited,  but most of all  it was busy.  If you were to dive into my brain at seven  years   old,   you’d  find   vivid   fantasies,   colossal complex  worlds  of   made-up  characters   and  storylines, where in each one I was, of course, the star. 

Throughout  teenage-hood   I  visited  these  worlds.   Then several  things  happened:  my granny  passed away  and I experienced  grief for the first time in my life.  I watched my mum shrink  and fall into depression. I started to love a boy, went  on  hormone-altering  contraception  and realised too late that he liked to shout at me.

At 18  I was  a shell  of a  normal girl.  There  was  just  one overriding  emotion:  a   vacuous,  overwhelming  feeling of despair.   After  a  few  months  of  empty  smiles  and dark headaches  I asked  my mum  to book me  an appointment with the doctor. 

‘What  can  I help  you  with  today?’   A rosy-faced  woman beamed at me.  I pulled out my phone and shakily read her the  paragraph  I’d typed up  in the waiting room,  on  how I would  run  home  as  quickly  as possible  so  I  could shut down and not have to think any more. How I’d wake at 3am nauseous  from  the  nightmares  that  felt  like  black holes inside my being. 

I skipped  over  the  scars  on  my  thighs  from  the nights I dragged  the  edge  of  scissors along my skin, relishing the distraction  of  surface-level pain,   the  closest  I’d  come to feeling  anything  at  all  in  ages.   She looked down with a slight smile while I mumbled through. 
‘Are you studying, Dodie?’  I plastered on a polite smile and told her  about my move to Bath as a student and the future I hoped for when my brain was working again.
‘I don’t think you’re  depressed.  It’s very dangerous  to give someone  so  young  a label like that. You’re doing so many activities, making new friends – it’s certainly more than I did at your age!’  I felt the  back  of my neck  get hot  and  tears welling.  I wanted to shout,  ‘What’s  the point  when  I don’t really  experience  or  enjoy any of it?’ But I nodded instead and   stretched   my  smile,   whispering  a  thank  you  and grabbing my coat to walk out before I started crying. 

I wasn’t going to be listened to or believed. It took me three years  to build up  the courage  to go back  to the doctor  to talk about my mental health
In the spring  of  2016,  my stress levels  were peaking  as I took on far too much work and travel. I’d been working as a presenter for an online channel and we were to go to Wales for  a  three-day shoot.  During that trip  I noticed  my vision was  getting  so bad that  I could  focus  only on  what I was looking at – the rest  of my peripheral vision  was silver, like TV static.

I was so tired my eyes felt itchy  and heavy, my head ached as if I was hungover.  Whenever I spoke the words seemed to hang in the air  in front of me as if they were a recording. My  voice  didn’t  belong  to  me   and  yet  sounded  scarily familiar. I somehow got through that shoot, desperate to get back  to   my  flat   in  London,   hopeful  that  the  return  to familiarity would fix whatever this was. 

I lugged  my suitcase  up  the stairs,  walked into  the living room and saw a stranger lying on my sofa. ‘All right, babe? How was Wales?’   I couldn’t compute my flatmate  Hazel’s face in my head.  My flat looked humongous  and tiny all at the same time. I struggled to reply, the same way I would if I were hammered and trying to act sober. 

‘Hazel, I’ve gone mad.’  I called  every helpline  I could find. I remained  calm  and  rational,  somehow  still managing to put on my  ‘phone voice’  while talking  about  something so personal.  A girl with a tear-streamed face and snot running down her nose,  composing herself  just enough  to be able to  say,    ‘Hello  there,   yes,   I’m   just  calling   about   my worsening mental state.’

For  some  reason  I couldn’t  get the  help  I really needed. The  medical numbers  I called asked me if I was signed up to  a  GP – which  I  wasn’t – and  then  told me  if it was an emergency  and  I was  suicidal   I should hang up  and call 999.  I didn’t want to die;   I very much wanted to live.  But I was  in  a  weird  limbo:  technically  ‘alive’  but  not  getting anything from existing but pain. 

  knew that if that was all life was going to be from now on I couldn’t  go on.  Nevertheless,  I kept trying  to find ways to get  better.  I  found  a  ketchup-stained   gas  bill  from  the beginning  of the year,  proof of address,  which I could use to register with the local GP. 

‘Hello,  I’d  like   to  sign up   to   this  practice  please. ’ The receptionist  grabbed  two  pieces  of paper  from  a drawer. ‘You’ll need to fill these in and bring them back with a proof of address and ID.’ ‘Thanks. I couldn’t find a recent bill. Will this  one be  all right?’   She unfolded  the  crumpled  paper. ‘This is  from January’ – as if I didn’t know.  ‘You’ll  need  to bring one from the past three months.’ 

She looked behind me  at the next person.  I stepped away, my  throat  closing,   and   bolted  out   of  the  door  before  I started sobbing in front of everyone.  I sat alone in my flat, wondering  if there was a way  to detach my brain  from my body so that I could go for a walk  and get a break from the spiralling. 

I knew that I was sinking deeper and deeper. but I stayed in the  same  spot  for  hours,  filling the room  with  loud, ugly crying.   I cancelled  all  my plans for the next few days and went home to Epping,Essex, to my childhood bedroom, still clinging  to the idea familiarity would help

My mum did her best to look after me, layering me blankets and making me cup after cup of tea.  She placed her hands on my body  and tried to will away the pain, like she used to do  in my  childhood  days  of stomach  migraines;   Cont'd at Right...
migraines; except  I wasn’t  a little girl  with  a  poor tummy,  I was a  woman in  her 20s  who had  completely  forgotten who she was   and   how   to  exist  with  black holes  in her head. 

I can’t remember  the order of the ways  that I found myself again  but there were distinct pillars  that grounded me  and gave me  enough hope to claw my way back.  Talking to old friends  helped.  They  fed  ropes  down  the  hole  I’d  been digging  and  even  if  they couldn’t pull me up, they at least reminded me that there was a world beyond this.

I started  to write  in a  notebook:  little but important things. I ran  through  moments  in my head  that would  spark any sort  of joy  in my heart  and jotted  them down,  numbering them so that I could count them up  as a collection.  On the surface  they  looked  superficial,  but each  of these things was a reminder of who I was,  what made me happy  and a reason to live. 

I found  myself  again  in ‘opening  a window  when  there’s been rain’ and ‘first kisses’ and ‘good books and the worlds you get lost in’.  I had lived and loved  in this bedroom  and this world, and if I had been happy before I could be happy again. I woke up the next day feeling lighter. I made myself breakfast,  showered  and  moisturised  for  the first time in days. 

It was like  the day  after food poisoning – taking life  in little bites,  being cautious  and gentle with myself, worried I was teetering  on  the  edge  of  relapsing again . Bu t I was OK. I was just OK.  I went to a picnic  in the park and sat staring at  my  hands,  wishing  I could  join  my friends  in the vivid world  I seemed to have lost.  We walked to the shops after the  sun   had  set   and  while  they  babbled  and  skipped around each other, I hung back, staring at cars driving past and wondering  if they were going fast enough to knock me down.

My friends  had  placed  daisies  on  my head  to  make me giggle,  pulling me  by the hand and daring me to cartwheel on the  damp grass.  The next day  I went on  a  water slide with  my  mum and  sister,   and I  raced  them  down  a hill, tripped   over  my  feet   and  landed   in  a  heap   of  limbs, relishing  the sounds  of my family laughing  all around me. 

The day after that I did a little bit of work, and then over the next  few  days  I eased myself  back  into  life.  There have been times  when  I have crashed back into that same dark hole -  then I bring out  the list  of little but  important things, climb  into  Hazel’s  bed   for  her  to  stroke  my  back  and remember  the  lessons    I  have  learnt  since  hitting  rock bottom: that I have been here before and I have got up and out of it every time. 

I have depersonalisation  disorder  (DPD),   a  feeling  of detachment from reality. It took me years of researching my symptoms   to  find  a  Wikipedia  page  about  it  and then I spent a day crying  with relief that there were other people who  felt as I did.  It affects me  in different ways at different times.   The  world  looks  flat  and  fake  and my peripheral vision seems very dark or very light, as though I am looking through a filter. 

DPDR also affects my memory and in my dazed state I find it difficult to feel present in the moment.  I have to ask friends about the moments we have spent together, things I said or did.  I  also  find  that  it  causes  depressive  episodes  and anxiety.   I found  out  a lot about my condition and became able to manage my depressive episodes a lot better. 

I healed open wounds, broken friendships, insecurities and I improved  the  way  I  dealt  with  being spaced out – but I was,  and  still  am,  spaced out  all the time. It took me five years to get an  official  diagnosis  after many appointments with patronising doctors and a lot of confusion and pain.

Since I found out about DPDR  and  opened  up  about  my experiences,  I have had friend  after friend reach out to me saying  they know someone who’s been feeling  like they’re dreaming all the time  or that during conversations they find their souls up on the ceiling rather than in their own body. 

I don’t know whether I’ll ever feel ‘present’ again,  but in the meantime,  there’s  not  a  lot  I  can  do   except  look  after myself and share my experiences to empathise with people who are also in the ‘Am-I-really-here?’ club.

(It takes an average of 11 years before a person is actually diagnosed with DPDR

Find out more about Dodie Clark by visiting her Website, Following her on FacebookTwitter,  YOUtube Instagram

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