Mental Health Awareness Week: My Experiences With Depersonalization & Derealization

I am an advocate for mental health. I avidly talk about it in real life and am becoming hell of a lot more open about it online. There’s nothing more important than talking. Talking about your thoughts, your feelings, your troubles, your worries, your hopes, and even your recovery. There’s no shame in me admitting I have had years of emotional distress that will always be a part of my growth but there’s also nobody more proud of the battle with my mind and the demons I’ve faced head on, than myself. I’ve spoken about my struggles in previous posts and that’s always usually from the encouragement of targeted weeks dedicated to increasing awareness, erasing the stigma and giving people the chance to share their experiences. This is why I believe it’s so important to spread the word, to show mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, to assert it does not make you abnormal, to get it off your chest, to talk.

 

From the age of 13 (that’s ten years now, wow), I’ve suffered internally and often silently. From severe anxiety and having around 5-10 panic attacks a day, so extreme I couldn’t even eat without being sick, stand up, nor function as a practical human being, to days of non stop crying, neglecting my self care, and being in so much of a depressed state that I couldn’t move from my bed, go to school, or form and maintain any relationships with my misunderstood peers. I’ve been on the timeline of very bad patches to relatively good patches for the entire duration of those ten years and I don’t think I’d ever be able to find the words to explain how tough, frightening and impairing those periods were to endure and grasp. Right now I’m on the top end of the good scale. In a much better place, feeling sad and anxious from time to time but being in control and able to express my conception on those blurred out memories.

 

I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder a long time ago now, it creeps back up to haunt me now and again but sometimes it’s hard to believe I reached a point where I thought this was it, I’ll never get better and I won’t want to go on living such a fraught life filled with breakdowns. I remember the first time it happened; I was laid on the sofa attempting to relax my overridden brain and jittery limbs and all of a sudden I felt as though I’d been wiped from my own body. As though I was a shell; my torso was fixed firmly but the rest of me was floating. It was a bizarre sensation, one that made my own illusion feel foreign and one which triggered another full blown attack I couldn’t avoid. This was a recurrent cycle for as long as I can remember, fluctuating and exacerbating depending on my circumstances but always there and always leaving me mentally and physically exhausted, lost – almost trapped – in my own perception, pining for an escape and both wondering and worrying if I was going well and truly insane.

I’m actually finding it a strenuous task to describe how I felt, now – in a current time frame – where I can’t even recall the intensity of my psychiatric state, but actually at the time I was in exactly the same predicament. This was all new to me and when it all began I couldn’t pinpoint this perplexing episode of an intermittent war. When it all unfolded, I just accepted it. I think I was too fragile to properly tackle the issue or think about what was actually causing it, it’s only later as I progressed to therapy that I learnt it’s all down to your elevated stress response, your body and your mind creating defences with their maximised hyper-stimulation. Full of discomfort but not dangerous. I remember attempting to tell my doctor how I felt and them just turning my nose up, either telling me its nonsense or trying to label me unnecessarily. There’s nothing you can do but object ignorance by professionals but thankfully there was Google. Albeit not the best platform to self-diagnose but what else can you do when you’re desperate for answers? Researching into your own hands often becomes the last straw.

And it turns out I wasn’t the only one, after-all (and that’s the key here, no matter how alone and isolated you feel in your own skin, there’s someone out there willing to listen and join companion in an ordeal you feel you’re stuck in).  Bleakly typing in my broken and illogical interpretation into the search bar I had no idea what I’d find but actually, it explained a lengthy portion of my afflicted youth. What I was facing was Depersonalization and Derealization; two unknown terms, two effects of anxiety that are rarely discussed, and two nightmares that never separated and instead joined in unpleasant harmony.

I don’t think I really had one without the other. There is said to be often a distinctive difference in the ideology but personally, I often comprised of the two together. Depersonalization was the initial flame to the fire of hell. It felt like I was watching myself from the outside in, as though the persona I’d built as I’d grown up no longer existed and I was detached from all my actions and emotions. Everything was weird, I’d become aloof and wary but on the other hand, I was nothing but a numb imagination preoccupied with my own thoughts. The scariest part was where my limbs felt like they didn’t exist or like they didn’t belong to me; feeling distorted or entirely shrunken. Even my head and neck linking appeared abnormal and as though it was about to roll off my shoulders. I felt light and just as if I was made of nothing but cotton wool. Sometimes I didn’t feel at all. I was constantly on autopilot, going about my everyday life as typically as I could manage but not really being there in the zone. Going through the motions, knowing something is happening but not really being there present in the situation, removed from what was going on and stricken with alarm; a deep rooted fear that I’ll never be able to reconnect to myself in the same way again. Half the time the thought of me believing I was having an out of body experience doubled the acuteness of the upcoming and ongoing panic attack and I was back to where I started. Nothing but crippling fear. Fear I was dying or about to faint, fear I was losing it completely, fear I no longer held authority to my movements and speech and ironically enough, fear I was having a stroke with my acute facial numbness (even after my stroke when my health anxiety was at its worst).

The sense of impending doom towards life in general and people and things I’ve become accustomed to was both strange and highly upsetting. I’d spend half the day trying to shake this freaky thought from my head, screwing my eyes up and wishing it would go away. I could look at my mum and she’d appear a complete stranger. I could walk into a room or an environment I’ve invested so many precious memories in and it would be wholly obscure. I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror, my face was bleary and voices remote and distort. I just wasn’t me, I was disengaged from planet earth, paranoid and frantic, even going so far as to cut out certain foods or drinks or routine because I was convinced they were cursed; like this was the primary cause.

Derealization wasn’t much easier nor much tamer. Every day felt like a dream. Not the welcomed kind of dream, but a state of questioning; whether the moves I made and my own identity were existent or whether none of this was real. I’d pinch myself and breathe a sigh of relief when it hurt because that meant I was actually living. Losing touch with reality was a common notion, I’d lost track of the world; I was one half with a spaciness of fog and rain clouds around me and a dozen miles away was the other half of unreachable sunshine and rainbows. It was legitimately representative of a sensory fog, a fake observation, as though I was trapped in a glass bottle seeing the earth in a withdrawn dimension. Even objects started to seem odd, diminished and unsolid, as though they were artificial, changing in shape, colour and size and heading towards me at full speed. I felt cut off and distant from surroundings, like there was a wall between me and the article I was viewing; a spectator in a show where I was the puppet.

 

I’ve been through and survived some traumatic events in my lifetime but when I say this specific was the ultimate challenge, I’m not being dramatic. It was absolutely terrifying, god damn disturbing; from morning till night. I’d wake up and wish with all my might that the haze had faded but it was still lurking, taking over every inch of my consciousness and I had no idea what was happening to me. It did come in waves and I did have slight ease in some moments where my attention was elsewhere but I’d always feel offbeat. I couldn’t persuade myself this was just a feeling, a symptom evoking high levels of anxiety, I was convinced it was madness. Eventually (and thankfully) I was taken seriously and I received the help I so desperately needed as a whole concept of my mental health and I finally began to realise there was light away from the dark, what seemed to be taking over every part of my soul was possible to overcome. I learnt to take charge and mastered the fact that this was just my body protecting my mind, what felt like playing tricks was me at near breaking point. It hasn’t vanished completely, I can still very mildly experience a brief rush when I’m overly tired or have an event coming up that enhances my anxiety but the difference is I can now distinguish and discern those feelings and engulf them as a fraction of my existence, not the total definition.

This burdening byproduct of anxiety took away every inch of my liberty and my solidified dignity but I made it through and my coping mechanisms outweighed my refracting mindset. It’s hard to admit to yourself, I know, but it’s well worth the consideration of taking those positive steps at your own individual pace. I don’t expect anyone to completely relate to what I’ve been rambling about as I never hear it being spoke about but that’s why I felt the need to reveal my flaws and put all cards on the table. I might be surprised, maybe this will put a name to something others have tolerated and maybe it may help someone come to terms. What I do know is you don’t have to suffer in silence. Tomorrow is another day and another chance at a fresh outlook on a life you deserve to live in euphony!

As #MHAW17 comes to an end, the unity and the freedom to talk brazenly does not. I want to give out all my love to those with a mental health problem. It takes courage to disclose yourself and make a bunch of strangers on the internet aware of your struggles and my uttermost respect goes out to every single person who offers their story. I’m not denying I’m nervous about posting this because I am. My anxiety always increases when I’ve laid everything on the line but it’s something I wanted to do and I want to thank you if you’ve read till the end. You know by now the once shy and secluded person I was will debate and witter until my heart (and mind) is content.

Bridie x


 

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