This week, I learned that my anxiety and derealization are new friends, and they’re a scary combo. I remembered afterwards that we covered derealization in one of my psychology classes, and I never truly understood how the mind could just forget that the world around it is real. Of course the world is real, this isn’t the Matrix and I’m not really into conspiracy theories.
Derealization and depersonalization are slightly different, in that derealization deals with “a feeling of unreality or detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, the world, be it individuals, inanimate objects, or all surroundings” (Bressert, 2014). Depersonalization is within the individual and “the individual may feel detached from his or her entire being (e.g., “I am no one,” “I have no self”)” (Bressert, 2014). If you want more info from a quick 1 minute read you can check out the rest of Dr. Steve Bressert’s article here: Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder Symptoms
After I was able to pull myself out of the downward spiral of “I’m going crazy”, I made my way to r/Anxiety to get support from the community again. I asked the community to help me confirm that the world is a real place that I live in and there are others who also experience this disconnect. I had an overwhelming response from the community that confirmed I wasn’t crazy, things are real, and they’ve experienced what I just went through before.
So what did I experience? Trigger warning – if this is something that sets you off, please skip past this paragraph.
After being unable to determine the cause of a spill in my kitchen, I had an overwhelming and consuming feeling that it didn’t exist. I felt like both my brain and my eyes were deceiving me and I felt paranoid that I was going crazy and hallucinating. I went into full panic attack mode, spiraling and snowballing down to dark places while my heart rate increased and it felt like my throat was closing up. I had to shut my eyes tight because I was terrified that I was going to start seeing other things (insert fear of horror movies, paranormal, ghosts, etc. here). I reached for my dog Loki as usual, since he helps me out of more panic attacks than I can count. Loki has an expected response when you scratch his cheek and he will lift his lip in a snarl. It’s not aggressive, just ticklish and usually something we giggle about. He did that while I was petting him and scratching his cheek and I found myself in a moment where I was terrified of his face. It didn’t distort, it just scared the absolute shit out of me – even though it is an expected response. I was glad that Jeff was home at the time, because he helped me back to reality, where it was safe and real. At the end of it all – what was the spill? We determined my other dog, Arya, drank – gulped – water too quickly and it went right through her, making it look like water and not smell like urine. But it definitely was there and I was definitely not crazy.
The feeling of being in my house, but it didn’t feel like my house was a pretty terrifying experience. I never experimented with drugs in high school, but looking back I can imagine things might feel similar.
It happened again the next night when I returned to my house after Easter dinner with my family, though nothing triggered the feeling except being in my kitchen. Even now as I sit at my laptop at the kitchen table, I don’t feel the overwhelming sensation of being in a world that isn’t mine, but after we got home on Sunday I definitely had that feeling.
1. Grounding techniques – something that pulls you out of your head and back into the present.
One that I learned in counselling is called 5-4-3-2-1. You choose 5 things you can see, 5 you can physically feel, 5 that you can hear. Next you choose 4, trying to keep them unique, but don’t get too worked up if you are running out of things. Once you get to 1, the idea is that you have put yourself back in the present and you will feel better. Often when I try this, I don’t need to go all the way to 1, which is a good feeling.
2. Getting a good night’s sleep.
This is a tricky one for me especially, since my anxiety loves to roll around at nighttime. I know that my panic is more active during the days where I am not well-rested, so usually if I have a really bad day, I try to do what I can to go to bed early that night.
3. Other people and/or animals.
Though Loki’s reaction did scare me, after it happened a second time, Jeff put both the dogs on the couch with me and we cuddled and I was able to just pet them. Animals are incredible for people who struggle with mental illness (I’ll probably do another blog post later on all the benefits… just waiting for my social work application to come back positive before I jinx it!!). Jeff also was a major factor in helping me back to the present as he reassured me that what I was worrying about was not real.
4. Distract yourself by keeping busy.
That night, even though I was scared to go to sleep right away, I went right to Netflix and focused on what was going on in the show I was currently binge watching, and it helped. Not everyone will do well with distractions like this and it isn’t good to avoid life and responsibilities for too long, but you just went through a scary thing and it’s totally okay to take a break. Your brain and body is telling you that you need one. Colouring is also a really good way to keep yourself busy!
I hope that this may help someone who has experienced what I did this week before, or isn’t sure how to help a loved one. I know that everyone experiences depersonalization and derealization differently, but knowing that you’re not alone really helps. Remember that it’s temporary, and probably a good sign that you’ve been under a great amount of stress. Practice some positive self-care and remember to take a break if you need it.
Bressert, S. (2014). Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/depersonalization-derealization-disorder-symptoms/