Hello! I used to frequent this site and other similar ones quite a bit back in college in 2016 or 2017 because I was dealing with awful DP and was fixated on it for more than a year. All I wanted was to feel real, feel emotions, feel anything, and I just felt so numb. I just wanted to come back to let people know that I’ve found my path and maybe something in my story will resonate with someone, cause I know if I would’ve seen this before it would’ve definitely helped me. Please know I’m not saying I have all the answers or that this is The Path, it’s just mine, and it may not be relevant to everyone, but hopefully it can help someone!
The first thing that helped me with DP was realizing it was a symptom, not the root problem (though I know this may not be the case for everyone, there’s a good possibility it is). My root problem was a TON of social and general anxiety, fear of rejection, dealing with many “shoulds” and expectations from Christianity and family/friends, inferiority complex, and many more issues. I was constantly acting because my whole personality was built on fear, taking previous negative experiences and changing my behavior each time to make sure it didn’t happen again (e.g., I was called “gay” a lot in high school - which I know isn’t a bad thing but my friends definitely used it as an insult - so I tried to deepen my voice and not be as hyper). I also think I’m an introvert and I felt that I had to be super social all the time because otherwise I would be “anti-social,” which was seen as a bad thing. I also had some incidents in middle school that caused some of this stuff. I was in a constant state of anxiety because of all of this, and it got to the point where it short-circuited my brain to go into DP as a sort of defense mechanism. After getting DP, I was terrified that I was going to be like that forever, and I fixated on it for so long, staring in the mirror, looking at my hands, trying to force myself to feel real. This was my first problem; you’re not going to get over DP this way - it’s like fixating on a hangover every Monday morning when the real problem is you drink too much on the weekends - it’s just not going to help. Once I realized that it was only a symptom and that there was nothing I could do about it directly (and focusing on it really just made it worse), I redirected my efforts to my anxiety.
At first, I would sit for hours journaling and getting to know myself and being introspective/reflective, which I had never done before. This helped me see what was actually going on in my mind a little better. I then went into a state of limbo; I was fixated on “getting better” because I never felt a peace, and I tried different things. I had a fixation on being “authentic” or “real” and told a bunch of people about everything I was going through with DP/DR because I thought if people didn’t know everything about me, then I was just acting and they didn’t know the “real me.” Being honest with people may have helped a little, but I was focused on this a little too much. I then turned to God and Christianity and thought that if I could believe enough and be a good enough Christian, then God would save me, but this made it much worse because I have a real problem with “shoulds,” and I felt like I was in a small box and that God was watching my every move and judging it as sin; even though I knew there was grace, I couldn’t help but know I “should” be thinking and acting differently. It probably didn’t help that I was in a pretty legalistic college organization. At this point, I gave that up, which helped, but I still didn’t know what to do - I had all this determination and all I wanted was find a path out of DP and my unhelpful ways of thinking.
A while later, I randomly happened upon and binge listened to The Secular Buddhism Podcast by Noah Rasheta and this is honestly what has helped me the most. This Secular Buddhism philosophy has truly shifted my perspective and addressed almost all the areas where I had pain and fear. One of the tools that helped was the idea that it really isn’t the emotional state (or lack thereof) that brings suffering, it is the reaction to the emotional state; if you can truly just feel how you feel without attaching meaning or aversion to it, then there is no suffering. It’s the resistance to a certain feeling that makes it persist, and if you can let go of the resistance, then the original feeling usually dissipates. The philosophy has also helped with the “shoulds” because I realized that there is no strict good or bad; there isn’t anything I need to do to be “good enough” because I already am. I had an idealized version of myself (cool, funny, smart, not worrying what people thought) and I felt that if I was not these things, then I was inferior and that others wouldn’t like me, but I realized that these aren’t important. I had a new self I wanted to be (understanding, kind, loving, etc.), and if other’s judged me, then they weren’t those things and it truly didn’t matter what they thought of me. I wasn’t as worried about being authentic and having everyone know everything about me because I realized that I am not my thoughts or emotions. They are just natural reactions due to how our brains formed in evolution but aren’t really relevant to humans anymore. I realized that all of my emotions and thoughts had a cause (previous experience, natural tendency, etc.) and that none of them were inherently who I was, and I could learn to let go of my reactions to my emotions and thoughts, observing them without being caught up in the drama/story they were telling. Understanding all of this really reduced my anxiety levels and my DP started to go away. I wasn't focused on it or worried about it, but it was nice to see it was dissipating.
Another thing that has helped me immensely (and I saw this might be a taboo topic? but it is certainly a huge part of my recovery) has been meditation. Focus meditation has helped calm my mind and anxiety, and mindfulness meditation has truly helped me get some separation from my thoughts and anxiety. My thoughts used to be so emotionally charged (I think I may have some OCD tendencies), and I would react so strongly to physical feelings (like stomach clenching). I have meditated in different ways almost every day (missing like 2 days) for over a year, and I can say that I definitely would not be where I am without it. Don’t expect a quick change, it’s certainly a cumulative process, but you get to know yourself so well and learn to calm and not identify with/believe your thoughts and emotions, which is when true growth can happen. One quote that I like is “‘If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at changes” - Wayne Dyer.
Anyway, there are many many other things I could say that have helped me, but this post is already long enough. I’m happy to answer any questions anybody has, though. The things that have helped me most along the way are realizing that DP was a symptom and thus not something I needed to focus on (and focusing on the real problem), not resisting emotions/mental states, I take Lamotrigine which helps some with anxiety, the “Secular Buddhism” Podcast by Noah Rasheta, “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright, and “The Mind Illuminated” by John Yates. If anything I talked about resonated with you or you just want to try something new, I would definitely recommend these.
All of this has shown me that the mind really can change with time and effort put into the right thing, and hopefully this can give some hope to someone because I know that it would’ve helped me.