Hello my fellow anxiety ridden brothers and sisters! This is my first time posting here, or on any forum, but I am so glad that I am here with happy news. A couple years ago, when I was suffering through the worst part of my battle with depersonalization/derealization, this would have been a very different and much more depressing post. But I did it! I NEVER thought I would get through it, and had almost come to accept that the rest of my life would be spent living in constant fear, constantly terrorized by horrible intrusive thoughts, constantly wondering if anything around me was real. But somehow, by the grace of God, I made it to the light at the end of the tunnel. I am 100% better. Depersonalization has gone from being on my mind 24/7, to an experience I hardly even remember or think about. I am completely whole again. And you absolutely can be too.
How it started: First of all, hi, I'm a 20 year old girl from California, if that matters. I've had anxiety/ocd since I was very young, but I was never really bothered by it, it just felt like a part of who I was. When I was a sophomore in high school (15 years old) I for some reason got the idea that I wanted to try smoking pot. Not sure why, I was not very interested in drugs and I had never even drank. My friend group at the time was very into smoking though so it felt like something I should do too (total peer pressure lol). To make matters worse, I decided that for my first experience I'd try an edible instead of smoking. Yikes. Needless to say, I was about to have a very terrible time. It kicked in after about an hour and I went into full panic mode. Felt like I was on acid, even though I have no idea what acid feels like. I called my mom to pick me up, absolutely sobbing. I begged her to take me to the emergency room, but being the chill hippie mom she is, she explained that I was just having a bad trip/anxiety attack and needed to go home and sleep it off. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, the world around me had completely changed. I went for a walk outside and I couldn't believe my eyes. Everything was crystal clear, colors were frighteningly bright, bushes and trees seemed to lunge out at me like a 3D movie. I felt like I was walking on a cloud, but in the worst way possible. My legs were moving but they felt disconnected from my body. I felt like Dorothy when she first stepped out into OZ, but it was nightmarish. I tried to stay calm, I tried to relax and remember that it was only pot, it couldn't have caused any brain damage. I tried to stay positive and convince myself that I'd feel normal in just a few hours, that I was still just a bit high. I had no idea that this horrible feeling of disconnection would continue for the next 3 years, soon to be some of the worst years of my life.
My main symptoms: During my 3 years of depersonalization/derealization, these are some of the feelings that tormented me most. Hopefully you'll be able to relate to some of them and know that you're not going crazy and you're not alone.
- Feeling like I was trapped in my body. Like my body was this big hard shell and I was a tiny spirit wandering around inside. Everything felt strange and foreign, like something major had shifted. I remember feeling like up until then, before the pot brownie, I had been controlling my body from far away, like a video game character. And now I had suddenly been plopped inside of that character's body, and it felt heavy, disorienting, and uncomfortable. Basically the opposite of an out of body experience. I would ask my parents if they were also seeing out of their own two eyes, and if they could see their two arms on either side of them, if they saw their legs when they looked down, to see if they had the same perception as me. They would look at me like I was absolutely insane.
- Horribly distorted vision. I felt like I was living inside a fish bowl. Everything was warped, colors seemed painfully bright, trying to focus my eyes on anything was painful. My eyes ached constantly. I would come home from school and immediately put an ice bag over my eyes, because they were so exhausted from experiencing what seemed like a constant visual acid trip. This was one of the worst symptoms, because I assumed if my eyes were messed up this badly it had to be brain damage.
- Intrusive thoughts/obsessions. I remember the only way I could describe this to my parents and therapist was that the inside of my head had turned into a surrealist painting. I was constantly focused on existence, reality, philosophy, the human condition. I would spend sleepless nights reading about religion. I have always been a strong Christian, but for the first time in my life depersonalization was causing me to question my most fundamental beliefs. I was terrified of death. And I had SO many terrifying questions. After death would my soul be transferred into an inanimate object, where I would spend the rest of eternity living as a teacup or a desk lamp? Is reality fake and I'm just a brain in a vat? Perhaps the pot brownie wasn't marijuana at all, maybe I had somehow ingested DMT and I was now stuck in an endless trip, experiencing ego death and being slowly sucked into the universe where I would forever sail down a spiraling tunnel of crumbling reality. Seriously, I'm not kidding. My brain actually came up with this ridiculous stuff.
Those were just some of the symptoms, there were many many many more. I could write a novel. But all of that is over now, and I am so grateful. I'm tearing up as I write this because I can't believe I managed to escape all of that horribleness and actually enjoy life again. But believe it or not, it was easy! Can you believe that? The solutions were right under my nose the whole time. Let's move on to the happy stuff.
All of the things that helped me, and will hopefully help you too:
- First and foremost, I want to give a ton of credit to Shaun who created The DP Manual. Gosh, I wish I could give that guy a big fat hug. I don't think I would be where I am today without his audio book. Even if you aren't ready to invest in the audio book, there's so much helpful information for free on his website. Read it read it read it and read it again, read it until it all absorbs into your brain forever and ever. He explains everything so perfectly and healthily and he'll leave you without any doubts. He'll remind you that you aren't crazy, that you don't have brain damage, that reality isn't going to crumble into a million pieces. His articles are so so so healing. I'm sure a lot of you here have probably stumbled onto his website before, but even if you didn't feel like his words comforted you at the time, I urge you to try again. It took me a few good tries before all the information in his book/his free articles really stuck with me.
- Realizing that anxiety was the root of the problem. I spent so much time convincing myself that marijuana had damaged my brain, and it was causing me to feel so much guilt. I was so sure that the pot was the culprit of all of this, that I had made a horrible reckless decision and now I would pay for it for the rest of my life. When it FINALLY hit me that this was just a symptom of anxiety, which was something I had experienced all of my life, and something that wasn't my fault, I could finally breathe again. Such a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Marijuana induced DP is no different than anxiety induced DP, and realizing that was a crucial part of my recovery.
- Letting go. This is probably the most common advice you'll hear, but its the only way. And its easier than you think. My healing truly began when I stopped reading forums, stopped discussing depersonalization with those around me, and just accepted that this was how I was feeling at the moment and it was out of my control. I even decided to stop reading The DP Manual after a while, and accepted that I had absorbed all of the wonderful information I could from it and it was time to put that away too. I'm not one to push religion, but one of the best parts of my recovery was just handing everything to God and trusting Him and just doing my best to live a normal life. I started going out with friends, taking better care of myself, and absorbing myself in activities that completely distracted me. And it got easier and easier every day.
- Alcohol. I'm not suggesting that anyone take up alcoholism and start binge drinking every night, but hear me out. Drinking for the first time at the start of my first year of college was an almost spiritual experience for me. For the first time in a couple years, and really in my whole life, all of my anxiety melted away, and everything felt crystal clear. I thought "Okay, wait a sec, if all it takes is a couple drinks to make my symptoms improve significantly, then this can't be psychosis, this can't be brain damage. Alcohol doesn't fix those things. That wouldn't make any sense". And from that moment on, knowing that all it took to make me feel a tiny bit better was going out on the town and getting a little tipsy, felt like the ultimate freedom. I still hadn't recovered completely at that point, but it was an enormous step in the right direction. So next time you're wondering if you're going crazy, draw a hot bath and have a glass of wine. Do you feel your strained eyes relaxing? Do your frightening thoughts suddenly feel a bit silly? Do you feel a bit like yourself again? You of course shouldn't make drinking a habit, but now you'll know that you have that little escape when things get too tough and you need to remember that everything's okay and reality is still, in fact, intact.
- Start taking care of yourself. I mentioned this earlier, but oh boy is it important. Start doing a skin care routine, work out, get a tan, take long hot showers, exfoliate your entire body, dye your hair, invest in a fancy cosmetic procedure. Its not just about looking your best, doing these things will help you reconnect with your body and feel like a human being. Your body will start to feel like your home again instead of a weird person-shaped box that you've been glued into. It can be a lot of work, because depersonalization makes every little movement scary and difficult, but you can do it and you'll be glad you did.
- When you're ready, try smoking pot again. NOT until you're 100% ready though, I cannot stress this enough. And maybe you never want to touch it again, and thats totally okay too. You'll recover just fine either way, this isn't a crucial step. But for me, facing my ultimate fear was exactly what I needed. The first time I tried it again, about two years after the initial pot brownie experience, it was awful all over again. I had the exact same feelings of panic and dread, I suffered through all those "bad trip" sensations all over again, and I worried I had only made the depersonalization worse. But I rode it out, and a few months later I tried it again... and again... and again. And I still hate it, its honestly just not for me. But the important thing is that I taught myself that those scary weed feelings are temporary, that its impossible to stay "high" forever, that all marijuana isn't inexplicably laced with PCP or some other bizarre substance, that bad trips come to an end. And now I don't have to fear it anymore. Which is SO crazy to me. Pot had become the absolute most terrifying thing to me, and I took it and made it my bitch. That sounds stupid but you get the point. Again, definitely don't try this until you're 100% ready, if you're in a bad place and the original drug experience is still fresh in your mind, this will probably only make it worse. Give it a couple years until you have your thoughts under control and you feel strong enough to conquer the thing that started this to begin with. Or don't. Its totally up to you. And you're going to be fine either way. (This bit of advice seems to be a little controversial to some, which is understandable. Refer to the comments for further explanation lol)
I wish I had more to write, I know there are probably more things that helped, but this is all such a distant memory at this point that this is the best I can offer you. Do I still experience symptoms? Yes, but very rarely and in a very minuscule way compared to a couple years ago. And only when I'm extremely stressed out. Which is a good thing, because I can now recognize that all these symptoms are tied to stress and they're under my control. I know how to whisk them away now whenever they creep up on me. I consider myself to be 100% better. I'm a person again. I go out, I enjoy life, I can appreciate the little things. I can have conversations without questioning if the person in front of me is secretly a robot. I can watch a trippy existential movie without sobbing half way through. I can watch the sunset without my eyes aching and my vision warping. Life is grand, and it will be for you again too. Know that God is with you, and if you don't believe in God then know that I'm thinking about you and rooting for you. Your recovery will be a slow process with lots of ups and downs, it will not happen over night. Don't rush it, there's no time limit. Just know that you're going to be okay.
Please don't hesitate to ask me questions or reach out if you need to talk. I know first hand how hard this is. I'll stay up all night reassuring you if I have to. I thought I'd never go near a forum again after I was all better, but lately its been weighing on me that I need to share my story and let others know that recovery is EXTREMELY possible. I guarantee that tons of people are recovering every day, they're just busy moving on with their lives and don't have time to write about it, which is why you don't hear success stories too often. But people are indeed recovering, just like you will soon. I was so blessed to get through this and I want to make sure everyone else does too. Much love to you all