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As I mentioned in my introductory post, I'm currently working my way through a book called Overcoming Depersonalization and Feelings of Unreality by Anthony David. So far, I do feel the book is helping, if in a small way. It's not an easy cure, and there's no guarantee that reading the book will cure depersonalization and feelings of unreality (DPAFU, as the book refers to it). On the contrary, I get the feeling that it will probably take a few attempts at reading and working through the exercises in the book, as well as implementing changes in my everyday life, to see some real progress.

The first step, according to the book, is to define your symptoms.While I have occasionally had the physical sensations (blurry vision, feeling as though I'm viewing the world through glass or a fishbowl), most of mine have been emotional/thought-based. The whole world feels strange and alien to me, as though none of it is real, and I'm not real. I don't feel human. I have a hard time understanding the concept of humanity, of time and distance, as odd as that may sound. While intellectually, I can obviously understand and define these things, it's as though my brain has trouble processing and accepting them.

After defining your own symptoms, the next step is to determine whether you had them previous to developing DPAFU, and whether any other conditions (such as anxiety and/or depression) could be causing those issues. For me, DPAFU and anxiety are very tightly interwoven - the anxiety often precedes the DPAFU and occurs right alongside it - I never get DPAFU without anxiety. The line between the two, if it even exists, is blurred, in my case. The good thing about this book is that, while it addresses things specific to DPAFU, it also addresses anxiety, depression, and other co-occurring conditions.

Next, it's important to rank the severity of your sensations, from 0 (worst possible feeling) to 10 (best possible feeling). At this stage, it's critical to be honest about the severity of your sensations - for instance, many people report feeling emotionally numb, but are still able to feel fear, depression, and hopelessness. They're not good feelings, but they're still feelings, which means that, while a person may be miserable, they're not completely emotionally numb.

One of the things this book emphasizes is correcting what it refers to as cognitive errors - flaws in our thinking patterns that provoke DPAFU, or aggravate it when it occurs. Here are some of the most common:
  • All or nothing thinking - Things are black and white, with no gray areas in between. If I go out with friends tonight, it'll either be great or horrible.
  • Negative mental filter - Focusing on one single negative thought, excluding all positive thoughts among it. Most of the day went well, but something went wrong. The whole day was a bust.
  • Fortune telling - Predicting a bleak future based on your current situation. My DP is here now, therefore it'll be here forever. I know all too well the temptation to think this way. It's the same as with a physical illness - often, when I've had a brief illness that I knew was temporary, part of me was so miserable that I couldn't help but fear that it would last forever.
  • Overgeneralization - Making broad, sweeping statements and assumptions based on just a few occurrences. For instance, making one mistake leads to thinking, I'm a complete failure.
  • Catastrophizing - Exaggerating the severity of the situation at hand, obsessing over the worst case scenario to the point where you believe it to be true. My DP will last forever. I won't be able to function. My life will never amount to anything. I'll end up in a mental institution for the rest of my life.
  • Labelling - Applying inaccurate and negative labels to yourself and others. I'm crazy. I'm going insane. I'm a basket case.
  • Disqualifying the positive - Ignoring positive feedback and occurrences in favor of the more pessimistic view. My therapist thinks there is hope for me, but it's only because she doesn't know my whole story. I'm the exception to every rule.
  • Exaggeration - The slightest details are blown out of proportion, magnifying their significance. I stumbled over a word when speaking to my boss. He must think I'm an idiot. I'm probably going to get fired.
  • Jumping to conclusions - Playing "mind reader" in order to back up your negative thoughts and assumptions. If I'm quiet at dinner tonight, my family will know something is wrong with me.
  • "Should" statements - Unreasonable rules that deal in absolutes that cause you to feel distress and disappointment when broken. I should never have gone out tonight. I should be able to cope with this better than I am.
  • Emotional reasoning - Believing in a theory solely based on how you feel, rather than on evidence or facts that are actually present. I feel so awful right now, I can't imagine ever feeling better. This feeling is so strange, I MUST be going crazy. There is no other explanation.
  • Blaming - Assigning the responsibility of your problems to someone or something in particular. I can't leave the house because of my DPAFU. My DPAFU is the reason I lost my job.
I personally believe that cognitive errors are the main impetus behind DP/DR, although other factors can certainly affect it and make it worse. In order to improve, or to work toward the ever-elusive cure for ourselves, we truly need to get to the root of our own personality and find the fundamental flaws in the way we think. This is no easy feat - if you've been thinking a certain way for your entire adult life, it can seem impossible to change, or to even recognize that there's a problem. Many of us (myself included) have spent a great deal of time hiding behind the ideology that "this is just the way I am," or "everyone has flaws." While it's true that no one is perfect, and that our flaws and idiosyncrasies make us who we are, they should never cause us distress, anxiety, or pain. Those are the true habits we need to learn to change, not a habit of biting fingernails or constantly forgetting where we put our keys. Recognizing these behaviors and confronting them head-on is, I believe, the only way through this hell we've confined ourselves to.

Now that I've given you some food for thought, I'm going to step down off my soapbox for now. I realize it's been long, and I sincerely appreciate it if you've stuck around this long. I'm definitely going to be wordy at times throughout this process, but my greatest hope is that someone reading will take these thoughts to heart and know that they're not alone in this thing, and that maybe, just maybe, there's a way out.
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