If you're reading this, you're probably feeling pretty awful. I've been there, and it sucks. Everything that everyone says about DPDR is true - you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy. For me, there was no silver bullet. No single moment that suddenly got me to "90% cured" or vitamin that instantly cleared the brain fog. If you're looking for an instant fix, I can't tell you what to do because I never found it. But hopefully, I can give you some inspiration and hope that a life filled with adventure, excitement, social acceptance and love is ahead of you. I have gone to hell and come back, and I'm in control of me now, not DPDR.
For me, it all started 4 years ago after my 22nd birthday. I'm not going to talk about each and every symptom I felt, the majority are all over these forums. Each year saw small improvements and by taking care of myself and achieving small goals, I was ready to take on the world - literally. I have just completed an epic 6 week race-round-the-world adventure with my (newly) fiancé. In the 4 years since spiralling into the grips of DPDR I have maintained a career and been promoted 3 times, learned to scuba dive and swam with Humpback Whales, Whale sharks and countless tropical fish. I've been on three overseas holidays. I've studied horticulture and moved rentals about 5 times. I've adopted an elderly cat with arthritis and maintained a healthy relationship with my girlfriend that led me to proposing.
Sounds like a regular, slightly exciting 4 years right? This can be you too.
The main things that helped were acceptance and acknowledgement, eating well and doing things even when I didn't feel like it, and support. I'll talk a bit about these below.
Acceptance and acknowledgement:
This one was the single biggest help, and took me the best part of a year to start to accept what I was dealing with. I was more affected by derealisation than depersonalisation, but there were elements of both. For me, pot was the trigger. In hindsight, I was a ticking timebomb - I was very stressed, hanging out with a bad bunch of people, and pushed it too far. I'd never experienced negative effects from pot before, but I haven't touched it since that night it triggered a panic attack. I was actually fine for about 2 months after - no DPDR - but I was experiencing random heart palpitations, overthinking a lot, and always very 'on edge'. Then one day, out of nowhere, the biggest panic attack of my life hit me and it felt identical to the one triggered by pot, only this time, things didn't settle - I was stuck in a state of things not feeling real, constantly looking at things trying to remember if that's how they looked before. It was difficult to talk to anyone because it all felt like a dream. I was working in a call centre at the time so staring at a computer didn't help at all. I tried to hold out and see if it would clear up on its own, but after 3-4 months I couldn't take the constant anxiety, the constant fear of what had happened to my life, that I agreed with a doctor to go onto a very low 10mg dose of fluoxetine (Prozac) to just get the anxiety under control. The doctor didn't believe a 10mg dose would help, but it was my limit. Getting onto that medication was probably the worst I have ever felt in my life. I lost all appetite, and didn't want to leave my house. At the time, I had a girl who I was seeing who I'd been spending time with while trying to figure all of this out. Her support definitely helped me get through those few weeks. More on her later
The next 6 months were turbulent. I was scouring the internet trying to find quick fixes, I was constantly googling new symptoms looking for an instant cure, or an instant relief. Nothing worked. However, I did catch some videos on youtube of some people who were genuine and kept saying that you just have to move on as much as you can, and try to continue living a normal life. This was so so hard, especially when it felt like I was living in a bubble. Eventually, I felt like I was back in control, that anxiety and DPDR symptoms weren't sending me into a spiral anymore and I was sure I wasn't losing my mind. So, with the doctors agreement, I came off the meds and started to do things that made me feel naturally good, like eating well and going for nature walks. I was keeping it together at work as well, and got promoted a couple of times.
Now, don't get me wrong, some days were still huge struggles, and others were a lot easier. I was still dealing with DPDR symptoms on a daily basis, but instead of obsessing over them, I was learning to accept that they were there, acknowledge that I had been unfortunate enough to go through this. It was occurring to me that I may in fact never feel the same as I did before, but that I can learn to live a fulfilling life and manage it. It took some time for me to stop googling symptoms and to just accept them and move on, but this has been HUGE in helping me recover to a point where I live the life I want to live, one that's not dictated by how I feel or how I might feel if I do something.
It is critical to stop the loop of 'oh no I feel terrible, something must be wrong with my brain, I need to research my symptoms, what if this never gets better, I don't want to be like this, I just want to be normal again'. This used to play over and over in my head whenever I'd feel or notice something I didn't want to. You have to find a way to change the conversation to 'wow this doesn't feel good, I'm sure it's just temporary and will go away soon' and leave it there and carry on with your life. There are days where this won't always work, and I would turn to distraction - playing a game or doing something that requires you to have to focus on something else.
Some people call this mindfulness meditation - I think there is definitely merit in practising mindfulness meditation and I've done it many times. The key is to imbed the skills in your everyday life.
Healthy living and moving on with life:
Exercise and eat well. I don't notice a huge uplift when I do this, but I definitely notice a huge plummet in how I feel when I don't adhere to a healthy lifestyle. For me, it means walking, running, cycling, anything even for a small amount of time. I don't eat much dairy, sugar or meat, preferring to stick to a plant based diet. The demotivation aspect of DPDR can very quickly lead to weight gain and I was guilty for a while of eating 'comfort foods'. Different diets work for different people, but make sure you're keeping inflammatory foods down and consuming an ample amount of antioxidants. Coffee is an interesting one - I have heard coffee can wreak havoc on people's anxiety and symptoms, but for me, all it's ever done is keep me awake, which, working an office job, I need sometimes J
A couple of months after first getting DPDR I booked a flight, and I was nervous as hell that this would trigger a panic attack as I was pretty sensitive to anything at that point. But I didn't have any issues at all and found I worried for nothing. A year or so after, I learnt to scuba dive. This was a huge step for me as it's another thing that can set people into a panic state. This set me up to planning a diving trip overseas, and after that, a huge tour of the world. 9 countries, 17 cities, 17 flights and many missed hours of sleep and virtually no anxiety, or DPDR symptoms. I definitely had the occasional butterflies in my stomach moments, but every normal person gets these, and reminding myself of this was all I needed for these feelings to not escalate. And of course, I got to do it with my best friend and fiancé, which brings me to support.
I was not the best at this. The world's attitude to people with mental health issues is changing, but there is still a stigma where I live and I was very aware that discussing what I was going through with certain people could hinder my friendships, career and other parts of my life. At the beginning of my DPDR I was lucky enough to have met a beautiful girl who for some unknown reason wanted to be there for me through the worst of it. There was a romantic aspect at that point, but I couldn't give it my full attention as I was a bit preoccupied with these strange symptoms of DPDR. As I began to heal my mind, I talked a little bit more about what I was experiencing with her, but it was only ever 25% of what I was really experiencing. I trust her completely and know that she wouldn't judge, but I was almost embarrassed by how crazy and bizarre some of my perceptions of the world and myself were and I didn't want to share them. My family knows very little of my struggles over the years - there is a history of mental health issues on both sides, and they knew I was experiencing anxiety but believe it was for a very short amount of time.
When I went onto the medication, the doctor arranged some CBT sessions for me. After a couple of sessions the psychologist simply stated 'you're doing very well, and I'm not sure my skills can be any more use for you'. I felt both elated and sad - elated that in a psychologist's eyes, I wasn't doing too badly, but sad that there were people having a harder time with metal health than me.
When a close friend of mine broke down one day I recognised the symptoms straight away and knew there was anxiety/depression going on. Being able to confess that I was going through similar things and that I understood some of what she was feeling was comforting. Then, the more I started to loosely talk about stress, anxieties and mental health issues, the more people I found who were experiencing them as well. It was like lifting the lid and finding all these people that were finding their own way through mental health issues, and a mutual understanding formed.
My advice is to find trustworthy people, and confide in them only what you need to. For some of you, it'll be everything. For others, like me, only small amounts of detail will suffice. Understand that it is ok to say 'I'm not feeling too great, I need to chill for a bit' when you need a break or have to cancel plans.
And here I am now. I don't want to put a "90% cured" or "cured forever" label on myself because I don't see it like that. It's about learning to starve the beast that is DPDR, and replacing it with your own life. You have to move on, accept that this has happened and will likely be with you for many years, getting weaker and weaker the more you starve it. I'm now looking toward purchasing my first home, adopting some doggos, and getting married. Having children still scares the crap out of me, but there's no plan for that yet.
You can get back the life you want, you just have to be prepared to put in the work. You have to challenge your DPDR head on, and get through the fog, the distortions, the feeling of not feeling like you or feeling like the world is fake. Sometimes it sucks. Like, really sucks. You will have good and bad days. I'm not at the end of my journey with this, and I know I'm going to have to take care of myself for the rest of my life to prevent slipping back into old habits. I still have moments of anxiety and there are times when my brain races with thoughts. But what I'm doing is working for me, and hopefully can be a help for you to getting back to the life you want and deserve.