My Post got rather long, but maybe some of you have time to read it.
I structured it as following, so you can skip parts if you wish:
1) How I got DP
2) 9 years of DP
3) Beginning to recover
4) My Tips
5) Techniques that might help
I have been in a constant DP/DR state induced by smoking pot for more than 9 years. I already made friends with it and accepted it as my new reality. But this summer something changed. I made this post to let you know that even after a long time of constant DP, things can change!
1) How I got DP/DR
When I was 14 I started to be depressed. Shortly after that I developed a social phobia, I was constantly stressed when around people, I didn't like to go to crowded places and at some point was even to scared to go to the supermarket. When I was 16 a friend and I bought some weed and smoked it. It was not my first time, but this time I overdid it. I wanted to test my borders and to see 'how stoned I could get'. Shortly after smoking I realized something strange: My environment changed, everything seemed far away but at the same time very close. Everything turned dark around me. And then my horror trip started. I don't remember how long it lasted but I was in a state of terror for several hours, heart racing, panic, strange sensations and alienation.
After my trip, everything went on normal, at least that's what I thought. Then suddenly I had flashbacks randomly occuring. After two weeks, one flashback just didn't stop. I was again on the horror trip. I didn't know what was happening. Together with my social phobia my life turned to hell. I couldn't think, I didn't sleep for weeks, I was in constant panic. My parents didn't know what do to. I went to a shrink, he was clueless. At the darkest point, which was probably around 3 month after the onset I was so deep into a derealized and depersonalized state that I started to doubt reality. Nothing seemed to exist. I was in the emptiness, talking into the nothingness of space. Nothing made sense any more, the concept of mere existence seemed nihilistic. There was no earth, there were no humans. I was in a bizarre parallel universe. Faces looked strange, disintegrated, all semantic was lost, the only emotion I had left was fear. I was a mere observer of a strange and surreal, meaningless surrounding. If you don't know what DP is, you can't imagine it. I could go on in elaborating symptoms (loss of visual imagination, loss of emotional quality, not feeling connected to my mirror-view, seeing yourself as a third person, thought spirals, ...), but I assume you all know them.
The strangest thing that I found was: As much as I was disconnected from everything, there was still my consciousness saying 'I am'. I was not the person I was before, I did not identify with anything, I did not 'recognize' my parents, my own thoughts seemed to be the ones of someone else, yet there was a core inside of it all that said 'I am, I observe'. As you know I was rationally fully aware of what was happening, I was not crazy or had a psychosis. (Because of this strange phenomena of pure consciousness I decided to study Cognitive Science).
Something had to change so after half a year of horror trip I decided to go to a mental hospital. Not the kind of where they tie you up and wear lab coats, it was more like a summer camp for troubled teenagers. This was my rescue. As if someone had touched a switch, my fear was gone. I had a great time, made lifetime friends. The only thing left was my Derealization. I don't remember a single day in the last 9 years at which my DP was gone. Doctors there said 'forward avoidance', that means getting rid of symptoms to not have to look at what is behind.
2) 9 Years of depersonalization
Getting back to school was tough and many symptoms came back, yet not to the extend as before. I again struggled with social phobia, had panic attacks, depersonalization, derealization. From 16-19 I had a very good therapist who helped me a lot. She was the one that made me realize that behind every symptom there is a reason. "Look behind the curtain" is what she always said. I owe here a lot when it comes to my understanding of life.
Years passed, I did my A-levels, I did a year abroad caring for the disabled, I started studying, got over my social phobia and made good friends in Uni. Yet DP was a constant companion. I still had phases of strong DP, of fear and self-observance, of depression. But then there were also times when I was so happy and so distracted that I didn't think of it too much. I accepted DP as part of my life, as part of my new reality. In the end: What was the difference? I was so far that I accepted that it would never go away.
3) Beginning to recover
Last year around September I started meditating with a Buddhist group. And just at the second time meditating for a split second I had the feeling of reality. Wow. I was there in the room, just for a second. Soon later I had a phase of stronger DP again and focusing on my thoughts seemed not like a good idea. Then I had a realization: It is as it is. Acceptance. If there is DP, that is what I observe. It is ok to be there. There is likely reason behind it. With this attitude I suddenly lost fear of the DP. From my experience I knew: Every DP state so far had ended, without me doing anything special.
Half a year later, I talked with a friend about my horro trip experience. She was very empathetic but just dropped the line: "Don't you think, it is now time to get over it?". And suddenly so many feelings from deep inside came over me. I couldn't believe it. I felt something was changing. The next few month I had no week where I didn't cry. Mostly during meditation I felt the need to cry. And I let it happen.
This summer I did a 7 days intensive Vipassana retreat. That means: 8 hours of meditation per day, no talking, no interaction, only observing, no judging. Despite this being an exhausting task, it was at the same time a very interesting experience. I experienced deep meditative states, states of bliss but also moments of despair.
On the third day then I was taking my daily shower. And suddenly I opened my eyes and couldn't believe them. Everything was real. Everything was back to normal. No fog, no alienation. After 9 years. I cried so much. I shook, I had all the emotions of my horror trip upon me, but in a good sense. It felt like processing them, leaving them behind, confronting my trauma. It was a crazy experience. I looked outside the window. I saw the clear sky. I saw the clear sky. Not just seeing it. I experienced it, I smelled it, I felt just as before. This night I couldn't sleep. I was so full of emotions and feelings of intensity that I thought I had lost. I was laying there, just playing around with feelings, imagining situations from my life and suddenly having 'the feeling' of the situation back, something that with DP was only vaguely there. The next morning I saw the sunrise. It felt like seeing it for the first time in a long time, it was so beautiful.
I don't even necessarily think that this was due to the intensive meditation retreat. It was just time for it to happen. It might have happened in a different situation. So don't get me wrong: I don't recommend anyone doing such a thing to overcome his DP. I didn't do it to overcome my DP. Do it only if you feel like it would be the right thing to do.
I still can't explain what's the difference between the emotions at this point and DPed-emotions. For me it seems as if DPed-emotions are just dull and lack 'the essence', the innate meaning, the special something. Olfactory sensation plays a major role for me.
Now, a few month later, I'm back to my 'normal' life. I just started studying in a different country. I still have DP at points of stress. I still often experience everything as dream-like (but that's ok). Yet in some moments I experience emotions as intensive as before, as real as before. I can 'feel' the autumn coming. I can 'smell' the freshly cut grass and the pouring rain.
To be honest: My life in general has not changed too much. I still feel depressed sometimes, I still struggle with the same problems as before. They were not induced by DP. I am far from being 'fully recovered' (whatever that means). Yet something has changed and I am curious what else will come in the next years.
Now I am sure, there is and was a reason for my DP. And there probably was a reason for my horror trip, a form of retraumatization. And with confronting these reasons, my DP will pass. And even if not: that's also okay. My life does not depend on it.
- Time: With time comes change. In hindsight it just seems obvious that with 18 I was just not ready to not have DP. Time was the most important factor for me, next to personal growth and insight into myself. Yet for others it might be different.
- When in deepest DP: Change something. Do a year abroad (everyone can do it! it's not a question of money.). Move to a different city. Join a volunteer group. Connect with other people. Get distracted. Don't do it to 'overcome DP', do it for the sake of it. Doing things 'to overcome DP' never worked for me.
- Stop reading the internet: Stop googleling symptoms, stop worrying about what is happening. Just do it. I know it is hard, but just stop yourself from reading yet another post about DP.
- It will go away, even if it doesn't feel like that right now.
- Have a different view: For me, DP has a reason. DP is a symptom. It is not just disbalanced chemicals in the brain that need to be fixed (although it doesn't mean that it has nothing to do with brain chemicals). It is a method of our mind/brain to avoid or shield us from certain traumata, and it is a very vicious and malfunctioning one. Yet my experience shows me: If you overcome your trauma, DP will pass.
- There will be no single thing that 'cures' you: Most likely you are not ill. There is no medication that you can pop to cure you. I tried several anti-depressants, they worked quite well but they left my DP unaffected. And they had terrible side effects, some of them persisting long after I stopped taking them. Stop experimenting with vitamins and food supplements. They don't change anything. The reason you have DP ist not (alone) a lack of any substance of transmitter.
5) Methods that might or might not have helped me:
- Meditation: I don't suggest starting with meditation while being in an acute DP phase. For some people meditation helps, for others not. I always thought 'meditation is just not for me' until I just did it. Don't start alone, seek a experienced person, be it a Buddhist teacher, Christian contemplate or a MBSR professional.
- Focusing (by Gendlin): I have encountered Focusing by accident and find it to be a very powerful tool. It helped me quite a couple of times to get to the core of what I am feeling. It also helped me to understand my own psyche. Symptoms are not there to annoy you, they are there for a reason. And 'listening' to them was a big step in my recovery (although sometimes it just seems impossible to listen to your fear).
- TRE (Trauma Release Exercise): This is a method that uses the body to release tensions and traumata that are stored in the memory of the body. Similar techniques can be found in certain Yoga practises. If the theory behind it is sound or not I don't know. If it really helps or if it is just placebo, I don't know. Most of the time I feel better after doing an excercise, that's what counts for me.
- Sport: Go swimming, running, cycling. Sport is scientifically shown to improve mental health.
Thank's for reading!
I am also happy to see that there is so much information out there nowadays. Back in 2006 the wikipedia article was just half a page and almost no reports of people overcoming it had been posted. Now I see many things and good tipps being posted, that is great!
If you have any questions: Feel free to ask.