Hi, my name is Alex, I’m 28 and this is my experience with DP. About 18 months ago while at work something changed inside my brain. It was instantaneous, I looked around and everything seemed different, like nothing was real, like I was in a dream or a movie or under the influence of drugs, an unbelievably hot rush of fear swept through my body (my doctor tells me it was panic) and I headed straight for the toilet. I tried to shake it off but I couldn’t, then it hit me, either one of my workmates had spiked my lunch or I was going nuts and would surely be committed. Even the thoughts in my head seemed somehow askew. I spent the rest of the afternoon at work completely paranoid and self-conscious. I didn’t go to work for the next 5 weeks, I had some panic attacks and Agoraphobia but that didn’t last. I did all the basic tests and everything was fine. The only way I could describe it to my GP, family and friends was a feeling of “displacement” and I compared it to the feeling of when you’re suddenly awoken from sleep by a ringing phone, you fumble around neither awake or asleep. I didn’t go to see a neurologist or a psychiatrist because the episodes that caused the Agoraphobia had subsided. So I went back to work, but there was this weird thing with my perception, like a haze in my brain – my vision was clear but something about it was blurry, as if was looking through someone else’s eyes. I have never been the same since. I worked for an entire year completely spaced out, depersonalized. Every day was hell, constantly evaluating how I felt and constantly asking myself what is it, what’s wrong with me. Strange sensations, and strange thoughts.
During the year the DP didn’t stop me from doing anything, I traveled, socialized, drove and Skied. I had no Agoraphobia and I didn’t feel overly anxious, but no matter what I did it wasn’t the same as before, nothing looked the same and nothing felt the same. I was the walking dead, like I was no longer a part of the world – in it but some how not part of it. I had an overall feeling of Surreal, a feeling of displacement I was in a dream or a trance, an altered state of consciousness. I would have momentary feelings of “phasing out” then “phasing in” again followed by fear from the knowledge that the feeling of “phasing in” is a result of having “phased out”. I also had a constant concern about not being able to predict one of those “hot fear” episodes that brought me Agoraphobia and paranoia when it first happened. (What I know now as a panic attack)
Another thing that I feel is that my brain is slow interpret visual images, and changes in light, for example if I’m sitting in a room doing whatever and then I get up and walk to another room the new setting of the other room throws me, like I need a minute to get used to what I’m looking at. That applies with any situation, if I’m looking at something or if I’m sitting somewhere i.e. car, room, and I turn around or get out of the car or go outside the change in setting doesn’t compute straight away, its like my brain needs a minute to register what I’m looking at. When I’m outside on a sunny day and drifting clouds block the sun the sudden change in light makes me feel strange for a minute until I get used to it.
I was constantly drowsy, no matter how much sleep I’d had, also a constant awareness of self-awareness and an inability to concentrate and focus. I felt physically weak. Even with all of this I was in a generally positive and optimistic frame of mind, there where fleeting instances through the year where I thought “what if you stay like this forever” but the thought was to much to bear and I would snap myself out of that sort of thinking before I got into it. I honestly thought that whatever it was it would go away just as quick as it had come to me. I maintained my social life and did the things I always did for fun, but it wasn’t the same, it wasn’t as fun. I couldn’t feel anything. Sometimes I thought I may be dead and not know it and sometimes when talking to people I would think to myself “did he just say that or did I imagine it”. On occasion I would get an abrupt feeling that I was falling into a void, but it would only last a split second. Sometimes things seemed so unreal, like I could see past them or was falling away from them, it was as though I could walk through solid objects, they didn’t seem transparent, just not real. When I was really bad I would have tense limbs, like my legs didn’t want to co-operate with my brain and I would have balance problems and would be shaky, I’d feel like I was going to fall over.
I noticed things through the year that made it worse, when I was tired, or after a long driving stint (4hours+). Also physically exerting myself (Exercise) made me worse, but most of all when I got a cold or the flu. I also felt weird in well-lit areas and fluorescent light seemed to effect me somehow. Funnily enough I did find one thing that actually made me feel kinda normal again, getting drunk!
Before I continue I’ll stop for a moment for some quick references about my past; far from ideal childhood, always thought and analyzed too much, apparently “strong one in the family” and never had mental issues before this. Did some drugs but none for three years before this happened, once or twice I had somewhat similar feelings to this with pot. I was never happy in my work but loved life outside of work, I was very social, loved traveling and always couldn’t wait to go away camping, skiing or hiking. I’ve always loved nature and was always drawn to its beauty, unfortunately I now can’t appreciate it like I used to. I know it’s beautiful but I can’t “feel” it’s beautiful. I have always had excessive De-Ja-Vu (twice a day minimum) and it always made me feel uneasy.
Anyway, towards the end of the year I’d had enough, I wasn’t getting any better and I thought I better go and get a referral to a neurologist but Christmas was approaching and I had a trip planned with friends to go up north for a couple of weeks so I let it go. I went on my trip and when I came back to work (Jan 15) I was hit with panic attacks late on a Thursday afternoon, all I could think was “no not again”. I haven’t worked since, along with the panic, Agoraphobia has gotten really bad. Its this that incapacitates me, I honestly think I wouldn’t get panic attacks and therefore Agoraphobia if wasn’t depersonalized. When it first happened I’m positive I depersonalized first then had a panic attack, but it may be the other way around. If I could just get rid of the panic and Ag, I’d be able to attack the DP. My DP is now worse than ever. Since January I have been to neurologists and clinical psychiatrists, I was diagnosed with severe DP with panic and Agoraphobia as secondary symptoms, my doctor said that in my case it was genetic (my sister has temporal lobe epilepsy). Later my doctor told me that DP and anxiety were 1 and the same but he didn’t seem to sure about it, subsequently I have changed doctors. I’ve had an EEG, it was clear. The MRI showed a localized thickening of the Cortex at the left temporal lobe. I have tried 4 different anti-depressants (Lovan, Cipramil, Avanza, Zoloft). Some made me worse; others had no effect (except side effects). The only thing that has sort of helped is Xanax, and I’ve even had small panic attacks on Xanax particularly in crowded places (in public).
I write this in the hope that people out there suffering from DP and anxiety may read it and know they’re not alone. It has also made me feel a little better putting this in writing. I don’t know what DP is except that it is a horrendous condition that robs you of your very soul, I don’t think anybody knows for sure most of the doctors down here (Australia) either don’t have a clue or don’t recognize it is as anything but a symptom, this may be true but as I said nobody knows for sure. None of the crap I’ve had to put into my body has helped, so my faith in doctors down here is non-existent, I’m seriously considering flying to New York to see a specialist. I can’t take it anymore, I am an empty shell of what I used to be. I want my life back.