My story began when I was 18 years old in 1970. Like so many others here, my first episode of depersonalization followed recreational drug use. I smoked pot occasionally and had taken LSD 4 or 5 times without incident. I was a hippy, we didn’t really worry very much about what we felt were alarmist and unfounded fears about these drugs. We all knew people who used more drugs, used them longer. I was a lightweight, a weekend dabbler, a childcare worker during the week. Trip 6 was different, suddenly, my world changed. I won’t go into much detail as others have told the same story here quite eloquently. The bottom line was that I felt I had glimpsed the meaninglessness of existence. I wasn’t “real”, the world wasn’t “real” and I was utterly alone with this “understanding”. I went to emerg. and was given Valium after a terrifying grilling in an all white room by med. students, only a few years older than myself, wearing white coats. The Valium calmed me and I entered a rather pleasant state and set about forgetting the entire ugly episode. I vowed never to touch “chemicals” again and prayed that I had not done permanent damage. Pot didn’t count, pot wasn’t a chemical, pot couldn’t hurt you… could it? A week, or so, later I shared a joint with some friends and had what I then thought was an “acid flashback”. The same horror overwhelmed me. I then began the search for help and an explanation for the attacks I was now having without any drug use, attacks that came out of the blue, and the constant terror they provoked.
I struggled with depersonalization and panic attacks for the next 17 years, sometimes becoming agoraphobic, and always suffering some degree of existential angst. It was beyond awful. I felt that I couldn’t even die for fear that death was what I had experienced already – a fearful Godless universe devoid of comfort. At 35 I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder and prescribed Xanax. I wept before taking the first pill, sure that ingesting any chemical would plunge me further into hell. My world changed yet again… the terror stopped.
I have taken Xanax for 16 years, always at a dose below what was first prescribed, and find it to be remarkably effective. In fact, I was transformed from a sometime agoraphobic into a world traveler making documentaries about the plight of the world’s poorest citizens in some of the most harrowing places on earth. Not only could I move through the world connected to myself, I could ponder the big questions. Why are we here? Why do we suffer? Why is it all so unfair, unequal, inexplicable, mysterious… without becoming depersonalized. I spent a great deal of time in India over the course of several visits and found myself increasingly drawn to Eastern thought and philosophy. Before Xanax I could not bear to contemplate these things but now I find myself quite comfortably wondering if there is a way that this incredibly unpleasant experience fits with my philosophy of life which is, in the main, Buddhist. I believe that we have physical mechanisms in our brain that serve our spirit by keeping us connected to our ego as it is lessons of the ego that we are here to learn. One of those lessons is to become less attached to the turmoil the ego can cause but loosening the grip of the ego should be a peaceful journey and not a sudden plunge into an altered sense of reality. That sudden shift causes fear as it is a mechanical glitch and not a real transcendent experience. We are not prepared, we have not made the journey and we panic. The fear overcomes us as our vigorous ego struggles to reassert itself and we get trapped in this battle within ourselves. My depersonalization experience did not contribute to my spiritual growth, it slowed it down. I really didn’t want to know about any type of altered awareness, thank you very much. I wanted, more than anything else, to simply be a normal person mired in the here and now. It was only when I could fix that glitch, plug up that little hole in my fragile ego, that I could begin to contemplate the evolution of my self and begin to address the work my ego needed to do. And, be in the moment, mindful and at peace.
At 28 (7 years before beginning Xanax) I developed the first symptoms of a chronic illness that would prove to be a neurological condition mediated by my immune system, probably MS. The only thing that brings relief for my now quite debilitating symptoms is pot. I had not touched it in 25 years. I have a wicked depersonalization experience the first time I smoke up but I can ride it out with the help of Xanax and, when I use it consistently for days or weeks, I do not experience depersonalization after the first episode. It’s still beyond awful, I still believe the fear is somehow “the truth” when it’s happening but it passes. Having visited this site for the first time today and read about the experiences of others I feel I must take a long, hard look at this strategy. Without marijuana I spend my once vital and exciting life on the couch in front of the TV in a very bad state. With marijuana I suffer less fatigue, less pain, fewer motor disturbances and my cognition improves. I can certainly deal with these dep. episodes but I now have a little fear that if Xanax should suddenly fail to work after all these years I would most likely be a DPerson and that would really suck. I must say that what I found here shook me up a little but I’ve stopped shaking now. My journey involves learning to deal with fear, perhaps that is a big lesson for us all. I’m determined to master it before I leave this lovely, terrible, mystifying place.
I wrote this with some trepidation as I know how fragile one feels in that dreadful state. I hope I have not triggered Dep. in any readers. And, I must stress that this is only my journey. However, since my journey became a beautiful one full of meaning, peace and connection, it may be of help to some.