I am told that when I was 3 I took a walk with my Grandmother around the block after a big rainstorm. She stopped and holding my hand we looked into a puddle. I said, “Gramma, I see my reflection”. I believe I had a sense of “self” then. But, when I was about 7 I was playing ballerina and spun myself around too much until the dizziness made me lose my balance, fall and knock my two front teeth on the coffee table. The next day my Mother took me to the dentist and my teeth had to be pulled. I was given Nitrous Oxide. I remember sitting back in the chair and breathing in the “laughing gas”. I often wonder if the dose of this was too high, they didn¹t administer enough oxygen with it, or if something went wrong in my brain during this procedure. Nitrous Oxide is defined as a “dissociative anesthetic”. It is not supposed to have “lasting effects”…but I often wonder if this was the very beginning of a different life for me.
At the age of 16 I shared a joint with a friend for the first (and last) time. Within a few minutes I found myself spinning around in the kitchen with a severely intense feeling that I was loosing control. I looked into a mirror and saw my face, but it didn¹t seem like MY face. I was unsure where I was, where I had gone and felt like I was going to die. Then I had the sense that I WAS dead. That I had died and nothing around me, including myself, seemed real. My perception of reality was changed forever – to this very day.
Afraid to tell my Mother what I had done, but fearing that something was seriously wrong, I decided to tell her the truth about smoking the pot the night before. I was very afraid to even speak. A fear I carry around to this day – that I am invisible, unable to be seen or heard by the world and those in it, around me. I was terrified that she would not answer me when I spoke to her, and if she didn¹t, that would confirm my feelings of being “dead”.
There are days even now, when I am isolated from others, from loved ones, due to the nature of my work, not receiving a single phone call or message or E-mail – others are busy with their life that day and haven¹t had a chance to call or write – and it is these days with lack of communication with the outside world that worsen my feelings of being “invisible” or “dead” or “unreal”. I begin to question my own existence.
This has lead me to become somewhat compulsive about keeping in touch with those in my life, or just starting a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store line – to know that I am here. Although, I DO KNOW I AM here. I am always here, but sometimes it feels as though I¹m not.
I was unable to finish High School. The fluorescent lights in the classrooms bothered me. I would hold on to my desk with “white knuckles” fearing that if I let my body relax I would just start spinning out into the Universe and never get back. I took a job as a waitress. I would stand there taking an order and begin to feel as though my legs were no longer there and I was going to float away. I held all of my muscles so tightly I would come home every day exhausted. I became hyper-aware of my own existence. I began to feel all of the muscles, organs, tissues, and nerves in my body. I could feel the activity in my brain. Racing, the neurotransmitters firing away rapidly. Electric shock feelings from my head to my toes. I was hyper-aware of my own existence down to the atomic and cellular levels. I have been aware of others’ existence down to these levels as well. I wondered a lot about life, the world as we know it, reality, God, who these other people were who seemed to be here with me, who I was. What was it – what is it all about?
I received my GED through the help of a home tutor. I lost many friends during this time. My family didn’t understand what was happening. The doctors didn’t know either. They gave me Nardil, Klonopin, Xanax, Zoloft, Paxil. The SSRI¹s only caused me more trouble. The MAOI’s seemed to do nothing but bring on more panic. I went off all medication for almost 2 years and seemed to be doing well. I am presently back on Xanax which seems to help alleviate the anxiety/panic, but the DP is with me always.
I believe the DP occurs first – and within seconds I¹m panicking because the DP experience is so frightening. Depression sets in at times, if I am having a bad day, or a bad few days in a row.
At 22 I moved away, went to college and got my BA degree. I did very well academically. I have had successful love relationships and friendships. I have succeeded in my career and have been recognized numerous times for my achievements. This always astounds me. I’m not sure how I seem to get by doing so well, with all this inner turmoil. These feelings have been with me for so long now, I have become used to them. It is difficult to recount all that I have felt or thought throughout these years of living with DP. It is even harder for me to remember what life was like before. I honestly have no recollection. My memory is very sharp when it comes to some things. Other times I can’t recall certain experiences that well. It certainly has made life more of a challenge.
I suffer in silence, as this condition is not talked about openly with the public. (My family and friends don’t even understand, my Doctors don’t even understand – how would anyone else?) I’m waiting for the day when the topic becomes so big that people with this disorder start coming out of the woodwork to tell their stories. To see that we are not alone. That more people than we realize have also been suffering in silence.
For a while, I was able to feel my thoughts. Feel them as if they took on geometrical shapes inside my head. As if they were different colors too. I felt as though if there were a way to get inside my head, I could pull them out and set them on a table as if they were concrete objects. That has since subsided. Thank God. I have the ability to focus intensely on something or someone. I have found that when I do this, I start DPing. Things around me seem unreal. I seem unreal. My voice seems disconnected from me. I’m not sure where my voice is coming from and who is doing the talking. I feel disconnected from my name. When people call my name, or I see it written somewhere, like on a phone bill, I feel very strange. I am surprised to see it. I’m not sure they are actually calling my name, who are they calling?…but I also know it is me. But who am I? When engaged in a conversation with someone, I have watched their face take on cartoon-ish looking characteristics. When in a gathering of people from 3 to 300, everyone starts to appear puppet-like, or as if they are all in a movie that I am watching from the outside. I wonder “what are they all doing?”. I look at my family and wonder, “how did I get here?”, “How am I related to these people?”, “Who are they really?”.
I have walked outside of my house or my office building on numerous occasions and have experienced seeing the trees, the streets, the sidewalks and buildings as if I had just moved into town that day. Everything appears “new” with a sense of “innocence”. Colors seem brighter, details sharper. This is the only experience of my DP that does not frighten me. I have watched a television program, been engrossed in a good book, or worked too long on my computer and had the sensation that I could become “one” with it. That I could just “let go” and my whole being would go inside the TV set, the pages of the book or the computer and that I would never be able to get out. I stay away from yoga or meditation because of this.
I was doing yoga for a short period of time until I saw my yoga teacher¹s body disappear and what was there was a hovering shimmering glimmer of white light about as big as a baseball. I had the sense of seeing her soul. It was kind and gentle. But I didn’t know what to do about it, so I never went back to class. I have also had that sensation when talking once recently to my Father on the telephone. That we had both lost our bodily forms and were just two souls speaking to one another. I have never told him about this. How do I? This was not frightening, more peaceful than anything really, and just difficult to describe. And the fear that someone may think I’m crazy for even trying to describe it. My sense of touch has always helped me to get back to the reality of what is. I have found myself walking down the hall at work, touching the wall. I have always felt a connection with Helen Keller – as she only had her sense of touch.
Standing in the middle of a brightly lit shopping mall or store, with nothing to hold on to sends me into a DP episode. Sitting quietly in a crowded meeting, classroom or the like I find myself thinking deep thoughts about the universe, life and how everything is put together. I am bored by what is being discussed and my mind travels elsewhere, sometimes to frightening places of deep thought and suddenly I go into the sensation of feeling unreal. I have seen the world around me as if through a fog or as if I am in a clear plastic bubble. I can see it, I can reach out and touch it, but while in the midst of that action of reaching my hand out to touch it, the thought that I may not be able to feel it or get to it comes over me. I feel as though I went into some sort of “sleep state” from which I’ve never awakened. And at other times, as if I have awakened too much and seen things more than I know I should be able to.
I feel trapped inside my own head, within my own thoughts. Focusing my attention to other things, other people, or just the mundane daily tasks of life help to alleviate this some.
The following is a list of things that bother me constantly: fluorescent lights change in lighting- going from darkness to light, light to darkness disconnected from my own voice no sense of “self” no sense of body image hyper aware of myself, my surroundings and others feeling “outside of myself” and watching what I’m doing feeling as though the outside world is behind a “fog” or “clear bubble” and I can’t get to it questioning my own existence…feeling as though I’m “dead” but knowing I’m not I am 32 years old and now find myself at another turning point in my life.
My career is about to change. I still consider going back to college to work on my Masters degree, but the classroom situation is very difficult for me to handle. Going to work is difficult for me every day. My change in jobs and the pressures and stress of the holidays has made my DP worse in recent weeks. I try to remember to just breathe, and take life minute by minute if that is what I have to do. But it is very hard. Somehow, I keep moving forward. This is important to me. I would like to be married, have a family and live a simple life with someone who can handle this and who will at least try to understand. I am hoping to one day experience this, even though for me, it may not feel as real as it does for others, as life once did for me. My family has made comments to me that I don¹t seem to show that I care or have the capacity for understanding their feelings or what they are going through themselves. I do care. But how can I show this the way they want me to when I have these feelings of not being real, and that they are not real either. I’m sorry. I am sick. You just can¹t see it, because it¹s not on the outside. And I have to hide it because not a single soul understands what I am even trying to convey.