Hi, I’m Patrick. I’m 36 and I’ve felt “not here” since I was about 9 or 10. I can remember the exact moment the feeling came on, and the cause appears to have nothing to do with drugs or abuse, as related by some of the others here, but rather a kind of mental experiment I then conducted.
I will say that I have always been introverted, shy, highly sensitive, and blessed/cursed with a good imagination — which I spend a lot of time day-dreaming with. I also have had many moments of severe social anxiety, and, socially, I am constantly suppressing emotions I consider embarrassing (such as hurt and sadness on the one hand, and love and affection on the other). I do believe these personality traits contributed to a pre-disposition for DP.
I want to point out now that at the end of this long self-history I suggest a method for reducing feelings of DP. So if you get tired of reading, please at least skip down to the last few paragraphs and perhaps give some feedback on what you think and what you think helps YOU.
In any event, at 9 or 10, I remember sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed, alone, the sun shining brightly through the window, and concentrating hard on the pattern in the carpet, which as I recall consisted of alternating orange and yellow pieces of fabric which were lit up by the sun. Letting my eyes’ (and my mind’s) focus go in and out (very similar to the process of finding the 3-D images in those optical-illusion posters that were “in” during the late ‘80s or so), I could see patterns constantly in motion which were clearly the product of my mind rather than inherent in the carpet itself. I must have already been aware that I had this “ability” (as I think most of us do) since the effect was the one I was looking for. (I also now recognize a similar process going on when I shut my eyes to go to sleep, when against my eyelids I can see lights and colors dancing that suddenly begin to form complex patterns, which themselves become images of people and things in motion that may be the first images of my dreams. [This may be important to my thoughts on DP below.])
Aside from the shifting patterns, however, I also noticed a trance-like state my mind had settled into. Specifically, there was a very odd feeling, only there for a moment, that I was not really in the room, or, as I’ve always described it, like I was simply “not here” [which feeling might be more understandable if I say it’s like knowing you are awake yet feeling like you are in a dream]. When the feeling left as quickly as it had come, I made the conscious decision then and there – which I can specifically recall doing – to sort of RE-locate and explore that feeling more deeply. With effort (and the visual phenomenon continuing), I did “enter” that state of feeling again, and the more I explored this feeling the more powerful it felt and the easier it felt that I could hold on to it. Little did I know, however, that it was not I who was holding on to the feeling, but the feeling that was holding on to me, as it has never since entirely left me. In fact, I carry it with me constantly, and find that – by great effort – I can only create relatively stronger feelings of being “here” rather than the natural and 100% feeling that I’m “here” that I know I used to feel.
It’s somewhat like those 3-D optical-illusion posters I spoke of, where once you discover the 3-D image in the apparently random mess of colors, it becomes easier (and with practice even unavoidable) to see the 3-D image. Or, if you’re not familiar with those 3-D posters, it’s also similar to the optical-illusion print where you see either a vase or two facial profiles staring at each other. Initially you might only see the vase (or the two faces), but once you do see the other image your mind latches on to it and easily switches between the two images (though you cannot see them both at the same time).
Thus “here-ness” in time and space simply vanished for me. Rather than being panicked about it, however, I remember having a fascination with the phenomenon. I remember telling my mother about it — like it was a new toy I was interested in — when we went to the grocery store a day or two later. I think this lack of panic was probably due to my early age and thus not associating this new and unusual feeling with the sense I was losing my mind, which I think an adult would do much more readily (since an adult is so used to seeing the world one way, and is also more aware of what “insanity” is.)
In any event, I’ve had this feeling for over 25 years now. It became a running joke in my family: “Oh, Patrick’s not really here,” family members continue to say laughingly. When I was about 12, my parents and I were visiting an uncle inChicago who is a psychologist, and while we were eating lunch at a restaurant they asked him what this phenomenon might be. He said it seemed to be some form of “dissociation” which he was sure would go away with time. I remember very clearly that neither he nor my parents had the least bit of concern in their voices, treating it simply like a novelty (which I’m sure was a reflection of my own lack of real concern at the time). This lack of concern, rather than being a bad thing, I think, was in fact very helpful in allowing me to not obsess about the condition as much as I could have (as I can be quite obsessive).
However, over the years, there have been times when the condition HAS “driven me crazy” simply because I eventually realized that NO ONE BUT ME seemed to have it, and because I really MISSED being “here and now.” I thought I was missing out on life. I periodically tried hard to focus my senses and be in the present moment, and this always brought me part of the way back to “here and now,” but would immediately dissipate once I stopped focusing (which is always relatively quickly). If anything, these attempts only made it clear to me just how far “away” I was. I also thought I really was (at least somewhat) insane – just in a way that no one could notice by observation. To others I seemed to have no problem doing normal things, and, in fact, seemed to be “successful” in that I went to college, did well, became an attorney, and have a wife and 2 daughters.
In fact, however, I continued to be terrified of social situations, and suffer anxiety almost all of the time. I’ve often thought that I am the shyest person on the planet, and that I’m the only person that stumbles over words and blushes intensely red in front of others for no apparent reason. My family, of course, rarely or never observed this because I’m perfectly comfortable with them. Still, in social situations, I have never believed anybody’s shyness approached the intensity of my own. I could not speak in seminars without turning red and fumbling for words and thinking I was going to die of embarrassment. And it was at these moments – that is, when my turn to speak was over – that it dawned on me how incredibly, unspeakably “far away” my mind could get.
I am similarly “further away” when I’m in new places or in large open spaces. There have also been two events which took me even further than just not “being here:” 1. When traveling to meet my wife’s grandparents for the first time, I found myself truly believing sanity was slipping away when things began to seem not just far away in a dream, but utterly “unreal” — the walls of the home we were in, for instance, seemed to be disappearing around me and I felt that a void was opening up, about to engulf me. I was begging God in my head that no one should SEE the patent insanity on my face. That same night the feeling dissipated, though it left me feeling horribly vulnerable to going mad; 2. After some intense focus on trial-preparation at home, I got up to take a break, and as I was walking I suddenly felt like a robot, as if every move I made was pre-determined, in fact mathematically spelled out like I was electronically following some algorithm. The realization of what was happening brought a sharp jolt of panic which snapped me out of the illusion (and I hope the event was the illusion and not my “free” will).
However, to a large extent, I’ve been able to successfully deal with the problem, normally just ignoring the feeling of not being “here,” and going on with life. In college, I even made the “daring” (for an intensely shy person) decision to become a lawyer, and in law school chose to become a criminal trial lawyer (i.e., in the hopes of driving out my social anxiety by the sheer force of extreme and constant exposure). To an extent, this strategy has been successful in that, in general, I have developed great ease in dealing with clients and other lawyers, and some ease in dealing with judges. However, I still experience panic in all of my trials, and have recently had panic attacks in front of a couple of judges – and these for no apparent reason at all.
These latter experiences led to my recently beginning to take Klonopin (or Clonazepam; at .5 mg twice daily), which has had a tremendously beneficial effect on my anxiety levels. I was on Celexa for two years, but stopped it because not only did I not notice any improvements, but my latest panic attacks began while I was still taking it. I have previously tried Xanax, which does help eliminate anxiety but also makes me terribly lethargic (which is not good for someone who already tends to sleep and nap too much).
I also began therapy recently, where the main issues I wanted to address were: 1. Anxiety, and 2. PROCRASTINATION. Actually, DP was not even on my mind, and I’ve only mentioned it to my therapist in passing. In any event, I’ve always procrastinated, but lately my procrastination has become paralyzing – to an extent that my work has clearly been effected. In middle school, high school, college, and law school, I always waited to the last minute to write papers or study for tests. I felt that I was getting along by the skin of my teeth, though I generally achieved very good grades. However, back then I always did what I had to do when it came down to crunch time. Now I find deadlines passing by without the work being accomplished.
My therapist is dealing with my anxiety and has given me practical ways of dealing with the procrastination. Still, I find that there has been no improvement in my procrastination.
Recently, however, during one of the many times when I was overtly NOT doing what I knew I should be doing, I noticed how extremely “not here” I was. Since then, I noticed that procrastination seems to go hand in hand with greater feelings of not being “here.” While I understand how the anxiety created by procrastination might be a mechanism pushing “me” further down into my subconscious, away from the here and now (i.e., that procrastination might CAUSE greater DP), I have also been wondering if bringing myself closer to the here and now might make it easier to deal with the here and now and thus reduce my procrastination. In other words, I wonder if bringing my “self” (“me,” or my ego) more into the present moment might CAUSE me to procrastinate less (i.e., that less DP might CAUSE less procrastination). When I am more in the moment I do seem to feel more in control of my life and more emotionally ready to take on challenges. I wonder if those of you with DP feel you also exhibit higher levels of procrastination than other people. Please tell me!!
Because procrastination has become such a problem for me, I have suddenly found myself looking anew at this problem of DP, which otherwise I’ve tended to ignore now for years. By chance really, I very recently came upon a method of making myself feel more “here” than I otherwise do. Separate from my search for a cure to my DP, I recently was listening to some tapes that are designed to help one create a new vision for the future, and to realize that vision by eliminating “blockages” in the subconscious which supposedly prevent positive action in the present – e.g., removing the negative emotions attached to major events in one’s life, and recognizing and altering the “limiting decisions” one has made over one’s life (such as, “I’ll never be comfortable speaking in public.”) The tapes use a form of hypnosis and something called NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).
In any event, whether or not the tapes work for their stated purpose (and they may not!), I did notice ONE THING: When I am being brought out of a “trance” state [which is simply a very very relaxed, calm state – almost a sleep state] that the speaker has put me in, and the new age music on the tape is dying down [and that seems important here], and the speaker is counting from 3 to 1 and saying, “You are slowly coming back into the room… You are back in the room…” I notice that, more so than ever, I AM back in the room. I feel intensely (and naturally) “here.” While the effect does not presently last, the fact it happened at all has brought me new hope that one day I really might overcome DP (and hopefully procrastination with it…, and perhaps even extreme anxiety, shyness, paranoia, and OCD as well.)
Since I am just beginning to experiment with this idea that hypnosis (specifically, the RETURN from a hypnotic state to the “present”) might help reduce feelings of depersonalization (or even cure it), I have no conclusions yet. I am trying to create a greater degree of separation between my sleep state and my waking state (and not only by the use of self-hypnosis, but also by 1. sticking to a reasonable sleep schedule, 2. exercising, and 3. eating better – including protein drinks and less carbs). When we hear that DP is like knowing you are awake but feeling like you’re in a dream, perhaps that is a hint that one’s mind has not entirely left the sleep state and that to escape the sleep state is to escape DP. To escape DP, then, is like escaping a dream that never ends. I know that for many the dream is more of a nightmare (a nightmare from the subconscious, where irrational fear, paranoia, and obsession arise). So I say let’s be hopeful and help each other figure out how to spend our waking hours “awake” by telling our individual stories and sharing our ideas.