Today I am sharing a story from one of my readers on the topic of anxiety, depression, and deperesonalization-derealization disorder. The author decided to stay anonymous, but I think that this in no way diminishes their bravery as well as their willingness to raise awareness about mental health. Since a reader’s submission such as this one deserves a post on its own, I defer a bit from my Thursday and Sunday posting schedule. I hope you will learn a lot from it, or at least think about this topic. Share your thoughts and hopefully encouragement for my friend in the comments. Be kind, be supportive.
The story of how my worst depressive episode resulted in Depersonalization – derealization disorder (DPDR) and extreme anxiety
Every time I struggled with anxiety or depression, I felt like I was alone. And that’s why I decided to do this: through sharing my story publicly, I want somebody to read this and know that they are not alone. This is my contribution to the world of mental health.
I have struggled with anxiety my whole life and I have had a few depressive episodes (depression in my case is not constant). For years, I have also had very bad OCD, but I decided to talk about one of my depressive episodes that had the strongest impact on my life.
Reflecting back to my past and understanding where my anxiety is coming from
Looking back, it all started when I was very young (around 4 or 5). My father used to solve every problem with yelling. It never got further than yelling – he was not physically violent or anything – but it was still very traumatizing for me. He was and still is impulsive, doesn’t approve a lot of jokes and always wants it to be his way. When he wasn’t around, I was feeling much happier but also very guilty for having such feelings. So, that’s was when I started to develop OCD and anxiety.
Another thing that was happening to me for years in elementary school was bullying. I don’t remember how or why it started, I just remember being bullied on daily basis for everything (clothes, hair, body, being good student…). The worst part weren’t actually the kids, but the adults around me that didn’t react to that bullying at all.
For more than a decade I was somehow managing my symptoms and to the others I appeared to be completely ‘normal’. However, when I started my second year at University, I lost it and I had my worst depressive episode in my life.
My experience with Depersonalization – derealization disorder (DPDR) and what led to it
I left my home to study abroad. During my first year of University, I had many life-changing, and often negative, experiences. I suffered from being away from home, break ups, losing friends, failing exams, and so on; but, I think that the breaking point was when my (then) boyfriend broke up with me via SMS the night before the most important exam in my life.
The episode started with me having the usual anxiety symptoms: troubles to breath, shaking and having intrusive thoughts. At the beginning I could still function normally, but at the very peak I was so stressed out that I developed Depersonalization – derealization disorder (DPDR). Mayo Clinic offers an explanation that I really correlate to: “Feeling like a robot or that you’re not in control of your speech or movements. The sense that your body, legs or arms appear distorted, enlarged or shrunken, or that your head is wrapped in cotton. Emotional or physical numbness of your senses or responses to the world around you.”
To illustrate it: It felt like I was constantly just floating in the air. I was moving, but it was like I don’t feel or control my legs at all and that I will trip over any second. In order to actually ‘feel’ my legs, I would rub my feet. Once I did this so intensely that I even managed to tare up my left sneaker. Most of the time, I couldn’t tell whether I was dreaming or if something was really happening. My memory and concentration were awful.
Yet, the worst part of it all was that this disorder, combined with my anxiety, was stopping me from living my life to the fullest – even though I could still remember what I wanted from myself and my life. I was constantly scared to leave the house because I thought that I was going to die in the middle of the street. I wasn’t actually scared from accidents, but from my body physically giving up on me (stroke, heart attack, etc.).
An anxiety, depression and DPDR episode that lasted a whole year
Once I ended up in the ER. I had tingling and numbness in the right side of the body. I have to admit the lady doctor was very kind and she told me to try to relax and come back tomorrow if it continues. She was convinced that it’s just anxiety and, of course, she was right.
Many of my symptoms were pointing to it: I was tired 24/7 and would barely leave the house; I was shaking and had headaches the whole time; very bad and painful muscle ache; and, awful memory. During that year, I kept failing exams while trying to battle this monster. I tried exercise; going out; convincing myself that everything is just fine; studying to avoid overthinking; eating healthier; reading and listening to positive messages; but, nothing helped.
The most disappointing part was though when I felt like my friends abandoned me. Once during that year, I told them what was going on. They invited me out to the club and I refused to go with an explanation what is happening to me. All they said was ‘OK’. I truly felt like they did not care about me at all, so I just stopped talking about that.
The end of a terror
How did I overcome this? I started my third year at University and I knew that this was my last chance to make things right, otherwise I would go home and bye, bye education. The first month I was forcing myself to go to school and it was a living hell. However, the thought that this is my last chance was my driving force.
I was still thinking that I’m about to die every second and I was over-analyzing every pain on my body. The second month was easier, as was each next one, and as time passed, I was ‘almost normal’ again. I wanted to visit a psychologist, but the waiting time was terrible. So, I started using 7 cups of tea and other forms of online, anonymous support. With time, I started to make new friends – more supportive ones – and going more regularly to University helped me keep a good relationship with them.
Finally, I managed to graduate and enrolled in a Master degree program. And to this day I’m still ‘almost normal’. Needless to say, I still have a lot to deal with and a lot of work to do; but, I am now able to go to school, events, and the grocery store without fear that I’ll simply faint and die. However, some other fears and problems are still present. Fear of phone calls, mild social anxiety, overthinking every single detail, saying “sorry” nonstop even though I have not done anything wrong.
I still haven’t found the cure for these, but I am extremely proud of myself and of how far I have come. Learning a lot and getting better every day feels like a big victory to me. I have a great and supporting boyfriend who has helped me a lot. Additionally, I am also planning on visiting psychologist once the pandemic is over.
What did I learn in the past two or three years?
I learned to be a little bit more selfish. To say no, keep my phone on silent, and sleep longer. I learned that when people are mean to you, they usually have a problem with themselves and not with you. You are just a way for them to vent. So, I learn to love myself more and not accept every insult I hear as a fact. Because it is not.
I learned to overthink a little bit less. Now, I am learning to practice mindfulness and to rationalize. I learnt that every situation can be seen from different angles and perspectives. Please remember that not everything is black and white. My dearest achievement is learning how to overreact less and to control my emotions a little bit more. It is hard and demanding job, but I feel much better when doing this.
What is my advice to you?
Find something that inspires you. A purpose. Something that wakes up the fighter in you. For me, this was my wish to succeed to get the education of my dreams abroad. This was a really strong motivation which kept me going and fighting the darkest moments. Thus, naturally, I think that every person who struggles needs to find that beacon of hope in their life. It was a game-changer for me.
Last, but not least, hang on there. Talk to your family and friends. Ask for help from a psychologist, if you feel like you need one. Take good care of yourself. No bad thing lasts forever, life is beautiful and worth living!
Final Words from me
Dear all, I hope this experience was thought-provoking for you. I would like to briefly reflect on some of the points my friend mentioned:
- It is crucial to have a good support system when we are struggling. In my friend’s case, she clearly points out to the feeling of abandonment when her friends only gave her an “OK” to her struggles and how she shut out; but, she also talks about how meaningful was the support she got online, from her boyfriend and other supportive friends.
- Our relationships with other people and ourselves matter. My friend talks about the influence of her father, the people who bullied her as well as how she learned to value herself more with time.
- Depression and anxiety are really wide spread. They can be present even in the seemingly most successful and happiest people. So, if someone reaches out, please do not just say “OK”. If you feel overwhelmed, help them find suitable help.