This week I reached out to you guys on Instagram, wondering what questions you’d like me to answer. I actually received several of the same questions, so I hope this blog post will be a great way to share with everyone who may be wondering the same things.
What symptoms did you have and which were the scariest?
I felt like I had every symptom under the sun. Dizziness, difficulty breathing, racing heart, lightheadedness, feelings of unreality, racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts, intense fear of going crazy, agoraphobia, digestive upset, shaking, zapping feeling, feelings of impending doom, tunnel vision, confusion, fear of dying. It seemed like every day, I was at my computer googling new symptoms.
Although all of them are horrible, the scariest symptoms were probably the feelings of unreality and impending doom. When I would start to panic, I’d get so dissociated that everything around me felt unreal and I felt detached from myself, so there was nothing for me to “hold onto.” It made me feel like I was losing my mind, so I was terrified of “going crazy.” The feelings of impending doom were so awful that, every time I panicked, I genuinely thought I was going to “some other place” where I would never be able to stop panicking. All the scariest, most horrible things I could ever imagine seemed real and possible to me.
Do you still experience depersonalization and derealization? Is depersonalization something we can heal from completely or will we experience it throughout our lives?
In all honesty, I cannot remember the last time I experienced dpdr!! Which is such a huge change from having it 24 hours a day for about a year. Dissociation is just not something I experience anymore, and I would consider myself recovered.
However, I’m not naïve enough to claim that I’ll NEVER experience it again. I’ve learned that dpdr was my body’s way of handling stress and protecting me from far too much fear and anxiety. If I ever get to a place where my fear is overwhelming and unmanageable, there’s a chance that I’ll experience dissociation again. Or, I know that if I go through a trauma, it’s likely that I’ll experience dissociation, since over 70% of people who go through trauma do.
Dpdr isn’t a part of my daily life anymore, so it is very possible to feel better. I used to think I would never, ever get better and that I’d have it the rest of my life. If that’s you right now, don’t worry. Recovery is possible, and believing that you can get there is important.
And I know that if I do ever experience it again, it’s okay. I can use the tools I learned and get myself back to feeling grounded. Just the fact that I’ve felt better before means that I can do it again. If you’ve ever had even momentary breaks in your dpdr, you know that it’s possible to feel “normal,” and you can get back there.
For my full dissociation story and the tips I used to recover, you can check out my ebook here: A Return to Self: Depersonalization and How to Overcome It
What was the single best thing you did to treat your panic attacks?
I was doing so many different things during that time that it’s hard for me to pinpoint what exactly made the difference. I think the turning point for me was when I started seeing a holistic doctor. I knew that my panic attacks felt very physical, and I would have them even when I wasn’t thinking about anything scary. So we ran a bunch of tests and a lot of things were “off” in my body. My vitamin D was low, my neurotransmitter levels were off, my adrenals were out of whack, etc. So I started taking supplements, which helped to begin bringing my body back to a state of balance.
I also got allergy tested and found out that I was allergic to some foods that I ate daily. When I took those foods out of my diet, my extemely poor digestion improved, and it helped my anxiety as well.
But it wasn’t just the physical changes. I also made changes in the way my mind worked. I started retraining my thoughts, using yoga, meditation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. I also kept a daily gratitude journal, which helped switch my thinking from fearful to positive. Learning more and more about anxiety was so helpful. It helped to understand that a panic attack could not and would not hurt me. It helped me to learn how to change my breathing patterns, and practice mindfulness meditations.
Did you take any medication that helped with dpdr?
I didn’t take any medication specifically for dpdr. I was prescribed Xanax for my anxiety, which I took for about two and a half months. I have to say that I don’t think it helped any with the dissociation, and it helped minimally with the anxiety. I was taking such low doses that it succeeded in getting me out of severe panic, but I was still very much on edge. However, long-term medications might work better for others in lowering anxiety and in turn, decreasing dpdr. You can find out more about my experience with medication here.
Have you ever had agoraphobia, a fear of leaving your safe place or safe person?
Yes, agoraphobia is something I experienced pretty intensely for at least the first year of panic disorder. At my worst, I could barely leave my house, and always had to have a safe person accompany me. I have a couple blog posts with more information about my experience with agoraphobia here. And my biggest piece of advice for anyone struggling with agoraphobia: do what you’re scared to do. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
What a Safe Person Is and How to Become Your Own
When your dpdr was at its worst, how did you deal with the feeling of guilt whenever you hung out with your friends or boyfriend?
I actually didn’t handle this very well. At the beginning, I was so ashamed, confused, and overwhelmed with my symptoms that I didn’t tell any of my friends, and I isolated myself from them. If I could go back and do it all over, I would be really honest with them and tell them what I was going through, so that they didn’t feel left out and they could be more understanding. Instead, they just felt like I didn’t care or didn’t want to hang out.
With my boyfriend, there would be some days where I felt so disconnected that I couldn’t really be available for him emotionally. And I constantly felt so guilty that he would have to drive me places because of my anxiety, or listen to me freak out about my dpdr. So I made sure to do really kind things for him during this time. Even if I didn’t feel connected and loving towards him because of the dpdr, I made sure to reach out to him or scratch his back. I made sure to compliment him and to thank him for everything he was doing for me, and for being so patient with me.
It’s extremely hard to be in a relationship when you’re going through such hell yourself, but if we make an effort to care for that person, as they care for us, we don’t have to feel so guilty. Then, it becomes an exchange. I realized that yes, it’s probably difficult to be my partner right now, but I also have so much to give in this relationship. I’m also showing up as a loving partner, so then I’m not the only one taking. What can you do, even if it’s little, to show your partner that you care?
Did drinking alcohol make your symptoms worse? When were you able to drink casually again?
I didn’t drink any alcohol whatsoever for about four months once panic hit. I was terrified of anything that would make it worse, since I was already hanging on by a string. As I began to feel better over time, I started having a glass of wine every now and then, and now, I drink casually without making my symptoms worse at all. I think it really just depends on your reaction to alcohol. It was probably about a year or longer before I could drink alcohol without fear that it would make my anxiety worse.
I was also really careful of not drinking any alcohol when I already felt really anxious. It feels good and calms us down when we drink, so I didn’t want to get attached in any way to the alcohol as a way to handle my anxiety, so I would only drink when I felt fairly calm to begin with.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal experience and how you feel. If alcohol makes you feel worse, then it doesn’t serve you at this time. Later down the road, if your anxiety starts to feel better, you could try and see how you react. Listening to your body and the messages it so lovingly provides you is the best advice I can offer.
Have you ever had the constant feeling like you need to take a deep breath and never feeling satisfied with the breath?
Yes! This is something I can remember experiencing even ten years ago. It feels like I always had a hard time taking a deep breath, and sometimes I would get a really great, deep breath in and wondered why I couldn’t breathe like that all the time.
Anxiety changes our breathing drastically. When we’re in an anxious state, we automatically start to take short breaths up into our chest. It’s not something we consciously choose to do, it’s just our body’s natural reaction to fear. Then, overtime, we can get “stuck” in this pattern of breathing.
The biggest thing that has helped me breathe more deeply is my yoga and meditation practice. Learning how to retrain my breath, taking it away from my chest into my belly (diaphragmatic breathing) has been monumental.