My Depersonalization Story
Find Out More About Shaun
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.
I'm 36 years old. I'm a multi award-winning filmmaker with a Masters Degree in Film Studies. I'm also a part-time musician, I exercise every day, I have a great social life and a loving family. I am and have always been an avid reader, and consider myself to be quite a creative person.
And for many years, I took all of these wonderful things for granted.
I thought that as long as I lived, I’d always have them available to me.
But all of that changed on the night of the 31st August 2005, when I suffered an intense panic attack. It happened as I was sitting alone, watching television, and seemed to come out of nowhere.
It was terrifying. I suddenly felt an overwhelming, debilitating fear, though I could see no danger around me. I had no idea what was happening to me, and for a moment I seriously thought that I was actually going insane (a feeling commonly reported in panic attacks).
Of course, I wasn’t going insane. I began to calm down a little, though I still felt terribly nervous. And yet, even after the worst of it had passed and I had calmed down, I noticed that my mind felt ‘fuzzy’ and I was quite disoriented. So, I went straight to bed, confident that I could sleep this feeling off – and everything would be fine in the morning.
Except that it wasn’t.
I woke up the next day with that same weird feeling, and just couldn’t shake it.
I still wasn’t particularly scared at this point, as I was still quite confident it would pass.
But that didn’t stop me constantly examining the feeling and ruminating on it.
In the days and weeks that followed, I tried to figure out what had happened to me (since at the time I had not recognised it as a panic attack).
This worry caused more panic attacks, and I began to feel worse and worse.
The ‘fuzzy’ feeling was now constantly in my head, and I could not stop thinking about it.
I could not concentrate on any book, film or even conversation anymore.
I felt somehow disconnected from the world around me.
My mind was racing all the time, trying to understand what was happening.
I began to get extremely anxious, fearing that this wasn't going to go away.
I went to my local doctor, who, to be perfectly honest, was no help at all.
He didn’t even recognise the possibility that I’d had a panic attack, though I described the symptoms to him in vivid detail.
So in the weeks and months that followed, I tried a variety of different treatments to help myself:
These included meditation, massage, reiki, intensive exercise etc.
Unfortunately, none of these were effective for more than a short time, and my symptoms got worse and worse.
At first, though I’d been thrown into a state of fear and confusion, I had been sure that it would eventually pass.
Even my doctor’s first opinion (which I completely trusted at the time) was just that; everyone gets down on themselves from time to time,
and this feeling would probably disappear on its own.
It didn’t, though – and as time passed, I became more and more used to that horrible mental state,
and my hope that it was just a temporary condition began to erode.
It was only weeks later, after much researching of my symptoms on the Internet did I begin to understand what was happening to me.
I had indeed suffered a panic attack, and was now experiencing the common, related symptom known as ‘Depersonalization’.
Depersonalization, as various websites informed me, manifests as a feeling of unreality, of not being connected to your surroundings,
as if you are watching your life through a screen. I couldn’t believe it when I read it – this was exactly the feeling I had!
I read that panic attacks like I’d had were extremely common, and that though depersonalization was not usually as persistent as mine,
it was certainly not unheard of. And though I initially felt very relieved that it was actually quite a common condition,
I was horrified to find that there did not seem to be any specific treatment that could cure it immediately.
I was overcome with fear. Would I end up having Depersonalization for years to come?
In fact, to describe the terror that I felt in the weeks and months following the attack would be a difficult thing.
I felt constantly afraid of the world around me; everything and everyone I knew and loved were suddenly things to be scared of, and I was cut off from them utterly.
I was living in my head, watching the world pass by. My enthusiasm for life left me.
Getting up in the morning seemed futile; why bother exposing myself to a world of stimuli and fear, when I could stay in a safe, darkened room for the day?
I knew, empirically, that I was safe, that I would not go crazy, that I would not die; but I couldn’t feel it.
The safety in existence itself that I had always taken for granted had left me.
That picture is of me a few weeks into my experience with DP. At that point I had all but
stopped eating, dropped a dangerous amount of weight and was almost totally
unable to sleep at night. Though I'm forcing a smile in that photo, I felt terrified. And that terror was there all day, every day.
It was, as it is for everyone unlucky enough to develop this condition in its chronic form, unrelenting and horrifying.
Also, though I knew that my condition was almost certainly anxiety-related, and therefore treatable - I couldn’t feel that, either.
In fact, I found if I dwelt for more than a few minutes on what was happening to me, I would panic, convinced that I was stuck this way forever.
The absolute despair of those episodes is beyond my descriptive ability;
I genuinely felt that I was losing my mind, that my life was over.
I considered the possibility that I had actually died on the night of the first panic attack,
and that now I was either in purgatory or Hell, depending on how bad I felt.
I stopped sleeping, reading, writing, and eating. I lost two stone.
I seriously considered dropping out of a Masters for which I’d been accepted.
I know that all of this sounds terrible, but please bear with me!
As more weeks passed, and I felt even worse.
I was considering the possibility that I had some horrible, incurable mental disease or even brain cancer.
Those thoughts would lead to more fear – and all of this, of course, was self-perpetuating –
the anxiety, the depersonalization, not eating etc,
all part of the same downward spiral.
I could see it happening, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it.
The more deeply these habits became ingrained, the further away from normality I slid.
I tried to remember what I’d been like before all this; I mean, I had used to enjoy horror movies,
now even “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” seemed unbearably terrifying!
The condition reached its worst point when I had to attend a family wedding abroad:
For a full weekend of forcing myself to be social and active, my life turned into a movie before my very eyes.
Nothing seemed real; I was scared out of my mind at every turn, freaked out by every conversation,
sick at the sight of food, and convinced that I was ruining everyone’s time.
I wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor and weep, though I also somehow felt that doing so would only make things worse.
I knew that any admission of defeat would later taunt me into complete submission.
During that weekend, I woke up in the middle of the night with the feelings of panic upon me.
I remembered that I had dreamt of panicking - and had woken up with it actually happening.
I just couldn’t escape from these feelings of terror, even in my sleep.
AND I had another severe panic attack on the plane on the way back.
At that point, I thought that reality itself had collapsed around me.
I genuinely felt like I was watching my sanity leave me, I would never be the same again,
and I’d spend the rest of my life in a quiet, darkened room, terrified of intrusions.
I felt intensely jealous of all the people living normal lives, watching TV, working boring office jobs that they didn't even enjoy.
I had once vowed never to end up living like that; now it seemed like a Utopian fantasy.
But I was determined to get better.
I did not want to live with this condition for one moment longer than I had to.
During all this time, I had noted that certain factors, both environmental and psychological, seemed to directly influence the intensity of the Depersonalization I was experiencing.
Certain things made it better, certain things made it worse.
And then I realised something: If particular elements (thoughts, environmental factors etc) can affect this, then it MUST be possible to get out of it altogether by establishing precise habits that simply didn’t allow it to persist.
It occurred to me that Depersonalization was not something that you could consciously “stop”, like you might turn off a TV or put down a book.
No, the only times that Depersonalization was not on my mind was when I was able to forget about it; when I was distracted enough to focus on something else completely.
Of course, this was incredibly difficult at times – the thoughts of Depersonalization can often get in the way of many activities you used to enjoy and be involved in.
But then again, that’s just another potentially positive fact. Why?
Because by that rationale, it must be possible, by retraining your focus and concentration, to first diminish the depersonalization to an acceptable level and then get out of the condition completely.
Put simply, there seemed to be an obvious correlation: If I could learn to forget about the Depersonalization, then the Depersonalization would stop!
Unfortunately, the human mind operates for the most part on autopilot; for example, if I was to say to you,
“Whatever you do, don’t think about pink elephants!”,
then the first thing you do, whether you like it or not, is think about just that.
So of course, if I didn’t feel anxious, I would, out of habit, think about how good this was, start
contemplating whether I was getting better or not - panic - and find myself back at square one!
The very act of thinking about the condition -
either negatively OR positively
- is what allows it to exist at all.
And for me, it had permeated my every thought and action from the moment
I awoke in the in the morning until I managed to fall asleep at night.
The Depersonalization habit of thought had been firmly rooted in my daily routine, and everything,
even the most innocuous of items and events, seemed to remind me of it.
So, I began a regime of mental training to get out of that routine and re-establish the positive thought-habits.
And very shortly after that, I was completely recovered.
And I HAD to recover! Why?
Because I gave the Depersonalization NO option,
other than to be completely overwritten.
And that's EXACTLY what you will learn to do within minutes of downloading my book!