Elle Magazine article on Depersonalization
Depersonalization disorder: Elle Magazine Article
I recently came across this article in Elle magazine on Depersonalization Disorder.
Although the article had originally appeared in 2007, it has lately been doing the rounds on DP forums and Twitter accounts.
Mainly it seems to be about Sandy Gale and her terrible experience with the condition; she hasn't worked in ten years despite having been previously employed by one of the biggest studios in the film industry.
The article resonated with me for a number of reasons; one, I am in the film industry myself and like Sandy, I have an MA in Film Studies.
Two, there was so much of what Sandy describes in the article that reminds me of my own experience with DP. For example, when she says:
"Everyone says, 'Get outside!' But outside everything is infinite, and it gets you thinking about who you are and what's beyond. Then that preoccupation starts to hang over you. I feel better between four walls."
.... that was a very clear and consistent fear for me. For the longest time, I always opted for the safety of staying indoors when I felt DP. Being outside was visually and conceptually much too much to take in. I just couldn't handle it. I felt, as I'm sure Sandy did at the time of this article, that I was doing myself a good deed by avoiding the fear and stress. If I stayed inside, I was giving myself more time to recover, right? If I went outside and had a panic attack, I was actually doing damage to my progress.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I describe it in much more detail in my book, but until I faced up to my fear and went outside, got back to work and lived an active social life, I was making no progress at all. Staying inside and waiting to get better is just about the worst thing that you can do. Even though, when I went out I felt depersonalized and scared, I was still living my life. And every time I did that, some part of my subconscious brain was registering that it was possible to do that. That I could go out, do whatever I needed to do, and come home. I would always get home safe. Of course I would!
And the more I did that, pushing through the stress and fear, the more my brain realized that there was no need to keep the panic / anxiety switch in the 'on' position.
( Note: You can read more about my own experience with Depersonalization here. )
What you need to remember about depersonalization is that it is fundamentally a very practical condition. It's there only as a temporary defence mechanism because your brain thinks it needs to be there. Once you train your brain out of the anxious thought-habit that causes it, it simply stops, naturally.
Getting back to the Elle article, it was interesting to see mention of the Matthew Perry film 'Numb', which, along with the documentary 'Tarnation' I had tracked down and watched as part of my intense research of the condition. I also read Daphne Simeon's book 'Feeling Unreal' which provides an excellent overview of depersonalization disorder though not much practical advice on recovery. While these were all good sources of information, they were all technically research into the condition, which as I explain in my book, is specifically what you should not be doing while you have DP.
I did really like the short explanation from psychiatrist Evan Torch:
"I think depersonalization disorder is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, except instead of the focus being on cleanliness or hoarding, it's on the self. Once the patient notices depersonalization, they get obsessed and keep looking for it; it's like, once they notice that they don't feel whole, it's very hard for them to feel whole again."
This is spot-on. It's the looking for it that makes it happen. The condition initially kicks in as a defence response to a panic attack, a car accident, a bad drug trip. It's perfectly natural (everybody experiences DP at some point in their lives!) and it's supposed to last just a few minutes, long enough for you to get yourself to safety from whatever the perceived danger is.
But if you notice it, you start to try and find a rational explanation for the feeling. Why is it there? Why isn't it going away? What should I do? That spirals into more self-analysis, fear and panic. Pretty soon, as Dr Torch says, you're "obsessed". On the inside, it's a constant analysis of how DP'd you're feeling. On the outside, it's constant research, looking up websites, forums, books, documentaries. It's never-ending, and of course, the condition can never dissipate naturally when you're constantly stoking it and feeding it, reminding yourself that you're supposed to be 'sick'.
Finally, when Sandy says:
"I'll be honest...I'm tired of being ill. Really am....One day, I hope I forget all about this and don't care anymore."
That's a sentiment that resonated with me intensely. I remember that after about a year and a half of intense, chronic depersonalization, I was just so sick of the condition. Not just that, but I was tired of listening to my own obsessive thoughts about it. It was, frankly, boring. It had funnelled all of my intellectual ability and passion for life into a single, self-perpetuating pursuit.
I didn't want that anymore. And that was the catalyst for me to begin my recovery properly and write the DP Manual.