(and how to deal with them!)
Why do so many Depersonalization / Derealization sufferers have so many fears in common?
And why do people so often have one specific fear that can feel like the hardest to tackle?
I recently received an email from a depersonalization / derealization sufferer who said that, while he was recovering well, there was one specific fear that he could never seem to shake.
What was this persistent fear? Driving his car.
He had carefully and consistently implemented the rules outlined in my book and was seeing fantastic results, experiencing virtually no anxiety / DPDR in his day to day life. However, when he sat into his car it would invariably trigger a panic attack and feelings of depersonalization, seemingly out of nowhere.
He contacted me in a state of extreme worry, deeply concerned that this specific fear was permanently ingrained and that no matter how much progress he made, he’d never be able to escape it, and therefore, never really be able to recover from Depersonalization and Derealization.
It sounds scary, but none of this was surprising to me in the least. It’s incredibly common for people with DPDR to experience, in the midst of all their smaller fears and anxious thoughts, one single fear that’s quite intense and particularly difficult to shake.
In fact, I experienced this myself. My fear was of travelling abroad.
Why was this? The main one was that quite soon into my experience with DP, I attended a family holiday abroad. This was still at a stage when I had no clue what was happening to me.
At that point, I didn't even know the terms 'Depersonalization' or 'Derealization'. I had no words at all to describe what I was feeling: an ongoing sense of total disconnection from the world around me, coupled with constant terrifying and intrusive thoughts about my existence and the nature of reality.
I was sure that I must be going crazy, or that I had developed some horrible, incurable condition. And then, right in the middle of that, I got on a plane and went abroad to attend a big family event.
I can't remember what was more terrifying -- the bright lights and open spaces of the airport, or the confinement of the plane. I had a series of intense panic attacks throughout the whole trip.
And though I didn’t realise it at the time, that was creating a fearful association in my mind between travelling and anxiety / panic attacks / Depersonalization.
Years later, when I had all but recovered from DPDR, I still found that whenever I travelled, even on a relaxing holiday, it would STILL trigger feelings of anxiety and Depersonalization and Derealization.
These episodes were very difficult to manage, as it felt like I was briefly back to square one -- in spite of all the other progress I had made.
I was only when I looked at the situation from a non-anxious perspective that I realized what was actually happening.
This wasn’t a rational fear, like being in mortal danger (being chased by a wild animal etc) -- this was an associational fear. The only reason it existed at all was because in the past I had experienced intense fear while travelling.
It was a trained Pavlovian anxious response, not an instinctual one that I actually needed for survival.
I had inadvertently conditioned myself into being afraid of travelling, even though there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
Once I knew that, I also knew that I could overwrite it 100%.
How could I do that? By going headlong into the fear!
By travelling over and over again, by ignoring the fear and doing it anyways, I would rewire my brain to stop associating travel with danger.
That simple repetition would overwrite the negative thought patterns and teach my brain that there was simply nothing to be afraid of.
And it worked -- just as it did for my client with a fear of driving and just as it does for everyone else. Why?
Because there is no real difference between that big fear and the smaller fears -- it’s just a bigger association.
And it can ALWAYS be defeated and overwritten!
I have heard of so many different versions of this ‘big fear’: Planes, cars, dogs, holidays, drugs, mirrors, even people’s own family and spouses.
The important thing to remember is that the association itself is unimportant -- it’s just something that you happened to unconsciously latch on to as a source of the irrational fear you were experiencing.
There’s nothing special about it and you can always overwrite that association, just as you can with every other association and recover 100% from Depersonalization and Derealization.