DPDR: Top 5 Reasons (You Think!) You Can’t Recover
One of the most common worries that Depersonalization / Derealization sufferers have is that they might not be able to recover.
So today, I’m going to go through the 5 most common reasons people think they CAN'T recover from DPDR - and why none of them are actually true -- and why you’re really having these thoughts in the first place.
5. MY Symptoms Are Different!
I hear this from people all the time.
The typical experience goes something like this: Someone develops DPDR, then after some time, finds out what the condition is, usually on Google.
They then go through the list of symptoms -- but find that maybe they don’t have all of the symptoms listed.
For example -- they might be experiencing the feelings of disconnection and the visual symptoms -- but not so much the existential thoughts. Or maybe they are experiencing the existential thoughts, but not so much the memory issues.
Basically, they’re not ticking every single one of the boxes, and so they jump to the conclusion that what they must have is a different type of DPDR (maybe an incurable one!), or some other mystery condition altogether.
It can seem frightening, but the explanation is very simple.
As with all anxiety-based conditions, DPDR has a range of symptoms. It’s not a specific set of exact symptoms that all switch on and off at the same time.
It’s a spectrum. Some of these symptoms will feel stronger than others, some will simply come and go over time.
And remember that how much a symptom will bother you is based heavily on how much you focus on it. So for example, the idea of experiencing, say, memory related issues might, for you, be a particularly terrifying prospect, and so you might focus heavily on that - and not so much the visual symptoms.
But for someone else, it could be the other way around! And in all cases, the symptoms that an individual focuses on tends to change over time anyways.
But it’s extremely unlikely that at any given point, you’re going to have all of the possible symptoms of Depersonalization / Derealization.
And certainly not all at the same intensity, and all at the same time. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that you’ve got some bizarre incurable version of DPDR, or some other mystery condition.
It’s normal to experience some variance in the symptoms.
But it’s still the same condition and you can and will recover!
4. Your Personality Type
A major concern with DPDR sufferers is that they won’t be able to recover because of their personality type. They say to themselves:
And the worry is that ok, maybe all these OTHER people have recovered from DPDR, but they don’t have the same analytical brain that I do.
I won’t be able to stop analyzing this. I won’t be able to turn this off.
Personally, this was a major concern for me. I have a serious tendency to overthink things, and if there’s a problem I need to solve, I tend to lose a lot of sleep until it is solved. So, believe me, I know the feeling!
Now, the idea that your personality type can prevent you from recovering can seem like a scary prospect, but in reality it’s not true and it doesn't make any sense.
And here’s why!
So firstly, let’s remember again that Depersonalization / Derealization is an anxiety-based condition. That’s all.
And anxiety-based conditions are extremely common. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 30% of people will experience at least one anxiety-based condition at some point in their lives.
They’re THAT common!
Now, if, like me, you have a tendency to over-analyze or overthink things, you may be more inclined to initially develop an anxiety-based condition. But that has nothing to do with your recovery process, which is essentially the same every time, regardless of your personality type.
Again -- DP and DR are symptoms of anxiety. Worrying that your personality type will somehow prevent you from getting rid of them is like saying “my heart palpitations will never go away because I tend to overthink things.
Or my shoulder tension will never go away because I’m a perfectionist.” It simply doesn’t make sense.
There is no imaginary line that you can cross after which you can’t recover from any anxiety-based condition. And there is certainly no personality type that can’t recover from DPDR.
And in fact, if you do have a particularly analytical mindset, that can actually be a great asset for your recovery. Why?
Because you can focus that exact same mindset onto subjects and tasks that are actually interesting and constructive. This will help to give your brain the space to focus away from the thoughts and feelings of DPDR and allow them to fade away and stop.
Look -- maybe you are over-analytical. Maybe you do overthink things. Maybe, just like me, you’re a perfectionist and can’t let go of unsolved problems.
But guess what? It doesn’t matter. You still can - and will - recover!
3. I’m In A Stressful Work / Life Situation
This is an incredibly common misperception about recovery.
If for example, somebody is working in a job that’s demanding, or they’re super busy taking care of their young children, they can worry that the stress of that situation will prevent them from recovering from DPDR.
But fortunately, that’s not how recovery works. Remember that there are essentially two forms of anxiety: normal, day-to-day anxiety, and unnecessary anxiety.
Normal anxiety is the stress of working a job, having kids, financial stresses, being late for a meeting at work. These are normal day-to-day stresses and they’re part and parcel of being a human. It is perfectly normal and natural to experience these.
Unnecessary anxiety, on the other hand, consists, for example, of the intense feelings of disconnection of DPDR. Intrusive, existential thoughts.
The fear that you’re still high and you can’t come down, or that you’re living in a dream. Those fears are based on fight-or-flight anxiety, and are not supposed to happen outside a life-or-death situation.
The mistake that we make is that we think that in order to recover from unnecessary anxiety, we need to completely get rid of ALL sources of anxiety from our lives - including normal, day to day anxiety. I certainly did this.
When I first developed DPDR I stopped working, I moved home with my parents, I canceled travel plans, college plans, everything. I cleared everything off the table and made it my number one priority to focus all my attention on researching and stopping the DPDR.
And though I had the very best of intentions, what I ended up doing was inadvertently, creating more and more space for the unnecessary anxiety to occupy. Remember that unnecessary anxiety and DPDR will take up only as much space as you give them.
And so, having a busy work + home life is not necessarily a bad thing -- in fact, it can be a really good thing! It can be a great way to focus your attention away from the thoughts and feelings of Depersonalization and Derealization, and kickstart your recovery.
2. I’ve Been Traumatized By Depersonalization
This is another major concern that I hear from people all the time.
They worry that their experience with DPDR has been so profoundly terrifying that they’ve been traumatized by it, or developed post-traumatic stress disorder. This, they believe, will greatly overcomplicate the recovery process -- and maybe even make it impossible to recover at all.
So, let’s take a look at this. Firstly, what is trauma?
‘Trauma’ is a word we use to describe an emotional response to a terrible event. Like say, a natural disaster or a traffic accident.
Where people get confused is that they think that feeling traumatized is - again - an imaginary line that has been permanently crossed. They think that there are two main groups here -- DPDR sufferers, and DPDR sufferers who’ve been traumatized by their experience.
And the latter may never be able to recover.
But again, it’s drawing this imaginary line in the sand between people who supposedly can and can’t recover, and worrying that you’ve crossed that line -- because in this instance, you’ve feel like you’ve been traumatized.
But it simply doesn’t make sense!
Because again, what is trauma? It’s not a line in the sand. It’s a word we use to describe an emotional and psychological response.
And it’s perfectly natural to have an emotional and psychological response to something that’s as intensely frightening as the sudden onset of DPDR.
In my case, I thought that overnight, my life was essentially over.
I thought I had damaged my brain with drugs, I lost my income, I had to move home with my parents, I canceled a round-the-world trip I had booked. I couldn’t enjoy films, books or music anymore.
At one point, months into it, I remember lying on the floor and just crying, grieving for the life I used to have.
Was it a traumatic experience? You better believe it was.
But did the fact that it was traumatic mean that I couldn’t recover? Of course not.
Again, it’s an emotional and psychological response. It would be weird if you and I didn’t have an emotional and psychological response to something as scary as that -- and especially at the start, when you’ve only just developed it, and you have no idea why you’re experiencing all these strange and terrifying symptoms.
But again, at no point does having that response push you across some imaginary line that you can’t come back from.
And ok - let’s say for a minute that you have been traumatized.
How do we deal with traumatic memories?
The way to resolve traumatic memories is to process and make peace with them.
With regard to DPDR, how do we do that?
By understanding what the condition is, understanding that don’t need to be afraid of it, and why each one of those symptoms, as frightening as they may have been, are part of our brains’ natural and correct defense mechanism.
Again, no permanent line has been crossed, and you can and will recover.
1. I Can’t Remember What ‘Normal’ Feels Like
This is an incredibly common worry -- The fear that the abnormal feelings of Depersonalization and Derealization have become so intense and persistent, that you have somehow forgotten what normal ever felt like.
And if you can’t remember it, how can you ever get back there? And would you even recognize it if you did?
Again, this idea seems like it kind of makes sense at first glance, but in actuality it doesn’t, and you don’t need to worry about it.
Because here’s the thing: Remember, again, that DP and DR are just symptoms of anxiety.
And with anxiety, you don’t need to remember what not having anxiety felt like in order to get rid of it. You don’t need to remember and pinpoint what normal feels like in order to get back to normal.
That’s not part of the recovery process, and it’s not your job.
To illustrate just how silly this whole idea is, let’s look at some other symptoms of anxiety, in that same context.
If you’re experiencing muscle tension, do you need to remember what it was like to not feel muscle tension in order to get rid of it?
Of course not.
If somebody is having a panic attack, do they need to remember specifically what ‘not having a panic attack’ felt like in order to stop it?
Of course not!
When you say “I can’t remember what ‘normal’ felt like”, what you’re actually saying is this:
"At the moment, I can’t remember what calm felt like."
These worries are all massive overcomplications of what is essentially a very simple process: It’s your levels (and therefore, symptoms) of anxiety going up and down over time. That’s all!
The idea that we have to somehow locate and focus on a time in the past when we didn’t feel anxiety in order to get rid of it now, is a massive, unnecessary overcomplication. It’s completely unnecessary and honestly, it’s giving anxiety way too much credit!
AND remember, we’re also dealing with what’s known as state-specific (or state-dependent) memory.
Basically, this is a psychological phenomenon that means that when you’re feeling a certain way, it can be very difficult to imagine what it feels like to be any other way.
So if you’re feeling happy, it can be hard to imagine what being sad ever felt like. And if you’re feeling anxious, it can be hard - temporarily! - to imagine what not feeling anxious ever felt like.
This is why every panic attack always feels like the worst one. For those few minutes, it’s very difficult to imagine a time when you weren’t panicking, or even to remember the times when you’ve recovered from panic attacks in the past.
That’s state-specific memory!
So with DPDR, when we try to imagine what NOT feeling DPDR felt like -- which again - we don’t need to do in order to recover, and which is hard to do anyway because of state-specific memory. And we find that in the moment we can’t do it, and what happens?
We start to panic and spiral, just making the anxiety and DPDR worse.
It’s a frustrating thought loop for sure, but ultimately, that’s all it is. If right now you can’t recall what not feeling DPDR felt like, don’t worry.
You don’t need to. That’s not your job.
The fact that you can’t do that at the moment makes absolutely no difference to your recovery, and you can and will recover.
And the even better news is that state-specific memory works the other way too -- So that when you do recover, you’ll look back on this whole experience from a non-anxious perspective and you will wonder what you were ever worried about.
Again, there’s no line that you can cross from which you cannot return to being 100% back to normal and completely free of DPDR.