The Existential Anxiety Symptom: Depersonalization/Derealization

Today has been a day where I did all the right things, and yet my depersonalization was pretty intense at times. I did all of my self care rituals: mindful meditation, exercise, yoga stretches, Epsom salt bath, and I went to my fav coffee shop, followed by watching a silly TV show. Then, I did my dreaded homework from my shrink. It is a rare day that I can do all my “ablutions” as my spouse calls the self-care routine, but today I could.

I saw my shrink just yesterday and told him how I think I’m driving myself crazy. That while depersonalization itself wasn’t so scary any more, the thoughts I had while and when I depersonalized were scary. “Why do I keep having this depersonalization? If I’m having it so much, it means I must be crazy or about to go crazy.” Brilliant Dr. said the homework for this was exposure therapy to the thought. That I had to say the thought into a tape and play it on a loop for a set period of time. (According to my Good Doc, research indicates that it typically takes 30 to 50 minutes of exposure to see the level of anxiety start to drop off and that you have to do this repeatedly until there is no anxiety at all. However, he also agrees that I most likely will not need that much time.)

At the time he posed it, I thought, this is probably easier than when I did exposure for driving and for depersonalizing. Boy was I wrong. First, I used my iPhone and couldn’t get it to play on a loop. So I had a 30 second recording of myself that I had to keep hitting play once it got to the end. I also found myself getting really irritated hearing myself over and over as well as a little creeped out by it. Fine…I guess on some level I’m supposed to have whatever reaction I have and just let it be. I lasted 10 minutes. It got too weird for me. My anxiety definitely increased during it and lingered after. I’m just proud that I got myself to sit with it for 10 minutes.

I’m writing the rest of this the next day and the exposure to the thought went better today. It got boring before the ten minutes were up. On some level, that’s a victory. However, my depersonalization and feelings of anxiety connected to it loomed all day. My shrink also had said in the session this week some of what I’m experiencing could be “med student syndrome” and also simply over-attending to my symptoms and, thus, aggravating them. I guess this is the price you pay when you are in school for a field in which you are both clinician and patient.

The thing is…as both an emerging shrink and a person who is experiencing DP, I want to learn more about it, maybe even choose it as a topic for my first paper in the class I’m taking now. Yet, I’m a little worried that all it will do is feed the beast so to speak…on the other hand, everything I’ve researched about DP is that the “answer” is to not run from or avoid the feeling. To let yourself feel it and still get on with your life. I thought, before this recent reoccurrence with it that I had done that, that I had kind of made some sense of peace to the point where when it happened, I wasn’t as freaked by it. I spent quite a bit of time doing the exposure therapy with it and it did become boring. So why? Why this wrestling with it again?

The possible answer to the above is that while the actual DP sensation is uncomfortable, it no longer really scares me…but the thoughts attached to the DP do…thank God I see my Dr. on Tuesday. Apparently, I need a refresher.

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