Hopefully, my letter serves anyone having a tough time with anxiety, depersonalization, or even a spiritual crisis.
Sometimes, I wish I could go back a few years and have a conversation with myself. Back then, I was consumed in fear and panic, trying to fight my way through anxiety and depersonalization. I thought I was losing my mind; I didn’t know if what I was going through was a slow march towards insanity.
At that time, I didn’t fully know what was happening to me. I really wished there was someone experienced that I could talk to.
Since time travel hasn’t been invented yet, I am going to have to just be content with writing a letter to my past self. Hoping that once it’s published on the internet, it will cause a small ripple in the time-space continuum that can travel back years into the past and cause a sudden realization in my old self.
Maybe this realization will put me on a path towards recovery sooner, without all the unnecessary suffering. Ok, I was just kidding… maybe more like half kidding.
Fantasy apart, I am hoping this serves anyone going through a tough time right now with anxiety, depersonalization, or even a spiritual crisis.
An Open Letter
Hey buddy, you don’t know this yet, but you are going to be fine. Right now, you are in the throes of fear and panic and you can’t think straight, but this will all pass. I am not going to tell you how long or the exact, precise time – because I don’t remember it myself and it doesn’t matter, but you are going to come out of this alright.
The following advice I am about to give you doesn’t just come from reading several books and blogpost after blogpost, but it comes from a place of experience, wisdom and reflection.
You won’t understand some of the points below at this very moment, but rest assured and let them marinate in your mind; one day you will get it. Some of it will even sound contradictory to your thought process right now but follow it through nonetheless because I know how effective it can be.
You are not going insane: No matter what that voice in your head is saying, you are not losing your mind. It is very afraid right now. These thoughts are the product of a fearful mind. Fear agitates the mind.
When the mind is agitated and stressed, it can easily pick up on fear. You see how it is a cycle? This fear cycle keeps getting stronger and stronger every time you resist these fearful thoughts or argue with them. But there is a way.
Accept all your feelings: I know you are tempted to run away or put up a fight. That’s what we do when we are afraid. You are afraid because you don’t know what this anxiety or what depersonalization is.
You don’t know why everything around you feels so unreal. Your mind is desperate to find all the answers. You wish you can just go back to sleep and wake up feeling normal again. But it doesn’t work like that.
Accept the way you feel, no matter how painful or scary the feelings seem.
Accept your fearful thoughts but don’t believe them, nor argue or plead with them. The best you can do is to be aware of these thoughts and say “Yes, so be it” and move on.
You have been resisting and fighting these feelings for so many days, and they’re still here, so why not do the opposite and see what happens?
Don’t waste your time: Don’t spend hours upon hours researching all your symptoms and worrying about them. But if you were to look around: read success stories, read about other people who’ve followed the path of acceptance and come through to the other side.
There are just two books I’d recommend. Paul Davids’ “At Last A Life” and Claire Weekes’ “Hope and Help for Your Nerves”. The former is more anecdotal, written in simple language and is based on the latter which is drawn from the findings of Dr. Weekes’ long medical career.
There will be setbacks: The recovery process is always two steps forward and one step back. Some days you’ll wake up feeling like you are back to your normal self, but then the very next day you’ll feel like a huge anxiety attack is coming on. This is normal. Expect this. It’s how your body and mind are getting used to all the new stimuli.
The more you are accepting of your “bad” days, the less in number they will be and the more there will be of the “good” days.
Stop caffeine, cut down on alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol will definitely make you feel crappy the next day. I’m not even talking about the hangover; I’m talking about the anxiety that you feel in the morning. Plus, there’s a clear connection between depersonalization and alcohol.
Cut down on all stimulants. Stop smoking marijuana for a while.
Find a therapist: Yes, you never thought one day you’d be lying down on a couch in a therapists’ office. But you know what? It’s not embarrassing at all. There is no shame about it. In fact, the sooner you do it, the sooner you are going to start feeling better.
Don’t hesitate to move on to another therapist if you feel like he or she doesn’t understand you. If they are not experienced in dealing with disassociation and anxiety, then you are not going to feel understood.
Find someone who has gone through what you are going through.
Focus on your body: Every time you are anxious, every time you disassociate, every time you feel like some impending doom is besetting upon you, take long deep breaths and choose to focus on the sensations in your body. This is going to ground you.
This is going to take your over-analytical mind from imagining dreadful thoughts about the near future and bring it back into the present.
It might sound too hippie dippy to you right now, but the sensations in your body are the rope through which you will climb out of the hole.
Engage with life: The best you can do right now is to live life as you had before. I remember how it felt like. You didn’t want venture too far, even going to the grocery store caused a lot of panic.
Know this, what you are experiencing is not dangerous at all, it cannot harm you. With that understanding as the foundation, try to connect back with life.
Go meet and spend time with friends. Spend time in nature. Find something that you can lose yourself in, like making music. Just keep working on those songs that are incomplete and try to finish them. It’s best to give the mind a problem or two to solve, otherwise, it is going to find something problematic with you to solve.
Lift weights: You may think this is only for dudes who want to buff up but the truth is, it will also keep you in the present moment and your focus on the body. When you’re done lifting, you’re going to walk out of the gym feeling like a king with that endorphin rush; rock climbing is another good option. Try to make it into a routine.
Listen to your feelings: No matter how unpleasant they are, these feelings are not your enemies. You don’t have to beat them or defeat them but instead listen to what they are trying to tell you.
In fact, see them as signposts that read “Hey! Something about your life needs review“. In your case, examine your relationship with your career and job.
This is more than what it seems: A new you is emerging. Your old self will have a problem with that. It will be afraid of losing itself. Don’t worry, you will be the same person at heart, but your old model of the world needs to be replaced because it is not serving you anymore.
Be open to the idea that what is happening to you may be a spiritual emergence. You are probably scoffing at that idea right now, but I urge you to look into it with an open mind.
If you feel you are losing interest in the activities that once were your source of pleasure, just move on. It’s probably for the best.
You might suddenly have profound new interests, like volunteering for the homeless or helping people in mental anguish. Did you know you will eventually become a counselor helping people in the same predicament that you are in right now? I know, surprising right?
Letter and pen – http://www.hercampus.com/school/arizona/open-letter-college-freshmen
Coffee – https://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/10148216866/
Woman lifting weights – https://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbywestfall/3890281501
Detour sign – https://www.flickr.com/photos/elenghan/17288035585
I really enjoy your stuff but have a few questions.
My worst symptoms are feeling disconnected from my past- like my life experiences never happened and I lost the growth, knowledge, pride, joy, strength they gave me. Did you experience this? After your depersonalization went away did your life feel like a blank slate or did you feel a continuity with your past? Also you say to move on from yoyr interests, but I don’t want to. I discovered an interest in writting and an interest in music after I recovered from depersonalization/anxiety/depression the first time but lost my ability to enjoy them when I had a relapse. I am making changes to how I interact with stressors and how I live, but I had so many interests that I had viewed as part of my POST-dp self that i dont want to say goodbye to now that they are part of my PRE-dp self. Any thoughts?
Swamy G says
Hi Bobby, thanks for your comment. I should have made it more clear in my article about what kind of interests I was talking about. In my own journey, I lose interests in activities such as spending all my on the internet or doing nothing and just watching TV. Interests that are actually detrimental to my health and well being in the long run. In your case, those interests seem very positive for growth, so you should continue engaging with them. If you do lose interest in those activities, then it’s ok to take a break, find some other growth-oriented interest and come back to your old interests later on.
With regards to life before DP. Yes, it does appear like a past-life. There’s a bit of disconnect between life before DP and life after DP. In my opinion, this is how a transformation works. If you read mythologies or follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, you’ll see that the hero is transformed after an arduous fight with a powerful force. After that, he is changed (most likely for the better), but he can’t really go back to being the same person he was. Now he has grown and matured and his world view has changed.
Welcome this change, accept it, see it as part of your transformation. Your past-life is still connected to you, but your world view and view or reality has changed now.
I bought the Claire Weekes book and the Paul David book a while back. Excellent info in both of these. Anxiety is a paradox. Of course, it is difficult to do the very opposite of what your instincts tell you to do, yet when you understand anxiety, it makes so much sense. I am so grateful for your writings.