It can be difficult to work your way out of depersonalization and derealization (DP/DR) without proper guidance. When I was going through it several years ago, there was no concrete information available on the internet.
There were a few blogs and maybe one or two forums that were centered around this topic, but that was it. There were a few bits and pieces of really good advice scattered around, but predominantly the information that was contained in these places did not resonate with me. At best, they were just temporary fixes.
So as I learned to work my way out of DP/DR, I decided to make sure that I’d have as much information available to benefit other people who are going through DP/DR. This is one of the intentions behind this website.
So today, I’d like to talk about the various factors and strategies that I used to get myself out of the DP hole. Let’s get on with it.
#1 What We Resist, Persists
The old adage “what we resist, persists” holds true for depersonalization. The less we are unwilling to surrender to an experience, the more that experience bothers us. So in order to be free of something, we must learn to accept it. This may go against our thinking initially and what our instincts tell us to do.
Many people who first hear about acceptance, scoff at it. They ask, “How can I accept DP when I’m trying to get rid of it?” That’s a valid question, but if you have always been fighting and resisting your depersonalization and you are still stuck with it, then isn’t it time for something different?
To me, acceptance is the key principle through which my recovery was possible. I’ve talked about this practice in almost all of my previous articles. The more you fight and resist feelings of DP, the more stressed you are going to become. And the more stressed you are, the more you are going to feel depersonalized. We have to break this cycle. Nothing works better than acceptance.
#2 You Cannot Escape Discomfort
Moving on, something that goes with acceptance is being ok with discomfort and pain. When you begin to accept DP feelings, you are willingly experiencing them without trying to block it out or run away from it. This might bring in some pain, fear, and discomfort in the short term.
In my case, I trained myself to be accepting of this discomfort. It’s more of a mindset than anything. Tell yourself “I am ok facing discomfort, and fear”.
When you willingly feel DP symptoms and begin to accept and let go, it will feel fearful. You will feel unpleasant and dreadful. As you let go, accept and surrender, you will feel the intensity of the anxiety or DP increase. This would be the time to stay with the experience and not try to run away or distract yourself from it. If you keep surrendering to it and accepting the experience, you will see that the intensity of these symptoms gradually dies down.
Once this happens, your confidence will grow. You will learn that the discomfort is only temporary. It might come back (and it always does), but now because you have been through it before, you’ll feel less dreadful.
#3 Say Hi to Your Demons
Our fears may seem like demons to us. We run and hide from them. But what really helped me was exposure to my triggers. Triggers are anything that sparks fear in you.
Whenever I felt fear around something, be it going to work or driving a car around, I tried to do it anyway. It was hard, but I felt like a winner if I was able to accomplish these little feats. That’s not to say that the fear never got the best of me. It did. There were several days where I gave into fear.
Sometimes I’d skip taking the subway to work because it made me feel claustrophobic that day. But I’d try again the next day. That’s what I want you to take away. Courage doesn’t mean having an “I have no fear” attitude; it actually means saying to yourself “I’ll try again tomorrow”.
#4 Creating an Underlying Safety
As long as you don’t create an underlying sense of safety, you’ll have a hard time practicing all the strategies I discussed above. You have to start believing that ultimately you are safe. I told myself that DP posed no threat to me in the long term. Yes, it was scary, but I started to believe that DP was harmless.
If you are finding it hard to let go, surrender and accept, it is because you think that if you do that then you will be in harm’s way. The trick lies in creating an underlying sense of safety that you can rely on. I also stopped seeing DP as an enemy and saw it for what it was: just another mental disorder.
When you feel that you are ultimately safe, you can finally learn to manage the tides of the DP experience. Whenever you feel like the intensity of DP/DR is high, you can rely on that underlying feeling of safety and know that even though the intensity of these feelings is high, nothing harmful will happen to you in the end.
It’s like bungee jumping. You may feel scared to do it. But trusting that the bungee cord will ultimately keep you safe, lets you jump off the ledge and let go. Similarly, for accepting DP/DR you have to develop an underlying sense of safety.
I’ve also talked about creating an underlying sense of safety more in detail. Be sure to check that article out. In my own recovery journey, once I developed that trust and safety, I was able to let go, accept and surrender.
#5 Stop Looking at the Calendar
A hard pill to swallow is that recovery from DP takes time. And we don’t have direct control over how long its duration is going to be. It’s useless to worry about things that are not under our control. So, I learned to stop caring about how long I had suffered from DP and how much more time there was still left to go to be fully recovered.
You may be consciously or unconsciously tracking how many months or years have passed by since you became depersonalized. Such thinking only creates more stress and makes the DP persist. Let it go. It doesn’t serve you. Look forward and think about how you can make the best use of today.
The timing is not in our hands. I concerned myself with practicing acceptance and connecting with life. I worked on projects, met up with friends, spent time with family and spent time alone reading a book or watching a show. I did not let myself get bogged down by thinking about how many more days it will take for the DP to go away. I left it up to the DP to dissipate on its own.
#6 Look Inside
The final strategy was doing some soul searching. I asked myself why I was feeling anxious and what could have been the stressors that could have brought up the DP. I saw my anxiety as a signal that something may be wrong in my life. Something out of balance.
What I found out was that I wasn’t happy where I was in my life and my anxiety and DP were an indication pointing to that. I wasn’t happy with a full-time job. I did not really have a plan to escape the dreadful 9-5 life. I was unhappy with my physical strength and my relationships (or lack of).
I began working with a therapist. Sometimes, your life can be entangled with chaos and this can bring up anxiety, depression, and DP/DR.
I started changing my lifestyle. I started eating healthy, exercising regularly, going out to events and traveling. I found a way to console myself about my unhappiness with full-time work and I actively engaged myself with side projects. This website and my YouTube channel are the results of such endeavors.
Slowly, some order started to return to my life. I actually stopped trying to get rid of my DP/DR and instead focussed my energy into living my life and resolving my deeper issues. When I did that, I felt that the intensity of the anxiety and DP reduced.
Iron out the imbalances in your life. Aim to become more wholesome, whatever that means to you, and see what happens to your DP/DR. Don’t wait for DP/DR to leave, do this first and watch your DP/DR reduce in intensity.