Something I wrote about derealisation: please let me know your thoughts!

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There isn’t a vast amount of information on the internet about derealisation, a classic yet frequently misunderstood symptom of anxiety. Described on Wikipedia as “an alteration in the perception or experience of the external world so that it seems unreal”, derealisation can be incredibly alarming and distressing, yet extremely difficult to articulate to non-sufferers. Indeed, it’s made worse because it doesn’t feel like classic ‘anxiety’ as many people understand it.

I don’t want to stray too much into the psychological reasons behind it or try to explain it from a medical perspective, but I thought I would give an insight into my own experience of derealisation. I hope other people may be able to relate to this and not feel so isolated or frightened.

I remember distinctly the first time this started for me. It was the morning of 18 October 2010 (it made such an impression I will always recall the date!) I was getting off a train on my way to work (I had stayed over at my then-boyfriend's flat about an hour's train journey away the night before). I was walking down the station steps when suddenly I felt terribly weird and like something was extremely wrong but I didn't know what.

I spent that day at work feeling uncomfortable.

I went to sleep when home but that didn't help. It was still there the next day. It was still there the day after that. I felt as though something had changed – whether it was me or my environment, I was not sure. I became acutely aware of feeling abnormal, strange, altered, distant…

I managed (albeit uncomfortably) to carry on with day-to-day activities, such as socialising, going to work and living in my flat. At times it was a struggle to achieve a veneer of ‘normality.’ I felt the experience was very personal to me, and that perhaps I was the only one who had ever, or could ever, experience such a bizarre feeling.

The further I was away from home (my comfort zone), the worse I felt. Anything slightly unfamiliar or new (even small things, such as an item of furniture, a park or a car) were somehow strange to me, sometimes sinister and dream-like. I felt detached and distant, like a buoy far out at sea.

The days, weeks and months slowly went by but I felt no better. Because I was unaware of the concept of derealisation at the time, I did not know it was a symptom of anxiety, and was therefore terrified to tell anyone for a fear of sounding utterly insane.

I remember Christmas 2010. We had a secret Santa at work, but I felt so odd and distant and couldn’t engage at all with my surroundings. On Christmas Day itself I found my usual responses to things such as presents, conversations with my family and the Christmas meal were all muted. I wished I felt something. I even wished I that I could feel depressed or angry because that was better than feeling nothing. The only thing I can compare it to is that feeling when you’ve just woken up (often suddenly) and someone tells you something important but you’re still half asleep and can’t really take it in.

Sleep helped a little, and for the first ten minutes of being fully awake I felt okay. But soon the feelings would return. Something that didn’t help was constantly assessing and re-assessing how I was feeling and longing to feel like other people. I wish I had the mind of somebody else; I’d think: “I just wish I felt like a normal person.”

Problems of previous years seemed insignificant. I had ‘normal’ responses and thought processes back then, and now I was looking at the world through a thick and murky layer of fog.

The derealisation did lift, in the end. I am sure had I sought some sort of medical help, such as CBT, it would have disappeared sooner. But it took a long time. Occasionally these feelings return – for example, in late summer 2012 it came back again with force and was accompanied by a torrent of other anxiety symptoms too.

These days I have come to accept that it’s only derealisation, and it can’t hurt you, no matter how peculiar you feel. As the anxiety disappears, so does the derealisation. One website I have found useful was No More Panic which provided some comfort to me when I was going through a bad time.

I would say to anyone with this symptom that you’re not alone, and to go and see the GP (I wish I had done sooner). Realise that it’s just a symptom of anxiety – even if you don’t always feel anxious! It is at worst terrifying and at best annoying, but it will lift and things will get better in time.

What helps:

-    Going to talk things over with your GP

-    Realising it is a common symptom of anxiety and that it will go away

-    Exercise

-    Being kind to yourself – do things you enjoy and spend time with people with whom you feel comfortable, safe and familiar.

What doesn’t help:

-    Ruminating on your feelings and state of mind

-    Excessive caffeine and alcohol

-    Thinking about the days when you felt ‘normal’

-    Comparing yourself to others.

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  • Posted

    I have felt like this a couple of times; I just remember walking up the road to local shops and feeling totally disconnected from reality and "weird". Since the 1st time it has become less frightening; losing touch with reality happens and that's okay.
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  • Posted

    I have felt like i have been living in a dream world for most of my life. Lately though i have been taking fish oil supplements and creatine monohydrate to help me think more clearly. Also excercising and keeping a balanced diet helps. But i rarely excercise. I only do about 20 mins a day on my running machine. But the fish oil and creatine together has helped me to not feel so surreal. I decided to start taking these supplements because i came up with my own conclusion that maybe i felt surreal because my brain was not thinking clearly. If that makes sense? Anyways yeh i started taking these two supplements 2 weeks ago and i do feel more with it. All i have to do now is build up the confidence to get out the house.
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  • Posted

    Hi I'm 15 and have anxiety disorder as we'll as OCD is thus what your explaining I was walking to school and felt a really horrible feeling I can't pin point it but I will do m best I suddenly felt unreal like I was weightless I felt like my sense went the ability to talk and hear for a split second it's really hard then it sent me into pure panic the day I had it was the day I drank to much coffe and being anxious so I think it's that but I know what you mean when I had it I would feel weird for a few weeks then it would and come back I felt disconnected and numb it's horrible when you had it was it suddenly and for a split second did you feel like you where going to faint ?
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