I know what it feels like to be dead while I’m still alive. I’ve lost my sense of self and connection to this world more times than I can count. I want to share my story in case anyone out there has experienced the same thing, and we can support each other.
As long as I can remember I have experienced depression. I grew up in a very chaotic, stressful, upsetting, and damaging environment and I cried myself to sleep a good amount of it. I was constantly surrounded by emotional abuse, whether between my parents, or my other family members, and it turned me into an adult with a strong outer core, but a crippling mess on the inside. I have never fully processed everything I heard and saw as a child, and because of it I have anxiety about random things like spending money and loud noises, recurrent depression and loneliness, and a fear of abandonment. The year I turned sixteen was the worst year of my life, as my mom was forced to leave our house and she moved far away with her boyfriend at the time. I was lost, heartbroken, and an emotional wreck. My older sister was always at her boyfriend’s house and my dad worked at night, so after I came home from school I cried a solid six hours daily, collapsing on the ground and struggling to breathe while my dog stood by my side in confusion. I could barely sleep, and every night I laid in my bed praying an airplane would crash through the roof and kill me. Luckily I was too scared to kill myself, but several times I tried to choke myself and scratch my arms bloody. I had too much pain deep down in me, and no one to talk to, as my sister was never home, my dad and I had a broken relationship, and I didn’t feel like I could go to my friends for support. I suffered in silence, and I regret that everyday.
When I moved away for college, I felt like I was pushing away all of the family problems that were waiting at home, but whenever I came home for the weekend they came back. My family relied on me as their emotional backbone, and every problem had to go through me before getting resolved. As a result, I lived under extreme stress and when I had to go home, I often sobbed either on the drive there or back. Added into that was the fact that I received no financial help from my family since I was sixteen, so the $40+ in gas to come home gave me a mental breakdown. I have worked so hard since I got my first job at sixteen, but my money has dwindled away so I could buy the necessities like food and school supplies that my friends’ parents all provided them. I grew angry towards my family, for cursing me with financial and emotional instability and I knew I had lasting mental health issues from the years of untreated pain. When I was bullied by my first-ever roommates in college and contemplated dropping out of school, I finally sought help from the free counseling at school. It was nice to talk to someone, but overall I do not feel like these services provide anything revolutionary. The next semester was better, and I stopped the services.
My sophomore year in college was the worst of my college years for mental health. Because I have two majors, I had a 19-credit semester and an 18-credit semester, and those coupled with my numerous involvements on campus meant I left my dorm at 8am and did not return until 10 or 11pm Monday through Thursday. My roommates were often laughing and enjoying themselves when I got back and had yet to start my homework. My sleep suffered, and I did not feel like myself. I spread myself way too thin, and I learned my lesson. It was also in this year that I stopped smoking weed after a traumatic incident where I got too high, had a panic attack, almost called 9-11, and felt high for weeks after. I think this may have triggered the main topic of this post, derealization and depersonalization (DR/DP). This year I again sought out counseling services for the tremendous stress I was dealing with, and I also asked to do an assessment for bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety, of which the tests determined I had none. I tried to talk to my counselor about DR/DP, but she told me it was all in my head. I felt invalidated and tried to pray it away.
My summers have involved traveling for the past three years now, and that is always good for me, because being in my dad’s house on breaks brings my depression back full force. Old family pictures feel awkward and unfitting, and our large house filled with old things no one cares about and not enough love to go around brings me to the brink of sadness. My relationship with my parents is a lot healthier now, but for me nostalgia is like a ton of bricks dropping on me: it has weight, and it comes with a lot of pain. Things were decent when I was really young, but most of my memories aren’t positive. Every time I travel to a new place, I feel DR/DP for a while, until I’m adjusted.
My junior year I spent the first semester abroad, which was incredible, but I was also in a committed relationship, so it was very difficult at first. I was too attached to my romantic partner, and found myself hyperventilating and bawling my eyes out for the first month, until I made myself numb about it. The second semester I came back and thought the pain of missing my partner would be gone, but my attachment intensified, like I wanted to keep him close so that would never happen again. I became distant with many of my friends from before I went abroad, and my only source of happiness was my boyfriend. I sought a counselor for codependency, and he gave me some techniques for grounding and ways to create a healthy relationship. I continued to struggle with DR/DP, and didn’t even bother to mention it to this counselor.
This brings me to today. I have been stuck in this episode of DR/DP for over a week, which happens quite frequently and which I have never been able to defeat. It defeats me. DR/DP makes me feel like I am high, but worse. There is no joy, there is no love, there is no happiness. Bodily sensations like pain, having to use the bathroom, and hunger seem distant, and I can ignore them if I want. I would starve myself when I’m in an episode, but I fear I’d get too sick and throw up. The worst part about it is that life doesn’t stop. I have to go to work, keep plans with friends, drive places, etc. even though I feel like I’m asleep.The only thing I want to do when I’m like this is sleep. I could stare at something all day. I’m not myself at all. I can’t smell, taste, or feel emotionally or physically. It is, in an essence, being dead. I imagine it is worse than death though. There is no meaning to life when I’m in this state. Sometimes it lasts for days, sometimes for weeks, but it always comes back and there’s nothing I can do to make it go away.
I’ve sought online support, and it has helped validate this and let me know that many, many other people go through this too, but I have yet to find a professional who can help me. School counselors are either unknowledgeable or unqualified, and everywhere else is too expensive. DR/DP is caused by extreme anxiety, or a traumatic panic attack, and it could be both for me. Recently I have dealt with anxiety more than ever before, and panic attacks for no apparent reason. My mind is a dark and twisted place, and I cannot figure it out. I tried to seek help in Los Angeles, but because my health insurance isn’t from this state, I couldn’t get free counseling. I don’t know where else to turn. Mental health services should not be this hard to come by. People die slow and painful deaths due to mental illness, and if this continued to go untreated, I will be in the same boat. I have so much passion for life, but having an unexplained and untreated mental illness takes every ounce of passion out of me and convinces me I am a machine that lives my life on autopilot. That’s the reality of derealization and depersonalization. It sucks the life from you. My DR/DP is worse than my depression and anxiety combined. It’s like living in purgatory with no way out but to silently suffer. I have only dared to tell a few people about this, because I’m scared many will think I’m insane. Even a counselor thought i was over exaggerating. But I’m tired of having to pretend like everything is okay when I talk to friends. I want to help end the stigma of mental illness by being completely transparent about my lifelong struggles with emotional instability. This won’t help it go away, but it will give me a sense of freedom to not hide what I go through on a daily basis. That’s too exhausting, and not fair to myself.
I truly hope I can find some treatment for anxiety, which will hopefully cure my DR/DP. There are many success stories online, but everyone is different, and I’ve been going through this so long that I have no hope. I will keep looking though, and I hope everyone suffering inside does the same. Don’t give up on yourself just because it feels like everyone else has given up.
If anyone thinks of me differently now, then they must accept the fact that this is the real me. We can’t pretend to not suffer, because it encourages other people to stay silent too, and suffering in silence is self-destruction. If someone can’t accept that lately I have had more days with panicking, crying, numbness, confusion, and sadness than without, then they can’t accept me wholly.
If anyone out there is going through something similar, don’t hesitate to reach out. We must care for each other in this society that treats mental illness like a burden.
Rapper Logic has opened up about his struggle with derealization disorder.