From the years 2005 to 2007, I suffered from chronic Depersonalization Disorder.
Generally considered to be one of the most difficult and persistent anxiety-based conditions, depersonalization (DP) is an ongoing feeling of disconnection from the self that’s intensely frightening and difficult to live with. It put my entire life on hold for two long, painful years. It was a constant waking nightmare and by far the toughest thing I’ve ever had to go through.
My recovery from this chronic anxiety-based condition was a long, hard battle. However, the experience taught me a great deal about the nature of anxious thinking and how to deal with it.
Here are the five most important lessons that I learned in that time:
1. Don’t Fight It
Like many other anxiety spectrum disorders (GAD / Social Anxiety Disorder / OCD etc), depersonalization is fundamentally an anxious habit of thought. As such, it can’t be reasoned or fought with in any logical terms. Doing so only making things worse by giving the condition more credence and mental weight. Instead, try to relax and be mindful: accept that these feelings and thoughts are simply there — and that in time, they will pass.
2. Remember What The Thoughts Really Are
Possibly the most disturbing aspect of any anxiety-based condition are the thoughts that come with it. These can range from silly and annoying to very dark and frightening. But you can disempower them immediately by simply remembering what they are: anxiety-driven thoughts and nothing more. They can be scary but remember: they only exist because of the anxiety and will stop once the anxiety is stopped.
3. You Only Need To Focus On One Goal
Anxiety can feel like a thousand different thoughts and fears; impossible to sort through and deal with individually. Well, the good news is that you don’t need to deal with them individually. All of these thoughts and symptoms are stemming from a single, manageable source — anxiety itself — and that’s all you need to address. Stay focused on that one goal and the multitude of thoughts and fears will dissipate naturally on their own.
4. Stay Occupied!
The anxious mind is like a garden with weeds. If you sit around and just hope that the condition will abate on its own, the weeds will keep growing and become even harder to get rid of. You must be consistently active, sociable and focused on constructive activities. Keep your mind’s garden bright and tidy and colourful. Make sure there’s no room for weeds to grow and soon they’ll die away.
5. Never Give Up
The feelings of anxiety and depersonalization can seem so insurmountable that it’s sometimes tempting to give up on the idea of recovery altogether. But just remember that those feelings of despair are extremely typical for anxiety-spectrum disorders. What’s important is not the feelings themselves but how you react to those feelings — And if you consistently react to them with positive action, refocusing your attention on constructive activities, you will break the negative train of thought.
These habits may seem difficult at first — especially when facing the overwhelming stress that accompanies anxiety-based conditions like depersonalization — but with discipline and tenacity, you will generate healthy new thought habits — and see positive results very soon.
Shaun O Connor is a filmmaker and writer from Co. Kerry, Ireland. He is the author of The Depersonalization Manual which details his recovery from chronic depersonalization and provides a complete guide to recovery for sufferers of the condition that has sold over 8,000 copies worldwide. You can find more about Shaun’s experience with depersonalization here. Shaun is also a multi award-winning television and film director whose work has screened around the world, including at the Dublin, Helsinki and Boston Film Festivals.
Image courtesy of Jake Melara.