Sometimes a label can help… depersonalization disorder

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Two sessions ago I happened to mention to Penelope my DBT therapist a feeling/sensation that I’ve had for about the last 30 years. To be honest, I can’t remember what I even said to her- but she picked up on it and said, I think it sounds like de-personalization disorder: my heart leapt… there was a name for this… I couldn’t believe it! It’s not that I want or need any more labels- rather, if it had a name, my experience actually existed- other people had experienced it as well- and just possibly, help might be available. She suggested reading a book, and a few hours later I had ordered it on amazon. I paid extra for express delivery and waited for it with a sense of anticipation…. but even before the book arrived- I was feeling so much better. Things began to make sense for me. Previously, I thought that how I was living was just normal, everyone felt (or more aptly, didn’t feel) those things.

I’ve always felt like I was on the outside looking in on things… a spectator. Physically, I would feel a sensation of having a glass screen in front of me… so I could see life going on around me, but I couldn’t touch it, or partake in it. I know in my head, I have done many amazing things in life- traveled to beautiful places, met famous people, been on tele…  but I have never felt that I have actually done those things/ been there/ talked to those people. It is such a strange sensation. I know I’ve been to Southern Africa- I have pictures to prove it- but I don’t actually ‘feel’ like I was there. It really is quite horrible- as it means that I push myself to do these things, sometimes at great personal and physical cost, but at the end of them I don’t actually experience the pleasure of having done them. All the pain, but none of the glory.

De-Personalization disorder makes sense of all this for me… why I can look like I am enjoying myself but feeling nothing… why I always feel so confused and fearful that I am making things up…and the relief is palpable. It also helps make sense of how I relate to God. I love Him and want to worship Him- but His love for me never goes past my skin- it doesn’t penetrate into my heart- and I don’t know how to let or make that happen.

I devoured the book in one day- parts of it were quite technical and I skimmed those bits! The book is ‘Feeling Unreal’ Depersonalization Disorder and the Loss of the Self by Daphne Simeon, MD and Jeffrey Abugel. (2006) But to hear other people articulate that which has been within me for many years- was and is a  joy. Knowledge is power. Understanding is key. Mindfulness and the other DBT skills will help with the depersonalization. I spent some times with friends this week- and one evening we played table football- and do you know what, for some of those minutes, I felt like I was playing table football- really there, in the moment, with loved ones and in my body. It was special.

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