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What is this thing I'm feeling? I don't feel like myself!

answered 07:15 PM EST, Fri January 25, 2013
anonymous anonymous
I am 24. I broke up with my fiancée 2 months ago and it was really devastating. Since then I feel like something is really WRONG WITH ME. Sometimes I feel fine and then I’ll fall into this place where I don’t feel like I am myself anymore and I am sort of not in control of myself as if I was watching a TV show of my life. I usually feel this way for a few minutes or so and then it goes away but it’s starting to happen many times a day and I can feel when an episode is coming on. It is really terrifying. I feel like I am losing my mind everytime. I think this is a panic attack but I don’t feel like I am dying. I want to go to a doctor but I don’t have insurance and I don’t know how to explain how I am feeling. What is wrong with me and what do I do?

Art Matthews Says...

What you have provided is a fairly vague description, but you could be experiencing something called depersonalization. According to the Mayo Clinic website, symptoms of the DISORDER of depersonalization include:

  • "Continuous or recurring feelings that you're an outside observer of your thoughts, your body or parts of your body
  • Numbing of your senses or responses to the world around you
  • Feeling like a robot or feeling like you're living in a dream or in a movie
  • The sensation that you aren't in control of your actions, including speaking
  • Awareness that your sense of detachment is only a feeling, and not reality
  • The sense that your body, legs or arms appear distorted, enlarged or shrunken
  • Feeling like you are observing yourself from above, as if you were floating in the air
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about."

It can begin without any prior event, immediately following a traumatic event (usually life-threatening) or in anticipation of another depersonalization episode. Even people who have simply witnessed life-threatening events but weren't directly involved have reported experincing a similar phenomenon. The feeling of "depersonalization" (as opposed to the disorder) is not uncommon in teenagers and early adults whose brains have not fully matured, which typically happens by the age of 25.

People who have various mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders (panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder - PTSD), psychotic disorders (schizophrenia), or personality disorders (multiple personality disorder - MPD) have sometimes reported the experience as well.

As always, I recommend anyone start by seeing their primary care physician or a psychiatrist (both medical doctors) to see if anything may be physically the matter or influencing this experience. You may then want to follow up with a psychologist or therapist for treatment of a disorder or condition that may be causing it. You should definitely seek treatment if these episodes keep recurring, are disruptive to your life and relationships and/or continue to be extremely distressing.

It's my opinion that while medication or therapy alone have each their own levels of efficacy in treating mental disorders, combining the two seems to be the most effective approach to treating and managing disorders that have reached the level of conditioning and unconsciously learned responses. My opinion is similar to that of former American Psychiatric Association President Nada Stotland, M.D., M.P.H.

You may not have to take medication every day forever, which is a big fear for people with anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but the medication can perhaps help you long enough until you develop some new coping skills, come to closure over the break-up or process the grief that triggered these events.

Of course you should always remember that it is YOUR healthcare and even if a doctor writes a prescription, it's up to you whether or not you want to take it. At least enlist the help of a trained therapist and consider someone with experience in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or experience working with PTSD and panic disorder. A form of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR) has been studied for some time with initially positive results but reports on efficacy over the long term are still inconclusive.

Extinguishing a conditioned or learned behavioral response can be extremely difficult especially if on some level that response protects the person from real or perceived harm. What your depersonalization experience may do is protect you from future rejection or emotional harm by causing you to detach and disconnect from others, making the formation of a new relationship impossible.

The world of the mind is a fascinating and frightening place sometimes, but with the right treatment and persistence I believe you can overcome this.

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Page last updated Jan 28, 2013

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