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Depersonalization/derealization due to health anxiety

Feb 13, 2015 - 0 comments










This is going to be my first journal entry about depersonalization and derealization. I hope I can help others understand their symptoms and improve. I've had a lot of good days in a row that made me reflect on the symptoms and why they occur. I think the thing that affects people with DP/DR the most is the feeling of not knowing what caused the DP, because it seems to occur over night without any specific reason to it. And most people don't find the reason as to why they feel this way, which makes the situation even more aggravating.

To me it all happened in May of last year (2014). I was on a road trip with a friend of mine and felt dizzy and got panic attacks from it, and felt like I was going to die and that the reason for me feeling tired and groggy was due to a brain tumour. I have extreme health anxiety, specifically with regard to cancer, ever since my grandmother passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2011. Between 2011 and 2013 I still lived in Germany - my home - where I had access to good health care and the support from my family and friends. Whenever I was freaked out by something going on in my body, I would get regular check-ups, MRI scans, etc.
Then I moved to Canada in 2013. For 9 months everything went fine. I love it here. It's an absolutely gorgeous place and I feel blessed to live in Victoria, BC. It's always been my dream.
In May something changed. Because doctors wouldn't be able to figure my problem out, I had set my mind to the worst: cancer. I was in extreme fear throughout May and June until I returned to Germany to get examined by my family doctor and other specialists. It turned out I had low blood pressure, which was causing my dizziness and brain fog, but after the diagnosis the anxiety remained. There was a new feeling.

I looked out of the window at my grandmother's house and everything just felt strange to me. The surroundings didn't feel the same, I could not get the same emotional access to them that I would usually feel. I felt as if I was disconnected from the associations I had with my grandmother's house and the neighbourhood and everything. The feeling came and went. Sometimes it would last for weeks, then I had another good week, then it came back.

At some point I was more fed up with the feeling of disconnected than anything I had ever been angry about. I wanted to know what it was and where it was coming from. I went back to Canada, still feeling this way, and some family visited me here over the summer. While we were on road trips, I would get that strange sensation again. The fear of being in the wrong place, the Rocky Mountains seeming unreal and intimidating, everything feeling like a dream.

In between, I also found myself again being scared of lung cancer. I couldn't breathe properly, I had a cough and I felt I was doing everything to get better. By that time I had already looked up everything about depersonalization and derealization, which felt similar to the low blood pressure problem at first, but after all, it developed to simply the feeling of feeling unreal and detached. I felt like I was undeserving of being in Canada, I was worried about the future, I thought my life was going to be extremely short. Especially with lung cancer, at 25. However, while I was concerned with my health problems, the feeling of detachment would usually disappear, because I focused on my health.

Once that problem was figured out again and the doctors told me I did not have lung cancer and that is was most likely anxiety, I experienced DP again. I would walk around and get a completely different vibe from my neighbourhood and surroundings than I usually would. I was hyper sensitive to how I perceived my environment. I stared at the building next to my apartment and got angry: "Why can't I get the emotions from it that I want to get? Why do I feel foggy? Why does my brain constantly want to worry"

I saw an acupuncturist, I bought a book on anxiety and depression. Nothing helped.
I had DP for 5 days, then it was gone for 3 days, and so forth. Then, at the end of October 2014, I noticed a bump on my collarbone. I went on Google - as always - and got worried about lymphoma, especially since my aunt had it at exactly my age. I saw the doctors here in Canada again, but they all told me it was a lymph node, but that did not ease my mind. I had never felt a lymph node there before ever. It scared me to death. They didn't order ultrasounds, the didn't give me other options. I got frustrated again. In the middle of November I woke up one day and starting crying, wouldn't get out of bed. I thought I had fallen into really bad depression. I was scared of never recovering and ending up in a mental health clinic and so on and so forth. It was awful. Then, I had a period of 2 weeks where I felt nothing. Completely numb, I didn't care. I was happy, because I didn't care. I felt like my brain shut down completely. I didn't feel detached, or maybe SO detached that I didn't even notice. In December I went back to Germany. I did not feel depersonalization, I was simply happy to be with my family, and to get exams done. They finally removed the bump and it was a fatty tumour, benign, but at least my feeling of it not being a lymph node had been right.
I was happy it was over. I went back to Canada in January and felt great for two weeks. Up until here I had no clue what caused my feeling of detachment/DR/DP.

After two weeks of being in Canada, I sat on the couch one night and all of a sudden got terribly anxious about getting DP again. I couldn't think straight. All my health issues had been figured out, and I was scared of being scared. Anxious about being anxious. A vicious circle. Everything started to feel off again. I couldn't absorb the life in Victoria as much as I wanted to, it was lacking depth. I felt safest in my own four walls. I didn't want to get out of bed only to realize I had DP. I told my friend: "I'm getting DP again". He assured me that the DP was not me, that it will never be me and that reality never changes. Suddenly, I experienced back and stomach pain at the same time (end of January) and it wouldn't go away. My brain switched back into survival mode to tell me I had pancreatic cancer, just like my grandma. Every day I would be worried about it, up until yesterday where I went to see a doctor only to learn that everything pointed to an ulcer. I don't know for sure, but just having reassurance already made me feel safe enough.

On my way back from the hospital I finally realized why I have DP/DR. It basically all made sense to me. I didn't see it before, but I think that it was the combination of going abroad, not having my support system, such as parents and friends with me here in Canada, and not having the access to health care that I had when I was in Germany. After 9 months of being in Victoria, the honeymoon phase was basically over, and I started to realize that if I was seriously sick, it was going to be the end of me, because I don't trust the doctors here in Canada. In fact, they have been wrong about a lot of diagnoses, as have I, but then again, I'm not a doctor. I felt alone with my initial fear of having cancer in May 2014, but because it took two months to get diagnosed, my brain experienced extreme fear. While I was occupied with the fear of cancer, my brain did not have time to think about other problems. Whenever the doctors and tests came back with clear results, my brain just wanted to recover from all the anxiety and I experienced DP. I am more than convinced that this is the reason I feel this way now. I was looking for all kinds of reasons, I thought that because I had experienced health anxiety in Germany as well, but never DP, the reason for feeling this way must be something different.
But my environment and living situation had also changed. The fact that I feel less safe in Canada without friends and family and without the health care I wish for, put me in this helpless state of anxiety which resulted in my brain asking for a break every time I grant it one. Not very often.
DP did not exactly give me a break, it made it so scary for me. I made my anxious about getting anxious, because it is by far the worst feeling I have ever experienced. To feel like you don't belong, to feel like an alien, to feel like everything around you is not real and you have no access to it.

But I am convinced now that if I work on overcoming my extreme health anxiety, I can overcome DP in the long run. Whenever it appears I try not to think about it and just let it pass. I have some extremely useful recipes. One of them is NOT to drink. When I drink my body feels less detached, but it also gives me more anxiety about feeling detached the next day. And then I will. I hang out with friends, I laugh a lot, I do fun things. Even though there is this nagging feeling sometimes that makes me ask why I'm here in Victoria and how I deserved all of this, and why I get to experience awesome things and yet have DP. I can feel an improvement. I know where my DP comes from and that helps me to work on the problem. It can make you a little OCD, to be honest, because you think that you're only free of DP when you worry about other stuff, such as your health. But the real reason is that I have DP because I excessively worry about my health and THEN, as a consequence, experience DP.
I did not understand this connection at first, but I am at the point where I feel like I can be normal again. I'm talking to a counsellor at my university and they have been extremely helpful. It helped me understand that I am not going crazy and that I will recover from it.

Every time it comes back, I try to be more positive about it. I tell myself that it will pass and that it's just one of those days again. Eventually I know it will never come back. A couple of months ago, this would have never come out of my mouth. I have yet a long way to go and I have not completely recovered, but I am grateful for my body detaching me from scary things, even though that is not a pleasant experience for me, but my brain knows best.
I don't know how to turn off my health anxiety. It's a mystery to me, but I know that my DP comes from me being extremely anxious about having cancer and not having enough support to deal with it. I have to stay positive and whenever I can tell myself that I don't have it and that I don't always have to assume the worst.

Yes, there will be days when this feeling will come back and I'm not looking forward to them, but I days where I'm positive will keep me going to the extent that at some point I will completely beat DP, because my fear of cancer at this age is somewhat unrealistic. Not unrealistic, but I am not in acute danger. I am trying a way to beat the fear of cancer, while others who really battle with cancer are definitely going through worse. At this point I also want to apologize to everyone suffering from cancer, I will not claim to be in your shoes and to go through what you go through, but my brain experiences fear to the same level as others experience fear of something even scarier. Objectively speaking.

I want to give all the ones out there hope that they can recover from DP by finding the root of the issue and work on it. Don't ignore your body, your brain is not stupid, it will tell you that you need to change something and that some things in your life have a much higher impact on you than you would believe. Even if you tell yourself that THIS or THAT might not be the reason, if you've been dealing with an issue for longer, your brain's perception of the issue can change to the extent that it will no longer want to put up with it, even though you do.
The brain is a funny thing. I never knew I could feel unreal and detached without wanting to feel detached, AKA alcohol or weed, but it has that ability to protect you in the weirdest ways.

Whenever you feel detached, don't fight it, that will make it worse, because you will get panicky and will try harder to get out of it, which makes the situation more aggravating. Try to surround yourself with people, go outside, experience things, don't lock yourself up in your room doing nothing. Keep your mind occupied and busy, so it doesn't get the chance to worry about irrational things like you not belonging in this world. We all belong here, we might not know why, but we do, for whatever reason, and we all have to accept that we don't know. Reality doesn't change. Even when you experience DP you know that reality does never change. When DP knocks on my door, I should embrace it and let it protect me. While doing this, I have to work on the other issues that cause it. I realize that some people will never know where it's coming from, and that can make DP a really long process. I don't know where mine is coming from. For some it goes away without even knowing the reason. Maybe just life changes in general that you are not even aware of. But if you know your situation is not going to change, but you know what situation causes your DP, that is the best way to work with. I have no clue how many times in the next month I am going to be anxious and get DP, but I know why I'm getting it and I will from now on communicate that to my counsellor and hope to exit this vicious circle eventually. Me being OCD about having cancer. I have extremely supportive friends and family that I'm grateful for. Even if they're not here in Canada, I can still feel their love and support and now I just have to convince myself that I will get 90 years old. Because I love my life and that's what makes it so scary. To lose something you love. That is a good sign, because it shows me that I value life.

I hope I can help some other people with DP and this article. Feel free to contact me, if you like. Sorry this is so long, but I had to tell you about my story with DP. Stay positive.