I looked into the mirror at my reflection. The woman blinking at me with bloodshot eyes looked vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t sure that I knew who she was. Panic began to mount as I struggled to recognize myself. Sound familiar? If so, welcome to the weird world of depersonalization.
Wikipedia defines depersonalization as “detachment within the self, regarding one’s mind or body, or being a detached observer of oneself. Subjects feel they have changed and that the world has become vague, dreamlike, less real, or lacking in significance. It can be a disturbing experience.”
Wikipedia goes on to state “Though degrees of depersonalization can happen to anyone who is subject to temporary anxiety or stress, chronic depersonalization is more related to individuals who have experienced a severe trauma or prolonged stress/anxiety. It is also a prominent symptom in some other non-dissociative disorders, such as anxiety disorders, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, migraines, and sleep deprivation; it can also be a symptom of some types of neurological seizure and can indicate low levels of brain serotonin.” What Wikipedia failed to include as a possible cause is benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Depersonalization is one of a myriad of possible withdrawal symptoms. It’s scary and very difficult to cope with. However, that is what we must do as there is no way around it. We have to wait until our brains heal from the benzo damage to our GABA receptors. Like derealization, depersonalization has many “flavors and textures”. We may all define it a bit differently, however, we all know that it feels horrible. It’s frightening not to recognize yourself or know yourself. It’s panic producing to be outside of yourself constantly observing.
Acceptance and distraction are two of our most powerful coping skills to combat depersonalization. Reminding ourselves that we are in benzo withdrawal helps, too. I remember I used to feel eviscerated. I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, what I believed in, or any other landmarks that would shine a light on who I used to be before withdrawal. Depersonalization can become so exhausting that you give up on ever recovering. You fear you will walk in the lost shadows forever. You won’t.
Like all the other benzo withdrawal symptoms, depersonalization finally loosens its grip and falls away. But until then, your job is to cope with it as best as you can. Your job is also to take good care of yourself. Rest. Relax as best as you can. Walk some every day (mild exercise is good for us.) Avoid stress when you can. Eat whole (one ingredient) foods. Avoid over-the-counter or prescription medications that will rev up symptoms. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and supplements that work on GABA. Vit. B, D, and magnesium are well reported in the BWD community to increase our symptoms. Pray, meditate and have faith in God as you understand God. Be kind and gentle with yourself!
I remember the day I was curled up on my couch answering emails. I read someone’s reply to my letter, over and over. I burst into tears! Like the flip of a switch, I suddenly remembered that rereading emails was something I used to do pre-withdrawal because I so much enjoyed the emotion of the words I read. I knew that day, that I was coming back online. I was able to look at my reflection in the mirror and recognize myself. The feeling that I was outside of myself observing faded away too. My depersonaliztion was benzo withdrawal induced. It came with my cold turkey and it left when my brain was more healed. Your’s will leave, too. In time.