Depersonalization and Derealization (DPDR)
Depersonalization and derealization (DPDR) during benzo withdrawal are disturbing symptoms that can disrupt one’s sense of self and reality. Characterized by feelings of detachment from oneself and one’s environment, DPDR can be a confusing and distressing experience. In this blog post, we will explore the nature of depersonalization and derealization, discuss the possible causes, and provide practical coping strategies for those living with these benzo withdrawal/BIND symptoms.
Understanding Depersonalization and Derealization
Depersonalization is the feeling of being detached from oneself as if observing one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions from a distance. It can involve a sense of emotional numbness and alienation from one’s body, leading to a feeling that one is not truly ‘present’ in their own life. We can feel as if we are watching ourselves in a movie, keenly aware that we are the observer instead of feeling as if we are doing the actual living. It can be a very frightening experience.
Derealization, on the other hand, is the feeling of detachment from one’s environment, where the world seems dreamlike, foggy, or surreal. This can result in a sense that people and objects around you lack substance or reality, creating a disorienting and unsettling atmosphere. Time and distance can feel distorted, too. Derealization can be a very distressing experience.
DPDR can occur as individual symptoms or together, ranging from mild to severe. They can also be transient or chronic, lasting for brief periods or persisting for quite some time during benzo withdrawal/BIND.
Causes of DPDR during benzo withdrawal/BIND
Depersonalization and derealization can have various causes, including:
- Trauma: DPDR can be a response to overwhelming stress or trauma. It may serve as a psychological defense mechanism, helping the individual cope with a threatening or distressing situation by ‘disconnecting’ from it. During benzo withdrawal/BIND, one may feel traumatized, bringing on DPDR or worsening it.
- Anxiety and stress: High anxiety and stress levels can trigger DPDR symptoms, particularly in those more prone to dissociative experiences. Benzo withdrawal/BIND is a time of high stress due to the lack of GABA receptors (the inhibitory system) to maintain calm.
- Supplements and medication use: Some drugs and supplements, including caffeine (alcohol should always be avoided during benzo withdrawal BIND), can bring on or worsen DPDR. It is best to learn what to avoid. (Here is a list of supplements and drugs.)
- Medical conditions: Certain neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or migraines, can cause DPDR symptoms to flare during benzo withdrawal.
- Overstimulation: Any situation with a great deal of sensory or informational input can exacerbate DPDR. Driving is a known trigger, as is loud or overly bright environments.
Coping Strategies for DPDR
Living with depersonalization and derealization during benzo withdrawal/BIND can be challenging, but several strategies can help you better manage your symptoms:
- Grounding techniques: Grounding techniques aim to reconnect you with your physical body and environment, helping to reduce feelings of detachment. Some examples include:
- Deep breathing: Focus on your breath, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly to anchor yourself in the present moment.
- Physical sensations: Hold onto a cold or warm object, such as an ice pack or hot water bottle, to engage your sense of touch and bring you back to reality.
- Mindfulness: Pay attention to your surroundings, noting the sights, sounds, and smells to engage your senses and anchor you in the present moment.
- Seek professional help: If you are struggling with DPDR, talk with a benzo-wise therapist or a professional benzodiazepine withdrawal/BIND coach who can offer suggestions for coping. (Avoid negative forums or support groups that don’t focus on solutions and healing, as they can trigger more DPDR).
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT involves identifying and challenging maladaptive thought patterns and beliefs. CBT won’t necessarily stop the thoughts/feelings as they are generated from a dysregulated nervous system (which will heal in time); however, it is a good coping skill that can lessen suffering.
- Stress management: Since stress and anxiety can contribute to DPDR, developing healthy stress management techniques during benzo withdrawal/BIND is critical. Some options include gentle exercise, practicing relaxation techniques (such as progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery), and engaging in hobbies or activities (distraction). Learning something new is an excellent form of distraction for stress reduction and comes with a dose of dopamine, a feel-good reward neurotransmitter. Gardening boosts serotonin, another powerful feel-good neurotransmitter.
- Social support: Connecting with supportive friends and family members can provide grounding during depersonalization and derealization. Sharing your experiences and feelings with others can help to normalize your symptoms and alleviate feelings of isolation. A loving hug can help reduce your anxiety about DPDR. Joining a positive benzo withdrawal support group can be helpful as well.
- Limit medication and supplement use: it is essential to limit your use of substances known to cause an increase in DPDR during benzo withdrawal/BIND symptoms.
- Journaling: Daily journaling can help you track your symptoms and identify potential triggers or patterns in your DPDR experiences. This can be useful for self-reflection and discovering ways to avoid triggers (are you tapering too fast, for example) or to cope with thoughts/feelings.
- Be patient with yourself: Recovery from benzo withdrawal/BIND takes time. It is essential to be patient and kind to yourself. Acknowledge and accept your feelings without judgment. Learn to ‘love well,’ the fourth cornerstone of well-being.
Depersonalization and derealization can be distressing symptoms during benzo withdrawal/BIND that disrupt one’s sense of self and reality. Understanding the nature of these experiences and potential triggers is a vital step in coping with them. By employing grounding techniques, seeking benzo-wise professional help, practicing stress management, and cultivating social support, you can learn to cope with DPDR and improve your overall well-being. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself during your recovery.
Have you experienced DPDR during benzo withdrawal/BIND? What is it like for you? What helps you to cope? Please join the conversation by leaving a comment.