Geometries by M.C. Escher
My son, who already suffers from OCD and ADHD (both diagnosed) tweeted this the other night:
I just had one of the strangest things happen… and it was the scariest experience of my life. I just had a Depersonalization/Derealization episode. It was SO FUCKING TERRIFYING. I thought I was gonna wake up in the ER or never sleep again.
Other than OCD, ADHD and depression i have no psych disorders i know of. That shit LITERALLY made me feel like i’d lost my grip on reality and self.
The next day:
I’m going to the emergency room.
A few hours later:
Guys, if anything happens i love you all. Absolutely terrified in the waiting room rn feeling like death.
Late last night:
I got released. They gave me an anxiety pill. It was officially diagnosed as an anxiety attack.
Looking into therapy. my anxiety is getting REALLY bad.
As his mom, of course I was alarmed by these tweets. But, as someone who used to suffer from panic attacks just as debilitating during my 20s and 30s, I KNOW HOW HE FEELS! Panic attacks suck, and the type that involve dissociation are absolutely the worst. For me, the dissociation usually involved derealization (feeling like your environment was unreal) but sometimes depersonalization (feeling like you’re disconnected from the world or like you’re not in your own body) too.
The panic might be hereditary. His father suffers from anxiety attacks too. I used to have exactly the kind of panic attacks he describes — always some kind of dissociative hell where I felt like everything was a dream and the people around me suddenly looked very frightening — either robotic or demonic. Sometimes they looked like wax figures or seemed like they were being run by machines, and the environment itself became very surreal and dreamlike. Sometimes it looked like a cartoon or two-dimensional.
Museum installation by artist Peter Koler
During the worst attacks, I used to feel like I was literally outside of my body, and that really freaked me out. I actually would have trouble controlling my body. I remember once this happened to me on the subway in New York (which is scary enough as it is!) and I literally had to run off the train as soon as it stopped and ran into a corner and started whimpering. Sometimes I used to have to bite my hands to feel “real.” There were a few times I actually drew blood from doing that. These dissociative episodes felt just like a bad drug trip, and I’ve had a few of those too.
I suffered from my first dissociative panic attack at about age 10. I was playing outside in the early evening in the driveway and suddenly I felt like I wasn’t in my body. But I wasn’t able to find the words to describe the feeling, and when I tried to tell my mother about how “weird” I felt, she had no idea what I was talking about and said I was being overdramatic and imagining things. Eventually it passed, but from then on, every so often I’d get that weird feeling again. As I entered my teens and twenties, the attacks became worse and more frequent. They eventually tapered off when I reached my thirties and I haven’t had a full blown panic attack in years.
In my case, the episodes may have been due to my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or possibly from C-PTSD and/or BPD. I don’t think my son has BPD, but he likely has PTSD or C-PTSD (his father is a narcissist and we had a very toxic marriage when the kids were young, which I have described elsewhere in this blog). OCD can definitely cause a person to have anxiety or panic attacks, and I’m sure having ADHD just exacerbates the tendency.
I talked to him tonight for a while about this, and suggested some mindfulness tools that have helped me. I think CBT could help him with this. Thankfully, he has health insurance with his job, and has set up an appointment to see a therapist. The emergency room gave him a short term prescription for some anti-anxiety meds (not benzodiazepines though). But there are many things he can do to help himself too.
He has never sought therapy for his anxiety or OCD because he’s been able to deal with it on his own until now, but he does need help with the panic and dissociation. He also admitted his new job is much more stressful than he expected, and he is already looking around for something else.
If you pray, please send your prayers his way. No one ever died or went crazy from a panic attack, but as someone who’s suffered from them, I know they can certainly feel that way when you’re in the midst of one!
Derealization and Depersonalization in BPD and NPD