Panic attacks, dissociation, and my son’s anxiety issues.

escher

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.

Then later:

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.

Today:

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.

disorienting

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!

*****

Further reading:

Derealization and Depersonalization in BPD and NPD

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That “off” feeling in dreams.

dreaming_person

Have you ever tried to explain something that can’t be explained?   Well, this subject came up in my post from last week about my subway dream (I have a lot of subway dreams even though I haven’t lived in a big city in many years ; vast-house dreams probably come in second — my dream houses seem like they go on and on for miles).

Most, if not all, of my dreams have that weird “off” feeling about them.   I don’t know how to explain it at all. It’s very strange, but not necessarily unpleasant.   It’s a kind of flatness but it’s not really that either.   Maybe “otherworldly” but that doesn’t really describe it either.   It’s not really an emotion, though it is kind of a “mood.”

My dreams aren’t especially surreal, except for that weird “mood.” Most of my dreams take place in rather boring but realistic locations — like vast houses or subways, or city streets at night.   I don’t dream about fantastical creatures, demons or fairies, or fantasy realms.  My dreams are prosaic: peopled by real people, or by no one at all.    Sometimes I dream about being in space — and in those dreams, the universe seems even more infinite than it actually is.   I don’t know how to explain why or how I feel that way either, since real space is freaking huger than any of us can imagine.

Sometimes though, everyday reality in my dreams is experienced as somehow enhanced — the grass in a field is greener, the house I’m exploring is endless, the streets I wander at night are more ominous, the mountains in the distance are higher.   But that doesn’t really explain the weirdness either, though it may be a part of it.

It’s not that the dream content itself that’s weird (because usually it is in some way, though you might not realize it until you wake up), because even the dreams I have that take place in everyday places or where nothing really strange happens still have that “off” feeling about them.

On rare occasions, during dissociative episodes (derealization), I get that “off” feeling about reality, and everything becomes very dreamlike.   I haven’t had that experience in a while, but when it happens when you’re awake, it’s extremely unpleasant.  Not so much in dreams.

What the hell is that “off” feeling?   I’ve searched Google and found nothing about it.  Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  Is it just me who experiences this or does everyone?   I don’t even think I can find a graphic for this post that captures that feeling so I’m just using a picture of a person sleeping.

*****

ETA:  I just saw this under “related posts” — I wrote about this same thing almost a year ago.  Oh well.  I still wonder about it.

The Weirdness of My Dreams

The weirdness of my dreams.

dreams-and-reality

I’ve been doing a lot of Google searches about dreams to find out if anyone else knows what I’m talking about, but I haven’t seen anyone else describe this exact same thing, which makes me wonder if it’s just me, or if it’s one of those things that’s so hard to describe it’s just taken for granted as something that comes with the territory of dreams, which are weird by nature.

I’m talking about the feeling or mood that accompanies dreams, not the strangeness or illogic of the actual actions taking place.  In fact, it’s in the more mundane dreams–those that imitate real life or take place in familiar settings or situations–where the feeling is the strongest.   It’s almost impossible to describe.   Things just feel different–not in a bad or good or scary way–but just different.  It’s not that things seem flatter or the colors seem washed out  because my dreams have as much color (sometimes more so) in them as my reality and things certainly don’t appear flat or two dimensional.   It’s not that fantastical things happen either, because in most of my dreams, nothing much happens at all (if anything weird happens, it’s more likely to be of a slightly absurd or random nature than anything resembling a fantasy novel).  It’s not anything you can actually point to in the dream and say, “That’s it, right there!”   It’s a vaguely eerie mood or feeling, but it’s not really an emotion.   I always think of it as a “parallel universe” effect–things can even be the same as they are in waking reality, but you know it isn’t waking reality because it just doesn’t feel the same.   It’s as if my everyday reality were transported to another universe.   All my dreams have this same parallel-universeness about them which makes me able to distinguish them from waking reality–most of the time.

Sometimes my brain makes errors though. I’ve been a little obsessed over the past day or two with two or maybe three memories that I can’t figure out were memories of a dream or memories of a real event.   Complicating matters is the fact that I occasionally experience dissociation, especially derealization, in which waking reality takes on that same odd feeling dreams have.   When that happens there’s nothing much (other than waking up) that distinguishes “dream” from “reality” and that makes me feel a bit insane sometimes.

I feel the earth move under my feet.

grass_feet

These aren’t my feet. 

Carole King had it right.   Sometimes feeling different textures under your feet can not only feel great, but also is spiritually grounding.

If you’re prone to dissociation and anxiety, like I am (I’m a “Freeze” 4F C-PTSD type–which means my primary defensive reaction is dissociation (the “freeze” subtype) and that keeps me alone and isolated from others (dissociative types tend to be shy hermits).    When dissociated,  sometimes we feel disconnected from our bodies, our emotions, from other people, from the whole world.   Dissociation in its various forms (derealization and depersonalization) can feel so weird, disorienting and surreal (like a bad drug high) that it can throw me into a panic attack if there’s nothing around to ground me or bring me “back to earth.”   The intense anxiety these episodes cause only seems to make the dissociation even worse, which leads to more panic and anxiety. It’s a positive feedback loop, but it’s anything but positive!

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to mowing the grass today, but it was a beautiful day and the grass needed a haircut.   My usual impulse would be to procrastinate–another way I avoid having to make decisions or do something I don’t want.

So I got out there and cranked up the old mower, and soon I was falling into the rhythm and exertion of this necessary task.   After a while, as usually begins to happen, my thoughts slowed and sped up at the same time.   That just means when I get into this state, my mind begins to think quickly and creatively.  These are the times when I usually get an inspiration for a new blog post, the kind I just itch to write.  These have been some of my best posts.   At the same time, the pace of my thoughts is slowed down.  Random snippets of thoughts aren’t racing all over the place, smashing into and bouncing off of each other and causing my head to hurt and my heart to race.  Instead,  I’ll mosy down a creative or philosophical tangent and then think deeply about it, looking at all its facets and hidden crevices.   Then I can draw all kinds of inferences and hidden meanings–both insane and profound–that wouldn’t have been there when I was in my normal hypervigilant, anxious, scattered state, when I can barely think at all.

This slowed down but more profound way of thinking has an awesome grounding effect, but it’s also at these times I become hyper-aware of my body (a type of mindfulness) — what it’s doing and any sensations it’s taking in from the world around it. When mowing, the repetition and exertion of it combine with the sharp, sweet smell of fresh-cut grass, and this stewpot of sensations combine to send me into a Zen-like state.

After mowing, I like to kick off my Crocs (I hate Crocs but they make good mowing and gardening shoes), stretch my feet and toes out  as far as they will go, and wiggle them.   My feet have always been one of the most sensitive parts of my body (This is not an invitation to any foot fetishists lurking around!).  This is good because my feet are what grounds me to the earth and staying grounded has always been one of my biggest problems.  It’s why my most basic “survival skills” are so poor (I live inside my head most of the time).  Focusing on my feet on the ground and the feelings of the different textures under them have a way of kicking dissociation’s butt like a kung fu master.

The freshly cut grass still had its spring softness, but it is dry like alfalfa, which makes it soft and scratchy at the same, and it felt unbelievably good!  Then I stepped onto the front porch and walked around on the smooth, worn cement and felt its coolness and smoothness under my feet, a wonderful contrast to the soft but dry grass.    Then I walked on the grass again. Then on the cement again, which was warmer this time from the sun.      A sense of well being and groundedness came over me, and the residual anxiety I had been feeling before mowing the grass was gone.

Going a step further, you can step on pinecones.  No, I’m not joking.

 

 

Solipsism syndrome.

dave the solipsist

A few times throughout my life, usually when overtired/anxious (and once when VERY high), I’ve had this peculiar (and terrifying) feeling of being the only person in the universe (the time I was high and it happened it was even worse–I was disembodied consciousness, a singularity in space/time–I finally came to the conclusion at the time that I must be God and must have created the entire universe and everything in it from my mind–talk about narcissism lol!). It’s a rather frightening experience, if truth be told. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll understand the overwhelming feeling of immense and indescribable loneliness, even though your rational mind is telling you it’s an illusion and isn’t true.

I was thinking about this today for some reason so I looked it up on Google. I found out this feeling of nothing else existing except your own consciousness is a fairly common dissociative experience called solipsism syndrome. It’s a form of derealization. I never knew it had a name.

Some Eastern religions are built around the concept of solipsism and many philosophers throughout history have considered it a possibility too. Of course I don’t believe in it but during the few times I’ve experienced it, it does feel very real.

A similar phenomenon is the feeling/belief that everyone else is just yourself in another incarnation and/or is a projection of yourself. Solipsism seems extremely narcissistic, even though it has nothing to do with NPD and is a fairly common experience in both psychotic and dissociative conditions, drug intoxication (especially psychedelics and dissociatives), and PTSD and C-PTSD. It’s also common in astronauts who spend long periods of time living in space.

solipsism+syndrome

I read this story today and wanted to share it.

The Egg
By: Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us a ‘universe’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein)

Is NPD really a dissociative disorder?

dissociative_identity_disorder

I think there’s good reason to think NPD (and to some extent, BPD) is really a dissociative disorder. Think about it. There is a true self and a false self that are split from each other, much the way a person with dissociative identity disorder (DID) has a “waking self” or the “host personality” (the DID’s equivalent of the true self) that has split into different “personalities”, some of which aren’t even aware that others exist. Still, the narrative of the true self runs beneath everything, like an underground river feeds the land above it. In other words, the false self’s behaviors are driven by the need to keep the true self hidden and/or protected.

NPDs (and BPDs) also have episodes of dissociation and feelings of unreality, depersonalization, derealization, or even annihilation when under stress or when injured, and these dissociative episodes can become so bad during a narcissistic crisis that a psychotic break can occur. Narcissists are not unknown to become psychotic during old age due to massive loss of supply.

There are other things too that are dissociative–the magical thinking, the splitting, and the manifestation of the FS itself, which is, in essence, a separate “personality” from the TS.
I’ve read elsewhere that NPD could be a dissociative disorder, and I think it’s a valid argument. Thoughts?