Living with DPDR - “My face in the mirror was unrecognisable”
When Natasha woke up and didn’t recognise herself, her detachment to everything around her was terrifying. As she learnt she was experiencing depersonalisation/derealisation disorder (DPDR), things began to get a little easier until the symptoms finally disappeared.
On the morning of 31 January 2019, the first words I uttered to my sister sounded odd in my head as well as the other sentences that followed. I was disquieted by a sense of being trapped in my own body. Confined in my room and staring from dusk ‘til dawn didn't help as I felt totally absent and disconnected from myself and my surroundings.
The once familiar pictures hanging on the walls were alien to my eyes. ‘What is going on?’ ‘Am I losing my memory?’ ‘Am I going crazy?’ ‘Was my soul taken away from earth?’ ‘Am I dead?’. These were the questions that ran through my mind. Unfortunately, my parents and the people around me could not understand anything I explained.
They came as days and went, and my life felt like a nightmare. I couldn't sleep, eat or stay awake. I cried all the time and was afraid. My face in the mirror was unrecognisable and I felt as though I had lost control of my speech and movements. When I zapped through my photos, every memory was intact but my mind perceived it as belonging to somebody else. My vision became foggy and distorted.
When I zapped through my photos, every memory was intact but my mind perceived it as belonging to somebody else.
After visiting many mental health organisations and not getting a diagnosis, I knew it was up to me to discover what had gone wrong. A part of me was confident that it was a rare but known condition and other sufferers existed, I just had to connect with them. I commenced my own research and finally came across depersonalisation/derealisation disorder. Every symptom I felt matched with the ones listed.
Depersonalisation/derealisation disorder (DPDR) is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. These are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness or awareness, identity and/or perception. It is said that this anxiety disorder is caused by severe trauma, during childhood or as an adult, such as experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event or abuse. It dawned upon me that the childhood abuse I experienced had caused severe damage to my mental health.
Getting some closure brought me great relief but unfortunately, knowing what was wrong with me didn't help in getting better, and I panicked, thinking I’d be stuck in this forever. On top of this, the stigma associated with mental illness made me disconnect from all my friends and family. I was ashamed.
Getting some closure brought me great relief but unfortunately, knowing what was wrong with me didn't help in getting better, and I panicked, thinking I’d be stuck in this forever.
Nonetheless, giving up has never been an option for me. I heeded the tips from YouTube videos, and articles and began to do things I had stopped doing like household chores, going outside and writing. It was an uphill climb as every symptom still lingered.
After a year and a half of misery, the pain, shame and guilt began to fade as every symptom subsided. The silver lining is the new version of Natasha is stronger, wiser and more grateful. Grateful for the simple things like a peaceful rest after a long day’s work or just recognising my face in the mirror.
Today, 24 months later, DPDR is but a memory. I got my life back, 100 percent. I now connect to others experiencing similar symptoms around the globe.
There is a way of managing DPDR, and other mental illness. What worked for me was to help the next person, end the stigma, and not be ashamed to share your story.
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