DPD and Me

One contributor writes about their experience with Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

Written by Lucy Hartley


"Do you ever feel, like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind?". Everyone remembers the jokes about this, now iconic, lyric. Everyone made said jokes and had a giggle about Katy Perry and feeling like bags etc, nobody ever got what she was trying to say. I do. Years later, I get it.

I have DPD, or Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. In a more medical, professional way, it's a feeling of detachment from one’s self, a feeling of unreality. In my own way, it's like being high all the time, feeling stuck in one place and not really existing as the world continues around you, and it's really hard. I usually refer to it as "being spaced." I get confused easily, I lose track of conversations immediately and I get overwhelmed by my surroundings very quickly. Shops and shopping centers are a nightmare. I work in a shopping center and honestly, I can't really remember a single shift I have worked for the last few months.

I feel it constantly but sometimes it "flares up" and I feel like a helium balloon, seconds away from disappearing. Once I got so horrifically spaced at work that I almost burned myself, and then on my way home I was almost hit by a car as I was so unaware of my surroundings. Mainly, I feel like I don't exist. I feel like my life and experiences are a dream and everything is happening around me as I do my own thing. Like a bag blowing around alone, with no control over what is happening, as the world continues around it.

It can affect me physically too. One of my friends understands what it's like and helps me, keeps me safe, when it's especially bad. But that can be scary too. The last time it flared up in public she held my hand and let me carry a heavy bag, so I didn't have to panic about floating away, but all I could feel was warm. I couldn't feel her skin on mine, or her squeezing my hand, when she was reassuring me she was doing so. I could just feel heat. I wandered off, picking things up that I knew I should be feeling. A soft blanket, a cool and metallic hairspray can, but I couldn't feel anything. As I'm typing this, I know I'm pressing the keys because the characters are appearing, but I can't feel the keyboard under my fingers. I can feel that my fingers are cold against my cheek, but I can’t feel the skin or the bone.

It's rare that it gets so bad that I'm actually in danger. I wander off a lot when I am going through a "flare up" but it's still distressing. I spend a lot of time sitting quietly, just being, as my friends talk and laugh. I don't feel a strong, emotional connection with them so it can get lonely. The most distressing part is I know how I should be feeling. I know that when I'm with them I should be happy. I know that when I'm watching Lilo and Stitch I should be crying, because I could never watch that movie without crying before, but I just sit there instead, sometimes forcing myself to laugh when I should be laughing.

From what I've gathered, it's not really a rare disorder, but I'm finding it hard to get it properly diagnosed. I've been to doctors and counsellors, but they've all said I'm imagining it, or it will pass eventually, even though it's been months. That doesn't really help with the whole lonely aspect of this. Other people I've spoken to have said that it sounds like fun, being spaced all the time, feeling like I'm high, but it isn't. It makes me anxious and sad and I know I have a great life, I just don't feel like I'm living it. And I'm scared of living it.

I'm so used to being spaced that in a way, being able to experience things again and being able to remember conversations, and not have things repeated to me over and over again is scary and overwhelming. Having to experience sadness, and stress, and anger fully, without knowing that once I've reached a certain level of stress I'll disassociate and not have to deal with it all anymore is terrifying to me. So I'm not sure what’s worse, having to deal with the sadness and being able to feel absolute joy all the time again. Or not feeling anything at all.

This article was written by a SpunOut.ie volunteer. Check out our volunteering options here and get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.

Our work is supported by