Derelization & recognizing “magical thinking.”
When my anxiety gets bad and my derealization is really noticeable, I act like a completely different person. Right now I’m calm and I’m pretty certain I’m a healthy person without any real chance of slipping away, mentally. But when these things peak, I can feel myself slipping. Slipping is the best word to describe what I experience during these derealiziation/depersonalization episodes. I think what I feel is my sanity, my reality slipping away. Everything feels so different. My room in the house I have always lived in looks different. Lighting feels wrong, noises sound different, everything just feels so unfamiliar. I feel like I’m floating outside of my body, watching everything. I feel very detached and confused and disoriented. The thing with derealization though is that these things are just sensations and thoughts. I’m not actually confused or disoriented and I know exactly who I am and where I am. I just feel like that will change at any second. If you’ve never experienced this firsthand, I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to understand what it feels like.
Anyway, there was one morning I was absolutely freaking out. This was last summer and I was worst than I had been in years. Every morning was a 6-8 hour struggle, I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do anything but struggle and act fucking out of my mind. So one morning, I was flippin’. I woke up at around 3am and knew I wasn’t going back to sleep because I had already started feeling anxious because I just knew what the morning would bring. So I asked my mom if she could sleep in my room (and really, there’s nothing more humbling/embarrassing than asking your parents or brother to sleep with you because you’re terrified when you’re 25 years old), as it got later, my anxiety was getting worse and it was probably around 7 or 8 am and my mom was pretty over trying to calm me down so she called my dad up the stairs. He has always been better at calming me down. He asked what I was thinking and I told him that I really felt like I was going insane and he calmly asked me how many times I thought this since my problems started and the answer was every day, and he asked if those thoughts ever became true, and of course the answer is no. “But,” I said, “I really really really really think it will this time” and he said “It doesn’t matter. It won’t. What if I really really really thought I was about to get hit by a meteor right this second, would you think I was right? What do you think the chances of that happening are? Do you think no matter how hard I thought that to be true would increase the chances of it happening?” and the answer is obviously no. And that really calmed me down for a good while and I think about it whenever I feel like my derealization is getting bad.
I’ve gotten a somewhat better handle on it these past few months, which is the first time I’ve been able to say that. But at the same time, I feel like I haven’t really pushed myself enough to be able to say for certain whether or not I’d be able to remain somewhat stable in the most anxiety inducing situations.
An excerpt of something my therapist sent me, similar to what I experienced that morning;
“Magical thinking” means believing that our thoughts will come true.
“Magical thinking” means that we believe our thoughts are a lot more powerful than they actually are. Now, it’s true that our thoughts shape our emotions – so that’s some power. But just how powerful are our thoughts?
If I have a thought, does that mean the thought is magically true?
For example, let’s suppose I am feeling very anxious and I have a scary thought that something terrible and life-threatening is about to happen. Is that thought always true? Does something terrible and life-threatening always happen as a result of my scary thought? Let’s suppose that I’m feeling very anxious, my heart is pounding, and I get the scary thought
"What if I’m having a heart attack!" Does that scary thought cause a heart attack? The main cause of heart attacks is heart disease. Does having a scary thought instantly create heart disease?
If you believe that your scary thoughts make things happen, that is called magical thinking. The truth is that our thoughts do not have the power to instantly create heart disease. If you think I’m wrong, and you really believe that your thoughts have magical power, then I would like you to try an experiment that could make you a great deal of money. Does that sound okay? Now, I live in California, and the California lottery often has a jackpot of as much as $20 Million. So, please use your powerful, magical thinking to think of me winning the California lottery. I promise I will split the jackpot with you. The truth is, when a scary thought pops into your brain, it does not affect the likelihood of something happening.
A heart attack is not caused by a scary thought about having a heart attack. Fainting is not caused by a scary thought about fainting. And “going crazy” is not caused by a scary thought about going crazy. When any of these unfortunate things do happen to people, they have causes, but none of the causes are scary thoughts. Thoughts just don’t have that kind of power.
Magical thinking says: “if I have a thought, then it must be true” Now, it’s normal to think that the thoughts that we have are especially true and powerful. Other people’s thoughts might not be as good, but our thoughts seem especially good! Have you ever noticed that thoughts expressed by friends and relatives are not always true? Well, I have to break the news to you… Your thoughts are not superior or magical. Sometimes they’re true, and sometimes they’re not. Just because a thought comes into your mind does not make it true. In fact, when we have scary “what-if” thoughts, these thoughts are actually likely to
be false, because “what if” thoughts are creative and imaginative.
Here’s a good answer to this kind of magical thinking:
Thoughts are guesses, not facts. Thoughts can be true or false.
A similar kind of magical thinking says: “If I think something, then it will happen.”
This is magically believing that our thoughts actually predict the future.
So, when we have a “what if” thought, we magically believe that the scary thing is now more likely to happen, because we had the thought.
Here’s another way to make a fortune on your powerful, magical thinking. Instead of wasting your magical powers on “what if” thoughts, turn your thoughts to predicting which stock will go up or down, or which horse will win at the track! Now, you and I are not the only ones who engage in magical thinking. Almost everyone does this to some extent.
Think of everyone who bets on stocks or on horse races. How many of these people believe that their thoughts can somehow predict the future? Do you think their thoughts really have this magical power?
These things are all very duh, no shit to you when you’re not panicking, but when you are, it wouldn’t hurt to read this and remind yourself of these things.