When Things Weren’t Real

When I was in my senior year of NYU I took 22 credits. I almost had a nervous break down. I was under so much stress I could not think straight. I remember that it’s being up until 3 AM finishing papers, and my stomach was hurting me. I remember running to the bathroom, anc barely making it. Racing thoughts  kept me up at night. I was terrified of failing.  I was under a lot of stress, and it kept getting worse. I could barely eat and I dreaded every moment of the day.

Eating was just the beginning. I started having all kinds of physical symptoms. It was difficult to stay present in my body. Panic stationed itself in my chest. I was incredibly anxious all the time.  I felt myself floating above my body looking at myself walking down the New York street. It was a creepy feeling, and I called my psychiatrist at the time. I told him that I felt like I was “hovering above my body.” He must’ve misunderstood what I was saying, because he prescribed me an anti-psychotic. What I needed was something for my anxiety, and all the antipsychotic did was knock me out.

Another symptom I was experiencing was derealization. I could not check in with my body because I felt like it wasn’t real. In fact, nothing felt real around me. I was in such an anxious state, my panic was so high, that everything seemed like a dream. I knew it was not a dream, but my anxiety was tricking me into believing that things weren’t there. It’s a creepy feeling when you can’t tell the difference between what’s a dream and and what’s reality.

Derealization is scary. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and the feeling that I was not in my physical body freaked me out. It didn’t help that that psychiatrist gave me something that was completely not what I needed. What would’ve been better and something to treat my panic so that I could  function better and do my schoolwork. I quickly learned after experiencing  derealization what to tell a psychiatrist to communicate that I was not in psychosis but rather extremely anxious.

When things don’t seem real, it’s strange. It seems like you’re in a movie and nobody told you about it. When I find I’m disassociating it helps to remind myself that nothing bad is happening. I am safe. My body is in an anxious state, and I didn’t do anything to cause this or bring it upon myself. The feeling will end; I just need to be patient. That patience is difficult to achieve, especially when I don’t feel well. It’s challenging to feel disconnected to my physical self and have to pretend like everything is okay.

There are certain mental illnesses that have more symptoms of dissociation than others. Because I manage anxiety and panic, I often disassociate for my body to feel better. People with dissociative identity disorder have moments of derealization. As a survivor of trauma, someone with DID will experience derealization. They might feel this way when they flip from alter to alter.


For anybody out there dissociating, I can understand how you feel remember that staying in the moment will help you be mindful of how your body feels. You will realize that nothing is going horribly wrong. You are coping with a high level of anxiet, and eventually that anxious feeling will subside. Talk about your feelings in therapy and see if you can find some ways to cope with derealization. There are techniques you can use to help reassure your mind and body that things are okay.