Original article found on tiredoflyme.com. Reprinted with permission.
For some, it is considered the worst symptom of chronic Lyme Disease and its coinfections. It is entirely a psychological symptom. And it is so incredibly difficult to describe, let alone understand, that even those with chronic Lyme Disease that suffer from depersonalization and/or derealization are unable to make the connection between what depersonlization and/or derealization is by text book definition, and the reality that the perpetual psychological state they're in is in fact depersonlization and/or derealization. It's very much like having a broken leg, experiencing all the symptoms of a broken leg, seeing and acknowledging that you have a broken leg, but not being able to identify it as a broken leg because you don't know what a broken leg it.
But the broken leg has the advantage to depersonalization and derealization a a symptom because someone, if not everyone, can come along and inform you that your leg is broken. It's a physical symptom that can be seen by everyone, and the common knowledge of what a broken leg is allows it to be identifiable by pretty much anyone with a brain stem. Depersonalization and derealization are psychological symptoms, so the only person that can truly observe this symptom is the person enduring it. And if the person enduring it has no knowledge of what they're enduring, not only will they continue to endure it and have lower odds of being able to treat it than someone who can identify their psychological state as depersonalization and/or derealization, they'll be without that inherent comfort, closure, or sense of relation or belonging that comes from being able to know
Describing depersonalization and/or derealization
It's important to know that a person enduring depersonalization and/or derealization is almost completely, if not entirely, perpetually apathetic. They lack nearly 100% of the time any interest, concern, and emotion for life's experience. Now what is interesting though is that when a person suffering from depersonalization and/or derealization is exposed to the direct source of emotional invocation, their perpetual apathy dwindles just a little, and the emotions from that experience are slightly conjured and able to be felt. They don't feel all the emotions of that experience like a normal person would, but enough emotions are manufactured that allow that person to not seem so inhuman or incapable of expressing compassion. Again this is only when a person suffering from depersonalization and/or derealization is exposed directly to the experience, the direct source of emotional elicitation.
I need an example to better understand
Of course you do! Depersonalization and/or derealization is is no way intuitive which means you shouldn't feel guilty or be hard on yourself for not being able to identity it whether you know someone who has it, or think you believe someone to have it, or you suffer from it yourself.
Look around. Find something you possess that you really treasure or hold great value and meaning with. It could really be anything you're surrounded by because we all have an emotional investment in everything around us, it's just the amount we've invested that differs with each object and experience. It's just obtaining an object with a greater level of invested emotions (i.e., value, meaning, and worth) that will allow you to understand this psychological symptom better. It could be a guitar if you're a musician, a letter from a friend or family member from long ago, or simply the television in your room. Now take that object and imagine a string running from that object to your head. That string is where all the value, meaning, worth, concern, interest, and enthusiasm (i.e., emotions) are exchanged between you and the object. Everything you feel for something whether it be the object you're looking at, or any experience, travels along this string. For people suffering from depersonalization and derealization, that string has been cut.
And for those who don't endure depersonalization and/or derealization, they can travel as far away from this object and still feel nearly 100% of the emotions they've generated from it. Their string is limitless. And because the string of a person with depersonalization and/or derealization is cut, they may only be able to feel a small window of emotions for that object when they're touching it, which compensates for the cut string, but the moment they release the object, the greater the distance they create between themselves and the object, the further in time a memory of an experience is, the greater they return to a near 100% state of apathy.
Here are some quotes to better facilitate an understanding of depersonalization and/or derealization:
“Factors that tend to diminish symptoms are comforting interpersonal interactions, intense physical or emotional stimulation, and relaxation.”
“…going through the motions of life but not experiencing it or participating in it”
“Depersonalization is a particular type of dissociation involving a disrupted integration of self-perceptions with the sense of self, so that individuals experiencing depersonalization are in a subjective state of feeling estranged, detached or disconnected from their own being.”
What causes depersonalization and derealization?
Well what we know is that depersonalization and derealization are psychological symptoms that people with chronic Lyme Disease and/or coinfections can experience. However people can induce depersonalization and derealization through other sources, but what is it about chronic Lyme Disease that allows these mental symptoms to manifest?
One possible explanation for depersonalization and derealization is that its manifestation is not the doing of Lyme Disease or its coinfections, but the doing of the brain itself; that the brain is entirely responsible for inducing these psychological states, but that it has good reason to do so. It is partly hypothesized, though not scientifically proven, that depersonalization and derealization is an evolutionary tactic for extreme endurance. A possible defense mechanism initiated by the brain to allow a person to continuously be subjected to what would otherwise be extreme conditions and circumstances for sustaining life. And that the depersonalizing of the person will give them an upper hand in enduring a continuously extreme and stressful environment, but at the same time achieving the brain's intended goal of perpetuating survival.
The emotions involved in the experience of enduring a chronic illness and everything that it encompasses can be too extreme for the mind. By forfeiting, halting, and suspending its ability to generate emotions, the part of the brain responsible for rationality and reasoning can function without being compromised by extreme emotions. And by allowing the part of the brain that reasons to operate without interference by emotions, a person will greatly increase their odds of obtaining solutions for their troubling state and debilitating circumstances of Lyme, in turn, allowing them to heal and achieving the ultimate goal of the brain, preserving life so that genes can be passed on.
Of course this is just one plausible explanation for depersonalization and derealization. Another proposed hypothesis is that toxins from microbial invaders, and the microbial invaders themselves, are interfering with nerve relapses in the brain. While this could be a contributor, it doesn't seem to be the sole cause because while emotions are perpetually hindered with depersonalization and derealization, other parts of the brain are still functioning at somewhat reasonably operable levels.
How do you treat or deal with depersonalization and derealization?
As it has been said many times before, the brain is usually the last physiological part of the human body to heal from Lyme Disease and its coinfections. What this means is that you likely won't experience a natural relief from depersonalization and/or derealization until the infection(s) is gone. However, as healing progresses, the impact and intensity of depersonalization and derealization dwindles and dissipates, so it can be used as a gauge to determine healing progression.
While at times it can be very enticing to allow depersonalization and derealization to keep you from participating in life's events and experience, don't let it govern your decisions all the time. Yes, there will be times where it has the upper hand and you'll have to give it to its oppression, but remember that exposing yourself directly to life's experiences can allow you to partly suppress the apathy that comes from depersonalization and derealization. Direct exposure to the source of emotional invocation of experiences, people, and happenings will allow you to not only feel somewhat alive, but remind you that you're still capable of feeling, and that you're not as far gone as you may have lead yourself to believe.
Very little information exists on treating depersonalization and derealization medicinally, but if any undiscovered knowledge exists, it can be posted below. (See original article HERE for comments.)
It's important to remember!
Depersonalization can make it seems like a person doesn't really care about anything and everything. And it's true, they very likely don't! This includes important dates, traditions, best friends, close family, and experiences and happenings in life that would otherwise invoke an emotional response from a person that doesn't suffer from depersonalization and derealization. This doesn't mean that they don't want to care, or that they aren't conscious of their inability to care or express concern, interest, enthusiasm, etc, but that they can't to the extent and level that they once were able to as a person who did not suffer from the effects of chronic Lyme Disease and its coinfections.