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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Buddhism and Depersonalization.

One of the symptoms of my mental disorder, Schizoaffective disorder is depersonalization. It is something that I have experienced since I was a child when I would experience out-of-body phenomena in response to stress or anxiety. And the out-of-body phenomena is the best way to describe the main essence of my depersonalization. I slip in and "out of my body" often and before I know it I'm outside looking in and when this happens it feels as though I'm watching my body talk, move and act from a remote location. It reminds me of the movie, "Being John Malcovich" where people can live inside Malcovich's brain for about 15 minutes at a time and witness what he witnesses.

In these moments I feel as though I'm viewing a movie that has me playing a role. I talk but I don't feel like the words are my own but just a computer program that is simulating a conservation. It happens often when I'm in a new environment or with people that I feel uncomfortable around. I have also found that I don't feel physical pain as much when I'm depersonalizing.

I liken it to an escape hatch when the symptoms of my disorder get to be too much to handle, when the hallucinations, delusions or paranoia get too strong. As well as when my anxiety and stress reach a certain level. Part of my condition is that I am almost always in a state of anxiety and stress so that from the outside it looks like it doesn't take much to set me off but in reality its just one final trigger for my brain to handle so I slip out of my body and go on autopilot. The depersonalization also expresses itself when I look at myself in the mirror. I often gaze into my eyes and see someone else behind that image running things. It's stressful because it feels like I am watching a copy of myself but not a happy copy but one who seems to want to cause me trauma. This all said, I have found Buddhism to be like another psychiatrist who has a tried and true prescription for emotional stress--meditation.

When I find myself outside looking in and feel it really interfering with my day or lasting longer than usual I have watered the seeds of good habit energy enough to feel some doer inside that body move for me to get on the meditation cushion. So when I start breathing and concentrate upon that I feel my body and mind return together in union. The breathing is like a gentle guide helping me return to the reality of oneness much like someone helping a person with dementia return to a place of security and peace.

Another good habit that I've developed to help connect me back to my body and present moment is to touch the ground from time to time while meditating as the Buddha did. It helps me feel something tangible that anchors me back into the experience of being. I have also found it helpful to wear a strand of prayer beads or mala around my wrist at all times because it is another physical touch object that brings me back to the present moment. It is comforting to feel a fabricated object touch my skin because it helps me remember that my body is in fact real. It also reminds me at the same time of the teachings of Buddha to remind me that I what I'm experiencing is a delusion which sometimes helps me return to myself.

Buddhism has so much to offer those of us with mental disorders because it is a religion that focuses upon the mind and emotions more than many of the religions that I have studied. It is the religion of psychology and I am hearted that the once distant field of psychology toward religion and spirituality is now opening up to the techniques of Buddhism to help reduce pyschological trauma and stress. So while I also embraced Buddhism for the spiritual teachings it has also been another tool in my toolbox to aid me in dealing with my mental disorder. It is like having an extra medication but without any side effects except peace and stability. I highly recommend that those whoe suffer from a mental disorder and feel like they are being tossed around in a sea of unstability look into Buddhism as a potential foundation to anchor your body and mind into.

~Peace to all beings~

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Barry said...

I've yet to meet a person who is stable and steady in life. We're all disordered in one way or another. This is the real meaning of dukkha, in my view.

And so we practice...and become steadier and more stable, more generous and kind.

Kyle said...

James - This was a very brave post. I know very well how mental disorders can be such an obstacle to overcome. My sister suffers from a form of schizophrenia and just the day to day actives can be challenging for her.

I thank your candor and generosity for sharing.

Dhamma81 said...

What is interesting about this whole scenario is that you handle it very skillfully. You have come to an understanding that all the delusions and what have you are not to be taken as who you really are.

Your use of the mala, the breath and touching the ground are awesome examples of the ways that you have developed skillful means in dealing with the disorder that you are living with. I'm glad that Buddhism has been of use to you in dealing with certain aspects of your life. Thanks for sharing and be well in your practice.

They call him James Ure said...


True but some of us have more mental health issues than most people due to biological issues. That said you are right that some of what we struggle with as people with mental disorders is of our own doing--like most people.

And you're right about practice. It sure helps me find stability.


Thank-you for understanding what having a mental illness means. It is a major obstacle but I won't give up, I can't give up. However, some days I can't do much but sit on the couch. I hope you sister is feeling well and I wish her the best.


Thank-you. I'm learning more and more how to handle my suffering skillfully. Indeed, I am not my illness but some days are better than others. Some days I can't see out of the darkness and just need to hang on until a new day dawns, sometimes those days turn into a week. It can be very challenging.

Yeah without Buddhism I'd be in a very bad place for sure. It has given me such a wonderful foundation to stay grounded upon.

G said...

As your post indicates, James, it's the very psychological nature of Buddhism that's helping you to get through these difficult times with your illness. It's inspiring to read how you use Buddhist techniques to deal with, and understand better, the traumatic effects of the schizoaffective disorder you have. The various means that you employ to stay grounded are an example of skillful means in action, for sure!

Be well in the Dharma,
G at 'Buddha Space'.

Pablo Antuna said...

AS the proverb says: "Not to do any evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one's mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha." That last little bit is what I think makes Buddhism special. Like others said, its psychological nature can help you and others with the same problems a lot.

Good luck in the future.


My blog, just in case you are interested.
Buddhism Through Buddhist Eyes

They call him James Ure said...


I'm glad that this post is inspiring. I want other Buddhists with mental illness to know that they are not alone and maybe give them some ideas on how to find relief through Buddhism.


Well said and I'll check out your blog.

Riverwolf said...

So glad you have found resources to help with these challenges. I haven't experienced these kinds of things myself, and I can only imagine how much of a struggle it can be. You're quite a strong and resourceful person--don't forget that.

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you for the support. It means a lot. My strength is what keeps me alive. Thankfully I have that strength.

gofindyoursaint said...

hi i was just searching about depersonalization and i found this.
i get depersonalized, i have anxiety. some people think depersonalization is a form of enlightenment. we both know though, that it's really really not pleasant. i am going to try meditating to help myself too. good blog

Scoozner said...

Anxiety attack symptoms are a lot of different feelings, being nervous or frightened, or felling panic or terror. Having anxiety is normal, as mentioned earlier; it is useful and help us to get out of dangerous situations.

Jeff said...

I came upon your blog and this entry while researching depersonalization disorder. Thank you for sharing your experience. My interest in the disorder came about through a critique of a Vipassana method that one writer has claimed when practiced “can precipitate and exacerbate Depersonalization, a dissociative disorder (as defined in DSM-IV).” To read the full article, you can look here:

The discussion on disassociation disorder is in section 4.3.1.

Have your doctors ever warned you about practicing such techniques? Do you know or have you heard of others whose disorder has been exacerbated by practicing meditation? Conversely, do you know of others who like you practice meditation to relieve your disassociation?

They call him James Ure said...


I haven't known anyone to have negative effects from meditation despite having depersonalization issues.

In fact I have personally only seen that it helps center me in the present moment instead of float off into some ethereal plane.

I think that it comes down to breathing, which connects the body with the mind so that neither breaks the connection to one another.

Sarah said...

It's so interesting, beause you seem saner than most...maybe our struggles force us to find our truth, tearing away all the defense mechanisms, leaving us bare. I too struggle with symptoms of depersonalization from chronic lyme. It can leave me feeling very isolated, confused, and shameful. I can be very hard on myself for not being able to feel "normal". Buddhism has also given me comfort...sending you loving energy <3 Sarah

jayardgirl said...

This is something I am going to try.

I made a slide about living with this everyday

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