Lost Thought, Lost Mind
September 4, 2011 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Where is my mind?

I'm not too sure what's happening to me or my mind, but it seems like my mind is deteriorating which is a scary concept all in itself. My thoughts feel very distant in my head and a lot of the times, there aren't any thoughts in my head despite my actions or words that are expressed. I have a very difficult time understanding my emotions, how to define them, or why I feel a certain way. I cannot visualize things in my mind. I feel very disconnected and as if I'm watching myself from a distance. For instance, I called the mental health helpline earlier this week because I needed someone to talk to about my state of mind, but I felt like I was having an out of body experience the entire time that I was talking to the person. This out of body experience is a constant thing, regardless of whether or not I am with someone, many people, or alone in my room. I feel very disconnected from my actions and the words that I speak. Sometimes I try to force myself to put my mind back into place (as ridiculous as that may sound), but then an uncomfortable/itchy/agitated feeling overcomes my mind. I have felt this way for more than three years, although I cannot pinpoint when this started. My ability to think, feel, and connect is deteriorating over time too. I am able to function in life which is evident based on my marks in university, ability to write (and do a slightly decent job),receive perfect (100%) quality 'assessments' at work, and ability to converse with other people (although it doesn't feel like I am mentally present in any of these moments). I know what to say and how to act in order to appear present or 'aware', so nobody has ever stopped to question me. But, I always feel like I am having an out of body experience and watching myself from a distance. I have a very difficult time remembering anything. Words and images do not register in my mind which makes it difficult for me to learn anything, communicate effectively, or live a better life. I can appear like I'm listening when conversing, I can form coherent words together (even thought I can't seem to put much thought into it regardless of how hard I try), but I feel like these aren't my words. People's actions and communication (both verbal and nonverbal) also feel far away from me. I work as a customer service representative, so my job requires a lot of listening, but the words that callers and co-workers say pass right through me. I have tried to tell myself that I need to listen, but for some reason, I am rarely if ever able to listen. Yet, I am still able to help out the callers, discuss the next steps, and collect the necessary information from them, but I never feel like I am present when doing my job.

I have booked an appointment with a counsellor that I have already seen twice before. I am hoping that she can help me work towards understanding what is happening with me. I feel like there might be a chemical imbalance, or that this happened as a defense mechanism because of previous negative experiences. Previously, I went to the counsellor to discuss life stresses about human relations. I went to see the counsellor the second time because I had already booked the appointment and wanted her to know that I was fine. She said that I seem to have the appropriate tools to work through these problems and that we can basically play the next appointment by ear to see if it's necessary. I am not sure what she'll think because I cried during my first session with her and seemed happy the second time we talked, so it will probably not make any sense and I hope that she won't think of me as a fraud that's seeking attention.

I just really need some help because I don't know what's happening and I don't want to live my life like this. Has anyone ever gone through something similar? If so, for how long? Were you able to change things, or did this remain a permanent state of mind?

Side note: I am also going to book an appointment with a physician after I talk to my counsellor. I hope that there is something that can be done to change my state of mind.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Are you currently on any medications? Lexapro and Wellbutrin did to me more or less what you're describing.
posted by naoko at 12:43 PM on September 4, 2011

I'm not speaking from personal experience, but rather what was recounted to me by a friend. That said, this sounds a lot like what she went through in the process of healing from childhood abuse. She was completely functional, but slowly realized she never felt present. Then slowly and somewhat painfully (through a combination of therapy and drugs) she was able to work towards being present.
posted by lab.beetle at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me as if you may be experiencing something that falls into the category of dissociative disorders. Needless to say, these can be very serious and have profound effects on your life, so I wouldn't self-diagnose or self-treat. It's possible these could be symptoms of a physical disorder, or they could be caused by stress or anxiety. Treating the underlying cause would be one way to potentially relieve the symptoms.

I have experienced different levels of depression, anxiety, and related issues throughout my life, sometimes reaching pretty serious levels. At their extremes I had some days that felt like what you describe. I also had a stress reaction/panic attack a few years ago that was almost, in retrospect, like a psychological fugue state and really took me off the rails; I ended up in the ER convinced I was dying of something a bit exotic, but was diagnosed as severely diabetic and approaching (days/weeks) a diabetic coma. Just finding out there was a physical cause feeding my stress and irritability relieved me greatly. Today I'm in charge of my health and my mental health as well, handling stressful events with a much greater aplomb.

So I would look into both psychological and physical aspects of your health. The mind-body connection is often more powerful than we realize. I would ask your counselor if a referral to a psychiatrist is advised based on what you've told her, and your physician about referral to a neurologist (letting both tracks know what is happening on the other). They may want to try a more basic treatment first, such as an anti-anxiety medication, as well as some lifestyle changes or group counseling to see if those help.

You're looking to get help, and you're ready to accept the answers. That's a great first step.

I hope that she won't think of me as a fraud that's seeking attention

No professional would think this if you're presenting the distress you're feeling the way you have. They are alert to people who are seeking pills, but that's a different ball of wax.

Thinking you're a fraud, that you won't be believed, that your symptoms aren't real -- that's a symptom itself (of many disorders). Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 1:02 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

This sounds like dissociation maybe as a defense mechanism. The good news is that it's probably (95% likely) not you losing your mind.

The bad news is that "coming back," i.e. getting to a point where you're not using dissociation as a defense mechanism, can be painful because you have to start feeling and being present as opposed to slipping "offstage" when things get too much.
posted by subbes at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2011

[Addendum - I'm no professional, but I've been dissociative during painful times and your description twanged the "oh hell yes that's totally me stepping outside myself during a bad time" recognition string.]
posted by subbes at 1:05 PM on September 4, 2011

Please speak to a mental health professional, and if they tell you everything is fine, please speak to another mental health professional. There is help out there for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:23 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Print this out and give it to your therapist. Don't worry about feeling awkward. If she isn't glad you did, she isn't a good therapist.

What you describe reminds me of the surreal and seemingly inescapable dissociation I felt for about a week when a brief flirtation with hormonal birth control pushed my moderate depression into the severe range. In retrospect it seems like a fairly clever survival mechanism on the brain's part.

Just to be clear: I'm not saying "are you on birth control," I'm saying that one thing this could be is a manifestation of some bad depression. Don't worry that a therapist might think you're trying to con her out of some attention; even if you were making appointments just to get attention, that would itself be indicative of a kind of pain that needs treatment. A lot of people in psychological pain think they don't deserve treatment for all kinds of reasons, and trying to talk yourself into feeling that your pain isn't real or real enough is a classic symptom.
posted by Adventurer at 1:32 PM on September 4, 2011

seconding dhartung...ask your counselor to book you an appointment with a psychiatrist...they'll know if you need (and be able to prescribe) medication and/or further therapy. good luck.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:43 PM on September 4, 2011

I'm glad you're seeking professional help, because I don't think anecdotes from Mefites are going to help you all that much with this. We all have our perspectives to share but they may send you on the wrong course.

For example, exactly opposite to naoko's comment, a combo of Lexapro and Wellbutrin got me out of the severe anxiety that was causing me to have experiences like yours -- specifically, just before I got the medication subscriptions I was walking around freaking my friends out talking about trying to put my mind back together -- but it wasn't anything worse than severe anxiety and depression combined with a long time without proper sleep. Not like that's nothing, but it's a lot more treatable than some other disorders that laypeople might associate with these sort of thoughts and feelings. So don't listen to what anyone has to say about what it might be unless they're a trained medical professional, please.
posted by sweetkid at 1:47 PM on September 4, 2011

Right, sorry, didn't mean to be playing psychiatrist - was just trying to get more information and respond to the "has anyone experienced this?" part of the question. I agree that a) everyone is different and b) professional help is the only way to really figure this out. Also to be clear, I am not anti-meds at all (I'm on Celexa now and feel great - once again, everyone is different).
posted by naoko at 2:00 PM on September 4, 2011

I would just like to point out that if you are getting perfect reviews at work, you are listening properly.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:56 PM on September 4, 2011

This also sounds a lot like the "brain fog" I tend to get due to my MS. You feel like you are drowning in your own mind and are struggling to break the surface. Brain fog can be caused by many different things, some of them physiological, and sometimes it is very fixable. For example you may have a vitamin deficiency or sleep apnea. Please see your counselor, because it WILL help you, but also explore your medical options to be safe. I was labelled as depressed and treated with all manner of antidepressants with nasty side effects until they figured out I had MS.
posted by evilcupcakes at 3:49 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a sense of this when I was younger. Just over 20 perhaps. I just wanted to say: I got through it.

For what it's worth, I think the terms for this are "derealization" and/or "depersonalization". (The definitions of these terms are quite subtle / nonintuitive.)

Depersonalization (Wikipedia) seems pretty close to a definition of what you're experiencing. The Wikipedia definition isn't all that helpful when you're in that place however. It feels really good to know that you're not the only person. But definitions in themselves just aren't always that helpful.

Therefore, I want to say: It's not your brain deteriorating. Though I know it feels like that. This is an addressable problem. You can get through it.

Part of it is that the discomfort and fear is part of a feedback loop of discomfort and fear. And the feeling of dissociation is related to that discomfort and fear. But discomfort and fear are something you can control. Especially by knowing that you can be OK.
posted by krilli at 3:56 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

To clarify: I'm not knocking antidepressants. If you need them and they work for you, great. My personal problem was, they were treating me for the wrong thing, and when it didn't improve they would switch to something stronger- and it still wouldn't work because it wasn't the right tool for the job. I ended up having a major mental meltdown and becoming suicidal because not only was I still dealing with the unabated symptoms of the MS, everyone around me was telling me it was all in my mind and the medications did nothing but make me feel more detached and miserable. I guess I am just saying you shouldn't assume you are crazy, but you certainly could use help and most likely medical support as well.
posted by evilcupcakes at 3:58 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re. your previous experiences with a counselor, I've found that it is REALLY important to find a therapist who "gets" you. If not, they tend to make tons of wrong assumptions (I had one for a while who, I swear, made me feel like I had stepped into the Twilight Zone when I entered her office, given that she tended to get things almost exactly *backwards* regarding my moods/ level of functioning / etc.). You don't HAVE to keep seeing the first person you get assigned to, well at least not ideally.

That aside, though, your "where is my mind?" thing, honestly this sounds A LOT like what I went through around my second year of college. Therapy helped some, but honestly what ended up making the biggest difference was (over a fairly lengthy period of time) constructing a much more balanced life. In my case it seems that my "derealization" was caused by a combination of stress / overscheduling / chronic sleep deprivation / poor eating habits. Basically my body and brain were operating at "capacity" all the time to the point where I could walk around robotically and do stuff but not experience "fully present consciousness".

So while again as others have mentioned you should definitely check in with one or more professionals, and while this sort of thing can definitely be caused by a variety of different inputs, in my experience (and that of several other folks I've met & discussed this with) it can very likely be a warning sign along the lines of "hey, you are approaching burnout / overloading your CPU / etc.". Some people get weepy and emotional at near-burnout, others withdraw, but some of us seem to just start "shutting down all non-essential functions" and feeling translucent. Either way, it is good that you've recognized the state you are in as that is the first step toward changing things for the better.
posted by aecorwin at 6:38 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have been experiencing something similar (but less severe) for several years now. I just turned 40, got a checkup, and at said checkup the doctor was kind enough to administer a set of questions to test my memory. She did this to help reassure me that things are fine, but also to set a baseline for future checkups so that a rapid increase in detereoration might be a bit more likely to be detected. Perhaps you should talk to a doctor.
posted by davejay at 6:39 PM on September 4, 2011

Anonymous, you're absolutely describing something that sounds like a dissociative disorder. It can be a very unsettling experience at the start. Dissociation feels like something has come loose upstairs, like you're on some kind of very long-lasting drug trip. Here's the good news: you're not crazy and you're not a fraud. You might do well to print out this thread and take it with you to the therapists you visit. In the meantime, there is a great book called Feeling Unreal that I can't recommend enough (you can read the kindle version online). Definitely feel free to MeMail me.
posted by the jam at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2011

To add another possibility: allergies/food intolerances and blood sugar issues, such as hypoglycemia, are also notorious generators of brain fog. The brains and digestive systems of some folks just happen to be very tightly coupled - I've had repercussions for up to two weeks after eating poorly. Wheat gluten, soy, highly processed foods, dairy, etc. are common triggers of brain fog and a dissociative state of mind.
posted by Kibby at 10:02 PM on September 5, 2011

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