My name is Sage Duvall.
I’m a 24 year old freelance session/touring drummer, and I struggle with severe Depersonalization Disorder, Derealization, Panic Disorder, Suicidal Ideation, and Depression.
Though Depersonalization Disorder is often caused by experimentation with psychoactive drugs and marijuana, this was not the cause for me.
To this day I have never been drunk, I’ve never smoked marijuana, and I’ve never done drugs of any sort.
My battle with anxiety, mental disorder and depression was born from (and sustained by) the emotional torment and physical violence directed at me and my loved ones from my oldest brother during the first 18 years of my life.
Other contributing factors were the items on a long list of difficulties I faced as a socially crippled stuttering red-haired homeschooled kid with no legal documentation and zero athletic ability.
I was the youngest of four children, born into a middle-class family living in a two-bedroom house between two prisons and a mental hospital in the warehouse district that borders Baltimore, MD.
I was a home birth, born in a house without legal documentation of any sort, which lead to me being denied a United States citizenship as well as a driver’s license, and many other simple privileges most people grow up taking for granted.
To put it simply, I knew from a very early age that my life was going to be strange and at times very difficult.
At about age 5, I became aware of the intensely violent, seemingly schizophrenic behavior of my oldest brother, who is 10 years older than me and was 15 at the time.
What started out as him being a particularly unruly child with a bad temper turned into regular fits of blind rage as he got older.
These fits resulted in him breaking household items, putting dents in walls, keeping my family up until 5AM screaming, cursing and throwing things around the house,
and eventually escalating to him making death threats against my sister, my parents and myself.
By his mid 20’s, after becoming old enough to purchase weapons like shotguns, knives, and even a sword, these threats were backed up with more than just words as he loaded a shotgun and threatened my sister and I with it one night during one of his many frenzies.
During another incident, he chased me through our neighborhood promising to murder me if (and when) he caught me (I was age 11 at the time, he was 21)
When my parents came and found me, he jumped on the roof of our family car while it was in motion, with a sword strapped on his back, screaming that he was going to kill me through the sun roof.
During another family dispute, he began choking me, attempting to collapse my throat as he tried to push me out of a second story window.
And the stories go on and on from there…
The bottom line is, I was living in a hostile environment and I knew it.
This person (now a man) refused to seek professional help for himself while also refusing to move out of our family home, well into his late 20’s.
My parents refused to remove him from the house forcefully, claiming they could find a way to fix him and get help in a more gentle and private manner.
Their methods did not work, and my sister and I became increasingly more concerned for ourselves and for our parents.
Of the members of my family, my brother disliked my sister the most.
He made this known in ways that made me fear for her life, and as a result, I took on the role of a buffer between them.
I put my growing resentment for him aside as I attempted to befriend him and soothe whatever it was inside of him that caused his behavior, fearing that if I couldn’t, he would eventually lose control of it and badly hurt or kill her in one of his frenzies.
This period of my life is when I really started to notice something inside of me breaking.
I felt pieces of me dying as I gave up on fundamental values like the importance of family, and began questioning love, my own intentions, and whether or not I would one day have to murder my own brother in order to save myself or another member of my family.
I found a weapon of my own and began taking it to bed with me every night, laying awake until dawn in the room my sister and I shared as if I was keeping watch over fellow soldiers in a military camp.
I felt myself becoming cold as constant fear and anxiety claimed every part of me.
I developed severe fears of everyday things like storms, wind, and anything I couldn’t control.
Underneath all of that, ultimately my fear was a fear of death and not being able to protect the people I loved from something bigger and stronger than me.
When I was still very young, I’d have nightmares almost every night and each night they were the same.
One of 3, usually. All of which involved me being trapped somewhere in my own house with a faceless figure who was in the process of killing me or someone in my family before I’d wake up.
And when I woke up I was reminded that the fear I felt in my nightmares still existed in real life.
I started having panic attacks regularly, accompanied by difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, and this unbelievably strong feeling that the world was ending every couple hours.
My ability to rationalize vanished as I was slowly becoming afraid of everything around me.
I would go out with friends as I reached my teenage years and talk about my life, but I’d spare the graphic details for fear of being judged or being looked at as the poor white trash kid–which is what I felt my family and I were because the people around me all seemed to have happy, loving families with a lot more money than mine.
They weren’t struggling as much, and so I thought that meant I was beneath them in some way.
As a result, asking them for help felt out of the question.
I’d go home on those nights feeling helpless and afraid, looking at my sister beside me in the car and not knowing how to save either of us from what I felt was coming.
During this time, my closest friend came to me needing help escaping someone in their life who had been sexually assaulting them on a regular basis, and as I struggled to help them while also continuing to fight my own battles, I felt as though the whole world was falling down upon me.
Everything felt ugly, scary, unsolvable, and one night, I finally felt something inside of me break.
I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was like I had been walking on a floor of ice that suddenly cracked beneath me.
From one moment to the next, my life was changed forever.
I was experiencing a complete loss of self, and a loss of feeling.
I suddenly felt as though I physically couldn’t recognize anyone around me, from my closest friends and family to familiar faces in the coffee shop I was sitting in.
I couldn’t even recognize myself.
My face appeared alien to me, along with my voice, my hands, and everything around me.
It was like I’d left my body and jumped into someone else’s.
I truly thought I may have died, and I was in some kind of afterlife.
Maybe even in hell.
I was terrified.
In fact, terror was the only emotion I could feel at all.
As the weeks went by, I realized I could no longer identify feelings of love toward anyone around me, and I couldn’t feel love from them either.
I couldn’t feel happiness, or excitement.
All I felt was fear, and emptiness.
Fear of everyone, everything, and myself.
For months this feeling went undiagnosed, as doctors and psychiatrists claimed they’d never heard of anyone feeling such a thing, and misdiagnosed me with physical ailments.
I was given antidepressants and all sorts of medications, all of which I threw away unopened.
After months of living this way, barricaded in my room (refusing to leave except to eat or to play music) my will to live started to fade.
I started rationalizing that if there was no cure for this, living a life without feeling was worse than trying to live at all, and that the people around me would understand that I’d hit a wall too high for me to climb.
It truly felt like every part of me–mind, body and soul–was breaking apart in a slow, agonizing fashion and I couldn’t stop it.
I hit rock bottom, and no longer wanted to live.
Real quickly–to those who don’t know, people suffering from Depersonalization Disorder (DP) and Derealization (DR) experience a constant detached feeling, causing life itself to feel like a false reality.
Almost as if they’re watching the life they’re living on a TV screen, or if they themselves are IN the TV screen, looking out through a layer of static at people they can’t interact with.
It almost feels like everything around you is moving in slow motion as you exist in a perpetually exhausted, feverish state.
Simply put, it’s emotional paralysis.
During this time, I stopped sleeping, I ate very little and for the next few months I decided to try and avoid everyone as much as possible.
Eventually, some distant feelings of attachment to my sister triggered my defiant instincts, and though I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why I cared about her at the time, I knew there was something there worth fighting for.
It didn’t seem like the time to give up, just yet.
I thought as long as I kept suicide as a backup plan, I could at least make a few more attempts to understand what was happening to me.
The people closest to me had no ideas about how to help me, and I hated being around them anyway so their attempts to reach me were met with strong resistance.
I knew it was up to me.
I’d try to only leave my room when they were going to bed, and during that time I’d research mental illness on my computer from 2AM to 8AM before falling asleep mentally exhausted with no answers.
Finally, one morning I found the word “Depersonalization” in a book about different types of anxiety disorders.
I knew right away that this was what I had, and began looking for a cure on every website I could find, becoming more and more determined to learn everything about it.
Sadly, I quickly learned there was no “cure”, but instead learned something equally important.
I learned what causes this condition chemically, in your brain.
And more importantly, I learned how to control those chemicals.
The things we feel–fear, sadness, joy, contentment, ect.–are largely created and maintained by the chemicals in our brains, and without certain chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, ect.) our ability to feel particular emotions significantly decreases, and can even go away entirely.
As I better understood which parts of the brain reacted to which chemicals, I learned which chemicals I was lacking.
I began studying amino acids and how they interacted with the brain and which amino acids were needed to maintain a healthy chemical balance in your body.
Intense focus on amino acid intake strongly improved my ability to fight my depression by increasing my serotonin levels, and also helped me gain perspective on what exactly DP is.
The most valuable piece of information I acquired during my recovery was the fact that DP, DR and any form of anxiety–at it’s core–is trying to help you.
It’s a protective instinct put into humans to save them from anything that could potentially harm them.
The almost humorous twist, however, is that human beings themselves don’t understand this when it’s happening.
And of course, human beings fear the things we don’t understand, and that in a nutshell, is what DP is.
When you experience something that your mind decides is too much for you, it floods your brain with chemicals that dull your emotions.
The idea is to stop you from thinking emotionally so that your critical thinking can take over, thus allowing you to figure out how to survive in the face of whatever danger you may be facing.
However, when it removes the bad emotions (sadness) it also takes away the good ones (happiness) and dulls your ability to feel almost anything at all.
In other words, you go numb.
While one part of your brain is doing it’s job, another part of your brain (the part that creates fear) refuses to understand what’s happening, and as a result it recognizes this helpful defense mechanism as a threat.
And so, the end result is an overwhelming, continuous outpouring of fear chemicals feeding fearful thoughts, mixed with numbness and depletion of all positive chemicals and all positive emotions.
This is the cause of Depersonalization Disorder, and a great many other anxiety disorders as well.
This movement is important to me because raising awareness of this disorder is the biggest step toward eradicating it.
When you know what it is, you fear it less.
It needs to be understood that DP only exists because of fear, and the more you fear it, the worse it will get.
Conversely: The less you fear it, the weaker it gets.
And yes, if you could completely stop yourself from fearing it altogether, it would completely go away.
This means–while it is very real–it’s only as real as you make it.
As a final word of encouragement to my fellow DP/DR/Anxiety sufferers, if you’re afraid (as I once was) of never being the same person you were before this disorder took over your life:
While it is true that you will never be the same person you were before this disorder affected you, you WILL become a better, stronger, and more loving person than you were before.
You will be MORE in touch with your emotions than ever before, because you will know what it’s like to live without them, and as they return, you will feel them, value them, and emote them more than you ever had been able to in the past.
No one is the same person they were yesterday, or the day before.
We all change day by day and year to year.
But you’ve been given the opportunity to change in a very big way, and the change you’ll have to make is a beautiful one.
This disorder, while scary at first can be an amazing gift if you work with it to make you a stronger and more complete human being.
Take it from someone who has lived with this for years…I can truthfully say that I’m thankful that I went through this.
You will be too.
Understand you are never suffering alone.
And understand that the emotional pain you’re feeling is temporary.
It gets better,
life is beautiful,
you are real,
the people around you are real
and the love they feel for you is real.
Happiness is real, and you will feel it again.
Never isolate yourself.
Reach out to the people around you for help.
We will understand and we will help you.
It’s okay to be afraid,
it’s okay to be lost,
it’s okay to feel broken,
but it’s not okay to give up.
I promise that you will be okay again.
If you would like to speak with me directly in person or on the phone, please contact the administrator of this website.
They will put you in contact with me.
In our adulthood, my brother and I have found a way to address the issues between us on a personal level as he has moved past this part of his life, and we are now comfortably living separate lives.
He’s happily married to a loving wife, and he has found peace.
We maintain a respectful distance with a mutual respect for each other’s privacy.
Thanks for reading.