Many of us in the sisterhood have described the sensation, during moments of intense anxiety, of watching ourselves as if we were not in our own bodies. Not that I don’t often dream of being in someone else’s body (preferably someone smaller). But this particular anxiety symptom is no one’s dream. It’s weird and frightening and, frankly, can make you think you’ve gone off the deep end.
While Abs describes it like a scene from the movie Ghost, when Patrick Swayze is looking at his just-murdered body, trying to figure out how he is still able to think and talk outside of it, I consider the experience more like I am watching myself move through the world completely disconnected from everyone and everything. Another anxiety sister says it is like “watching yourself from above.”
However you describe the experience, it is common enough that doctors have a name for it: “depersonalization,” which means you actually feel outside yourself—literally, outside your personhood. Abs and I find this term, in itself, anxiety-provoking, so we gave it a kinder, gentler name: floating. We like to think of our minds just taking a rest, hanging out in the air and observing our very anxious bodies from a safe distance. Once our bodies stop spinning with anxiety, our minds will simply float right back into our bodies where they belong.
Whether you refer to this as depersonalization or floating (or losing your mind!), there are very few things scarier than this out-of-body experience. As far as symptoms go, this one is definitely a doozy. And, for panic attack sufferers, it is also fairly common.
If you find yourself floating, here’s what to do:
First, remind yourself that, while utterly discombobulating, this is just a symptom—and a typical symptom which many many others have experienced. You are not alone!
Next, go right to TLC. Talk to yourself (use your mantras), Loosen any constraints like tight clothing, and Cool yourself off. I find that during a floating episode, walking outside (especially if it is cold) helps connect me back to my body. Another woman we interviewed floats so often, she keeps a rubber band on her wrist to snap her back to connectedness.
Been floating? Share your experience with us. What helped you?