Detatchment from Reality

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Wow. I don’t know where to begin. In the fall, I started college. I wasn’t really sure I was mature enough or ready for that kind of adjustment, but I found out soon that I in fact wasn’t. I go to Syracuse University, which is a pretty high-level place to go to, but nothing too intense. I, however, felt inferior to the kids I was going to school with. I was making friends and having fun, but I still felt like I needed to be more mature. So after losing an ID card and a key a few times, I decided to rearrange my priorities. I developed a sense of maturity (or so I thought) about myself. I started to make the most of my time, and work hard. I was studying a lot, drinking a lot of coffee, smoking a lot of cigarettes, not exercising or taking naps, not sleeping much, and, for the most part, having fun. Before all this, and despite my own thoughts of immaturity, I felt like I had my head on my shoulders and would be OK for college. I was a well-liked kid in high school and was active in a lot of things too (sports, student government, dance committees, etc). However, I guess I was never really sure of myself. I felt like I needed to be an incredibly active and proactive person to survive in college. I felt like I needed to devote myself to my studies during the week wholeheartedly, as well as taking care of myself as best as possible. As the weeks went on, somehow I had myself convinced that I could learn anything I read, or make myself learn anything. I was putting my mind under an incredible amount of stress, much more than a normal person should. This went on for about two or three weeks and then things changed. One Friday I noticed that I was a little down. I didn’t feel like myself. I just felt empty inside, like I couldn’t feel anything or enjoy myself. This went on to the next day, and by the end of the weekend I was in a full-on haze. I felt kind of like I was stoned (that’s the best way to describe it). I also felt like I couldn’t feel any emotion or have any attatchment to the things I had before. It was the scariest time I had ever been through. This “haze” period continued for a week or two, and then I went home for a visit scheduled before all the madness happened. I didn’t feel the home environment. I wasn’t happy to see my parents like I would have been before. I felt detatched from everything I had known before, and it was terrifying. My parents told me that it was just a natural crash of body and mind or a “breakdown,” and I believed them. I figured it would just go away. I did the best I could to just relax over the next few weeks, though the “haze” was still intact. I researched tons of things over the internet, and at one point or another thought I was depressed, insane, had mono, you name it. This whole experience, in simple terms, fucked up my life. Though the haze would eventually wear out(or at least I think it has), I began to have incredibly weird thoughts. I somehow began to notice life from an odd angle, and I felt like I was criticizing everything anyone did. Coming home for Christmas break wasn’t that enjoyable for me, because I was still dealing with all the same problems from before. This has continued for about three months now, and I feel that overall I’ve gotten better. I began to have headaches, which I was told are tension headaches, from stressing out so much. Those have gone away. But I still feel like I’ve been in a horrible nightmare for three months with no end in sight. I know that a lot of this is simply a creation of my head. I know that I should have sought help a long time ago. It is so hard to bring that stuff forward when I feel like I should be going on with my college life and enjoying myself. I so badly want to do this. I know that things can never be the same as they were before, but I’m just very confused with life in general right now. I know that may have been a lot of information but I’m just seeking an opinion on what I’ve gone through/ am going through and wonder if it’s normal. It usually takes me a long time to get over major things so I feel like I have to just let things take their course. But I just want to achieve a state of mind where I feel normal. I’m very confused. Any feedback is good feedback.

A. Moving away from home to a strange city with new people to take on a whole new experience (college) is a big transition, bigger than you and most people anticipate. Many of the problems you speak of are very typical of a new transition. When working at the college counseling center, I worked with many freshmen who described a very similar, uncomfortable and stressful experience. Depression, feeling out of place (after fitting in so well in high school) and feelings of detachment were not uncommon.

If you are having a hard time adjusting, I would suggest visiting the college counseling center. The counselors have experience in dealing with problems just as you are describing. Lots of counseling centers even have groups for new students to discuss the problems of moving and trying to adjust to a new environment. The counselor can also refer you to the college academic center if you are having problems getting your school work organized. School can be stressful. It is a lot of work and you do not have to deal with it alone. I would recommend the college counseling center and getting help for what you are dealing with. Good luck and keep in touch.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Feb 2006

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2006). Detatchment from Reality. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/02/10/detatchment-from-reality/

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