I’ve recently moved into college and I feel increasingly disconnected from reality. The past two years, until I graduated high school, I had a weird complicated terrible relationship/assault (I really could not tell you I am so confused) with a teacher, and last February my dad, a college professor, died. Being in an academic environment is so confusing and difficult and scary and I feel outcasted and like there’s something wrong and dirty about me. I’ve been experiencing time distortions, but in flashes, like when I’m walking and turn my head everything I see is slow and chaotic and jarring and too bright. I also (very) occasionally have auditory hallucinations, like loud banging all around my head, or thousands of people whispering, or the feeling that a chunk is missing out of my skull and suddenly I can hear EVERYTHING + feel a rush of wind inside my head. I get frightened a lot because I’ll randomly be overcome with the idea that I’m in the present and this should feel present, but nothing ever does. I feel like I’m floating and like I can’t land, like everyday is a dream that feels far away, like I’m not being actually stimulated by anything. I’m in counseling but I get nothing out of it because I can never feel like I’m actually there, and I get so scared I can’t focus. I’m also just incredibly fragile. I’m not even scared of dogs and the other day I was walking and saw a stray pitbull and got so scared I couldn’t walk because my legs were buckling and I threw up for like 5 minutes. When I see one of my professors outside of class it feels like the whole world is crashing inside me and I can’t even feel myself walking anymore, the fear is so intense. But when I try to talk about this stuff I can’t find words to string together, I end up saying random words and laughing hysterically at how bizarre and hopeless it is. My words feel choppy and venomous and when I’m speaking I feel like somebody else is taking over, somebody angry and gleeful and insane. Overall I feel like there’s a barrier between me and the world and it’s completely outside of my control.
I’m sorry that this is happening to you. You mentioned that you are in counseling. Your willingness to seek help is a good sign. You might try giving your counselor this letter. You wrote that every time you try to talk you can’t find the words and you end up saying things that may not make sense but your letter to me makes sense. You were able to articulate how you were feeling. Your counselor might find it useful to read. I would encourage you to give her the letter and see what she says. It might provide deeper insight into what you are experiencing.
In addition to a counselor, it would be advisable to consult a physician. A physical examination might help to determine the source of these problems. Sometimes underlying medical conditions can mimic psychiatric symptoms. A complete medical evaluation will help to determine if an underlying medical condition is present.
You mentioned that your father died nearly a year ago. That was approximately one year after you began experiencing these symptoms. Losing your father could have exacerbated your symptoms. It’s unclear what role, if any, that may have played in your development of the symptoms. Generally speaking, losing a parent is a traumatic experience. Even adults experience trauma after losing a parent. It’s very difficult to lose a parent, no matter your age.
The fact that your father was a professor might also explain the difficulties you are having in the educational environment. You also mentioned something about having difficulties with a teacher. Your symptoms seem to worsen when you are in the educational environment. It could be a coincidence. Further exploration is needed.
Some of your symptoms may be indicative of an anxiety disorder but there are other symptoms that don’t necessarily comport with an anxiety diagnosis. You mentioned the chaos, the bright lights and the auditory hallucinations. These are atypical symptoms that should be evaluated by a physician. A medical workup could help to determine what may be wrong.
Auditory hallucinations are often associated with a mental health diagnosis, namely psychotic disorders. However, not all auditory hallucinations are definitive evidence of a mental health diagnosis. Other organic brain disorders have been associated with hallucinations including epilepsy, delirium, tumors, dementia, brain lesions, and viral encephalitis, among others.
Relatedly, some of the symptoms you described could have been brought on by substance abuse. You didn’t mention the use of any illicit substances but it could have been overlooked. Substance use can trigger some to the symptoms you have described.
The bottom line is that your symptoms require further examination. Consult a physician for a medical workup to determine if an underlying medical condition is the source of your symptoms. It would also be advisable to find a different therapist if the one you are working with is not helping. You might also consider consulting a psychiatrist to assess whether medication would reduce the severity of your symptoms. With the right help there could be a quick and easy remedy to these problems. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle