Off in Another World

Whether you face mental illness or not, undoubtedly you have at one point or another dissociated. It’s that surreal feeling when your eyes seem to glaze over, you stare off into the distance not really thinking about or noticing anything. You’re lost in your own little fog while the world continues living. You feel almost like a separate entity entirely, an outsider absentmindedly observing a foreign species.

Dissociation is seen in those with PTSD and past trauma as well as anxiety and depression. It makes life much more difficult and steals any sense of motivation or interest. There are also different conditions entirely with more severe dissociation involved. Dissociative Identity Disorder, formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a chronic condition in of itself, but again, anybody can experience dissociation.

As you can probably guess, I dissociate quite often, some days more than others. Today is a day where I honestly cannot focus on anything, let alone writing this, for more than a few minutes at a time. My head feels like it’s trying to walk through caramel which sounds much sweeter than it feels. Especially if I want to be productive and just be a functioning member of society, I end up becoming a useless lump reading the same sentence over and over again without anything making sense.

In this sort of state, I have to reemphasize how mental illness can be very disabling. I am not choosing to struggle simply focusing on a lecture or assignment, let alone understanding and participating. Simple tasks become immovable mountains impossible to climb. If PTSD, depression or anxiety were already dragging you down, dissociation will drag you down even further, a dangerous tag team.

Dissociation can be a choice. For those with past traumatic memories haunting them, dissociation can provide relief. When emotions can become too out-of-hand, you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for taking a break from it all. But like anything else in life, too much of something can backfire, doing more harm than good.

Dissociation doesn’t even always feel bad. It can feel like a mini-vacation from life. You can escape from the hectic day and drift away, but where you drift to, you don’t have much control over. It’s numbing. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s the living equivalent of shutting down your computer when it’s frustrated to work with because it refuses to load anything.

Except people are not computers. We cannot just turn ourselves off without facing consequences for doing so. We have emotions and responsibilities and others depending on us. Personally, dissociating can make me sink even further into depression because I feel like I’m wasting precious time in the day that could be spent fully present and aware of the life surrounding me.

If you use dissociation as a way of managing your emotions and providing relief, there are other ways to do so without become dependent on dissociation. When first learning some techniques for coping with anxiety from life and my eating disorder, I found information about grounding. Rather than completely leaving the world altogether, you can use it instead as the relief you need. Any discomfort and bad memories usually are within ourselves and not necessarily in the outside vicinity. Focus on your breathing, meditate on it, become aware of how your body feels and your senses in this moment. Any other feelings are temporary, clouds passing by. Give yourself permission to cope and be gentle with yourself.

Yes, that is easier said than done. When you’re in a dissociative episode, it’s hard to get out. Once your mind has checked out, it doesn’t feel like coming back. And when it does, it tends to feel very abrupt (that “snapping back into your head” kind of feeling, like waking up from a dreamlike state). I’m trying to learn about myself more and my own habits when it comes to dissociating, getting out of it, and how I feel during and afterwards. When in a daze, coming back to reality and my own mind and body is a work in progress, a work I’d eventually like to accomplish, but who knows?

Plus, there is always other help and resources available out there. It’s all about looking for the tools you need before you dive head-first into the sea of nothingness, otherwise getting anything done and established doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort. But we all have those security blankets we go to, automatically or consciously. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when you lose control and it affects daily life.

Rather than beating myself up today for staring off into the distance, I want to acknowledge my current state and take care of myself accordingly, just like any other physical symptom or ailment. I know that’s what I would recommend to anybody coming to me with the same frustration, and I am known for not listening well to my own advice. Turns out, I can have some good wisdom to share, but that doesn’t register in my own thought process. Maybe I feel selfish for treating myself kindly. Whatever the reason, if I cannot focus on anything else today, let my single objective be to prioritize my wellness.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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