Today seems to be a day for brutal honesty about the aspects of my life which the world often demands I cover up. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years now, and many days—I may even dare to say most—my mental illnesses are manageable. On other days, these illnesses and their side effects weigh on me so heavily I can no longer function, at least not in a way that’s expected of me, both by myself and others.
One of the ways my mental illnesses manifest themselves is through dissociation.
According to Mental Health America, “Dissociation is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. Dissociation seems to fall on a continuum of severity. Mild dissociation would be like daydreaming, getting “lost” in a book, or when you are driving down a familiar stretch of road and realize that you do not remember the last several miles.” In Jenny Lawson’s book, Furiously Happy, she wrote “[I have] occasional depersonalization disorder, which makes me feel utterly detached from reality, but in less of a "this LSD is awesome" kind of way and more of a "I wonder what my face is doing right now" and "it sure would be nice to feel emotions again" sort of thing.”
When I use the word dissociation, I use it almost interchangeably with depersonalization, as my experiences with both are occasionally difficult to distinguish from one another.
As with most of my illnesses, there are stages to which I experience dissociation.
Most often, it’s fairly mild, and just feels like someone put a blanket over me, obscuring my senses and making it rather difficult to feel a full range of emotions. It’s a sort of detachment, a numbing that isn’t unpleasant but couldn’t really be categorized as fun, either. I can feel enough to empathize with other people, but when others ask me how I feel, I draw a blank. I don’t know how I feel, because I don’t really feel anything. Then, rather than explain this, I try to think back to the last time I was in this situation or these surroundings, and I try to remember how I felt then, and I answer like that.
Then there are times when dissociation gets scary. There are times when I stare into the mirror and I can’t recognize my own face. Or someone close to me dies and I can’t wake up long enough to cry, and I’m afraid I’m a monster because I don’t really feel sad—I don’t really feel anything at all. Or I lose touch with reality. That last one can vary. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of an anxiety attack and worry that I’ll go back to someplace where something awful happened to me, then start worrying that I never left and I’m still there, so I have to find some way to ground myself, to convince myself I’m safe. Other times I’ll be staring out my car window and start to question reality, not in a conspiracy-theory “I think the aliens are controlling the universe” way but more along the lines of “wow those threes look so weird. They don’t even look real. I don’t think they’re real. I don’t think what I’m seeing is real. Maybe I’ve just dreamt up all I’m seeing, and all my memories and experiences are just dreams. Maybe this world isn’t real, and I’ve just dreamt it up. Maybe I’m not even real. Maybe my body doesn’t exist, and I’m just a consciousness. Maybe even that’s not real. Maybe I don’t exist.”
Like most—arguably, all—mental illnesses, dissociation is one of those things that isn’t supposed to be talked about, certainly not in any detail. I can understand the sentiment. For those lucky people without mental illnesses, such topics can be very uncomfortable to hear about. For those who experience mental illness, it can be terrifying to talk about the awful things they experience. Nobody wants to be seen as a monster, and unfortunately, that stigma and others are still widely prevalent. I still haven’t made up my mind over whether or not it’s a good idea to post this, but I know that by not talking about mental illness, we’re only condemning those who suffer from them to live in the shadows. And the shadows is no place to live.
I have no idea what I'm doing.