Weather is rarely predictable, nor is it favourable: It does not care for your events or holidays. It could be clear today, but cloudy tomorrow. You may never know when the rain will start to fall.
For me, this has been my experience of disassociation: I never know when it will strike next. To make matters worse, it appears that I have the British-weather version of this analogy.
Disassociation is an umbrella term for five different disorders that can occur when the mind cannot cope with stress or trauma (The NHS can provide some basic insight, for those curious). Disassociation is also associated with various other disorders such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, and others. I personally experience three of the five: Derealisation, depersonalisation, and dissociative amnesia.
Derealisation (DR), according to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Disassociation (ISSTD), is “the sense of the world not being real”, as if the “world looks phony, foggy, far away, or as if seen through a veil” and that the person is “as if they are detached, or as if they were watching a movie.” DR is different for everyone, but the experience is the same: The world isn’t as it should be. It’s a disconnection to what is happening all around you. For me, it’s hazy and blurry. It flashes before me at some times; others it simply freezes. Entire assignments or tasks have been completed without me even fully acknowledging the work I’ve just done: It all just plays before me like a film. This experience has no pattern. It has no consistency. It rears its head when it pleases. It’s cruel and unforgiving: Its a rainstorm that has no end. In spite of the suffering it causes already, it often likes to pair its downpour with a heavy wind: Depersonalisation.
Depersonalisation (DP), as defined by Mind, a British Mental Health Charity, is “feeling as if you are just observing your emotions”, “feeling disconnected from parts of your body or your emotions”, and/or “feeling as if you are floating away.” That said, DP, ironically, is a very personal experience. Each person goes through a variation of the aforementioned symptoms. These differences don’t only vary from person to person, but sometimes day to day for the same. It can be scary. Like other DA disorders, it’s the brains way of neglecting its duties to solve an issue. In this case, the mind separates itself from the body. Almost like an emergency parachute for a crashing jet. Why try to salvage the plane if you can eject yourself from the disarray? As for myself, it depends on which way the wind blows, but typically its a feeling of floating in the air. My arms seem foreign, empty. I no longer can distinguish my body from the world around me. To my mind, it is all just matter.
Dissociative Amnesia (DA) is characterised, by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), as “difficulty remembering important information about one’s self.” This can be events or information. For myself, this has always affected my emotional memory more so than my informational memory. As I experience something, my DS and DP do their worst in clouding my senses. And, as if the damage from the storm wasn’t enough, the flooding that follows can wash away and hope of rebuilding. There are plenty of gaps in my memories that I may never be able to relive. Sometimes those memories are buried deep in my subconscious, others are gone forever. Even recounting my tasks throughout the past week can prove challenging to me. Especially as someone who prefers experiences over physical things, these disorders can really hamper enjoyment of life.
I’m not quite sure when I started suffering from disassociation, a recollecting of which isn’t helped by DA, but I can certainly pinpoint when it it got worse. Before I ever brought it up with my therapist, I wanted to know what it was. What caused it. At first I thought it was just another symptom of depression and dysphoria.
I was lucky enough to be following a YouTuber, by the name of dodie, who suffered the same as me. She made a video that had me nodding in agreement: “This is all too familiar. This explains so much.” Next time I met with my therapist, I brought it up. She went more in depth about it and told me about how some people mitigate the symptoms. With her help, I was able to locate and come to realise what made the symptoms much worse. It was an event that still scares me from a few years back. The event, which I may go into detail in another post, left me with unanswered questions, and PTSD. That last part was quite a shock when my therapist told me what it was. I didn’t think it was possible for me. I thought that I was fine, that the event didn’t harm me at all. But, as it turned out, I left more scarred then I ever thought possible.
This is the part of the post where I should state how helpful a therapist can be. It may not seem so at first, especially if you like to solve your own problems (like myself), but these people can go a long way. Seek help if you need it.
A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings
From a day to day perspective, I can’t tell what triggers my disassociation. Sometimes, even just simply thinking about it can cause me to realise the state I was in. I notice it the most when I’m out and about. This is certainly a byproduct of social anxiety, but I notice it when I really wish I could enjoy the things around me. Whether it be when I’m in a new place or out at a party: It hurts.
Disassociation can hurt, it can sting, it can feel like nothing at all. I know fixing it is a helpless endeavour to me. And worst of all, I’m embarrassed to have it. That said, I’m aware its a part of me and that I shouldn’t be shameful of mental health. As easy as it is to say that, it’s much harder in practice. The world we live in looks down on our flaws and to confront it is not an easy task. Especially as that when you try to do so, the storm rolls in and washes away all hope. Floating down the river, clouds above you, freeing you from your thoughts.
Cover image source: Myself.