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When Depression and Dissociation Go Hand in Hand


I am a difficult person to love. Although adorable and undeniably charming (my mom will testify), I have a quick temper. I am easily agitated and I have a sarcastic wit, which is often misunderstood. Throughout my adult life, I’ve struggled with the idea that this is just my personality. A strong-willed woman with a self-proclaimed hilarious sense of humor, who will shoot daggers with her eyes if you so much as think about eating that popcorn anywhere within my earshot. Popping your gum? You better start running.

Then, there are the times when my “personality” becomes intensified, yet vacant. I shut down. Sometimes, it happens so slowly I can almost watch myself shut down. Fight as I may, the protector in me always wins, resulting in involuntary dissociation. If I find myself struggling with intense emotions or overwhelming memories, then my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms usually elevate, causing my overprotective brain to dissociate.

Most of the time, this isn’t something I choose. It happens automatically. Spontaneously. Often at very inconvenient times. All of that said, to me, dissociation is about survival. It took me a really long time to get to the point where I could view it as such, however. Once I did, I started to feel less shame about dissociating and through the guidance of my therapist, began giving myself permission to dissociate when I need a break from emotions that trigger past trauma.

Recently, my PTSD was triggered by a medical professional making me feel inadequate. I felt pressured to talk about trauma from my past, and I was made to feel like I was a liar.  Quite honestly, I felt attacked. I completed the one and a half hour appointment with this doctor, but I don’t remember the majority of the last 30 minutes. I do, however, remember walking to the car in a dreamlike state. By the time I was home, safe, I had sunk into a depression that claimed my life for the better part of two weeks.

Depression, for me, is not about profound sadness. In fact, I become void of virtually all emotions. I no longer feel love, empathy or sympathy. I don’t feel sad. In fact, I don’t usually cry at all during these times. I struggle to laugh or smile. Spare my children, I am unable to connect to any one person on a level any more intimate than how one would respond to a stranger.

I become overly agitated by the smallest, most trivial things. It isn’t uncommon for me to snap at my husband for running the water in the sink too loudly (true story). A loved one has stood in front of me during one of my depressive episodes, and with tears streaming down her face, begged me to come back. I knew I should comfort her, offer her reassurance I was still me. Instead, I stood frozen in front of her and unemotionally said, “I’m sorry.”

It’s upsetting for me to write about this, to tell you my truth. I hate the person I become when I’m struggling with depression. I feel like I become ugly, cold and truly unpleasant to be around. I become hard to love.

Dissociation and depression go hand in hand for me. They are both present in my life and more often than not happen concurrently. I am working on learning how to reconnect and recover from depressive dips, along with how to bring myself back from a particular lengthy dissociative episodes.

However, I am also trying my best to remember to be gentle with myself. To be kind to my brain. After all, it is doing it’s best to protect me. I will forever stand behind the fact that dissociation saved my life. I may be hard to love, but I am surviving. For this, I will always be thankful.

Image via Thinkstock.