A Poetic Description of My Experience With Dissociation


This poem describes my experiences of dissociation. I have dissociation problems that are hard for me to explain to people. I thought describing the events of two days when I was dissociating might help people understand dissociation better. During those two days, I was having flashbacks and having difficulty orienting myself to the present. 

I’m currently in grad school studying to be a counselor, and I am doing well in the program. Six years ago, I was in a different program, and essentially kicked out of the program when I shared with my professors I had mental illnesses. Planning to meet up with a professor in my current program triggered a flashback to a meeting with professors at my old college six years ago.

When I have a flashback, I experience the memory vividly again, I travel back in time and relive the painful memory. The poem also describes dissociative problems when the world feels unreal, and I have difficulty grounding myself in reality. These experiences are frightening and difficult to understand and deal with. I wanted to help people understand these types of experiences better, since other people on the dissociative disorder spectrum experience similar things.

Two Days of Dissociation

An old friend calls me,
And as we speak memories of 2011,
I flicker within the circuits of my mind.

I write to a professor, explain,
I need someone to talk to.
But as I press “send” on the email, a switch flips.
Suddenly, I see myself in a dim room,
At a long table,
While a wall of professors
Tells me I am too crazy to make it.
I feel the tears of the memory,
Wet against my cheeks.

My thoughts swim in circles,
A cacophony of fears floods my head.
I imagine going to my new professor’s office,
Finding an impossibly long table inside,
And a long chain of professors inside saying
I’m too broken to be a counselor.

On the drive to class, I become a past self.
I feel sharp anger inside me,
And an impulsiveness that scares me.
I’m a loose cannon waiting for something to shoot.

I grip the steering wheel tighter,
Feel the texture against my palms.
I study the dashboard,
The way the windshield angles,
Against the afternoon light.
I press newer memories into my mind.

I tell myself,
Remember when you drove this car
On your New England honeymoon?
Remember when you took this car
To the cabin last week?
It is 2017, and things are OK.

During class, I become myself again.
I think maybe it’s over.

Then the next night,
The flashback hits again with a vengeance.
I am back in the dim room with the wall of professors.
I feel the chair rolling against my shoe.
I feel my hand on a spiral notebook.
I keep crying and I don’t understand
Why their hurtful words won’t stop.

As I come out of the memory
I think of my school,
And my new professor I started to confide in.
Suddenly fear sucker-punches me,
And I’m breathless.
I’m terrified to go to school,
Afraid everyone will notice I’m broken.
I send long desperate texts to friends who don’t answer.
My husband calls and I’m crying too hard to talk.

After my husband is home, I calm.
But after dinner, I feel drawn to the highway.
I feel stronger than the other cars,
Like no one can hurt me.
The cars form a stream that parts
To let me through.

I merge onto the highway.
I watch myself accelerate
And glide among traffic.
I feel a strange coolness within my mind.
I am trying to figure out
Whether I am driving
Or the car is taking me?
My body does not seem like my body.
My mind is dancing through skies.
At the same time, I am scared.
I am breaking apart.

I force my body to turn the car around.
On the way home, I wonder,
Am I moving, or are the trees?
I think maybe I am watching a movie
Of trees that slide forward
Like ocean waves
To a mystical soundtrack.

No, I scold myself.
I am driving.
Those are just regular trees.
This is real.

I keep frightening myself.
I stop at a store on the way home
But the people inside all seem
To be multiplying and splitting
And not staying in the right places.
It’s no use trying to understand them.
I go home.

I pray I will be back to myself tomorrow.

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Thinkstock photo via megamix

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