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5 Ways I Bring Myself 'Back' During a Dissociative Episode

More than likely, if you’re reading this article, you’ve dissociated before. (It almost sounds like an exclusive club). But in case you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Dissociation is a word for the way our body and mind feel when they seem to “float away.” It is most common in those who have experienced trauma or abuse. It is our mind’s way of protecting ourselves from experiencing the trauma over again, taking us to another place that is “safe.” And while dissociation can look different on everyone, these are common signs:

  • Feeling like you’re having an “out of body experience”
  • Drifting away or “zoning” out
  • Feeling completely numb
  • Feeling like you are watching yourself as a second person
  • Feeling detached from the world around you

So, if you’re like me and have experienced disassociation as a result from trauma, facing this is can be a daily struggle. These are some of the ways I can bring myself back while dissociating:

1. Take a drive.

Probably my best coping skill known to date. When I feel out of touch, I get in the car, roll down the windows, blare the song that’s been stuck in my head, and drive. Drive, drive, drive to absolutely nowhere. It doesn’t matter where you go. You can take as long as you need.

2. Take a shower.

This usually helps me best when I notice myself start drifting off. The feeling of taking a relaxing, clean shower helps me feel like I can somehow wash away what is bothering me by awakening all my senses.

3. Scribbling on a piece of paper.

Yes, weird, I know. But when I am experiencing the most intense phase of dissociation, this really helps me. I grab a piece of paper, a journal, sometimes anything I can find and begin to let my hand do whatever feels right at the time. Sometimes it turns into chaos on the paper, sometimes it turns to writing, sometimes it leads to opening an emotion I haven’t felt in awhile. No matter what the outcome, my mind and body doesn’t feel so distant anymore.

4. Being mindful.

Some people really benefit from meditation, deep breathing or grounding exercises. These usually don’t work for me specifically through these techniques, but the purpose is all the same — to ground yourself and be present in the moment. I usually scan the room for things that are familiar to me, remind myself what they are, the story behind them, why they are placed where they are. It helps me grab something from my reality to pull myself back in. 

5. Embracing it.

Yes, this sounds crazy… embracing being out of touch with my reality? Not exactly. If I start to notice myself zoning or drifting away (especially in a room full of people), I listen to what’s going on around me in a conversation instead of participating in it. Being in my own world for a moment allows me to see the people around me in a different light, one where I can admire the way they speak, how their eyes light up in a conversation, the quirky things about someone’s laugh. When you notice the small details while everything around you seem to be going in slow motion – sometimes you end up feeling appreciative for it (and wonder if anyone else has the same ability to see through your perspective).

Dissociating can be numbing, frightening and overwhelming sometimes. One thing disassociation cannot do, however, is take away the power you have. You have overcome the trauma. You have endured the heaviest of the weight. Trauma sometimes leaves an awful taste in our mouth… and some might argue that it might not ever go away. But you and I are warriors, and if we can conquer the trauma, dissociation ain’t nothin’.

Unsplash photo via Pawel Szvmanski