A Day in the Life of Someone With a Dissociative Disorder
For people living with dissociative disorders like dissociative identity disorder or dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS), life can be confusing. Reality is fluid between dreamlike states and memories, to feelings and amnesia. It’s not easy. The “Red Dwarf” quote, “My name is Legion; for we are many,” comes to mind. I thought I’d attempt to explain a day in the life of someone living with DDNOS.
Imagine waking up and feeling like you’re not in your body. Instead, you’re floating above it. Everything is foggy and dreamlike. You get up and arrive at work. You catch yourself in the mirror wearing clothes you didn’t realize you put on and can’t remember the drive here or what you had for breakfast; did you even have breakfast? You were on auto-pilot, going through the motions like a zombie.
Once at work, you’re suddenly productive, engaging with everyone, talking with clients and getting everything done that needs to be done. You’re on a roll and you’re highly respected by your work colleagues, always friendly and a minefield of knowledge in your field. Of course, you should be: you have two degrees and earned memberships to highest organizations in your industry.
You pop out on your lunch break and think about what you did. You can’t really remember; did you send that email or just think about sending it? Your friend calls and suddenly you’re excited planning a night out. You’re laughing, giggling and planning to go on a shopping trip for a pink dress, ideally with a unicorn on it. You hang up. You hate shopping, despise the color pink, prefer dragons to unicorns and wouldn’t be seen dead in a dress, but “she” — the other part of you — adores them and it’s her friends you’re going out with.
Then, back to work. Your work face comes on and suddenly you’re focused on that, nothing else. No emotions present, anything else in your life is switched off and you’re in work mode.
Your partner messages with a sexy message and suddenly you’re into a playful and aroused mode. You go and send a sneaky picture from the bathroom and plan a fun night of debauchery. Once they hang up, you’re thinking; why did I plan that? Right now, all I want to do is lie under a duvet with a toy and watch a Disney film. The thought of anything sexual is the last thing on your mind; it even grosses you out at times. But a different part of you adores having fun with your partner and you’re just sharing the ride.
You head home, you feel nothing, back on auto-pilot, everything is numb and you’re absent. Your head’s full of noise, thoughts coming here and there, but conflicting with each other. Your friends ask if you want to chill out and you do, but you don’t. You can’t decide and are split in two, sometimes four or more. Then you’re triggered; a flashback happens and you’re transported to one of the many traumatic experiences from your past. It’s not a memory because those are easy. These? These, you relive. You can see, smell, hear, taste and feel everything, like you’re there again. Frozen in fear.
Then, you’re transported back. You know you’re safe and loved, here and now, but you feel like you’re not here. You have no idea when you’ll next be triggered or even what could trigger you, as this can be anything from a smell or emotion, to a person, word or color.
Not all flashbacks are that intense and the worst are the emotional ones. You then attribute past emotions to present circumstances and any problems in your relationships are exacerbated. Your partners and friends don’t understand, neither do you half the time and most of the traumas you can’t remember or don’t even know existed. The beauty of dissociative disorders is they protect you from knowing what happened, but the locked box cracks and leaks at times. Sometimes it crumbles and you suddenly remember a traumatic situation that your mind has hidden from you. Sometimes years or even decades after the event.
You dissociate, you can’t remember what happened properly, you just feel weird like you’re not in your body. You get confused. You don’t know who you are, what mood you’re in or what all these plans and conflicting desires are. When the darkness descends, you wonder how you’re feeling, as you’ve been numb all day. Then, you’re hit with a freight train of emotions and feel everything at once. It’s overwhelming, yet you can’t cry; there are no tears. You feel the emotion float away and you can’t feel it, but you know it’s there, lurking like a kite on a never ending string. You can see it or describe it, but can’t feel it. Despite your productive day, plans with friends and your partner, you’re now in despair, everything is hopeless, you feel weak and can’t function. You look at yourself and feel nothing but hatred. You’re nothing, you feel nothing and you have this desire to just end everything. You can’t live like this.
Your phone rings and your back to some semblance of normal as you talk to a friend. Everything seems fine and bearable again. Then to bed, so much white noise and thoughts in your head, but the headaches are still there. You’re absent again and drift to sleep, ready to do it all again the next day. Each day feels like a dream, your memory is foggy, like watching an entire season of a show, but remembering only the clips.
This is a day living with a dissociative disorder, then it all starts again the next day. Who are you? We are many exacerbated versions of one person or many different people who share a body. It’s a spectrum. Everyone does it, everyone has parts; ours are just more fragmented than the others who are able to think as one. We can’t think as one all of time, we can cut off to get what needs to be done completed and can function well when needed. When stressed, the switching is rapid and we can’t function because our mind is torn. When we talk, it can be like talking about a best friend, not ourselves. This is our superpower or our curse; depends on the day and your perspective.
GettyImages via Grandfailure