The Mighty Logo

When You Hide Your Dissociation Behind Empty Smiles

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I am the girl who always smiles. However, there is often no one behind my smiles. I am not there. I am emotionally disconnected and mentally in another place. I smile a lot, not because I am happy or having a good day, but because I am on autopilot. Smiling tells people I am OK, even if I’m not, therefore, they will not ask me if I’m OK.

If someone were to ask me if I was OK, I would say I’m fine. I don’t always smile intentionally, as mentioned earlier — it’s automatic. My friends and my family have no idea why I smile so often or that I dissociate at all. It’s hard to explain depersonalization to someone who has never experienced what it is and when I don’t even fully understand it. Sometimes I am mentally present but emotionally absent, meaning I know I have dissociated but still feel nothing emotionally.

Most of the times, I notice I’ve dissociated when I can’t remember how I got somewhere or I’m talking with someone and I feel nothing during the conversation. I laugh and smile and reciprocate conversation, but I’m still emotionally disconnected from myself. There are two “me’s:” my body and my mind. Sometimes people will bring up past conversations we’ve had and I have no recollection of ever having that conversation. It happens a lot over summer when I don’t have a set class/work schedule and I don’t have things to connect my memories to like a calendar date.

It can be emotionally harmful to not experience emotional connection. I know that sounds odd, but my feelings get hurt a lot when I can see the disappointment in my friends faces when they try and relive old conversations and jokes but I can’t partake in them because I have no idea what they are talking about. I have a friend who recently made a comedy show reference and looked to me expecting me to laugh, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. The hurtful thing he said was, “But we’ve had entire conversations about this multiple times.” I bet we did, I’m sorry I have disappointed you, I truly am. I don’t want to dissociate — it just happens.

My autopilot is smiles, giggles, playful conversations and apparently, generally having a good time. I had a conversation with the same friend who made the comedy show reference and he said to me, “You always laugh at my jokes, even more than my girlfriend.” I told him it was because he was just generally a funny guy, but I lied. While he is one of my funniest friends, the truth is, I am protecting his feelings when I pretend to remember always laughing at his jokes. I am protecting him when I don’t correct him and tell him that I am always laughing and smiling because I dissociate a lot. I protect his feeling not out of fear of hurting them, but because I know for a fact I have hurt and disappointed him in the past when I admitted not remembering. I can see the disappointment in his face of feeling “not worthy enough” to remember times with him. I also hide the truth because I don’t want him to worry about me or try to help because often, there is nothing he can do to help when I have dissociated. Most of the time, I just have to ride the dissociative storm into shore. A beacon guiding me to shore might give me a good reference point about where the shore is, but regardless, if I follow the beacon or not, I am still in the storm. Of course, I can paddle or adjust my sails to try to hasten my pace, but it will still take as much time as it is going to take to get back to land. If you didn’t follow my analogy, my friend is the beacon. My friend might be able to help guide me, but there is still not much he can do to bring me back to sanity faster. My point is, I don’t need help when I am dissociating.

What I need from someone who finds out about my dissociation is an understanding that even though it is happening and I might be emotionally absent, it is no one’s fault. I want my friend to know that I love him and me dissociating is not a reflection of how I feel about whatever we are doing or how I feel about him. When I finally conjure up the courage to tell my friend what I am experiencing, all I want from my friend is acceptance of the fact that I won’t always remember what he talks about or times we’ve shared together. The most important thing I want from my friends, is for them to treat me with the same love as they does now, even if my smile is sometimes fake.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty image via bowie16

Originally published: December 1, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home