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What You Don't Remember When You Live With a Dissociative Disorder

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Disassocation: noun
○ separation of normally related mental processes, resulting in one group functioning independently from the rest, leading in extreme cases to disorders.

Every day I lose time — literally. There are days when I remember half of the day. There are other days I can barely remember three hours. When I was a child, my mind was conditioned to blank out, go away and go to a better space while I was being molested by my grandfather. The coping mechanism of dissociation tends to be a lifetime battle. Dissociation is probably one of the hardest things to explain to those who don’t know what it’s like.

Triggers, for me, can be boredom, smells, words, pictures and pretty much anything. What happens when I disassociate? My vision gets hazy, most of the time if I catch it before it progresses. At this point, I can physically ground myself and stay in the present.

Sometimes episodes happen faster than I could possibly catch. The haze takes over and I am lost. It’s like watching a movie of myself. I can still communicate, mostly with short answers and a blank stare on my face.

Most people don’t even notice when I’m disassociating. On the outside, I look “normal.” I hardly smile in general, so my face is neutral and has my normal expressions. I sound disinterested or unenthusiastic about the topic, which isn’t hard for people to understand. I am either unenthusiastic or very passionate about topics.

I don’t know whether my “normal” state is a coping mechanism, where I am stone faced and unenthusiastic as I disassociate, or if it is just a coincidence. I don’t know if I will ever figure the answer out. I do know it’s scary not remembering a good portion of your life.

My sisters often bring up memories of theirs about our childhood, and I’ll have no idea what they are talking about. Apparently we used to have a swingset in our backyard. My sisters have told me we used to play on it every day. I can’t picture the swingset. I don’t even know it existed. It’s become a game I play with myself, when I hear my sisters talk about fond memories of our lives.

Think really hard Nishea. Is there a picture of that in your brain at all?

Most of the time, I can’t remember and it saddens me that I don’t remember the good memories my sisters have of all of us. It’s feeling like your life is not yours. Someone else is controlling what you see, what you don’t, what you remember and what you can’t. It’s a depressing game to play, but I always hope that pushing my memory in that way will surface more memories. I usually end up upset because I can’t remember.

I found that preventative self-care is the best way to combat disassociation. It doesn’t cause it to go away, but it helps lower the hold it has on me. I learned when I’m exhausted or stressed, it causes me to disassociate more often. So I have to make sure I sleep at least six hours a night in order to stay clear throughout the days. (Insomnia gets the best of me most nights.) I have to release the anxiety by lifting heavy weights. Some nights, I have to stay at home and lay on the floor with my dogs.

Every day is different. Different things ground me different days. So recognizing my body and what I need has become an important part of handling my episodes. Disassociation is hard, but it doesn’t have to disrupt your life completely. You just have to learn what makes it better and try to combat what makes it worse with those things.

Originally published: July 28, 2016
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