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When Your Disorder Causes You to Lose Time

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Dissociation is something everyone experiences. It is, to put it somewhat crudely, daydreaming. It becomes a disorder, like any other symptom of any other mental illness, when it interferes with day-to-day living, school, work and relationships.

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I experience dissociative episodes in response to overwhelming situations or emotions. This can be a build up of stress I don’t effectively temper over the course of a few days or even a week, or a split-second emotional reaction to any number of things that set me off. Unfortunately, when you have gone through a myriad of traumatic events, it provides the opportunity for a wide variety of things to act as reminders. Smells, sounds, certain words or conversations, news stories, pictures, scenes in movies or, as I stated, a cumulative stress build-up over time. The list can unfortunately be endless, but I find it is important to be able to identify what these “triggers” are so I can work on being exposed to them without, essentially, freaking out.

In the X-Files, Fox Mulder always referred to alien abductees as having “lost time.” Now, let’s be clear — I don’t think I’ve ever been abducted by aliens; I think that might add a whole other element to my diagnoses! But I can relate to the feeling of having lost time, the uneasiness of not knowing what happened during that time and the anxiety that accompanies it. The easiest way to illustrate this is to ask if you’ve ever started driving somewhere, and by the time you arrive at your destination you have no idea how the time passed, what route you took or how you got there in one piece, as you don’t remember the drive at all. Maybe you were lost in a daydream, or your mind just went blank with the monotony of the drive, but either way you have a blank spot in your memory now. This is dissociating, this is “losing time.”

For me, dissociating, or losing time, can be dangerous. This coping mechanism has shielded me from some very painful events, both emotionally and physically, but has become a debilitating factor in my life right now. I have what I call benign dissociative episodes and malevolent dissociative episodes. The benign episodes are non-harmful. I might have an hour long conversation with a friend, and due to some sort of stressor, perhaps before the conversation even started, my psyche starts to dissolve. I continue the conversation, and no one around me is the wiser. However, if it’s brought up again, I have no memory and seemingly no ability to recall the memory of what was talked about. This becomes slightly malevolent when, in this example, the conversation has occurred at work, and I’m meant to recall and put to use the information shared.

Malevolent dissociative experiences for me are harmful. Through intense examination of my emotional awareness and lack of ability to completely control my emotions, and my reactions to them, I have been able to begin to understand why these things happen to me. Anger, fear, failure, self-hate and guilt. These five emotions are overwhelming for me. When any of these emotions cross the hair-thin line of being too much for me to handle, I disappear. Sometimes it happens quickly, and I come to hours later, or even the next day. Other times I can feel myself starting to dissolve. It’s like a tingling sensation all over my body, with a slight pressure that slowly shrinks me. I get smaller and smaller, and a fog comes over my brain. My vision gets blurry, and I almost feel tired. My voice sounds like it’s trapped in a tunnel, and everything around me appears bigger, the smaller I get. I shrink down, losing feeling in my face and limbs, and then my awareness simply stops.

Through a lot of introspection, personal insight and help from my psychologists and psychiatrist, I have been able to keep going. I have been able to slowly discern between my post-traumatic stress disorder brain and my logical or non-emotional practical brain. I have been able to identify emotions, so that I may distract and delay any forthcoming harm. For now I work on delay, while my current psychologist and I begin to work on trauma therapy. I practice skills like self-soothing activities, positive self-talk and grounding exercises like stretching, grip strength exercises, artwork and things that are calming to me like listening to classical music and sipping tea, or going to the dog park to watch other people’s pets romp around happily. I have song lists for helping me deal with overwhelming emotions, and a slideshow set up with all the photos that make me smile. I am not sure if it will ever get totally better, but I’d like to think it might be possible. With every little step forward I take, it doesn’t mean when I slip and fall again that step doesn’t still matter. All forward movement counts, even if a big wave washes you back further, it just means you’re equip to deal with the set-back better than last time.

It’s hard to share all of this, but it’s harder to think about it being my current reality, after I spent almost 10 years being a very functional adult. After my most recent trauma, the foundation of my mental health crumbled, and the older, less healthy coping mechanisms like self-harm through dissociation have returned to my life. I fight every day to work through my anxieties, my overwhelming emotions, to keep myself present. I fight for what seems like my life, every single day. I would rather not dissolve because I can’t cope with that loud noise, or that crowd of people, but I am just like you: a work in progress.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: June 29, 2016
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