You can explain your Borderline struggles, OCD, Depression or Anxiety. Even Psychosis is easier to word and explain to a non-struggler. But come to Dissociation and words fall short! It’s hardest to adequately word the exact feeling of Dissociation. I have struggled the hardest explaining mine to non-strugglers than over every other mental struggles I ever articulated. What does one say?
– I feel a blur.. everything is a blur! (Impossible for another to tangibly sense it.)
– I feel there’s a veil over my eyes. (They’ll look at you blankly.)
– It’s like an invisible cataract in my eyes. Nothing looks real. (People will peer at your eyes. Some may even suggest an ophthalmologist!)
The trauma of Dissociation is extremely real and painful for one going through an episode. Dissociation often lingers in the background, dormant, like a ticking bomb, and then suddenly bursts, becomes active and after sometime fades away own its own like a raging child suddenly gone to sleep again. But its anything but childish a struggle. Dissociation of any type is often the most persisting mental health disorders, perhaps just second to OCD.
Dissociation is best stated as a sense of disconnection between a subject and their environment and Self. While everybody goes through flashes of feeling disconnected once in a while, in Dissociative Disorders this sense of disconnection operates in much stronger intensity, for longer periods and at sensory and awareness levels related to memory, identity and perception of reality. It is also clinically often associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD).
Psychiatry categories Dissociation into a number of manifestations
– Dissociative Fugue
– Dissociative Amnesia
– Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
– Dissociative Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (DDNOS)
While I am about to talk of a more personal experience with Derealization, you can find an overall clinical understanding of Dissociation here:
My encounter with Dissociative Disorder has been primarily a severe Derealization accompanied with mild Depersonalisation. Try explaining it and non-strugglers go blank, failing to figure how a living, breathing human can possibly feel that their Self and their environment is unreal, unless it’s a case of utter lunacy! Typical responses could be –
– You’re overthinking!
– Look around. It’s all so real!
– (Or juvenile) Stop gorging those weird Sci-fi books/movies. You’re losing it!
– (Or worse!) You’ve gone mad. Go, see a shrink!
Of course, Dissociative Disorder often requires professional intervention and long term therapy but none of it tantamounts to a blanket “You’ve gone mad!” conclusion. Mental disorders are NOT blanket “madness/insanity” and I feel we need to keep reiterating this fact.
Reasons Behind Dissociation
Though an exact confirmed root is not always determinable, most often Dissociation of all types are linked to an early exposure to repeated trauma, virulent neglect and/or sexual abuse. The Mind, when faced with these in childhood, often develops a defence mechanism of completely disconnecting from the traumatic environment. It is commonly seen manifested in such children right through their adulthood nurturing an illusory world with imaginary people they often plug into secretly. The difference between Dissociation and Psychosis perhaps lies here – in the first, the sufferer is mostly aware of their ‘other’ world (Unless it’s Dissociative Amnesia or DID).
Coming from a very dysfunctional family set up, I grew up amidst two extremes of traumatic neglect and unhealthy smothering by surrogates. By age 10, I was living in my imaginary world every second of my Alone time. Soon, in my pre-adolescent years, I encountered sexual abuse, by two of my close relatives, in two different contexts, and repeatedly, that further scarred my Mind. By my late teens, further traumatised by relational rejections, verbal abuse and neglect, I began getting nasty bouts of ‘the Unreal’. Daily! For hours! Sometimes I wonder how I survived, it was that excruciating. The unfortunate part of Mental Health scenario worldwide being the lack of enough proficient professionals understanding their subject well, I was back then misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia, Psychosis and umpteen other theories. It took me years of nightmarish struggle and a fortunate find in my current mental health professional caregiver under whom I began understanding my symptoms correctly that paved a path for recovery.
Trying to explain how one’s own face or limb feels unreal or Reality feels like a dream or “simulation” by some alien creature or mechanics is really an exasperating task. It’s rabidly stigmatised too. That’s a primary reason why people suffering from raging Dissociation often don’t open up. Much unfortunate! Especially for Derealization, brooding within one’s own head can even be fatal. As one’s sense of real and unreal gets muddled, often what helps is to try reinforce the reality around. I usually use random snippets exchanged with absolute strangers to forge back my sense of reality. Strangers don’t come with interpersonal baggage and often a simple interaction with a passer-by, shopkeeper or cab driver works for me much more than with overconcerned and familiar people. But a Crucial Step to survival and healing is long term commitment to psychotherapy. I have been much helped by CBT to understand my Mind better and how to not freak out over my ‘blurred reality’.
For most people, Derealization and/or Depersonalisation feels so Terrorising that it adds extra layers of panic and hysteria to it. But going hysteric with “What is this Reality?? I don’t know who I am! Oh, I feel so unsafe in this hostile simulation! Why is this happening to me??” is anything but helpful. Hence the first VITAL step that CBT helped me with was to accept these frightening sensations as part of my reality, stay put with each episode with increasing calmness and then to slowly delayer it. Of course, there are many subconscious layers to any type of Mental struggles and it needs to be painstakingly and patiently delayered. And for this long term therapy is very helpful. It also helps one to forge a healthy discipline to stay away from certain triggers. Like it helped me train my Mind to avoid the triggers in certain types of books, movies and thought trails, also too much of background noise and a rushed lifestyle. Mindfulness too is a very good tool against Dissociation.
I still struggle, occasionally much, with Derealization. But I so far survived and am on my way to healing because years back I took a conscious decision to open up and seek professional help. There is no shame or fear in doing so. Like I recently read somewhere, If dental care is acceptable, why not mental care?
Take care, dear Mind.
© & Author : Nivedita Dey
Images, courtesy & © : Google stock photos/source websites