Mental health

Dissociating due to anxiety? Here’s how to tell.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? If you’re anything like me you tend to ‘not deal’ with uncomfortable emotions. I slip away to the far corners of my mind and try to lose myself in anything else other than reality. It turns out that dissociation/avoidance is a common coping technique. We push unpleasant thoughts out of our mind. It could be triggered by something someone has said that reminds us of our past or by a stressful event that is currently occurring in our lives.

I go blank. My brain goes blank. To be honest, I didn’t even know I was doing it until years later. I didn’t know how to fix what I was going through so I pretended it wasn’t happening/tried to escape the situation. It’s amazing how our brains can deceive us into believing something isn’t happening. The problem is, it’s always still there in the background; lurking in the shadows waiting to come out.

I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, so I’ve had a lot of practice. I used to wonder why things that should have bothered me, didn’t. I wondered why I had poor recollection of certain past memories. I actually don’t remember a whole lot from my childhood and teenage years – I thought I just had a bad memory. It always felt like these memories belonged to someone else, they didn’t feel like my experiences.

It starts in the same manner, something triggers me and I start to feel like I can’t breathe. I would rather be anywhere but here. I get overwhelmed by what’s happening and I can’t find a solution nor an elixir to the anxiety it causes. My normal go to is to stick my headphones on and escape. Escape into the world of Netflix, music – anything but be here. Sometimes I just fantasize about the kind of life I wish I had.

I write to try to still my anxiety, but my words oft fail me. I’ve gotten so good at it that I spend more time in my head than in my real life. I neglect relationships when I’m in this funk. Nothing matters. Sometimes I cease to feel anything when I should. But escapism lures me into her embrace. And the scary part is the days then fade into one another. Time melts into itself and months feel like one long tedious day.

I don’t like doing this, but very often I’m not aware I’m even doing it. And when I am aware, facing what troubles me is too uncomfortable to stop. So I go round and round on the carousel of despair: wanting to get off but too scared of falling and hurting myself to do so. Too scared of the unknown to take my safety net away.

The problem with allowing yourself to continue this way is it can lead to a dark path from which it is hard to return. Once you stop the dissociation everything can hit you all at once. Once you let some of it in, you let all of it in.

There are ways of challenging dissociation, but it really depends on why you dissociate in the first place. If you are granted the luxury of time in which you can think about solutions to your problem, you can tell yourself that you acknowledge what you are feeling and your need to run from it. You can afford yourself time to deal with it later when you’re calmer. What do you do though when you don’t have time?

One of my triggers is my children. When they kick off and all hell breaks loose my mind goes blank. The exhaustion of dealing with daily tantrums and anger has gotten to the point that I no longer have the motivation nor energy to deal with it. I can’t tell myself that I’ll think about it later because I need to act in that moment to resolve the conflict.

I can take steps to ground myself; count how many red things in the room there are or use all of my senses to keep me tied to reality. I can name the dissociation as it happens in real time and call it out; but this doesn’t guarantee I’ll know what to do in the moment. And without knowing what to do won’t I still just be on the carousel of despair?

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