I got a comment on my last entry from Ophelia, and I wanted to post my response here, and also ask any others who have been diagnosed with any level of dissociation to share their own thoughts. First her comment:
can you write more about the dissociation? i was diagnosed with PTSD and i have had a serious wakeup call on how hurtful this is to those around me. do you have a complete lack of awareness of how you affect those around you? i have felt not real for so long and have survived by believing this is not real. do you have any advice on how to mend relationships affected by this and/or how to explain this. as soon as possible would be great.
My own story is a little different than what she’s asking. I suffered from dissociative episodes as opposed to, what I take from the comment, is a case of always being slightly dissociated. I think as a child I was likely to be here, but not entirely engaged in what was going on around me, but it never went on continually. It was a learned behavior that I would fall into whenever I was in pain, or under stress, etc. Obviously, during any period of abuse, it was my defense mechanism, and was certainly something that people saw in me even outside of those times, but as an adult, while I may have seemed a tad bit unemotional, I don’t think people necessarily saw me as uninvolved.
Now, in my late twenties, when my mental health turned toward the worse, I lapsed into a serious depression which led to a handful of dissociative episodes, also known as fugue states. What would typically happen is I would be in so much pain that part of me would simply shut down. Unlike folks with MPD, I didn’t invent new personas to keep myself away from the pain, but I did hide my own life away from myself. What I mean by that is I knew my name, and I knew where I lived, but the concept that I needed to go home, or go to my job in the morning, was completely foreign. I compare it very much to the difference between living your own life and watching someone else’s life on TV. You may know everything there is to know about a TV character’s life, but you don’t have to actively do anything but watch that person’s life unfold. When I was having an episode, I was simply a bystander to whatever was happening around me at that moment. I wasn’t actively doing anything other than simply wandering around. I didn’t go home, I didn’t go to work, I simply got in the car and drove, and when the car broke down I walked, and I lived on the streets because that’s where I was and I didn’t have money to stay anywhere else. It would take a few days, or a few weeks before the pain and depression would let up enough for me to realize that I could, and should DO something to get out of this situation.
Obviously, as a married man at the time of these episodes, I’m familiar with the damage they caused in my relationships. It’s a different kind of damage than being around people all the time and simply not engaging with them, but it was severe, and in the case of my then-marriage, irreparable damage.
My advice, as far as mending the damage that may have been done, is to remember to look forward, never back. You cannot change what has happened up to this point. If you feel like your PTSD has done damage in a relationship the only way to mend that relationship is to learn how to be aware of the effect you have on others and focus on having a positive one from this day forward. It’s a long learning process, and you won’t be very good at it at first, but the only thing to do is work at it the best that you can.
I look forward to seeing what others have to say…