Overcoming dissociation

Good morning, afternoon or evening to you. Thanks for popping your wonderful self over these parts. I haven’t found the time to do much writing recently, but it gives me life to know when I do write, people like you are interested. 

Now, before we go any further  I want to just highlight a couple of things. I’m going to try to tackle a fairly whopper subject here today, and I am aware I run the risk of biting off more than I can chew. I think it’s important to say that I am coming at this from a place of well-intentioned curiosity. I am not trained. I am not a doctor. Hey, it’s what the blog is all about; I am probably unqualified to say half of this shizz but I’m going to share my experience in the hope that it can help or shine a light on someone else’s journey.

Image credit: megan te boekhorst, Unsplash.com

Dissociation for preservation

So, I want to talk today about the phenomenon of dissociation and so before we go any further, let’s get the 411 with a definition of what we are looking at. 

WebMD gives this summary

Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect your sense of identity and your perception of time.” 

Essentially, there is something about a traumatic experience or event that causes us to pull back, remove, retreat, protect. If you think of the word “association”, which means to unite, form a unit, bring together; “dissociation” is the exact opposite. 

It can range in severity from feeling like you are lost in a fog, detached from the world around you, feeling numb or just generally completely removed from yourself or your experiences. It can be unpredictable and lasts anywhere from days, weeks or even more chronically experienced for months. 

While the idea of dissociation can be disconcerting or disturbing, it’s an amazing response that your body is putting in place. Your body is saying “enough is enough” and putting up some defence mechanisms to protect you from the world that is becoming just too much to handle.

A shared traumatic experience 

The cause of dissociation is going to range from person to person and can be impacted by experiences from early childhood. If you suffered early childhood trauma, you may be more likely to slip into patterns of dissociation as a means of self-protection. But that’s not always the case. 

Dissociation can happen to anyone and can be caused by all manner of upsetting or unsettling experiences. For example:

  • Major life disturbance 
  • Assault or profound fear for personal safety 
  • The death of a loved one / grief
  • Sudden illness 
  • Injury or accident 
  • Witnessing a distressing event 
  • A shared traumatic experience…

That last one is a doozy isn’t it?! “Oh, you know, just a casual shared traumatic experience thrown in for good measure, Tamara. When is that likely to happen?! Aren’t we all woke, well-adjusted and living in comfort these days?!” Unfortunately not, and what 2020 has thrown at us is nothing less than a shared, deeply profound, unsettling traumatic experience. 

A recent Irish study conducted in March 2020 (roughly 30 days after the initial outbreak in Ireland) by Maynooth University and Trinity College highlighted our experience by showing:

“mental health problems are common; 41% of people reported feeling lonely, 23% reported clinically meaningful levels of depression, 20% reported clinically meaningful levels of anxiety, and 18% reported clinically meaningful levels of post-traumatic stress.“

And, mostly, what are we doing about it? Getting on with our lives. Coping. Seeking normality. Grasping for routine. Most of us don’t stop for a moment to give ourselves a goddamn break, a pat on the back, recognition of what we have experienced or are currently experiencing. 

Image credit: ben blennerhassett, Unsplash.com

My experience

Last November I had … hmmm … let’s just say there was an unsettling life event of my own. I had a spontaneous and unexpected experience that left me completely wiped out and emotionally vulnerable. My body responded in a way I was not expecting and I was immediately slammed with flu. At the age of 35, I had never until that point experienced the flu and I can’t say I recommend. 2 stars out of 5. No fun. Would not repeat. But what I found really amazing was the dissociation my body and mind threw me into to protect me from this event. I spent about 10 days “stuck”. I can’t even describe it properly, because my memory from that time is blurry, but I was numb and totally disinterested in the world around me. I couldn’t engage at all. It all just felt “too much”. 

On day 10, after the flu had cleared, I set myself up for at-home restorative yoga practice; getting the sense that it was why my body was crying out for. I spent 90 minutes in a quiet room with candles, gentle movement and relaxing music, breathing life back into my body. Taking my focus inwards I allowed the hollow parts of me to fill up with light again, gently, subtly. I inadvertently self-administered the most meaningful path to recovery from my traumatic experience. 

Over the following days I gradually reconnected with the world around me; walking into my wardrobe felt like Christmas. It felt like I hadn’t seen my things in years; clothes, jewellery, trinkets, books, my beloved journal…all of it had been forgotten. It was a deeply profound experience, and I don’t know how long it would have taken me to return to myself without the intervention of my yoga practice. 

Image credit: hans vivek, Unsplash.com

Just breathe, baby

If you have stumbled on this page in the pursuit of more information, or are experiencing feelings of dissociation or anxiety, just know you aren’t alone. Don’t diminish your experience, don’t belittle, it’s hard to see the woods for the trees when you are slap bang in the middle of the forest. And baby, we don’t even know how big our forest is right now. 

My yoga practice has been a source of ongoing strength and resilience, but you don’t need to suddenly learn how to do headstands or Insta-ready backbends. Get into your own skin for 15 minutes by focussing on your breath, bringing your awareness onto your skin, onto your muscles, onto your bones; noticing the sensations within your own wonderfully-unique body. Breathing slowly through your nose is a way of activating your parasympathetic nervous system; inviting your body to rest and digest and sending a message to your brain that things are ok. You are safe. You are secure. 

Join a class

Break the cycle of fight and flight and find a restorative yoga or meditation class near you. I run a restorative / relaxing yoga class on Wednesday evenings, which can be booked here

Support Services

You are not alone, if you are suffering through feelings of distress or anxiety, please reach out to one of these fantastic services 

Health Service Executive: The HSE website has updated factual information and advice regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus) HSE.ie.  If you develop a fever or any respiratory symptoms contact your GP or HSELive on 1850 241 850. 

Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a Marketing Communications / Brand Consultant and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges. Stay in touch on Instagram,  Facebook,  LinkedInTwitter oContact her directly.

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