Am I real? Am I still breathing? Which is the way home? Is this my hand? These are questions I often ask myself. I’ve found myself staring at my hands wondering what they are, or looking down at the floor surprised to see my feet still standing on it. i call it ‘zoning out’ or ‘phasing out’ and the best way I can think to describe it is it’s similar to being very drunk or high, or even being on extremely strong painkillers or anesthetic. It’s for these reasons that I avoid alcohol and drugs – why spend a fortune when my mind can reach the same state naturally! For me it feels like being injected with anesthetic in the brain, I start floating away on cotton wool and I can’t feel anything, everything is far away and nothing is real. Being far away everything becomes mildly interesting, whether its a relationship breaking down, an on coming bus or an oven burn, it all gets the same response from me. Nothing hurts, but neither does anything feel good, everything is just mildly interesting.
If I could allow myself to just go with it, float away and let it happen it would be easy, but I can’t. I have 3 children; they need feeding, washing, clothing, the older 2 need to get to school on time with lunches made and the toddler needs constant supervision, I can’t afford to zone out and float off on cotton wool. I have to fight against it to stay focused and get through the day, but fighting dissociation is HARD. You are basically putting 2 basic instincts against each other; the dissociation is your shield, it protects you against anything that is going to hurt you, basically your mind has perceived a threat which could be real, imagined or remembered and it has gone into survival mode. Meanwhile you need to be present in your daily life and pay attention to people, do work, respond to situations appropriately, all of this requires you to be alert, focused and actively take part in life. Imagine yourself fighting strong sleeping tablets, heavy limbs, slow foggy mind, poor reactions. Noises get extra loud and lights go extra bright – it’s no wonder I’m so tired all the time and get so many headaches.
I think a lot of people look at me and think there’s nothing wrong, I’m walking my kids to school, doing the shopping, talking to friends and so on. My house wouldn’t win awards for neatness but its clean and relatively ordered considering I have 3 tornadoes at home! The truth is these things are the secret to how I cope – they are part of my routine. I can function through the dissociative fog as long as I have my routine. I go to the same places at the same times on the same days, where I’m most likely to meet the same people and have the same conversations. By keeping everything the same I don’t need total focus to get through it, I can function. Any sudden changes that disrupt that routine and I breakdown, I can’t alter my plans and I can’t think around the problem and that will lose my battle with the dissociative fog. Naturally this means any plans outside the routine have to be made well in advance, I can’t go anywhere unfamiliar alone because there’s always that chance that I won’t remember the way home if I zone.
I’m better than I used to be at coping with this, I know myself better now, I know my limits and my triggers (mostly crowds, loud noises and drunk people) and I tend to make 2 or 3 plans incase something changes, although plans b and c will usually involve getting home and doing something soothing like read or play with the kids. As an added safe measure I have a card in my handbag with my diagnosis(+explanation) and emergency contacts incase I get “lost” while I’m out.
Doctors will always teach you grounding techniques and I know they will work for many people, but they’ve always been hit and miss with me, Sit on a chair and focus on your body, feel your feet against the floor, the material of your clothes, the weight of your legs against the chair, the rhythm of your breathing, this is supposed to ground you and convince you that your body is real and you are here – doesn’t work for me. It somehow makes me more aware that my body feels wrong and quite possibly isn’t even mine, it makes me marvel at how close everything seems yet its so so far away at the same time. The only grounding technique I have that works is my children and partner, they demand my attention and the maternal instinct wins the fight, but its a slow painful victory. For me at least, the only way to defeat the fog and keep living is by trying to keep going regardless and hold onto the most real things in my life as anchors. It’s difference between being a kite in a breeze and a scrap of cloth in a hurricane. Just remember what goes up must come down – the trick is not to crash…