I got inspired to write a bit more about this topic after a recent guest blog post over on EndTheStigma.ie. Again, thank you so much Aidan for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this important Mental Health condition and about how I Dissociate.
Dissociation is a daily part of my life. I do it countless times a day both knowingly and unknowingly. I say that because while I realize that I do Dissociate quite often, I don’t always realize just how much I do it and in what circumstances it occurs.
Here’s how a typical recent day went for me.
Got up this morning, got my shower and I can remember zoning out just standing there for a good 10 minutes. Thinking of nothing in particular, just standing there spacing out into nowhere. This of course got me running a bit late getting out of the house to leave for work. I’m not a morning person at all; I’m very slow and methodical until I get my brain in gear. You’ll never catch me up at 5:30am pulling a Rocky Balboa,drinking raw eggs before an epic workout while it’ still dark outside.
I went downstairs about 7:15 and turned on the TV like usual to listen to the news while I made my lunch for work and fed the fish. I began making my sandwich, and then tried to decide which chips to put in a bag. I stood there for 5 more minutes staring into the cabinet, not even thinking about chips, just staring.
I snapped back to reality and realized I better get it in gear so I halfheartedly listened to the news and weather, fed the fish, double checked the lights and thermostat and walked out the door. Of course, being OCD, I had to make sure the TV was off, even after I turned it off. Then I had check the thermostat twice, and check that I locked the door, twice. This whole OCD thing, that’s a whole other topic.
Anyways, I get in the car, it’s about 7:35am and I’m letting it warm up for a minute (because this blasted PA weather has snow coming today and its April!). I’m sitting there checking my phone in the car, reading my Twitter timeline and just like that I zone out to nowhere again for a few minutes. Was I thinking about anything in particular? Nope just sitting there staring at my phone and not even realizing the screen had turned off.
Again, snapped back to reality and fortunately made it to work in time, but not before I zone out yet again while driving. I swear I don’t know how I do that so often and not end up getting into a wreck! Often times I can’t recall the last few minutes of a drive when I come back out of a dissociative state.
I get to work and start setting up my laptop for the day, and go for coffee. While I’m waiting for the machine to fill my mug with the nectar from the gods, I actually catch myself gazing at a company logo on the wall for a minute.
Back to my desk and start answering emails, checking on how the night shift went, what’s going to possibly need my attention today besides my usual projects. Which by the way causes a lot of anxiety too.
As the morning goes on I catch myself staring at my email for a few minutes, with a blank star. Not actually typing anything, just looking at the monitors. Then the phone rings and back to reality I come. I start a conversation and my mind begins to wander after a few minutes. I have to concentrate to stay on task and stay focused or I’ll completely lose track of what the other person is saying to me.
Lunch time and I’m in the break room reading my Kindle, halfheartedly also listening to the various conversations of others. So essentially I’m not getting anywhere in my book because my mind is trying to do too many things at once. I suck at multi-tasking, I’m just not good at it. So if I don’t focus on one thing, whether it’s business or pleasure, I’m screwed. I think I actually got through one page in the chapter I was reading.
Then a problem arose that needed my attention and it ended up being a 4 1/2-hour long conference call, which included 8 other people trying to fix the problem. So for the entire afternoon I was on the phone, and guess what happened multiple times? Yep, random zoning out, staring into space, looking at my screen, or the ceiling, or whatever as my mind wandered into nothingness. I know I did this at least a half dozen times that I can recall right now.
Work is over now, and I go to pick up my son and then meet my daughter for dinner. Sitting there in the restaurant looking at the menu, I caught myself just looking at the same page for about a minute and not really doing anything but just, looking.
Therapy time, thankfully I don’t usually Dissociate there. We are so actively involved in discussions that I can usually stay focused and fully present.
I get home though and my son was playing his video games. I say Hi to the cats, my fish, and my turtle (Flash) and sit down on the couch. Within a minute I was blankly staring at the fish tank and literally thinking of nothing.
That brings me to wrapping up this post, as I decided once I snapped back to reality from looking at the aquarium, that I wanted to write about how Dissociation affects my life on a daily basis.
Dissociating was a blessing in that my mind saved me during the abuse when I was a kid, but it’s also a royal pain when you have to work so hard to concentrate on even the smallest of tasks.
No wonder I often tweet out #BrainIsTired.
I find myself doing behaviors that once helped me survive but I haven’t completely gotten my brain to understand that they are no longer needed. Maybe its why I could train many other techs at one time with each one of them wanting to go their different direction in the store and yet I had to take them step by step through the install. Guess it was a skill that was good for something.
Sounds like you to do a lot of multi-tasking, training multiple techs at one time. Props to you man for having that skillset and mindset to be able to do it. I’m so bad at multi-tasking, I lose focus in a hot second on everything else if I don’t concentrate on what I’m doing. Then I end having to go back and check and recheck, more than I already do anyways, and it takes even more time. The up side is that I get the job done and it’s right, the downside is that it takes me a longer for some things. Give and take I guess.
I often wonder, now that you mention it, how my brain will react once I get to a point where I don’t need to use quite some many DBT skills. Once I stop having so many flashbacks and the anxiety goes down a bit. Will I still be trying to force use some skill I don’t need multiple times a day? Interesting man, very interesting…you’ve given me more food for thought!
This is me I zone out all the time I panic when I know I have to go to a social event I have panic attacks where I have to run to the nearest bathroom to calm down my PTSD and social axiety is horrible
I can so relate to that Virginia. When I’m heading into an unfamiliar situation, or a situation that I know is going to cause me anxiety or stress, I will dissociate big time before and during. Then when I get home I just crash out from pure exhaustion, both mental and physical exhaustion.
This certainly resonates with me. At times I’m not aware that I’m disassociated after a trigger until someone says something to me that either snaps me out of it or calls attention to the fact that I’m suddenly living in a blurred, grey haze…
It’s like being there but almost an invisible feeling…I’m assuming this must be dissasociation. It can be minutes or days depending on what triggered it. I hate it!
I can’t tell you how many times I feel like I’m in that grey haze, or zoned out state. It can last for a few seconds, few minutes, an entire evening of just sitting on the couch and then coming back to reality and being like, “where did the evening go”??
It is indeed just like being there but having a feeling like we are fully present in the moment.
Wow thank you for writing that in detail. That is so me…and I have been operating like that for years. Multi-tasking is impossible for me too because it takes so much effort to stay on one task. I used to be in the middle of writing a paper or focusing on something and all of a sudden find myself on the porch filing my nails. I have spent so much of my life zoning out and filing my nails! It’s such a weird feeling though because I know I’m supposed to be focusing and I know that I’m stopping and going to file the nails but I do it anyway in a sort of dreamy state. It’s not like I even care about my fingernails and I’m not one of these people that goes for manicures and has long painted fingernails or anything…in fact I hate manicures and people touching me and having to sit still in the chair while they paint them. I felt so bad for so long about this because obviously other people around me were not living their lives in this way…I would see productive people who worked all day and cooked dinner, tidied their house and looked after their kids and worked out and I knew there was just NO WAY I could manage that. Then I felt terrible about that. I didn’t realize I was dissociating due to the trauma. I had lived like this for so long that I just thought it was the way I was. Mind you, now I know it’s dissociation it still doesn’t help me to not do it
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts CaliRose! Isn’t multi-tasking just so difficult?? Even when I’m focusing on just one thing at a time, I can sit there and zone out and not even realize it. It’s a constant battle of staying on task, staying focused, and using things like grounding skills to help.
Even when I am absolutely laser focused on someone who I am talking with, I have to work hard to keep from staring out into never never land and getting that blank look in my eyes and then having to consequently recover and not feel bad that I couldn’t fully focus.
It’s not something we can “fix” overnight, it’s a long term daily attention to the fact that we have to work on being fully present.
I’m right with you! Please let me reassure you, you are not alone. As you can see by the comments here and others on my site, dissociation is something millions of us struggle with.
In time, the more we are aware of it, the more we can consciously work on it…but always make sure you are kind to yourself and know that while you may not always feel like you are making progress, you truly are just by being aware 🙂
I do this, which sometimes makes me have memory problems. I forget things a lot. I’ve been wondering if I have ADD and that’s why I can’t concentrate normally. Are there ways to get better at not doing this?
Hi Holly! You hit on something major right there. Memory problems. I have had this all my life. I would literally forget my head if it wasn’t attached. I can read a paragraph or a page and totally not remember what I just read. I read a recipe and think I have it down pat and then look at like 10 seconds later. Countless examples like that…
When our minds are going 100 mph, in all directions, it makes it hard to recall things we are focusing on. This is where I find that working on mindfulness and being fully present helps, long term. it’s not a quick fix..but practicing being present and catching ourselves as soon as we realize we dissociate, and refocus…can in time, help us retain new information better.
Thank you for writing this and getting it “out there.” I’ve only recently been able to put a name (dissociation) to what’s been happening for the past several years.. and it helps hugely to know and hear about other people walking through it too. I’m just starting my journey of trying to understand & learn how to live with it. Our body’s coping mechanisms are amazing, but wow are they ever alot of work to clean up.
Hi Miranda, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I mentioned before that a few years ago I didn’t even know what Dissociation was, much less that I dissociate. I agree it always is so very helpful to know that we are not alone. That’s one of the amazing things that I have come to appreciate about connecting online with people on social media and here on the blog. When we realize others feel as we do, it gives us a bit of peace to know we aren’t as “different” as we might have thought.
You are so right, we can have a whole of “stuff” to work through, but the more we keep pressing on and understanding our past to learn from it, the more we realize we can have the life we want. 🙂
I find that, after having gone through certain traumas…I can’t keep all of the same associations. I’ve been told that I over-analyze and I overthink. I do not deny any of it, but, how do you explain something to people, if you do not even understand it yourself? I am learning to not be ashamed of my story. I am beginning to understand the affects that it has had on me, and with that, learning how to work through everything and coping. I pray and read my Bible, but I also find it very beneficial and important to speak with others who are familiar with abuse, personal traumas, etc. Thank you for your honesty.
You explained this so well. Thank you. This is my day everyday.