Frustrated with dissociating?

Jul 26, 2018

Have you ever sat on a couch and then looked at your watch only to realize "oh my gosh, I just lost 6 hours!" You wonder, what did I do? You don't even remember what you were thinking about in those 6 hours. Has it ever felt like you keep loosing chunks of time? It sure has for me countless times.

Most people understand this to be dissociation. This spacing out or zoning out. 

But there's more to dissociation than this.

It's also that sense that I'm NOT one person. You have all these little fragments within you.

I don't know about you, but I find that a lot harder to deal with, than the chunks of time that I lose. While "loosing" time is quite frustrating, having a fragmented sense of self can be debilitating and leave you feeling "crazy" and confused and so misunderstood and alone... 

Every person dissociates somewhat. Like when you drive down the highway and you don't remember passing the last 3 exits. Or people talk about how they wear different "hats", i.e. that is my family me, my work me, and this is how I am at the sports club. This is normal. 

But with complex PTSD,  we have been through a lot of trauma, abuse & neglect, and dissociation became a coping mechanism of dealing with life threatening, painful and horrible situations. That is very distinctly different. 

Because now, it no longer feels like you are wearing different "hats", but like you are a different person in different situations. For example, there is no connection between how you are at home, or with your friends or how you are at therapy. It feels like it is not the same you.  Sometimes I have no recollection of what I did at different points in my life.

Like I said once, that "I can't cook". My friend looked at me with a confused look and asked: "you can't cook??" And I answered "no". Then he said "but you were a chef". 

In this situation I had no recollection of that time I was a chef. (I quit chefing a couple of years prior.) That's dissociation at its most confusing and debilitating form.

Parts of my life were totally compartmentalised, sectioned off and stored in areas of my brain I had no access to - In my own brain!! And doesn't that leave you feel crazy ?!? 

Did you have experience like this too?

I have lovely friends who helped me here and kept reminding me of the things that I did in conversations. So I could start to become aware of them myself and create connections. 

Remember our brain has tremendous capacity to change! 

I had similar situations in therapy too, where I stated that I never done anything in my life, I am useless etc.... Than my therapist would say "hang on there, but you did a chef apprenticeship, learnt another language, made your own bags, travelled around South Africa for 6 months..." I had the same therapist for over a decade. So he knew a lot about me.

What stunned me was that he could rattle off all this about MY life without looking at notes and I couldn't have told you any of this about MY life myself. It's like it is blocked off from my awareness. 

I felt defeated, broken, helpless and so so different to humans...

My therapist kept reminding me that our brain has tremendous capacity to change. So I went to work at it :)

One exercise that helped me heaps here, may seem a bit too basic or simple. But maybe that is exactly why it was so powerful in helping me create connections... 

Here is what I did:

I had a massive big long piece of paper (I extended it by taping pages to it - being creative lol). Then I started to create my own timeline. Every time a friend reminded me of something that I did, I found a certificate or photo of something I did,... I added it on there.

Like when a friend reminded me about the time I learnt how to play the flute - it went straight on this timeline.

Important: Every day I look at this timeline and spend a little bit of time trying to remember:

  • how I felt or
  • what it was like when I tried to learn to play the flute
  • what it was like when I was working in the kitchen
  • what it was like when I was doing this course
  • what was something I loved about this
  • what is a skill I learnt that I can still use today in other areas in my life
  • how did I change over the years, etc

 This helped me to make those connections or build those new neuronal pathways. 

I started to feel like I am one person. This is all me. And I could start to use skills I learnt in one area of my life in another. This is something I was not able to do prior.

As always, I'd love to know what kind of exercises you did that helped you feel more "whole" (this is so hard to put into words that sense of being fragmented). I'm looking forward to hear from you.

In the meantime, I send you lots & lots of love and rainbows to brighten up the tough times just a little.

Tanja :)

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