Borderline Personality Disorder comes with a fun list of potential symptoms. One of which is called dissociation.”According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) ninth criterion for borderline personality disorder is “transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 654),” Colin Ross in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. If you want to read a full Wiki article about it, click here. So what does that all actually mean?
What it really means is discomfort. When I’m dissociated, I feel like I have a fever: everything is far away from me and unreal. A lot of people describe it as out of body, or floating head. I get so detached that nothing seems to be real. Yesterday I was dealing with some of these feelings. I was all twisted up, the only comfort to be had was rocking gently because there were ants in my body making everything twist and turn and burn and ache all at the same time. I tried to talk it out a little but my brain was on fire. It was like my eyes were out of focus and I didn’t know what to do to get them back into the frame. Things were just happening and I was there, but not there.
Often, the only way to bring me back from an episode like this is to sleep it off or to take a cold shower. Sometimes the shock of the cold snaps me back into my body, making it fit right, pulling my head back on to my shoulders. I’ve gone days in dissociated states before, maybe longer. Snapping out of it is exactly like the feeling I get when a fever breaks. I’m OK in my body again and my mind is in my head. For me, I think part of the physical discomfort is the disconnect between being technically present and mentally detached.
This usually happens to me when I’m stressed out. Even more so when my sense of self is challenged. My sense of my own identity is flimsy to begin with, so when it is threatened by negative thoughts brought on by negative events, I start to lose myself. When you don’t know who you are, on a very visceral level, it’s hard to exist. I’m not talking about, “I don’t know what I want to do in life or what I’m really about.” I mean, “I don’t know who or what I am right now. I feel empty and like a shell of humanity.” Maybe it’s a defense mechanism.
When I’m in therapy and I dissociate, it’s more like daydreaming. I pull back to a place where I’m not actually in the room, not actually talking about the tough subject that we’re trying to tackle. Sometimes my therapist has to shift herself and say my name a couple of times before I come back to reality, because I’ll let time pass not knowing it’s passing. It keeps the difficult thoughts away, but of course that’s not helpful, I just can’t stop it from happening yet.
I dissociate in therapy far less than I used to. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m just in a generally better state of mind or we’re talking about far less stressful stuff. No, the dissociated feelings I’ve been getting are at home, when I’m not doing anything, and I lose track of reality. I can’t pull myself together. My brain is fevered.
I know this happens a little differently for everyone. For some it can last for days or longer, floating in a protective bubble where nothing really touches you. And it can be a severe shock when you come out of it. One person I spoke with said that they got headaches every time they came out of a dissociative episode. I wondered if the headache was already there but they just couldn’t feel it. We didn’t know. Maybe.
I don’t know what you would call the discomfort that I get. It’s so visceral and twisting, turning, like having a fever and being unable to get comfortable. My mind veers off to a place I cannot follow. It’s almost like I get stuck in my body and my brain just floats away. Then I have to sit and deal with the frustrating feelings that make my eyes want to roll back in my head. I never feel more crazy than when my muscles hate me and everything feels awful, except for bunching up and rocking back and forth. It’s like the epitome of what people might imagine a crazy person to look like. And in that moment, that’s me. I feel it. I feel the crazy.
I think I would qualify this as some kind of dissociation because my emotions are so disconnected from my body that I can’t reconcile them to make it better. Being mindful helps, sometimes, but usually I just have to take a Xanax or two and wait it out. Or take a cold shower and hope for the best.
I’m probably rambling because I’m not feeling totally cohesive yet. Sorry. But at least you get to see what my brain is like, like this.