Episode one: Dissociation

First episode! If you’re wondering what this is, look here and if you want to submit a story, and/or be on the show, look here.

In our first episode I talk about Dissociation, and I have a transcript:

Content Note: Child Abuse

Do you ever think about the stuff you don’t remember? Most of it is monotonous shit – you don’t need to remember every day of Year 3, or that conversation you had with the woman at Tesco 4 years ago so your brain doesn’t bother keeping it.

Occasionally it’s more than that though.

You know when something major happens and people talk about how everything slowed down? The theory is that a part of the brain called the amygdala becomes more active in response to adrenaline, recording more memories, making everything seem richer, and slower. Your brain makes you remember more, take more in, because everything counts. It’s a safety mechanism.

The opposite also happens. In times of distress, explicit memory and memory consolidation—two of the processes important in converting short to long term memory—are disrupted. They don’t convert into long term memories. Or they do, and the effects of the memory are present, but there is some unconscious blocking of the memory. These too are safety mechanisms.

Sometimes these things backfire. For example, I have triggers that I can’t trace back to a particular event.

When I was maybe 4 or 5? (younger than 6, I know that), my mum’s boyfriend hit me. I only remember the aftermath of one time, not the event. But I know my cheek was cut by his sovereign ring, and I know I was terrified of him before that.

That’s all I remember.

I’ve had other abuse from parental figures – this time emotional, with some chronic lying and manipulation to boot – and that too I only some examples of.

I’m mostly fine, but occasionally I get triggered. Usually by portrayals of abuse, sometimes weirder things that are hard to explain. There are some words or phrases that can trigger flashbacks that are intrusive and inconvenient.

Sometimes my triggers come as a shock to me.

About three or four years ago, I was checking Tumblr one morning before work, and I saw a gif of Teen Wolf (the TV show, not the film) and something in it triggered me. I can’t pin it down, other than I find watching/listening to depictions of abuse (physical, emotional, even manipulation in certain cases) hard in general (even fictionalised ones from crappy tv).

I dissociated, or maybe depersonalized. I definitely wasn’t consciously in charge of my body. It felt like I was suddenly very far away from everything – like I was interacting with the world from the end of a long tunnel.

I had to go to work, so I went to work.

It wasn’t a ‘oh, look at the time, I should leave’, it was: Work Now, so I left.

When I got to work, which was a pharmacy at the time, I managed to small talk through the morning, and I just…worked.

I have no idea how I managed to get through the day, but I don’t remember much of it. It felt like I was looking through a fishbowl lens – I was hyperfocused on what was in front of me, with everything else just not on my radar at all.

I managed to stay mostly in the dispensary, putting together large medication orders for a nursing home we serviced. On a normal day I could get through half of them. That day I did almost all of them. I was just focused on work, nothing else broke my attention all day.

The work wasn’t mentally stimulating – I wasn’t problem solving, or learning, or anything else that flow helps. I was doing something that is literally done by robots in large dispensaries, and my brain refused to engage with anything else. Normally I served customers, said hello to some regulars, but I barely moved that day. I’m still not sure if anyone noticed – no one said anything.

I came back to myself when I got home, mentally and physically exhausted. My eyes felt too large for my head, and I felt like I was running a fever.

It was terrifying. I’d had something similar a few times before – I had to get pretty good at not reacting openly to bad things growing up, but this was full on separation. I’m not sure I could’ve made a conscious decision to do anything if I’d been asked. As someone who is fiercely independent and stubborn, this was…hard to get my head around.

I’ve never had anything quite that bad since either. This is partly because I took Mindfulness courses, therapy, and meds which mean I’m better at handling my triggers.

I’m also better at figuring out what’s wrong with me, and doing some self-care to figure out what’s going on. I’ve also got less badness in my life in general, which means that I can compartmentalise a lot easier if I can’t take time to figure out what’s freaking me out.

One of the main effects now is that I hate flow. Being in the zone and dissociation feel very similar to me, and so when I get into the zone, I come out of it trying to figure out if I was concentrating or dissociating. It’s like waking up suddenly and trying to figure out if there was a noise or if it was just a dream.

I find it hard to be comfortable being in the zone, or in flow or whatever.

I context switch often and I do work well like that—I enjoy the fast-paced work of a digital agency.

I can, and do get into the zone, but I have to be in a pretty good place mentally in order for me not to freak out, and that’s not always the case. I think this is why I have to listen to noise – speaking specifically – to get work done. Music is distracting, silence makes slipping into the flow too easy, so audiobooks and podcasts it is.

There are still times when I suddenly realise that my heart is pounding, I feel vaguely nauseous, and have an impending feeling of doom and then I need to figure out why, but that usually happens within minutes, not hours. It’s a shorter tunnel, and I can drag myself out of it. I get that my brain is trying to do what it thinks will protect me, and back in the day it was useful – to get me through a day at work, or whatever, but sometimes I need to see what’s at the end of that tunnel. My life is better now, and I don’t need to hide as much. All I can do is get better at coping with it, and hope my brain does, too.

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