A list of tips and tricks on how to deal with dissociation by Julia.
If you don’t know or understand what dissociation is, click here. I’ve actually spent an alarming amount of my life dissociated without even knowing it until fairly recently. This had gone unnoticed for so long because it likely began in my early childhood and I had nothing to compare it to. I didn’t know things were very, very wrong until I committed to therapy and meditation in late 2014. Things haven’t improved 100% since then, but I have now spent almost an entire year feeling like an actual human being. Below are some of the things I use within my self care routine to help keep me grounded.
**Side note: These are things that I have figured out through a lot of trial and error. Creating coping mechanisms/a self care routine takes a lot of time and persistence. Don’t give up.
1. PRACTICE ACCEPTANCE.
Acceptance is the hardest thing to do when I find myself experiencing an episode of dissociation, but it’s the most important step to make. My immediate reaction has always been to try and bully myself out of it even though doing so makes it 10x worse. The best approach you can make is one out of compassion. For example, I try to react to my episodes by saying, “it’s okay. I understand a piece of me had to go and disappear for a bit. It’s fine”. And if you feel frustrated, allow yourself to feel that way but don’t beat yourself up for being triggered. Sometimes triggers happen out of the blue (which sucks), but I’ve found that these episodes are decreased in length if I am genuinely nice towards myself. Recovery takes a lot of practice and patience. You’ll get there.
2. CREATE & REPEAT AFFIRMATIONS.
I have read a lot of posts about people being frustrated with other people suggesting meditation and yoga when it comes to mental illness. It’s true that holistic treatments really don’t work for some people, but sometimes it can just take a while to click. I took a stress management class in college and our teacher had us write affirmations on sticky notes to place around our homes. The next day I placed them around my room and then just ignored them because I thought, “This is dumb. Why would this even work?” And now six-ish years later I find myself relying on these things more and more every time I fall into an episode. My best friend was the one who convinced me to try these because she had begun using them during savasana at the end of our yoga classes. So one day I sat down at home, determined to implement these affirmations into my meditation practice and was pleasantly surprised afterwards. I came out of that meditation session feeling like I had placed an internal sticky note inside of my body (corny, I know). But they are now one of the most important tools I carry with me and they can even pull me out of an episode. I think the key to this being effective is to choose a phrase that really means something to you.
3. GO TO THERAPY.
When I first started therapy I thought I was doing enough by just showing up and talking. After a few months of seeing my therapist I stopped for the summer because I was convinced it wasn’t working and/or that I was “finally better”. In reality, I was being stubborn, afraid, and I didn’t want to cry in front of someone. I don’t know when or what broke my stubbornness but one day I decided that I was fed up. I was emotionally exhausted. I was done keeping everything to myself. I had reached a point where I could no longer physically carry my pain around with me anymore and I knew what I had to do. This will probably sound cliche, but sometimes you have to do the one thing you don’t want to do. I didn’t want my weird dissociative fog to dissipate because it was the only way I knew how to function in the world. I had a million reasons lined up in my head about why I shouldn’t go through with opening up to my therapist and a million more reasons about why I should be afraid of going. And to this day -even though I genuinely enjoy my sessions- I still face that same anxiety before each visit. What helps me get over the fear of going is by re-framing the experience as just meeting up with an old friend to talk about life stuff.
4. ALLOW YOURSELF TO CRY.
For a long time I think I refused to cry because I never felt better afterwards. There were so many times where I cried on my own but I still felt like my insides were in a knot that I just couldn’t untangle. It was a confusing sensation because a lot of the time it felt like I hadn’t cried at all. My biggest fear was to cry during therapy and I’d hold it back as best as I could until one day I couldn’t. I never broke down and sobbed during a session (even though I probably should have), but he was always there to offer a Kleenex box and words of support. I learned that sometimes you just need someone to reassure you that it’s okay to break down once in a while. Crying is healthy and a natural occurrence. Repeat after me: crying and vulnerability are not signs of weakness. Crying and vulnerability are signs of strength.
Creating an exercise routine is an important thing regardless of whether you struggle with a mental illness or not. I tend to notice an extreme difference between when I regularly go running vs. when I lay on the couch and watch way too much Netflix. When I’m stuck in an episode I try to find any combination of exercise and meditation that will work. Some days it means yoga and breathing, other days it means running while listening to the Love Line Podcast. What ever exercise routine you choose to follow, the most important thing that you can do is to make sure your mind is focused on some aspect of what you’re doing. Side note: I’ve found that sometimes this still doesn’t help, but I definitely never regret going. If it doesn’t straighten out my mind by the end, it definitely releases tension and clears brain chatter.
6. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE.
I’ve found that if I can find at least one activity that grabs a hold of my entire sense of focus it’ll usually put me on the path to feeling better. (For me this frequently means playing Nintendo 64 games for a few hours). Find an activity that makes you happy and maybe even brings in a little bit of positive nostalgia into your life.
7. GET AWAY FROM ELECTRONICS.
This is a difficult one considering running an Instagram and website both require me to be on either my laptop or phone a lot of the time. But I have found there is a limit to how long I can spend on these addicting devices. If i spend too much time on them without any intention of getting work done I usually end up with a foggy head. I made a promise with myself to only spend long amounts of time on them if I have a solid goal to accomplish. Sometimes that means writing a blog post and other times it means catching up on watching my favorite YouTube channels. The goal here is to set some kind of parameters so that you don’t end up zoning out and becoming a zombie.
8. ACCOMPLISH THINGS AT YOUR OWN PACE.
I got really, really good over the years at burying myself in my work. In a couple different situations I repeatedly pushed myself past my limits even though my mind and body were both telling me to take a break. I had extremely high expectations of myself to the point where I would work until I dissociated and ignored my human requirements like food and water. I constantly felt stressed out as if I was still working even if I was laying down watching television. In the beginning, accepting that I had to slow down made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. It had been programmed into my mind that my self worth was tied up with the work I was able to accomplish. Even though it’s been difficult to slow down a bit, it’s been a vital step in my routine. Taking things one step at a time doesn’t mean you’re lazy or incompetent. You are not less of a person for doing so. After all, slow and steady wins the race, right?
9. UNDERSTAND THAT PEOPLE ARE LIMITED.
Not everyone is going to understand what you deal with and you shouldn’t be relying on those people for support if they can’t give it. There will be people who don’t understand dissociation, but they will be open to learning about it and what they can do to help. On the other hand, there will also be people who don’t understand dissociation and they will make zero effort to do so. Do not expect the people who fall into the second category to change their minds. Do not continue to put yourself into a position where you are constantly relying on people who do not have the capacity to offer the support you need. I realize this can be a hard thing to accept, especially if it’s your immediate family, but it can also be a freeing thing if you let it. By approaching people with this mindset you will be able to gage who can and will offer you the best type of support.
10. FORGIVE YOURSELF.
Whether you have a full blown dissociative disorder or you experience episodes like I do, forgive yourself for the time that you have lost. This has never been and will never be your fault. Understand that you are trying your hardest to cope with your situation. Understand that this likely resulted from a situation that your brain could not process/handle. You are doing your best. You are surviving.
Once in a while I’ll have an episode where it starts before I even get out of bed in the morning. These days suck and I sometimes fall into the habit of focusing too much on what’s wrong. I’ve found that acting out in silly ways doesn’t necessarily relieve the numbness but it allows me to not take the situation so seriously. During these types of episodes I try to do whatever I can in order to make myself laugh (ex. dancing horribly, making REALLY dumb jokes, making funny noises, etc). Dissociative episodes suck but spending the day laughing takes my mind off of wondering when the episode will end. It reminds me of this scene from Garden State where Natalie Portman (playing Sam) talks about her epilepsy and explains why she laughs about her situation.
Do you have a personal story or piece of creative writing
you would like to share with our community?
Click here to learn more.