Let’s Talk About Dissociation

I’ve struggled to find the motivation to write the past couple of weeks, and when considering what to finally write for this piece, I toyed with a few fluffier topics before thinking…why not go for what’s relevant at this moment?

As November creeps up on us each year, I sure as heck begin to feel the onset of seasonal blues. Days get darker and the weather gets colder (in the northern hemisphere, at least – I struggle to accept the fact that my January birthday makes me a summer baby in Australia). That being said, it can understandably be harder to find the energy and motivation that might come more easily when the sun is shining and trees are green.

When it comes to not feeling our ‘best’, the behaviours that commonly come to mind are withdrawing from socialising or other activities, a lack of physical and mental energy, insomnia, eating or sleeping too much or too little. What’s less talked about, but still very real, is dissociation.

What is dissociation, you ask? Allow me…

There are two different types of dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation – the former being detachment from oneself (think, feeling like an observer of yourself), and the latter being detachment from your environment (think, feeling displaced from your reality). I have never experienced the former, but am familiar with the latter.

I walk. A lot. I’ve touched on this before, but it’s embedded in my day-to-day. While life in the country or ‘burbs might mean you don’t leave your property for a few days at times, leaving the house is critical facet of city life. Every fall, the first sign that indicates the onset of my seasonal blues is usually the feeling that I’m walking around an uncanny version of my environment. My surroundings are recognisable and look exactly as they always have (well, maybe the trees are barer), yet I feel an inkling of something that’s not quite right, as if it’s a copy of my ‘normal’ world.

If it was my first time experiencing this, I might understandably be…scared sh*tless. Much like the first time people experience a panic attack or mood swing, unfamiliarity is what makes the feeling so intense. As I’ve grown to be aware of my emotions, recognising what is happening makes the whole feeling just as real, but a lot less daunting. When we are aware of our emotions, they can feel a lot more manageable. Heck – some people even self-induce dissociation as a coping mechanism. Ever watch mind-numbing TV, have an extra-large glass of wine, or throw yourself into the world of a good book, to escape your own reality? Yep, folks, that’s also dissociating. When I experience this feeling now, I stay in, bake something, read, or snuggle with my dog, and guess what? Within a few days, the feeling passes.

Though you might not have known the name for it, the onset of Covid and lockdown life roused a wave of dissociation over many of us. Even those who don’t normally struggle with their mental health may have found themselves feeling as though reality was akin to being in a movie or dream-state. The new way of the world is certainly not without a new set of psychological stresses, but it can help to know you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy.

Life is full of ‘off’ days (heck – weeks, months, the rest of the Friends theme song) for each and every one of us. We can’t be or feel at the top of our game all the time, and that’s OK. Whether it’s bout of stress, anxiety, depression, or a natural ebb in our cognitive ability, these things happen, and you’re no less of a person for it.

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