James describes his experiences of living with dissociative disorder and how he managed to re-find himself.
Living a dissociated life
In the years I suffered from dissociative disorder, I felt emotionally numb. Any emotions I did feel just disappeared in an instant. I struggled to receive and give empathy. I didn’t react much to anything happening around me. I had numbed senses, everything was lost, and nothing felt familiar. I couldn’t remember my past; I had no self-identity and felt no connection to anybody or anything that surrounded me.
I felt frightened of just about everything. I couldn’t understand and interpret other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions. I was paranoid, always feeling that everyone was watching me. I had tunnel vision and things I saw could become distorted and change shape and size. I was highly irritable and lost my temper very easily. I also had a distorted perception of time, and blank spells.
My state of numbness reached such a level that I had a raised pain threshold. One evening, whilst using a hot oven, I felt a light tingling sensation on my finger and I looked and saw that the oven shelf was lodged deep in my finger. I felt no pain.
I suffered from intrusive thoughts, a lot of them suicidal. To help control them I listened to music. A great source of anxiety was my inability to talk to others. I would always be in silence around people or complain about having no thoughts or opinions about anything. My mind felt completely blank.
Seeing a Therapist
I’d had enough of feeling alone and scared and I finally saw a therapist. They used talking therapy and something called EMDR (Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to help with me with my anxiety. These treatments allowed me to look back over my memories and identify traumatic events. My therapist told me that “no one can tell you how you feel.”
I couldn’t really tell if the therapy was working. I contemplated taking my own life and wept and wept. It lasted for a long time and felt horrific.
Suddenly though, I started having thoughts of events in my past and felt strong emotions behind my crying. The emotion got stronger and stronger until I felt a huge release of stress. The therapy had helped me to realise that my previous traumatic experiences were making me feel extremely stressed and traumatised. My mind could now recognise this, helping me to rationalise the events and release the emotions attached to them.
Re-connected mind and body
Since then, my mind, body and world have changed beyond belief and I have had the most incredible, surreal though sometimes unsettling experiences. I described my experience soon after my moment of realisation as feeling like ‘Pinocchio who has turned into a real boy’. In past months I have had many physiological and psychological changes taking place within my body.
My brain and body have come back to life; I can sense, feel and experience things in a different way. I feel connected to my environment and myself. I now have a past! Memories of old friends, schools, family, sights, smells and sounds have all come flooding back. I see my environment with logic and reasoning, feeling safe and less frightened.
I feel at peace and comfortable around people. My mind is free of intrusive thoughts and I can perceive time passing normally. I no longer feel intensely irritated with an explosive temper. Stress was released from my entire body. I can move freely and instinctively, my entire body is responsive. When I talk it just comes out without any effort, I can now respond to other people and thoughts just pop into my head. I can now have a normal conversation!
Naturally this left me wanting to find out more about what had happened to me. I sought help from mental health services, which led me to a therapist who worked with me to develop strength to move on with my life. Using talking therapy, she helped me understand and believe in how and why dissociative disorder had affected me. She helped me manage the transition and become attuned to my newfound thoughts and feelings and understand my behaviour, reactions and responses.
I feel less frightened about becoming dissociated again. I suffered in silence with this disorder for 7 years. Without a diagnosis, it was hard to get help and understanding from people around me. I hope this raises awareness and reaches out to others who are suffering from this disorder and hopefully help them on their path to recovery and understanding.