Have you ever heard of ‘Dissociation’? I hadn’t heard of the term until a Psychiatrist treating me in hospital said she thought I’d been suffering from this throughout my mental health deterioration and breakdown.
So let’s explain what the term means first of all. The mental health charity ‘Mind UK’ provides a good summary on their website…
“Many people may experience dissociation (dissociate) during their life.
If you dissociate, you may feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. For example, you may feel detached from your body or feel as though the world around you is unreal. Remember, everyone’s experience of dissociation is different.
Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.
Experiences of dissociation can last for a relatively short time (hours or days) or for much longer (weeks or months).
If you dissociate for a long time, especially when you are young, you may develop a dissociative disorder. Instead of dissociation being something you experience for a short time it becomes a far more common experience, and is often the main way you deal with stressful experiences.
For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can’t control. It could be a response to a one-off traumatic event or ongoing trauma and abuse. You can read more on our page about the causes of dissociative disorders.
Some people choose to dissociate as a way of calming down or focusing on a task, or as part of a religious or cultural ritual.
You might experience dissociation as a symptom of a mental health problem, for example post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
Or you may experience dissociation as a side effect of alcohol or some medication, or when coming off some medication.”
It was such a relief to finally find out about this from a medical professional because on a number of occasions I had incidents which were difficult to explain or process. Granted I had a drink problem and would mix beer, whisky and wine with my medication which lead to abnormal thinking and actions from myself but there were also occasions where I hadn’t had a drink, was taking my correct doses of meds and still had ‘episodes’.
One time stands out from November 2020 where I’d been to work as normal, been out for a run and there were no obvious triggers but that night I lost it in my bedroom and was headbutting the wardrobe doors and mirror, I was mumbling and making no sense to my wife and grabbing my head and crouching down on the floor. Naturally there was no explanation for this and the police, then paramedics were called. At first they were assuming drink or drugs were involved but when it became clear this wasn’t the case I was taken into hospital where the Crisis Team were assigned to me, blood tests taken, etc.
I came out of the episode whilst in hospital and it was agreed I could return home with my wife with the provision I remain under the care of the Crisis team in the community. I was signed off work and over the coming 6 weeks or so spent most days in the house on my own (remember this was during the pandemic) with the kids at school and my wife at work. Unsurprisingly after a few weeks I turned back to drinking as I struggled to understand why I had this episode and my anxiety got a hold of me along with my depression.
One thing that sticks with me is that the paramedics were asking me what the Queen’s name was and what my year of birth was and I couldn’t answer either. In the ambulance my heart rate was through the roof and I had a vacant look. I basically wasn’t me.
I did have more of these moments after that night but they were less severe. I’d be sitting watching TV and then I’d realise I’d been staring into space for 10 minutes. My wife would notice this more and more often and say I looked ‘out of my body’ as if what was sitting there was just a shell. I was once out riding my bike alone and I remember just standing at a bridge overlooking it. I can’t remember how long I’d been there but I was just standing looking at the drop, brought back to reality only by a dog walker who spoke to me as he passed and brought me back to some kind of reality.
The night I was sectioned (which I have wrote about numerous times) did include alcohol but not the high levels I was often consuming so the actions and behaviour from me couldn’t be solely explained as been alcohol induced. There needed to be more to it and as I say, to be told about Dissociation in hospital did help me process this long standing battle I’d been silently facing and not understanding.
Since leaving hospital, getting sober and generally getting consistent and regular treatment for my mental health I haven’t had any severe cases of episodes which would suggest that naturally I’m in a better head space. There have been a few incidents, albeit minor where I’ve zoned out or been slurry (as if I’ve had a drink) and my wife has noticed this – but they’ve normally been when I’m tired or a bit stressed, and they have passed. I haven’t had a panic attack either in what feels like forever (something I wouldn’t wish on anybody!).
There is no cure or standard way in which Dissociation works in people so identifying if you are suffering from it, diagnosing it with a medical professional and managing it as part of managing your wider mental health is all I can really advise. I suspect there are a lot of people out there undiagnosed and regularly experiencing Dissociation.