Apologies for the long post but I wanted to put in as much as I could explaining my experience. I am writing to tell of my experience of my last year and of my life before receiving CBT and my belief that I have recovered from a dissociative disorder stemmed from trauma.
In the last year my life has changed dramatically and this has left me in limbo, wondering what had been happening to me for a number of years, but it is obvious that I had been in some sort of altered state. I have visited a number of GPs, and mental health professionals to get an answer. One mental health doctor speculated that I may have been suffering from either a depression disorder, anxiety disorder or a mix and that I have shown dissociative traits, the doctor said that these illnesses overlap in symptoms and so make it even harder to diagnose. From my own research I personally believe that I had been suffering from a dissociative disorder, more specifically depersonalisation disorder.
Last year, I was seeing a CBT to tackle what I called my ‘shyness’. For a long time I had felt different from everyone else but I didn’trealise how different my life was to everyone else’s. I found life very alienating,distressing and frightening. From looking back now, I realise that the symptoms I was living with were not the norm.
My life with a dissociative disorder
My senses were completely numbed, including smell, touch and taste. I was living in a world where familiar smells, sights and tastes were lost.My sight before was very different too. It was almost like I had tunnel vision, if I looked in the mirror I would only see specific parts of my face not my face as a whole. Simultaneously things I would see would appear distorted and would change size.I found it very hard to concentrate even when doing simple tasks. My surroundings appeared very flat and lifeless.
Emotionally I was very numb. During moments when I laughed or cried I would feel like I didn’t have a reason behind it to cry or laugh, like I was just doing it for effect. There was no emotion with it.I would feel nosadness, embarrassment, guilt, happiness, nothing. I too felt nofear;nothing would startle me, or scare me. I wouldn’t react in fear or flight to shock at all. The only emotion I had during the years was anxiety and a lot of it. But it was mainly anxiety that was playing over and over in my head rather than feeling it. I felt so far way and different from people I couldn’t understand how everyone around me could get on and connect to each other and I couldn’t. I felt alone and unable to connect to anybody or anything. I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror or in photos of myself or recognise my family members and didn’t seem to react in any way to anything happening around me at all.
No thoughts come into my head
I chronically felt like I was not really living and felt cut off from everything. I felt like I had very little control over my physical movements and mental function, particularly my speech. My impairment of speechreally caused great anxiety for me over the years. I would always be in absolute silence around people and I would just watch other people interact with each other not be able to participate. At the time I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, the closest I came to was that I was shy and had no social skills or that I was with the wrong people. I would find it incredibly hard to speak, I had always complained of having no thoughts come into my head and having no opinions about anything. My thought process was completely disrupted.I would have to manically concentrate and mentally struggle to think of something to say then it would be physically and mentally harder again to try and say it.My mind would just be completely blank. When I could manage to get something out, I would very often get strange looks, as I would say things that people would perhaps find strange and odd and sometimes people just wouldn’t hear me. I never really understood what was wrong with what I was saying. It seemed it would be hit or miss. I worried a lot about not understanding any social rules and complained of not understanding any ‘social etiquette’.The strange thing was sometimes when I had a conversation or an interaction with someone I would always remember that conversation in great detail, word for word what was said, and I would still remember nearly every conversation even from years ago. I furthermore had a racing mind;throughout the day I spent most of my time living inside my head.
Living inside my head
I would have a narrative voice in my mind all the time it wouldn’t go away. Often throughout the dayI would have periods where I would suddenly feel very suicidal in my mind.I would suddenly have to fight intrusive suicidal thoughts and even the will to stand up and throw myself out of a top floor window or in front of a speeding car. To help control this I would often listen to some music to get rid of the suicidal thoughts and try and stimulate new thoughts and numbed feelings.
I also had paranoid delusions, I thought people including my family and friends were against me, angry with me, laughing at me, sneering at me and talking about me all the time. This was incredibly scary and overwhelming and made just walking down the street a very mindfully busy and horrible experience and made me feel more alone, scared and on edge. I felt like I was on the Truman show and that everyone was watching me all the time, I was very aware of everything and everybody around me.If I was walking down a street and I saw someone walking towards me laughing or there was someone out of my view behind me laughing then it was about me and I would panic and feel scared and overwhelmed in my head. Together with paranoia I was very hyper aware of my own body. If I moved around or just moved my arms it felt like I and everyone was aware of it and watching closely. I would often have to build myself up to move my body around people.I always felt frightened of what seemed just about everything, I felt like I was on edge 24/7, I couldn’t make any sense of anything happening around me, everything around me was very bewildering. I couldn’t understand and interpret other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions.If people expressed strong emotions then I would just feel so scared. I was so afraid of my environment especially people, if they were near me or entered the room I’d be very aware of them.
My sense of time was distorted. It felt by comparison like I was taking in my environment not in real time but at a really small frame rate. If I walked up the stairs and then walked through into a room I wouldn’t remember doing it. I wouldn’t remember each step I took or what I was doing before I walked up the stairs. Even what I had done during the day I wouldn’t remember much about it. My short term and long term memory was very poor. I wouldn’t remember what I did days before and it was like that day never existed or it was a dream.
I was often unable to cope with any amount of stress whatsoever. I had a short temper and loss my temper very easily. I was highly irritable and got stressed up readily, could feel my brain panicking and I would explode with frustration or panic.
I also had a raised pain threshold. About a month before I recovered, whilst using an oven, which was turned on to 200 degrees, 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 and there was no ‘flight’ reaction to pull away. When I pulled my finger off I saw that the oven shelf had burnt a wound deep into the flesh. I didn’t feel anything and thought absolutely nothing of it until I came out of my altered state.
I was susceptible to bullying as well, as my mind before had no reaction to anything,that includes any taunts that someone had directed at me. So my mind wouldn’t understand the behavior and disregard it or ‘fight’ back at any bullying or taunts. I had no self-respect and I couldn’t feel any regard to my own dignity, I didn’t even have any self-identity. So if someone bullied me then I just took it and it would send me into an anxiety spiral with no way out. I never understood that it was wrong for people to do that to me. Because of my mind not being able to work things out and everything to me was bewildering and distorted, I was perceived as being stupid by a lot of people. This created a vicious circle that left me open tomore harassment and bullying. In addition because of my cold nature, as I was unable to feel apathy unlike I do now, I was treated with discontent quite a lot. I can understand that reaction, but they weren’t aware,as I wasn’t, of my inability to feel anything including a 200-degree oven burning through my skin,not to mention feelings for others,as I was chronically in a mental and physical state of total numbness due to traumatic episodes from my past. People giving me discontent only made my world much scarier as I was already finding it difficult to perceive warm and caring emotions.
Seeing a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
During the end of 2011 I had enough of feeling alone and scared soI decided to see a CBT to combat ‘my shyness’. During one session, I remember we were discussing what my own thoughts were on a past event and my therapist said, ‘no one can tell you how you feel’. This statement definitelystuck with me andstayed lurking in my mind.A few months down the line I had hit a real dark period, my life hadcome to a dead-end and I finally contemplatedsuicide. I gradually started to feel sadder and sadder, and I began to weep. I wept and wept for what seemed like hours. Though I felt little emotion behind it and I was very aware of myself crying and very consciousof other people hearing me but I just pushed myself to cry more and more, it was absolutely horrific.I kept crying until suddenlyI started having thoughts in my head.These thoughts were of a period of my life 6 years prior, and I started feeling emotion behind my crying,the emotion got stronger and stronger and this continued until it seems I had a catharsis and a huge stress relief escaped from my body like a gust of wind from my belly.ThenI just gradually stopped crying like there was no need to anymore and my vision suddenly had so much depth to it as if everything was ‘real’ and I felt completely joyous and free. I believe that at that point of the catharsis having blended the ‘no-one can tell you how you feel’ to a traumatic experience to my past, I had finally, properly,rationalized my own traumatic experience, something that had taken me over 6 years to do and this I believe has meant I have recovered from a dissociative disorder. I had always vaguely remembered the traumatic experience, but I never discussed it with my therapist. I’m certain as well that a year after my traumatic experience, during a period when a similar situation arose,I suffered from PTSD. That particular period and my first traumatic experience,I understand now, left me feeling and experiencing absolute hell. It was debilitating and extremely distressing. I never understood in my mind whilst I was dissociated what was wrong with my traumaticexperience and why it would be terrifying; to me there was nothing traumatic about it.So when discussing with family about it in the past they would say that it must have been awful for me and I would just nod and agree but I didn’treallybelieve it myself or fully understand in my mind why it was awful.What I learned after my catharsis about that time was it was a situation that made me feel bad inside and made me feel extremely stressed and traumatised and it was that which was awful. That night I think my mind fully realised that and so I finally rationalised and released the emotions behind it.
My recovery experience
Since that moment my life, my mind, my body and my world has changed beyond belief, and I have had the most incredible, euphoric and surreal experience. I remember one thing I said to describe my experience soon after my catharsis, which was that I felt like ‘Pinocchio who has turned into a real boy’. In the months after my catharsis I have had a huge amount of physiological and psychological changes taking place within my body. I felt all kinds of physical sensations, it was as if my brain and body was coming back to life; I could sense, feel and experience things in a very different way. It was as if I was re-connecting with my environment and myself.
In the first few weeks my body was constantly sweating as I was experiencing new senses and my environmentfor the first time in a long time. Everything was new. I had a lot of stress released from my body including my throat, arms, legs, head and neck. After which, I could move my body more easily. It felt like my brain wasconnected to the rest of my body and I could move my arms, hands my entire body instinctively and responsively. My hands feel like they are real and they are my hands, and my feet and my arms. So much stress has been released from my body the most significant is from my throat and chest. Because of this my voice is now deeper and louder, I’ve never had a deep voice before, I can now whisper and have people understand what I’m saying.
As well as when I talk it just comes out without any effort, I can now respond to other people and thoughts just popinto my head and before I even have to try to say something, I’ve said it! My brain feels like it’s connected to my mouth and I can think of something and immediately say it. I can have a normal conversation with someone and spontaneously respond to other people, so if someone asked for my help or just said hello immediately I would respond instinctively. It feels like I have a personality now. It was so surreal. I’m now getting to know myself including my actions, my responses to people and my environment.
My mind was suddenly completely calm; I no longer had a racing mind. I woke up in the middle of the night in the first week and my mind was just completely calm and all I was doing was staring into the dark but the difference in my mind being so calm and still and peaceful was absolutely overwhelming it felt euphoric.My suicidal thoughts have completely alleviated, and this was immediate after my catharsis. I can now get through the day without any battles with intrusive thoughts and I can sleep normally and not be kept up or find it hard to sleep because of my racing mind and suicidal fantasies.
Sensing my world again
Some other experiences since my catharsis included having returned feeling all over my body. I now feel like I’m living my life in high definition it especially felt like that in the first few weeks. My sense of smell and touch, taste has all returned. I have even noticed heightened hearing. I can sense smells that are instantly recognizable and have been lost for a long time and can take me back to periods or places in my past. This has been incredibly emotional. Like the smell of sweets in the newsagents, the rooms and the garden in my house, it’s like I can emotionally connect to my environment again and everything is familiar. I can feel my environment, I can feel textures, warmth and cold, my skin is so sensitive. I now have a normal pain threshold; if I were to make contact with a 200-degree oven now my body would instantly sense the pain and immediately my body or my hands and arms would pull away in flight mode automatically.My sense of taste has returned, eating food became a new experience my mouth was so sensitive. I could feel the textures of the food and tasting them has been very different. Some food brings back senses of familiarity they bring back feelings and tastes that I immediately recognise. I remember eating polo mints, which tasted so familiar, I just suddenly thought I recognise this taste, and they invoked feelings and memories from my childhood. My whole body has opened itself up to my environment again and its been very surreal, I remember in the first few weeks going on a train journey, which I’d done loads of times before, but this time it was so different. I could feel the motions of the train, it was as if it was new to my body and I have never been on a train before. Likewise I remember walking around and especially up and down steps was challenging in first few weeks because my body’s balance was readjusting itself. I can sense the space between me and everything else, I can sense how far away I am from the floor or the ceiling, so I felt very tall, like a giant in the first few weeks. I remember pouring a gravy jug and I really struggled to keep the jug balanced and hold it up, my hand and arm were shaking all over the place, it was so strange, it was like I was using my hands and limbs for the first time. Another amazing thing that happened very soon after was when I used a computer keyboard and my hands just typed out the words in a flash. I just thought of what I wanted to write and my body took over, I was suddenly watching my own hands write out the words, it took me by complete surprise. I can now perceive my world and body as ‘real’ I can feel my legs, arms and hands and I have complete control over them. I can now look at my world as being real and have the feeling of being able to reach out and grab it and feel safe.
Logic and reasoning
My brain now has logic working out my environment, and feelings and emotions. My whole environment isn’t always confusing and scary anymore. Everything is simple and understandable. Even written English makes sense to me and has logic to it. People’s emotions I can now understand, and situations around me I can understand. My brain now just has thoughts of logic pop into it that are comforting me and providing me with insight into what’s happening and what to do. I’m able to work things out for myself – things are clearer in meaning and invoke in-depth thoughts of what things mean, how they work and what things are made of. My brain just works out my entire environment as I see it in real time. My brain just reasons, analyses and cancels out any anxiety. If someone before was nasty to me before I would just watch them doing it to me and feel and do nothing. Now people having a go at me or showing strong emotions they don’t frighten me or send me downward anxiety spiral. My brain understands the emotion behind it and it is processing the emotion behind it and before I know it I’ve forgotten all about it. I can now understand and interpret other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions. It doesn’t stress me out anymore. I even sometimes have a ‘fight’ reaction and express strong emotions back to them instinctively.I am no longer easily irritated its like a valve has been placed inside my mind and is stopping me from having temper outbursts. What would have made me feel so easily irritated before just doesn’t anymore. Now instead, whilst I feel the annoyance, I no longer feel frantic irritancy and explode in temper instead with no effort my mind just calmly rationalizes the situation and my own behavior knowing that’s its wrong to lose your temper with people. This mental function and change happened completely in a flash, there was no gradual process, it was immediate, along with no longer having a racing mind or being chronically cut off.
Knowing who I am
I have been getting my memories and self-identity back. Usually they return when listening to music I listened to in my past. The first time I listened to my old music my eyes frantically blinked uncontrollably and images from my past flickered through my mind. The music I was listening to was now suddenlyso familiar and in my mind it transported me back to my past. I could suddenly see my old house, and myself when I was little, it was so amazing!Soon, after getting some memories back I would get an intense tingling sensation usually starting around my forehead and it would spread to other areas of my body. After the first time this happened I felt extremely tired and ended up sleeping for 48 hours straight. During the course of the first 6 months, whilst listening to music from my past, this was a frequent occurrence and I would get new memories return to me every time and tingling in other areas of my body, after which there would be an increase in sensitivity there. I can now remember my past, my old friends, my old schools, my family, the sights, the smells, the sounds has all come flooding back. I now have a past!I can remember exactly what my bedroom door sounded like when I closed it, and can remember exactly what it felt like to sit in my old kitchen chair.I can remember everything as if I’m seeing it, feeling it, touching it, tasting it, smelling it or hearing it first hand. It was so shocking to realise that I suffered from some form of amnesia and I hadn’t even realised it. My short-term memory is verydifferent too. I can playback my day and I can recollect things I need to do, where I put things and things I have done during the day or the week. I can chronicle my past and remember the last time I was at a place and what I did. All my memories, whether short term or long term, can be stirred by sights, smells and feelings and vice versa. My whole world is familiar again. Before I would drive past places like my old school and I knew I went there but I had no feelings or memories of the place. It was like that period was from a past life not my life now. Now I do, I can remember my life at school, my friends, I can remember everything and along with it they bring a feeling of belonging and solidarity.I remember driving to see my family straight after I recovered, and it was just incredible, as I approached nearer to the town it felt like I was returning to an old place that I haven’t been to for so long, I saw the shops, the roads and the house and just felt like I knew this place, I remember this place, the whole environment that I was suddenly seeing was bringing back familiar feelings and memories, and this was an environment that I’d been living in for years and I hadn’t experienced these feelings before. Whilst the sensations of having these feelings were new the actual feelings and emotions were very familiar.
My perception of my environment and of other people is working properly again. My world and the people in it don’t scare me anymore. One of the most remarkable differences I’ve noticed is when watching movies and shows, which I’ve watched countless of times before. The characters and emotions are coming across completely differently. Their emotions and facial expressions and actions are not frightening. The scenes, emotions and tone of voice come across completely differently. Before the faces and emotions I sensed were much harsher, it was like my mind was painting stronger emotions over what was really being expressed. The biggest difference comes with seeing whole scenes in movies I’ve never seen before, even though I’ve seen the movies countless of times before. Interestingly the emotions or scenes that I never perceived before were showing concern, or kindness. One of the scenes I remember being very different was in an Inbetweeners episode, where they were all on a boat going out to sea when Simon steps up and Jay and Neil rock the boat causing Simon to fall in. What I watched next was something I never seen before, as soon as Simon falls in, I now see Neil reacting in shock and then Will reacting in concern and guilt and going to help Simon. Simon gets helped into the boat prompting Jay to give anunsympathetic remark. Before all I ever saw was Simon falling in then Jay saying his unsympathetic remark I never saw Neil or Simon’s emotions and them helping Simon out of the water.
All this new emotional perception further spread to my everyday life too. I suddenly perceived comfort in my whole world, which now feels much safer and less frightening. Just being in an environment full of people doesn’t make feel hyper alert of everyone. I can feel at peace and total comfort around people, and don’t feel them looking at me at all. The paranoia has completely disappeared. In the first few months I was learning to get used to my newfound behavior and reactions to my environment, so before, when I was dissociated, I would look at people like a hawk as I walked along but after my catharsis I would start to look at everyone but I then I adjusted my behavior as my perception and logic was kicking in telling me that this is unnecessary. So I immediately stopped doing it and I can walk through a crowd and feel completely calm and comfortable in my mind. This is such an incredibly relieving feeling and is really freeing. In addition I can now dissociate normally. I can be on a train full of commuters and dissociate from my surroundings by listening to music, reading a book or having a conversation and suddenly stop and come back into the room and realise where I am and that I’m surrounded by people, I have not had that happen to me for a long time. For the first time in a long time I feel comfortable and at peace around people and by myself.
Getting to know how I feel
I can now sense and understand emotions from other people, when they are happy, excited, sadand it will effect how I feel as well. I properly sense the vast range of emotions and the physical sensations they bring. When I’m embarrassed I can feel the sweat on my palms and my face getting red, when I laugh I can feel the laughing in my stomach and sense and understand the humour behind it, I can feel ashamed, I can feel disappointment and I can feel angry. I feel anxiety in the way that my body sweats and my body starts to tingle, I can feel sad and even distressing emotions and when I cry it feels so different.I can feel the emotion and the tears welling up in my eyesand I feel stress in the way that everything feels distant, everything slows down and I can feel fear and the adrenaline.I can feel my own expressions, my own face movements, when I feel and show emotions.I now feel like I have a conscience and I have thoughts connected to that, so I can feel a conscience to help others and a thought with how to help will pop in and I can impulsively act upon it.My change in emotional response to my environment and myself has been completely overwhelming. I remember in the first weeks I had a pair of trainers that I wore at the time which were well past their sell-by-date they looked terrible. Before my recovery I was wearing them all the time. After my recovery I was no longer cut off from everything and myself so I could see my trainers for what they were and felt very embarrassed to wear them and felt a desire and need within me to change them and buy new ones. It was a completely strange new sensation. I recently looked at old Facebook conversations I had with people in my years when I was dissociated and I can’t believe how apathetic, cold, rude and strange I came across, it’s very scary and I felt embarrassed and ashamed looking at them. I can remember writing them and at the time I know I had no idea that other people could consider what I was writing as hurtful or odd. The things I said then I would never say now, I would think and feel that it would be very obnoxious or strange to say those things.
Seeing things for what they are
My vision has completely changed. One of the first things I noticed was I could feel my eyes darting and looking around, side to side and up and down as if they hadn’t done so in a while and they needed oiling. I could also see my iris change size. When looking in the mirror once, I remember seeing my iris being so small, and it was so startling. I can see my goose bumps, blemishes, scars and the patterns on my skin. Seeing these after I recovered was like seeing them for the first time in years I could recognise old scars on my body again. My vision is a lot clearer and in focus, I can see in greater detail and I can see the ‘whole picture’ including my face as a whole when I look in the mirror. I can recognise myself from childhood photos and see which parts of from my mum and dad. And there’s no fear at looking at anything like I want to look away or my eyes just can’t take it all in. Everybody else’s faces and are being seen in greater detail their faces look very different. My vision is so calm and things don’t look distorted and change in size or shape. My peripheral vision seems so different too. I can now walk through a door and I can see the doorframe in the corners of my eyes as I walk through. I have noticed as well that I can focus my eyes to look at further distances. My perception of time has changed dramatically; time is passing normally now as if my brain couldn’t take in everything in real time, whereas before as if it found everything frightening and over whelming and so it was protecting myself from my environment. I am taking my environment in in real time and its like my mind has a larger memory storage and has a larger frame rate taking in my environment. Things are happening around much faster so my perception of my own reactions and reactions of others is faster.
People seem familiar
I can now feel emotionally connected to my family and friends and I can remember them from my past. I can recollect parts of my family and my friends faces, what reminds me of them is there again, whether its their smile, their eyes or their laugh, they will invoke feelings of familiarity and when I think of them I feel a warmth within me. I remember reading old birthday cards from my family and just reading themjust instantly filled me with emotion, and whoever it was from they would pop into my head and I can see them in my mind as if they are there in front of me. I have noticed too that I can recognise old idiosyncrasies. They have returned I’m sure of it. They way I move my hands and fingers, is so different and I can recognise them and see the similarities with other members of my family and feel like I’m really a part of my family because my hands, feet, look and behave so similarly. My relationships with everyone in my life are so different. Before I would just keep away from a lot of them or stay quiet or find a very constricted relationship with them. I was afraid of a lot of members of family and whilst I knew they were my uncle, auntie, cousins I never remembered them from my past and never felt any thing for them at all except fear and unease. The emotional connection to my past, my environment, my family and friends is just so strong. My feelings towards other people is incredible, I can now look at other people and feel so safe and feel like one of them, I can feel empathy for others and a real genuine warmth for other people. I never felt anything like that before. I just felt no feeling for anyone at all but I at the same time felt nothing from anybody else at all either because I couldn’t perceive it. I am now talking to members of my family and having conversations with members of my family I wouldn’t have had before. My family have been very emotional about my recovery, they were dumbstruck at first seeing how profoundly different I was, and they have helped me try to find out what it was that had reduced me to numbed state for so long. I’ve had to adjust to my family and almost integrate again and rehabilitate again into the family and form new relationships with them and my friends.
My search to find out what has happened to me and seeking help from mental health professionals has led me to a therapist who is helping me manage the transition from being so disconnected from my experience, others and myself to being connected to my experience, others and myself. My therapist has helped me become much attuned to my newfound thoughts and feelings and I am able to understand my own behavior, reactions and responses. I feel much in tuned now and much less frightened about becoming dissociated again as I begin to understand more and more about what and why this has happened to me. So I decided to write this and I hope this helps others,gives hope and maybe even what happened to me can happen to someone else too and they can recover from this horrific mental disorder.