I’m Still Alive

I apologise for the lack of posts. I appreciate people who have reached out to make sure I am safe. I am. 

I have just had a lot on and haven’t been writing as much as I used to. Much like with many things in my life and many people with BPD, I can be pretty “all or nothing”. So I either dedicate myself to things fully, or not at all. Unfortunately over the last few months this blog has become more neglected than nurtured. Whoops.

I am also struggling with pretty severe dissociation which makes it especially hard to think and write coherently. I am balancing a lot and trying to build a life for myself outside of the internet which is exhausting and consuming at times. I actually can’t think what to write so I’m just putting this post out there to let my readers know I’m alive, even if I don’t feel it inside.

Take care and I hope to check in soon properly 🙂

Dissociation

Dissociation is a common struggle faced by many people living with Borderline Personality Disorder and other mental illnesses. Dissociation is an umbrella term given to a wide range of symptoms that are defined by a feeling of disconnection, either from oneself or from the world. 

Feeling low levels of these symptoms from time to time may be considered “normal”. For example, the average person might experience feelings of being on autopilot whilst driving a car every so often, or they might find themselves a little spacey due to fatigue or stress once in a while.

However, if the symptoms are regular and recurring, and significantly affect someone’s functioning and wellbeing, dissociative symptoms may be indicative of an underling problem.

These symptoms manifest in a number of ways and to different degrees depending on the person and situation. Dissociative symptoms exist on a spectrum, and because of the uniqueness of each person’s experiences, and the internal nature of them, it can be hard to get across exactly what it feels like. For me, the experience is so experiential that it putting it into words does not do it justice. In order to understand what dissociation feels like, it’s something you really have to have experienced for yourself.

For me, dissociation manifests in a number of ways. Here are a few of the dissociative symptoms I struggle with:

  • Depersonalisation – I don’t feel real, my limbs don’t feel part of my body, I feel like a zombie, like I’m not really alive, like my brain and body aren’t in sync.
  • Derealisation – the world doesn’t feel real, I can’t connect to it, there is a glass wall or fog stopping me from accessing life, the world looks trippy.
  • Sensory distortions – mostly visual, auditory or tactile. I can feel like I am tripping when it is especially intense. Time also distorts.
  • Memory loss/ blanks – impaired concentration, losing track of my day, common places feel unfamiliar, it’s hard to recognise my surroundings, being unable to recall an event or journey.
  • Physical impairment – e.g. slow motion, slurred speech, impaired movements, blurry vision.
  • Panic – when triggered by trauma based cues, I might go into a panic attack, unable to control my body, uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating and a feeling of being possessed, like my body is no longer my own.

People often learn to dissociate as children when the world is too much to handle. If a kid is being abused (emotionally or otherwise), or dealing with other trauma, disconnecting often works as a way to cope. However, in the present, the function no longer serves. Symptoms of dissociation linger because it is a learnt response, but they often interfere with the person’s life. Something that was once protective is now also life-impairing. Unfortunately, dissociation isn’t something that simply goes away. It is unlikely to lift fully until the underlying reasons for it (usually trauma) are addressed.

I continue to live my life in a fog and it makes me feel less than human most of the time. I hope that embarking on trauma work in therapy will help me with my dissociation. I hope it will enable me to live my life more fully, more safely, and more grounded in the present. 

For more about my experiences with dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation, click this link here. 

A Journal Entry about Dissociation

She was angry and unpleasant with me this morning and I really noticed the effect it had on me. I felt like I needed to leave the situation but I had to stay at the same time because it wasn’t worth rocking the boat – it never is. At these times it feels impossible for me to stay present in the situation, but I have to stay there physically; hence the dissociation – the disconnect between my physical self and the rest of me. 

I felt like I had been taken back in time; I wasn’t 22 any longer. I was small, but I made myself invisible – and somewhat invincible – so that I could let her anger wash over me. I went into this muted state of ‘non-existence’. It makes me feel like I can give people the free reign to act however they please towards me, and I can then just take their shit until any irrational or extreme state has passed and I can breathe again. 

I become the one who has to take the blame and apologise for causing the unrest, for provoking or misunderstanding, for not judging the situation or the person correctly. It is never about them – it’s all me. I sacrifice my own emotional state for the other person and it’s easy; it’s something I’ve always done. 

When I went into my room a short while later and saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t look at myself with my pathetic doe-eyed stare. I felt a real sense of “There is something going on here, but I am also not here”. I knew there were feelings but I couldn’t feel them. My humanness had been stripped away and I was left with nothing but a troubled emptiness.

Dissociating and Regressing to a Childlike State

Something terrifying happened in therapy this week. We had been talking about difficult childhood memories, although I was dazed enough that I wasn’t finding it particularly painful. When that came to a natural end, we moved on to talk about something irrelevant. Very soon however, a wave of fatigue and heaviness started to come over me. I tried to push it away as I usually do with these things, but it was much thicker and weightier than usual and I was slowly losing control.

I didn’t tell my therapist I was dissociating because I thought I could control it. However, after a certain amount of time had gone by and it was still getting stronger, it became pretty self-evident. By the time she noticed the extent of the hold it had on me, I was too far gone to bring myself back. She tried to get me to make eye contact and move a little, but I was too taken over by this point.

My legs had started shaking and were now bouncing up and down uncontrollably, as though I was having a seizure. However, the rest of my body was paralysed. My eyes were closed and I couldn’t open them, I was unable to move my head from the position it was in, and as desperately as I was trying to shout “HELP ME”, I could not speak any words. In some ways it resembled a panic attack, but based on my previous panic attacks, this was very different. It was a severe dissociative episode in which I had lost total control over my body.

I can’t remember what order this all happenened in but there was more to it than just the dissociation. As well as dissociating, I seemed to have regressed into a childlike state at some point around that time in the session. I felt I had no control over this and that I was not me, it was not a choice thing and my consciousness was very different to usual. This baby version of me was far less restrained in her mannerisms. Apparently it became very obvious that I was not quite myself any longer. Usually I am very controlled; but in those moments I expressed myself as a baby would with no restraint or my usual infinite shame. Rationality and higher brain functions didn’t exist, I was back to an infant-like mode of being.

My therapist was talking to me in a soothing voice to match my baby state, and when all of my other senses had muted, her voice was the one thing keeping me tied to reality. When the shaking got so bad, she came over to try and help ground me by talking me through what I needed to do slowly and grounding me with her touch (with permission) on my shaking knees and feet. I was slowly able to move parts of my body although my legs were still shaking of their own accord. When my voice returned I started begging between gasps of breath for her to make the shaking stop as it was highly distressing. Eventually we managed to get me to the bathroom to use cold water for ice diving which calmed my system down massively and triggered me back into reality enough to attempt conversation as an adult again.

The highest intensity part of the whole episode probably lasted 20 minutes but the residual disconnect and fear lingered on and on and on. My therapist walked me out because I was in such a daze and stayed with me until her next client. I don’t think she had ever seen me like that. As I was walking, it was as though I was on the moon. Everything was in slow motion and I couldn’t bear to look at people because they looked so alien to me.

It took me about four times longer than usual to get to the station because I was so out of it, freaked out and lost in my own little world. My memory of the whole thing is fragmented and I don’t know what came first – the dissociation or regression or if they were one and the same. But it was fucking terrifying and confusing and I can’t find much at all online in the way of answers.


I reckon the regression was serving as a coping mechanism. Without me even realising my system had become overwhelmed with this childhood stuff and its way of dealing with that was to cut off and almost compartmentalise different parts of myself.

I also think that this regression episode was functioning as an inadvertent non-verbal method of communication. It was showing both myself and my therapist where I was at emotionally, and what I subsequently needed. The sadness was so big but because I wasn’t able to recognise it from my adult self, the baby version of me could express it instead in an expressive and unrestrained way. This included talking in a baby voice, asking incessantly for cuddles, curling up into a fetal position on the chair, and getting my therapist to swaddle me in a blanket I could hide under.

I was so ashamed after I started to come out of the state, but my therapist told me that I had nothing to apologise for, and that what happened was giving us information – information that we could use. I think she is right in that the episode provided a lens into some of the unresolved issues from my past, so that we can use what happened to inform how we move forward and help me heal from that together.

The Disconnect

Dissociation is getting the better of me again. I will try and put my experience into words. 

Dissociation is experienced as a sort of disconnect or detachment from reality that can manifest in a number of ways. Ways I often describe it, based on my on experience, include: 

  • “Spacey”
  • “Out of it”
  • “Loopy”
  • “In a daze”
  • “My brain isn’t working” 

There are different types and levels of dissociation although they can also overlap and change over time. For example, sometimes I dissociate so badly in therapy that I literally cannot see, talk or move – and may go into a panic attack – and need the help of my therapist to bring me back to reality. For me, this is at the rarer end of the spectrum occurring far less often. The more frequent experiences I have of dissociation are what I refer to as a consistent but more “low-level” dissociation. This less intense (although definitely more enduring) form of dissociation is mostly unnoticeable to others, so I can maintain my functional façade despite feeling simultaneously detached from reality. This can be a good thing because at least I am able to manage life in the objective sense, however it can also be extremely challenging – because it makes the stark contrast between my subjective reality versus others’ perceptions of me even more pronounced.  

The two main types of dissociation I struggle with are depersonalisation and derealisation.

Derealisation is a feeling that the external world is unreal. Common experiences I have of this are:

  • Disrupted and distorted visuals – objects appear to change size, my eyes cannot focus, specific objects appear “trippy” especially nature, colours are either muted or intensified, objects zoom in and out, my vision is blurry or foggy.
  • Altered perceptions of sound – sounds are muffled, I can hear words but cannot process what is being said, my brain zooms into one specific sound, or many sounds mush together into a pulsating cacophony of noises which I struggle to discern between.
  • Objects, places or people become more unrecognisable than they usually are – for example I can be with one of my closest friends and find that their face looks distorted or unfamiliar, and scare myself because I cannot relate to them despite our relationship. 
  • The external world feels beyond my reach, often shrouded by a dense fog or separated from me by an impenetrable albeit invisible shield. 
  • Life feels like a movie and I am just a character in it; nothing around me is really real, nothing truly exists.

Depersonalisation occurs when the individual feels a sense of detachment from their self as opposed to the external world, for example:

  • A sense that my body does not belong to me, that I am just eyes or a head with no tangible physical presence.
  • Feeling very light or very heavy, like I am floating, like I am underwater, like I am drifting through life watching it go by but not actually a part of it.
  • Feeling like a ghost, a zombie, ‘dead but alive’.
  • Being unable to differentiate between my physical body and the physical edge or surface of the ground I am walking on or the seat I am sitting on, etc.
  • Being unable to recognise myself in the mirror emotionally despite knowing rationally that I am looking at a reflection of myself – feeling a sense of detachment from my physical self and as though the face/ body I am looking at does not belong to me or is not my own.
  • Being unable to feel sensations or know where in my body different sensations are occurring. Or the sensations I feel become muted or unfamiliar – like they are happening to someone else, not me. Or one limb, for example, can feel foreign and like it doesn’t belong to the rest of my body.
  • I can hear myself speaking and communicating but do not recognise my voice as my own and do not feel as though the words have been produced by my own brain.
  • Actions and thought processes are not in sync, my brain and my body are misaligned and there is a delay in communication between the two.

Some consequences of the dissociation include:

  • Paranoia, because I cannot work out what is real and what is not. This extends to the interpersonal relationships in my life: In being unable to relate to people or the external world, I cannot make sense of where I stand in interactions, how I relate to others or how they relate to me. 
  • There is a chronic hyper-vigilance alongside the utter disconnect; even though the two are seemingly incompatible, that is exactly what it feels like to be me – I am a walking catch 22.
  • Identity disturbance and confusion. I just do not know who I am, nor if I am at all. 
  • Heightened anxiety as a result of the lack of groundedness, which then serves to exascerbate the dissociation, further perpetuating the cycle. 
  • Urges to self-harm, just so that I can feel something tangibly, to show me that I am alive and real.  
  • Social avoidance behaviours, because interacting with people feels exhausting, forced, confusing and overall excruciating. The dissociation feels so obvious to me that I am sure everyone else must be able to see it as well, and have all sorts of judgments about me. Also it just scares me shitless – feeling so trippy and detached – being out in the big unfamiliar world.
  • It impacts my relationships hugely. All the connections in my life feel strained, because connecting requires such effort. I cannot connect enough to have a romantic relationship, nor do I foresee myself ever having children if I cannot connect in the way a child needs.
  • Suicidality. I feel utterly helpless and hopeless, and question the point in being alive in I feel so very dead inside. 

I am sitting on a train having such intrusive thoughts about what the point in life is when “I don’t really exist”, and questioning what is truly real both in my surroundings and within myself. There is so much beauty around me, but it is so far out of my reach and I am unable to access it within my current state and connect to it on an emotional level. It is the most frustrating thing to feel so very far away from a world that I am so desperate to feel a part of.  

When I Am Alone I Cease To Exist

I only seem to know myself when I see myself in relation to others, and even that is fragile.

I do not just rely on people for reassurance; I rely on people to help me feel a part of this world – to remind me that I am alive. Without the few specific people I can connect with, I remain a floating and directionless vessel. It is only through these people that I become reunited with a sense of self, a purpose and feeling of being grounded in life.

It is ironic because the only way I seem to be able to know myself, is through seeing how others know me. The only way I seem to be able to feel alive internally, is through the external aliveness of these others – as though I am dependent on others breathing life into me to keep my engine running. When I am alone, or unable to connect with people, I collapse into the nothingness that defines me. 

When I am with certain others, I can come to life and feel alive. When these connections are physically cut (yes, the connection has to be in person, otherwise it feels like it ceases to exist and the problem re-arises), a part of me dies – and from there on I am back in a state of disconnection – both from myself and everything else. 

When I am on my own, I live in a fog of muted or distorted senses, feelings of identity loss, emptiness and confusion, and an inability to feel a part of this world. When I am able to reconnect, it is like I have been given a pair of glasses that allow me to see reality again. But the glasses are only ever on loan – they either get stolen, shattered or lost, or I wake up and the glasses were just a mocking feature of a dream. 

It terrifies me how much I need others to maintain my place in reality.

Grounding: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

From earlier today, when walking in a dissociative daze and attempting to use skills to bring me back to the present moment –

  • 5 things you see:
    A gnarled tree trunk with moss growing down one side
    Glass on the pavement glistening in the sun
    A white van with a black rotator on top spinning in the wind
    Black pointed gates separating the cemetery from the road
    A sign that says lion-something but depicts an animal that looks more like a tiger
  • 4 things you hear:
    The sound of my shoes clomping
    Cars going past me; louder as they near, quieter as they disappear
    Birds tweeting
    The wind blowing leaves in trees
  • 3 things you can touch:
    The soft lining of my faux-fur coat
    My hand grazing against the brick wall
    The corners of my phone case in my right pocket
  • 2 things you smell:
    Exhaust fumes
    Something fresh like grass
  • 1 thing I taste:
    Remnants of rich goat’s cheese from lunch

My University Experience of Support around my Mental Illness

I have heard a lot of horror stories from people struggling with their mental health regarding how they have been treated (appallingly) by their universities when struggling. Living with BPD and aware of all the stigma around it, I expected that my experience of this would mirror those common stories of others.

However, I have been lucky enough to have an entirely different experience of mental health support at university to so many people I know. Numerous members of staff at both my current and previous universities have been so generous with their time, support and compassion throughout all my difficulties. It is so important and yet so often not something that people receive.

I have been struggling with dissociation recently and when in a dissociative state at university, it becomes near impossible to function. A number of my tutors have asked me if I am okay, because the disparity between how I have been recently compared to how I can be when present, enthusiastic and keen, is huge. This week (and I know it’s only Tuesday), I have been conversing with three lecturers separately about their current concerns, and my current needs.

I would like to share some of their email responses here. We hear so much about the negative side of mental health treatment, but rarely do we hear about it when it is experienced positively.

Here are a couple of extracts I have received from the staff members who are supporting me at university, who are genuinely helping make things a little more manageable for me:

“These things take time. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help support you further.”

“Thanks for sending this over, it’s given me a bit of a better idea of what you must be going through.” 

“No need to thank me for the chat, I’m pleased we spoke.”

“Please don’t feel embarrassed, I completely understand that people go through difficult times and our conversation will go no further, unless you want it to.”

“If there are any small changes that we can make to support you then please do let us know.”

I feel very appreciative and validated, and it really makes a difference during the difficult moments.

 

Struggling with Dissociation

Have any of you actually managed to “beat” or overcome dissociation? I don’t mean within single instances like the intense bursts with somewhat tangible triggers e.g. a trauma response, I mean generally, within life.

I spend probably 60-70% of my average waking time feeling dissociated and it was as high as 90% in recent weeks before skiing, for no tangible reason.

It’s really getting me down. When I’m like this, even when things are going “okay”, it’s like I’m just existing, not really living a worthwhile life at all.

Skiing helped me feel grounded and present to the point that I took it for granted and forgot the extent to which dissociation rules my life. But now that I’m off the slopes, the dissociation has hit with a vengeance and it feels like it’s back even stronger.

It’s hard to describe, and because I can just about”function”, I feel like I’m being dramatic. So I’ll try and be descriptive –

I feel like I’m in a constant fog. The world feels far away and out of my grasp. My senses are often muted. I find it impossible to concentrate or even take in simple stimuli such as light conversation and respond to them “normally”. Time is distorted. I am in slow motion. My brain and body aren’t in sync. Sometimes I feel trippy and my vision goes in and out or is blurry. I’m in a constant daze. My limbs don’t feel part of my body when I look at them, especially my hands. My memory isn’t working. I can’t learn. Nothing feels real. I do not exist.

I am so sad that it is back again. Every time it comes back after a period of “feeling alive” (e.g. whilst skiing), the disparity is such that it hits me extra hard.

My twelve year old sister just tried to teach me a card game and play and chat with me. I had to tell her I felt unwell because I was so spaced out that I couldn’t take in or make sense of anything she was saying. I feel so guilty to her because she needs me to be present, but I can’t be. I even did ice diving but after five minutes it stopped working. I told her I was really tired, which is the excuse I always use for the dissociation. It seems to work.

I’m scared I’ll never be able to have children because my dissociation gets in the way of being able to connect to people in a meaningful way; and there is no way I could bring a child into this world if i am unable to be fully present with them throughout their life.

It influences me to take myself off and isolate until it passes because conversing and pretending is so difficult, if not impossible, to do when I’m not present. I also end up wasting so much time when stuck in this state, which is frustrating as I have a ton of work and other commitments to do, and little time to lose.

Has anyone found any long-term solutions for dissociation? I don’t mean temporary grounding techniques. I need to target this stuff from its core, so I can live my life instead of just floating through it. I would really appreciate it. Any therapies or treatments, lifestyle changes or whatever. Thanks guys.

Dissociation and Grounding

Last week I was really struggling with dissociation so I compiled this list of grounding techniques personalised to me but effective for many.

When dissociated it can be challenging to think clearly and access skills so hopefully having this written list will be helpful to refer back to in the future:

  • 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you touch, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste
  • Get up and touch everything red…. then blue….. then green, etc whilst saying the name of the object
  • Balance on the wobble board
  • Ice diving / ice / water on face
  • Drink ice cold water
  • Go outside in the cold with minimal layers (appropriately!) and shock the system
  • Go on the trampoline
  • Untie a tightly knotted piece of string
  • Spend time with my little sisters playing puzzles or board games – use participate skill
  • Smell tiger balm or other strong scents
  • Do maths in my head e.g. 1,2,4,8,16,32 as high as I can go. Or prime numbers. (To activate a different part of my brain)
  • Play catch with someone alternating left and right hands
  • Or bounce a ball
  • Name cars, sites, people, patterns and signs around me and describe them factually
  • Heel-heel toe-toe
  • Push feet into the floor or hands against each other with as much pressure as possible
  • Use the punching bag
  • Stair-running
  • Have a cold shower – or alternate temperatures – and use mint shower gel
  • Chew gum
  • Half smile
  • Rub hands together really fast
  • Stamp on the floor or jump up and down
  • Squeeze / massage my arms or hands (non self-destructively)
  • Do stretching exercises like swinging arms around to activate
  • Imagery – imagine visually zooming out so that where you are gets smaller and smaller and further and further away. Zoom out as far as the street, the city, the country, the Earth, the universe. Then zoom in again; visualising “coming back down to Earth” until you have landed, right where you are
  • Do some active cleaning or reorganising, mindfully
  • Watch Impractical Jokers or Friends and laugh out loud
  • Ask myself if I am avoiding any difficult feelings. If so, mindfulness of current emotion and attend to that if appropriate
  • Write
  • Body scan (last resort as can be triggering/ lead to increased anxiety or dissociation!)
  • If functional i.e. the spaciness is not getting in the way of me doing what needs to be done, then work on radical acceptance: “I am feeling dissociated right now, for now, and that is okay…”

 

3-Day Record!!!

I cannot believe that after a few weeks of debilitating and incredibly frustrating episodes of dissociation, I have now had 3 full days of feeling infinitely more present and grounded in reality again. 

I have just arrived home from babysitting and would like to get to bed soon (and attend to my PLEASE skills!), but I first wanted to acknowledge and document this extraordinary personal feat! After feeling so hopeless and defeated by the dissociation just a few days ago, and certain that it would never lift, today and the previous few days have provided ample evidence to the contrary.

‘Tis certainly something worth me holding onto, appreciating and not taking for granted!

Goodnight 🌙

Wobble Board Wonders

In an attempt to ground myself and bring myself out of the dissociation described in my previous post, I have invested in a £5 Wobble Board from Tiger. Using the Wobble Board is a skill which really helped me with grounding in Boston. Hopefully it will help me in the same way from now on as well.

 

Wish me luck!

Dissociative Days/Daze

This morning, like many others, I battled with the blanket of dissociation that smothered me:

The world is foggy; the air thick and heavy. My body is weighed down, every movement a challenge – and yet I’m simultaneously light as a feather. Floating. Bobbing. Aimless. Automated and dazed. My head isn’t part of my body and my brain cannot seem to connect to my legs. I am moving but my body doesn’t belong to me. I feel as though I am looking through somebody else’s eye sockets into an alternate reality – but not my own, no… certainly not my own. 

I barely even exist: what am I? who am I? how did it get to this point? I cannot make the links between my body, my mind and what lies beyond. I’m having an existential crisis. 

My eyes are glazed over and vacant; they stare, piercing the air, but they do not see what lies before them. Colours fade into each other, overlapping and blurring. It takes an extortionate amount of effort to focus my vision effectively. Sounds too are muffled, and though I can hear noise, I cannot compute what it is they are saying. I lose track half way through a sentence, or cannot remember if I am being asked a question or merely given a statement. My own words take longer to evolve and when eventually I manage to utter them, I don’t recognise my voice. (I laughed earlier and almost turned around to find the source because the sound seemed so foreign and unrelated to me.)

The world is in slow-motion and time ceases to be an accurate measure of my “reality”. How long have I been here? Where has the day gone? Each moment moves so painfully slowly and yet the morning seems to have disappeared from my memory. It’s all blank. There is nothing here. I have no substance. There is nothing to me. I can barely lift my body let alone remember what it is I am doing. 

Now that the feeling has passed it is a great relief of course, although I am left once again perplexed. And exhausted. Every time I sink into that familiar trance-like state I become so trapped within myself and it’s hard to have faith that the fog will ever lift. It’s been pretty bad the last few days; probably half of my waking hours have been spent feeling dissociated, disorientated or “out of it” at best. To be honest I’m unsure as to the recent trigger(s), although my therapist reckons it may have something to do with all the transitions and losses I’ve experienced lately and my inability to simply *be* with these feelings. If a sensitive system becomes overwhelmed it may simply go into shut down.

Dissociating, although deeply frustrating and oftentimes incredibly scary, also serves this purpose: I don’t have to feel a morsel of my usual (often excruciating) emotional pain when I’m in that sort of mentality. It is an avoidance coping mechanism, and one which my body seems to have perfected over the years.

However dissociation can also be debilitating for me, and just as my pain leads me to question the purpose of my existence, so does the dissociation. When in this state I often ask myself the question: “What’s the point in me being alive if I feel so dead inside?”

I’m working hard with my therapist to try and combat or at least manage whatever is going on within my system during these moments. For the time being, when it does inevitably recur, I have to hold onto the evidence I have that it can and will pass eventually. It’s only when I lose sight of the transient nature of my internal states that I become more vulnerable to giving up the fight.

Luckily I’m not going anywhere for now. I may be fed up, but I’m still fighting, still trudging, still finding my way through the mist.