I am a very difficult person to love. Although undeniably charming (my mom will testify), I have a quick temper. I am easily agitated and I have a sarcastic wit, which is often misunderstood. Throughout my adult life, I’ve struggled with the idea that this is just my personality. A strong-willed woman with a self-proclaimed hilarious sense of humor, who will shoot daggers with her eyes if you so much as think about eating that piece of cake of on the plate. You better start running.
Then, there are the times when my “personality” becomes intensified, yet vacant. I shut down. Sometimes, it happens so slowly I can almost watch myself shut down. Sound changes, light fades, everything moves as if into the distance. So far away. I try to pull myself back but I can’t. Fight as I may, the protector in me always wins, resulting in involuntary dissociation. If I find myself struggling with intense emotions or overwhelming memories, flashbacks that assault my very being, my very core of existence. Then my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms usually elevate, causing my overprotective brain to dissociate. Dissociation can be defined as disruptions in aspects of consciousness, identity, memory, physical actions and/or the environment. I can experience dissociation once a day, thrice, three times or more. It is so debilitating it drives me crazy.
Most of the time, this isn’t something I choose. It happens automatically. Spontaneously. Often at very inconvenient times. All of that said, to me, dissociation is about survival. It took me a really long time to get to the point where I could view it as such, however. Once I did, I started to feel less shame about dissociating and through the guidance of my therapist, began giving myself permission to dissociate when I need a break from emotions that trigger past trauma.
Recently, my PTSD was triggered by a friend texting me telling me that she was going to commit suicide. I felt hopelessly inadequate. I am not a professional and cannot help her in that way. I can listen but am terrified of saying the wrong thing but also am not well enough to listen to her story. I felt pressured to talk about trauma from my past, and I was made to feel like I was a liar as I glossed over my own story and minimised it. Quite honestly, I felt attacked by her as she openly said you don’t understand you haven’t been through anything like I have. I felt betrayed by her even though that was not at all her intention. After my time with her, I do, however, remember walking to the car in a dreamlike state. By the time I was home, safe, I had sunk into a triggered traumatic flashback state, then dissociated and that claimed my life for the better part of two weeks. The dissociation is a safety net to protect me from the childhood abuse that I experienced for fourteen years. When the flashbacks erupt in my brain that is when the dissociation happens to protect me from them.
Complex PTSD, for me, is not about profound sadness. In fact, I become void of virtually all emotions. I no longer feel love, empathy or sympathy. I don’t feel sad. In fact, I don’t usually cry at all during these times. I struggle to laugh or smile. Spare my children, I am unable to connect to any one person on a level any more intimate than how one would respond to a stranger.
I become overly agitated by the smallest, most trivial things. It isn’t uncommon for me to snap at my husband for running the water in the sink too loudly (true story). A loved one has stood in front of me during one of my depressive episodes, and with tears streaming down her face, begged me to come back. I knew I should comfort her, offer her reassurance I was still me. Instead, I stood frozen in front of her and unemotionally said, “I’m sorry.”
It’s upsetting for me to write about this, to tell you my truth. I hate the person I become when I’m struggling with depression. I feel like I become ugly, cold and truly unpleasant to be around. I become hard to love.
Dissociation and Complex PTSD go hand in hand with me. They are both present in my life and more often than not happen concurrently. I am working on learning how to reconnect and recover from depressive dips, along with how to bring myself back from particular lengthy dissociative episodes.
However, I am also trying my best to remember to be gentle with myself. To be kind to my brain. After all, it is doing it’s best to protect me. I will forever stand behind the fact that dissociation saved my life. I may be hard to love, but I am surviving. For this, I will always be thankful. Dissociation saves me many times from the intolerability of the flashbacks which would otherwise drive me to suicide attempts so you see it is the lesser of two evils.