Dissociation: the action of disconnecting or separating or the state of being disconnected (set apart, separated, disjointed, shut down).
The last few days have been odd: each one bringing its own challenges and joys. Nothing particularly unusual about that perhaps, but these days have been different. These last few days I’ve consciously chosen to try to feel the things inside that I push down and cover up to avoid feeling. It hasn’t been easy. But it has been worth it.
But this blog isn’t about these last few days.
This blog is about last week because you need to know the back story first.
To be honest, I spent most of last week with my head in my hands like some kind of strange living kettlebell, connecting and disconnecting it from the rest of me in an attempt to conquer one of my usual protection mechanisms – dissociation.
Now I’m not a mental health professional, so this really is just from my personal experience, but to me, dissociation is quite clever really. It is my mind helping me to cope with situations that are overwhelming in some way; giving me the space to process feelings and thoughts.
When I was was first given the actual detailed diagnosis of my heart condition, for example, I removed my head from my shoulders so quickly that the cardiologist didn’t even notice that he was now just talking to my body! I watched incredulously from the corner of the ceiling as the lovely nurse put her arm around me while the cardiologist told me in his kindest voice that I had already outlived my life expectancy, but that they were hopeful they could perform open heart surgery to extend my life when I was well enough to survive it. Which at that point I wasn’t. I stared down, willing myself with all my might to say something in response. I did.
I said thank you.
And so then it began. The process of trying to put myself back together. Somehow I had to live with this new knowledge. Somehow I had to get up every day and carry on as normal. But it wasn’t normal. I wasn’t normal. This new knowledge about my heart was a giant trigger to so many other things that had happened in my life that I had not fully dealt with, including my father’s death (of a heart attack) when I was 4, my mother’s sudden death when I was 25 and my miscarriages. I was scared. Scared of feeling that grief, scared of not being able to cope with the intensity of my own sadness. I needed to reconnect myself.
So like a clown pushing an enormous string of handkerchiefs up her sleeve in preparation for a party trick, I pushed as many emotions as I could down through the hole where my head should have been. Then with all my strength I grabbed my head and plonked it on the top. I did a pretty good job. So I thought. But it was tiring.
And it was not truly connected.
You see, whenever I get palpitations or breathless, whenever I go to the cardiologist, get a call from the nurse specialist or even an appointment letter, whenever someone asks me about my heart or even just how I am, I can feel that string of handkerchiefs, now all knotted and tangled, trying to push its way up into my head. And I have to quickly remove my head again before it gets there, then push it all back down again so I can carry on living. Functioning. Being normal. But my heart is not normal.
This coping mechanism is not new to me. I’d already been doing it for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not devoid of emotion. In fact, I think I’m fairly self-aware, and connected to my feelings. I’m an advocate for counselling and therapy in general, for everyone. We all need a little help from time to time. I’ve used therapy to help me understand myself, and to get to know the issues that each of the handkerchiefs represent. It’s just that I’ve been a bit stuck in this dissociative habit of mine.
But it is getting more and more exhausting each time I do it. And recently a couple of my close friends have noticed me disappear in those moments when I’ve not shifted my head out of the way fast enough.
So. It is time.
It is time to reconnect for real.
And the only way to do that is to get to the bottom of those dirty, mangled old handkerchiefs to the actual root of things, once and for all.
And I am ready.
So that is what I’ve started to do these last few days. And that is what I will talk about in part 2 of this blog.