I’d like to take a different route with this article and delve more into my own personal aspects that I’ve been working on with my therapist. Right now, we are working through a split mind in order to make it whole again.
I have been diagnosed with PTSD and depression (as a result), but there are subtleties of dissociation involved. To be clear though, there is no diagnosis of a dissociation disorder, just faint ways that I’ve dealt with things that have that “taste” of dissociation to them. There has been a distinct split between my old self and who I became. My goal is to get my old self back because, well, I need him.
To give some perspective, let me describe the two.
- Easy going and happy
- Always positive
- Clear thinking
- Funny and responsive to people
- Adventurous and fun
- Neutral feeling and sad
- On edge and unable to process emotion
- Typically negative
- Foggy thinking and difficulty making decisions
- Unempathetic (extremely) and switched off
- Isolated from others except at work
- Lack of motivation and spark for any enjoyment
Definitely a clear distinction between the two I’d say. It’s been since early 2006 since I’ve been that old self…I’ve really almost forgotten what it was like. Like I said though, I need to be that way again. And therein lies the split. That old self is still in there but the “new” self has become the only thing I know now.
Backstory (nutshell version)
I had deployed to Afghanistan as an Infantry soldier in early 2006 and fought through the fighting season until the end of August. After our first 2 months calm”ish” tour, we had our first fight and it was devastating. Both in numbers killed and wounded, but also for all of our psyches. We finally knew what war was about. The trend continued for the next 4 months.
It was high intensity, low level warfare with constant threats of ambush and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) for basically 4.5 months. Couple that with a dysfunctional sleep schedule of 4 hours of broken sleep per 24 hours period, then “work” all day…rinse, repeat. We did have some relax time though. We had a 24 hours refit period every 3 weeks to eat fresh food, sleep and stock up on smokes.
There was absolutely no time to process what we were all going through or feeling during that time. The inevitable result was that I, and I presume most others, completely dissociated ourselves from everything in order to work effectively and live another day. Seeing it now, it makes perfect sense.
You shut off as much emotion as you can and become as “machine” like as possible just to survive. Everything you do then has nothing to do about you, just your mates. You keep them alive, they keep you alive.
Emotion and such was never a “weakness” issue. It was a “we must survive in this shit show” and there is no time to process this right now, so hold it and do it after. Months and months of that. Not good.
Being that in 2006, governments and therapists were not well versed in war traumas, there wasn’t much in the way of proper mental health resources. Things are definitely better now at least. That being said, my post deployment mental health screen was all I really had for support unless I wanted to be put on medications. For me, that was not an option.
The Here and Now
Fast forward to the past few years and I never dealt with any of it. That guy who had to shut everything off stayed off. Things got worse and worse, and eventually I sought help, which now brings me to the now. It took 12 years, but I couldn’t take it any longer. Problem is, it’s been so long that it’s incredibly difficult to not be what I’ve become and at least feel a bit of what I used to be like.
So, hopefully I described things enough that you can see the split mind that is there. Who I was, who I am and why I’m like that. Sadly, so many have been down this road as well. I 100% get it. Now this tactic of remaining off (which served me well on tour) doesn’t allow me the freedom to enjoy things and be happy, but keep me in a perpetual rut of negativity and isolation.
You can replace a soldier’s story with someone who suffered from abuse or neglect or the day in/day out grind of dealing with the injured and dead of car crashes. You name the trauma, and this can be part of it.
I think it’s obvious that the sooner someone seeks help, the better. This goes without saying. The longer you wait, the more difficult it can be…take my 12 years as an example.
For all intents and purposes, I (and no doubt many others) used dissociative behaviour to manage what I was feeling at the time. I have continued to use it to avoid coming to terms with things and revisiting my demons.
What is Dissociation?
So what is dissociation exactly? The following definition is from the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.
Dissociation is a word that is used to describe the disconnection or lack of connection between things usually associated with each other. Dissociated experiences are not integrated into the usual sense of self, resulting in discontinuities in conscious awareness (Anderson & Alexander, 1996; Frey, 2001; International Society for the Study of Dissociation, 2002; Maldonado, Butler, & Spiegel, 2002; Pascuzzi & Weber, 1997; Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995; Simeon et al., 2001; Spiegel & Cardeña, 1991; Steinberg et al., 1990, 1993)
5 Types of Dissociation
There are also 5 types and I’ll describe them briefly. The 5 types are depersonalization, derealization, amnesia, identity confusion, and identity alteration.
Depersonalization is when one feels detached from oneself. This can manifest in a sense of recognizing oneself or not feeling connected to their bodies. Cutting off ones emotions because of the trauma is another part of this.
Derealization is when a person’s reality feels unreal, fuzzy or fake. Something like feeling like the life you’re living isn’t actually real and one day you’ll wake up back on the battlefield about to die.
Dissociative Amnesia is just as it sounds. It’s the forgetting of important details, particularly of the trauma itself.
Identity Confusion is a sense of confusion about who the individual is. This is more along the lines of someone getting an emotional response from something when they normally wouldn’t. This can be very confusing to someone I’d say.
Identity Alteration is the distinct switch to an alternate personality of the individual. This is what most consider to be multiple personality disorder where the person seems to have completely different personalities residing inside them.
I believe that some depersonalization, cutting off emotions in particular, is quite common during and immediately after a trauma. Considering the circumstances I was in, it was the only way to deal with the emotions and carry on with my job. My problem was that I continued with it to avoid feeling and revisiting painful events. Thus, I never really allowed myself the opportunity to deal with things effectively.For all intents and purposes, I (and no doubt many others) used dissociative behaviour to manage what I was feeling at the time. I have continued to use it to avoid coming to terms with things and revisiting my demons. Click To Tweet
My Therapy Treatment So Far
My therapist and I have only begun delving into this part of the therapy. Feeling much of anything but sadness has been a difficult task for me, as I’m sure many can attest to. My therapists approach so far has been to get me to recognize when I enjoy something and then pay attention to how it feels. To really try to ground myself in the present and what I feel inside at that moment.
Grounding exercises and mindful meditation (she is big on that, and I feel it is something that works for me) does help. This is stuff I work at on my own time. My appointments tend to be more revisiting the traumas and acknowledging the emotions, with the end result of letting go one day.
Though my own experiences may differ from many others, the issue of dissociation is ever prevalent for many of us. The desire to forget and protect myself from pain was so deep that I did the only thing I could do…
Shut off from everything.
As time went on it was easier and easier to do. Now though, after so much time, it is exceptionally difficult to bring that split mind back to being complete again. Yet another example where getting help sooner is always better.