Do you ever get tired of talking about your mental health? You talk to this psychiatrist and that therapist. Sometimes you just need a break! It can become overwhelming putting so much focus on the one thing which is constantly an issue every second of every day. So that’s when you turn on a movie or put your headphones on. It’s okay to check out every once in a while. In fact, it’s probably important that you do.
Dissociation Can Be a Self-Protective Measure
Dissociation can also be a way of checking out. Did you know that even babies dissociate? When a stimulus is too much for them to handle, their focus and attention changes elsewhere. I used to dissociate a lot during therapy. Now, less so. Dissociation is a protective measure. I think of it as protecting me from the danger that may be approaching in a conversation. My brain automatically says, “it’s time to go!” So even though you aren’t physically going anywhere, your brain does a 180 to give you a break. These days I notice when I do it and I don’t mind when it happens. It’s actually sometimes enjoyable. Don’t think it’s always like that though. Sometimes the brain goes to dark places and when your attention comes back to the present it can be a relief.
In Returning to the Present
What does it feel like when you return to the room from having dissociated? It can be momentarily disorienting. You don’t know at what point the conversation is at and sometimes it takes looking around the room at familiar objects to ground yourself again. In fact, this always happens to me. It might not take more than a moment, or it could take a few minutes, but coming back to the present moment can be quite an ordeal. My therapist has taught me that time is not linear. Take a piece of paper. On one end is the present and the other end is the past. Then fold that paper in half. Now all of a sudden the present has become the past. It can take a mere instant. If you are experiencing PTSD the journey to the past can be even more harrowing. You’re either remembering the trauma or reliving it as if it’s actually happening. Not fun.
Self-Care is Important
Taking a break from your regular, everyday life is also important. It’s called self-care. If you work five days a week and come home, cook dinner and put the kids to bed, sometimes a treat to yourself can be locking the bathroom door for some moments to yourself. However you do it, it’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to self-care. As long as it feels good you know you are doing the right thing. I used to get very angry with myself for sleeping almost 48 hours straight on a weekend. That was when I was very depressed and I quite frankly didn’t want to deal with life. You know, doing things that people do when they are alive. I wanted to be dead. So I hid in the comfort of my bedsheets, away from the world. Now when I get 12 hours of sleep, I know it’s because I am choosing to do so. Before it didn’t feel like much of a choice. Now it’s a luxury and I feel relaxed after a long sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of many endless ways to be kind to yourself.
Self-Awareness and Self-Compassion are Key
I was recently introduced to the concept of self-compassion. I know that the word is a part of the English language but until now it had no personal meaning. It certainly was not a part of my regular vocabulary. I still know very little about it, but apparently, it can be an entire subject for discussion. There are things that compassion and self-compassion are not. They are not harmful. If you are thinking or doing something which is hurting yourself or another person in any way, that does not fit into the compassion category. We can be so unkind to ourselves. Thinking unkind thoughts can be so automatic for some individuals. It’s hard to even notice at first. But you can be mindful and train yourself to be aware. It is the awareness which opens the door to change. One way to train yourself is to work with a psychotherapist. They are professionally trained to help you become aware of your thoughts, behaviours and patterns. It’s their job. You can make it someone’s job to help you, that way you don’t have to do it alone.
Knowing that you are not alone can make all the difference. It takes one person, just one person to make that difference. It could be your priest, a friend, a parent a sibling or an aunt. For me, that person is my therapist. He has been the one consistent thing in my ever-changing life. Through my ups and downs, he has been there. My greatest fear was always that he would one day leave me, just as my father did when he died when my brother and I were three and a half years old. Ten years later my therapist has still not left me. I think it’s safe to say that he will never leave me. What he also teaches me is that he is always there, even when he is not physically with me. Every day I live in the way that he has taught me. Everything that I have ever learned from him is accessible to me by virtue of my mind. I can conjure his presence at any time. It also helps that I can write to him at any time. Although he doesn’t respond, he faithfully reads every word which I compose. I’ve translated this writing into the realm of the imagination. Now I compose emails to him which sometimes don’t actually get written down. It’s my way of processing things that happen. I have been writing to him for years and it is a revelation that I don’t have to send him updates on every moment of my life these days. It’s the act of that writing or imagining writing, talking to him in my mind which makes the difference to me.
Healing is Not Linear
When you have mental health issues, it can sometimes consume your life. If you are clinically depressed, meaning there is a chemical imbalance in your brain, everything is effort. Waking up is effort. Feeding yourself is effort. Life like this can be difficult. And then there are the medications. You take them in the morning, you take them at night. Day in and day out. It’s always the same and it’s always effort. Until one day it isn’t. Here and there you can have glimpses of what life could be like without mental illness. It’s not about being happy all the time. It’s about comfort and it’s about peace. It’s about having a safe place to go to on the inside no matter what is going on in the outside world. Have you ever felt the sun on your skin, and it just felt nice? That’s how I want to feel all of the time, but at the beginning of the recovery process, all you get are glimpses of the good times, here and there, until they become more frequent and until one day you have gone through an entire day of not having any mental mishaps or crises. Those days become weeks. Healing is also not a linear process. It’s this big, crazy mess of a spiderweb of ups and downs and everything in between. But you’re here, you’re still here. That’s what matters at this moment and this moment is all you have until the next one happens. So try your best to live in the moment. Hold space for yourself internally when things are not good. Breathe. And know that this too shall pass. In the end, everything is going to be okay.