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PTSD, Dissociation and Occupational Therapy: 13 Things That Have Changed Since Learning to Live Inside of My Body

When you live in a fight-or-flight response, you dissociate from your body often. Fleeing. Seeking solace elsewhere. But then you leave only a shell of yourself to deal with everything. And when this happens over years, decades, you learn to live outside of your body. 

You go through the motions. Like a robot. Where only sensory stimuli or memories throw you back into your body. But your body doesn’t feel safe. Forcing you to fight, flee or freeze again. Causing the cycle to continue. 

I didn’t know I was caught in a cycle of living outside of my body until I began occupational therapy. I started to understand what it meant when, during one of my first visits, my occupational therapist (OT) asked me what my toes felt like. I reached down to grab them, No, inside your body, she said. It was a new concept to me. I had never thought of feeling my body inside of my body. Probably because I wasn’t.

It was why my breaths stayed shallow. Why my movements were frigid and stiff. Why my feet and hands were always extremely cold. Why they’d fall asleep often. Why my limbs ached. What my therapeutic masseuse described as fibromyalgia. Connecting the fact that not living inside of my body was the reason for my chronic pain. 

Not living inside of my body caused me more than just physical pain, it wasn’t allowing me to feel my emotions either. I’d become flooded quickly. Unable to separate one emotion from the other. Getting angry by default even if I was just confused. Sometimes even showing anger when I felt the urge to laugh, but the anger prevailed. Preventing me from being able to laugh at myself. To see the light in situations. Or to enjoy my life. 

Because I had no grasp on my body or my emotions, I was endlessly overwhelmed by people and by environments. Constantly misunderstanding and fighting with others. Pushing through each week only to come crashing down on the weekends. Sometimes hurting myself with an unsafe landing. Then having to get back up and do it all over again the next week. A relentless cycle that made me lose all hope that life could ever be enjoyable.

But since beginning to see my OT and learning to regulate my nervous system, to stop dissociating and to live inside of my body, everything is changing.

me by the water

  1. I understand my body’s physical needs. I am learning what I feel like when I’m hungry. When I’m tired. When I’ve used too much energy and need to rest. Leading to less frequent meltdowns. 
  2. I can better distinguish between my emotions. Before, they were just a jumbled mess where I couldn’t say what I was feeling. Causing me to not understand how I felt. To sometimes blame others for my emotions. Leading to more fights. But now that I can sense what I’m feeling, I can own my emotions and logically work out what I need to do with them.
  3. I work through my bodily pain. Both physical and emotional. By continuing to see my OT and my psychotherapist. By doing yoga and body scans to connect to my body. And by meditating to be mindful.
  4. I can sense when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. By people or by my environment. Something I didn’t know how to sense coming before, so I would have a meltdown as a result. Now, I feel the feeling rise up in me, and I know how to breathe, engage my senses and get myself to a safe space.
  5. I can communicate with others about my feelings and my needs. Now I know to say, I’m feeling overwhelmed, or, Talking about this is making me feel anxious. Allowing me to set clearer boundaries with others and to be less triggered. 
  6. I can use all parts of my brain. When you live in a fight-or-flight response, your thoughts often don’t make it past your brain stem, causing mixed and missed signals to other parts of your body, and not allowing you to access your logical or emotional thoughts. But since learning to live in my body, I’m able to access more of my brain. Leading to fuller thoughts. And a fuller self.
  7. I can tell when I’m about to dissociate. Now that I understand what physical and emotional things my body is feeling, I can also sense when my fear response has been triggered and I’m about to leave my body, or dissociate. Sensing this allows me to identify my trigger, to get myself to a safe space and to regulate my nervous system, allowing me to say put.
  8. I now know the difference between when I dissociate and when I lose my temper. Two things that blurred together in the past, causing me to severely overreact to others. Not knowing how to regulate my emotions or to get back into my body. Now that I am living inside of my body, I know the feeling I get when I’m about to dissociate. And it’s a different feeling than when I’m angry.
  9. I am more aware of my needs in general. Helping me understand what it takes to have successful days. And in turn, a successful relationship with myself and with others. 
  10. I understand my energy levels and don’t push myself too far. When I was unregulated and wasn’t able to sense my body’s fatigue, I would keep pushing myself and then crash. Now, I’m learning to ration my energy more wisely and to stop when I need to. 
  11. I am not as hard on myself as I used to be. Because I understand my physical and emotional needs more, I’m learning to respect them. Recognizing that there’s only so much I can get done in a day. And being okay with it. 
  12. I know what my priorities are. Now that I understand my needs and my energy, I can determine in advance how I want to spend my time. And instead of making myself do things I don’t want to do, I’m learning to say no and to be self-fulfilling with my choices. Choosing and enjoying the things I’m doing. Not feeling caught up in what others are expecting of me or in something I’m merely feeling obligated to do.
  13. I am able to be present. By living inside of my body with all my thoughts and emotions, I’m not living as much in the past or in the future. Allowing me to understand my needs. To be able to fully give myself to others. And to feel happy and safe in my body and in my life. 

To those of you who suffer from PTSD and/or experience dissociation, I wish you a safe landing inside of your body. And I hope you learn to work through your pain so you feel safe enough to stay there.

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PTSD, Dissociation and Occupational Therapy: 13 Things That Have Changed Since Learning to Live Inside of My Body

Jenna Grace

Jenna Grace is a writer and educator with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) diagnoses. She writes and speaks about topics including healing from trauma, coping with neurological disorder and practicing mindfulness in order to help others and to explore new meaning. Visit her website for more of her stories.

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APA Reference
Grace, J. (2019). PTSD, Dissociation and Occupational Therapy: 13 Things That Have Changed Since Learning to Live Inside of My Body. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2019
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