Have you ever had times where you totally zone out? Maybe in that class you found particularly boring or when someone was talking to you and your brain didn’t care enough to pay attention. Well, imagine that, but imagine it happening during every class, every conversation. Imagine living your life, constantly feeling like you’ve forgotten something, like you’ve missed something.
That’s what dissociative disorder is like, at least, that’s the best way I can describe it. It’s a horrible thing to have to put up with, mainly because it means I’m always forgetting things. Things happen and I have no memory of the event, I don’t mean it’s hazy or I vaguely remember someone saying something about someone, I mean, in my head, it never happened.
I often misplace objects such as my phone or keys and have no recollection of where they are or even when I had them last. For example, I lost my keys over this past weekend, didn’t find them for 5 days. I looked EVERYWHERE. I checked every bag I owned I checked piles of paperwork and laundry heaps, I checked every room in the house several times and I could find them anywhere. I was so frustrated and angry at myself, mum kept saying “where did you last have them” and I did not know. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t even come up with a single suggestion, my brain had just wiped all memories.
With mums help, I finally found them in my coat pocket, but even upon finding them, there was no “ah now I remember I put them in there.” In fact, my exact thinking was, “I don’t remember wearing this coat.” Another example from today, I couldn’t find my phone. I had picked it up off the table and headed out the front door. In those few seconds, I lost it. I checked my bag, my pockets, everything. I went back in the house and checked everywhere from the table to the front door, unable to figure out how I had misplaced it in seconds.
At last, I found it in the pocket of my jacket which was under my coat so I hadn’t checked, but again, upon finding it, all I could think was “when did I put this jacket on? And when did I put my phone in the pocket?”
It is the most frustrating thing in the world; and it’s not just about misplacing things. I forget sentences as they are coming out of my mouth, and I don’t just forget what I was going to say, I forget what I have just said as well. I zone out frequently, without any control or knowledge of my doing so. I only notice I have been zoned out, when I come back to the real world. I know everyone has moments like this when they are tired or bored but this is every day for me, every hour.
I rely entirely on my calendar to tell me what I am doing each day, if I forget to look at my calendar, whatever is on my calendar for that day, won’t happen. For example, if I have a doctor’s appointment anytime other than my usual Monday session, say a Thursday, chances are I’ll think to myself “its Thursday, nothing usually happens on a Thursdays, so all’s fine.” I won’t bother to check my calendar and the appointment will be forgotten. Even if by chance I do remember to look at my calendar and check, I’ll first off be confused, thinking “When did I write this entry?” and second, as soon as I close the calendar I’ll forget anyway.
Dissociative disorder is often caused due to intense trauma, anxiety and paranoia, all of which I have. It’s almost like a coping strategy our minds have. They realise that these horrible past experiences as well as anything else that may cause us stress, make us feel threatened. It’s as if the mind is attacking itself so it says “hey if I can’t remember those things, I won’t feel scared.” Only problem is it does a pretty bad job of filtering the things to forget and the things to remember.
My memory was always pretty good when I was younger, especially when I was learning about things I enjoyed. Song lyrics came natural to me as well as movie quotes, history was always something I loved so historical facts were never hard to memorise. If I enjoyed a series of books enough, I could recount the entire story, not word perfect, but pretty well, even remembering the names and traits of imaginary creatures has never been a problem. I was always pretty proud of my memory, at the things I would remember and help others to remember too. So when I started my teens, and started to forget, I was more than a little upset.
I get so frustrated at times that I want to just scream. So often I want to speak but I forget how to form the words on my tongue, I forget which language I speak and even my own name. Sometimes I can’t even remember the word “mum” or “dad” and simply settle for waving in their direction to get their attention.
Ever get that feeling when you walk into a room and can’t remember why? Yeah, now try that in every room. How about, every time you stand up, you can’t remember why. You walk into a shop not only to forget why you walked in there, but also wondering how you got there in the first place, as you have no recollection of travelling.
Ever zoned out in a conversation? OK well imagine having a conversation with someone and minutes later, someone asks you what you were talking about and you don’t even remember speaking to anyone, never mind what was said. So often, my family remind me of conversations I have had with them that I cannot remember, not just the subject or the outcome, but I cannot remember at what point I spoke to them, where we were, what we were doing, anything.
I have to write lists for everything. Lists for shopping, lists for housework, lists for what I am doing through the day, lists for borrowed books to return, lists for things I have to remember to tell people, lists for places I have to remember to go, lists for medications I have to pick up, lists for questions I have to ask the doctor, even lists for listing my different lists, I’m telling you it’s ridiculous.
I got the idea to write about this last night when I found myself in the kitchen at half past midnight, wondering what on earth I was doing. It’s a strange sensation, to move around without knowing, to do things and not remember, and I really hate it.
It gives me such a huge sense of worthlessness, of failure. It often causes me to have panic attacks too, as I get so angry and worked up, it just triggers me off.
Even while writing this, I’m getting lost in words, what was I going to say? My mind drifts, flies away all the time to think about nothing, or everything. I think that’s part of the problem, my mind is trying to do so much that it just shuts down. It’s trying to cope with past problems, present problems and it’s trying to figure out what I need to look out for in the future.
Do these symptoms describe you? It’s very possible that you have dissociative disorder too, a lot of it goes undiagnosed because people are just labelled as forgetful, a daydreamer and so on. If you feel that I’ve just described you, I suggest you speak to someone you trust about this, either a friend, family member or medical professional. There is work they do with people to help them recover their memory and control their disorder, so you may want to do that, or maybe it isn’t as severe as others and you are able to cope with support from family. My mum is great when it comes to this, she can see when I’m struggling to remember something, for example if I stop partway through a sentence, more likely than not, I’ve forgotten what I’ve said, so she repeats it back to me.
It is definitely easier to deal with when people know and understand. I know often, talking about mental health problems is difficult, especially if you’ve struggled on your own for so long. It’s true that unfortunately, some people still have a nasty view of mental disorders, and they may not react well when told the truth, but that’s not a reflection on you, it’s not your fault, it’s theirs. If they won’t accept all of you, good parts and bad, then they don’t deserve to be close to you.
Don’t think I’m saying this just because it sounds right, I struggled on my own for about 7 years so I know exactly what it’s like to try and cope without others help. I know how hard it is to confide in people, to explain that actually, you aren’t OK, and you haven’t been for a long time. I know how strange and foreign it seems to explain your feelings to people when you never have before, it’s taken me another 7 years to get used to it, and I’m still not 100% comfortable. It’s something you have to work on though, if you want your life and problems to improve.
Mental health issues will always be a struggle for those involved, but you’d be surprised at how many people have some kind of mental disorder they don’t even know about. That’s why it’s really important to raise awareness, to show others what certain symptoms mean so we can all help each other to get the help we need.