The Dissociative Experience: What Is It?

I stood in a corner halfway up a parking garage. I was lost despite using the garage for the last four years. I didn’t know where I had parked my car an hour prior. I aimlessly walked around, unsure if I was going up or down levels. My head hovered above my body, and though I felt like I was going to cry like a child lost in a store, I couldn’t physically cry.

I walked to the middle of the garage and peered over a ledge to see the ground floor a few levels down. I wasn’t extremely high up, but I still felt that dizzying sensation like I was looking down from the top of a skyscraper.

One thought entered my head: I could jump from this ledge to the bottom, and all of this would be over.


I’m not sure how much time passed between that thought and when my mind came back to me long enough to call a friend for help. While that suicidal thought is alarming, it was one of many during my senior year of college.

We drove up and down the garage as I pressed the lock button on my key until it led us to my car. I played the ordeal off as me being spacey with Haha! Of course, would forget where I parked my car.

I didn’t want to go into the details of what happened for fear I’d dissociate again. I had dissociated to that magnitude before, so I knew what it was.

Earlier that day, I had driven to campus to meet with a counselor at my university’s disability center. It was my second meeting after I had applied for disability accommodations for the rest of the year.

I hadn’t received a diagnosis of bipolar yet, but I had severe depression. I needed assistance with my school workload and flexible attendance. My counselor told me I didn’t “prove” my struggles enough to qualify for accommodations, which sent me into the dissociated state.

Eventually, my accommodations were approved after I shared more detailed and vulnerable information with the disability center. But issues with having to prove invisible disabilities is another post on its own.


Dissociation is feeling disconnected from your thoughts, memory, and sense of identity, according to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI). Dissociation is an involuntary escape from reality and can be a response to trauma or other overwhelming situations.

Some dissociation is common such as daydreaming or forgetting the last few miles of your drive home (highway hypnosis). Dissociation can be a symptom of a wide array of mental illnesses, but there are three dissociate disorders where it is the hallmark characteristic:

Dissociative identity disorder (DID)

This was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. People with DID have two or more distinct “personalities” or identities. Each identity behaves and thinks differently.

Depersonalization/derealization disorder

Depersonalization is feeling as though you are watching yourself or having an out-of-body experience. Derealization is feeling as if the world around you isn’t real. You’re detached from your environment. During depersonalization and derealization, you are aware that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal.

Though I do not have this disorder, the feeling of my head floating above my body in the parking garage is an example of depersonalization.

Dissociative amnesia

Dissociative amnesia is the inability to recall an event(s) that was stressful or traumatic. This can range from not remembering a specific event or time period to not remembering who you are or your life.

Think of a person who has been in a car accident, but, despite not having head trauma, doesn’t remember the accident.

All information about these three disorders was collected from the American Psychiatric Association.


You don’t have to have a dissociative disorder to experience dissociation. It can happen to people with and without a mental illness.

People with bipolar disorder like me have an increased risk of experiencing dissociation. In a 2018 study, researchers noted that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience dissociative symptoms during a depressive episode than those with unipolar depression.

I’ve dissociated when I’ve felt extremely overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless. I felt all three when I was denied disability services. Dissociation is usually associated with trauma. My trauma was related to being severely depressed for months with no substantial help, despite reaching out for it. Mental illness can be a trauma itself.

Other disorders that commonly have dissociative symptoms are borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. This isn’t surprising considering both of these conditions are related to experiencing trauma. Dissociation is also a common side effect of drug or alcohol use.

It can also happen in depression and anxiety. A common complaint from people with depression is that they feel “numb.” Emotional numbness can mean dissociation, though we may not think of it that way.

 

Feeling numb for me is a sense of being detached or behind an invisible curtain separating me from the rest of the world. I’ve also described this as feeling “far away.” This only happens during depressive episodes.

Most people have experienced dissociation, and some dissociation isn’t bad. Daydreaming is a perfectly fine way to pass the time when you’re bored. Like many aspects of the brain and life, it’s only considered a problem if it’s distressing or impairing functioning.

Advertisements

5 Signs You’re Resilient Even When You Feel Weak

Resilience isn’t something I typically associate with having a mental illness. Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from stressors. It’s how well you handle difficult situations with your thoughts and behaviors, according to the American Psychological Association.

While some people may have a natural high resilience, many of us have to work at it. There’s no shame in that.

I certainly didn’t feel resilient when my mental health took a deep dive into depression. A year and a half was spent just surviving. I felt weak and hopeless. I certainly wasn’t “bouncing back” from anything.

It’s taken three years for me to call myself resilient. The funny thing is, I was resilient in my deepest depression.

If you’re struggling with your mental health or are feeling vulnerable against what’s happening in your life, here are 5 signs you’re still resilient.

1. You’re surviving.

When your mental and emotional pain is unbearable but you choose to keep living, you’re resilient as hell. It’s easy to feel like you’re weak when you seem like you’re only hanging on by a thread. But the opposite is true. You are strong. Living despite your mind telling you to die is arguably the strongest thing someone can do.

This isn’t to say those who attempt suicide or die by suicide are weak. I attempted suicide in 2016, and I occasionally still deal with suicidal thoughts. My past experience has made me more resilient in the face of those thoughts.

Surviving can be exhausting, and sometimes we reach our breaking point. If we can hold on for just a little longer, we may surprise ourselves with what we can handle.

Breathing is resilience.

2. You’re looking for ways to feel better.

Searching for ways to handle your depression or other mental health issue shows an effort to move forward.

This could mean medication, therapy, meditation, exercise — anything you’re using to manage your mental health or illness. They don’t have to be traditional ways of coping or recovering. It’s about the motivation to keep going.

Bonus resilient points for looking for ways when you’d really rather curl up in a ball.

3. You’re reaching out for support.

This may include therapy but could also include confiding in a friend or family member.

You don’t have to handle depression on your own, even when you feel isolated. If you have someone in your life who is supportive, try to let them in. If you don’t have anyone you feel close enough to, you could look into a support group.

Resilience may be individualized, but that doesn’t mean it’s cultivated without others.

4. You’re accepting where you’re at in life.

If there’s one thing I have fought, it’s accepting how I’m feeling instead of desperately and impulsively trying to change it.

This is different from looking for ways to feel better. When I refuse to accept my current situation or mood, I’m prone to turning to unhealthy and impulsive coping skills. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to accept changes in my mood and use healthier coping skills instead of running away from myself.

Change is going to happen, and if we can accept that and work through it instead of against it, we’re practicing resilience.

5. You’re handling hardships better than you have in the past.

This is the primary reason I believe I’m resilient now. I don’t turn to unhealthy coping skills as much as I used to. I utilize therapy, meds, support group, and the people in my life to work through the rough patches. This isn’t a fool-proof system, of course. But I’ve come a long way in the last three years.

I’ve realized that my lows aren’t more shallow than they’ve been in the past. I’m the one who has changed. While there are moments I want to abandon all I’ve worked for because it’s so damn hard sometimes, I don’t.

Think about what you’ve experienced or felt in the past. You made it passed that, albeit probably with some scrapes and bruises. With time and practice, you might realize you’re doing better than you think. One thing that seemed insurmountable before, isn’t anymore.


I used to believe I wasn’t resilient because I still experienced depression. I thought a mood episode meant I lost what little strength I had. I was wrong. My mental illness doesn’t negate my resiliency. If anything bipolar disorder has made me more resilient.

While I may not have had much resilience innately, I’ve cultivated it. And I’m damn proud of that.

Netflix Is Finally Removing That ’13 Reasons Why’ Scene

Two years after its premiere, Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” no longer shows Hannah’s graphic suicide scene, the streaming platform announced Monday.

Netflix said in its statement that the decision came after talking with medical experts who advised against showing the scene.

 

It is dangerous to show suicide methods in media, according to suicide reporting guidelines. Showing a method can elicit copycat suicides.

“Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death,” reportingonsuicide.org states.

I watched “13 Reasons Why” when it premiered in March 2017. At the time, I was severely depressed and not quite a year post-suicide attempt.

Most episodes weren’t “triggering” for me, meaning it didn’t add to my suicidal thoughts or down mood.

When I made it to the last episode, I had no idea the graphic scene of Hannah dying by suicide was included. I knew she would die by suicide, but that did not prepare me for the unnecessary graphic details included in the scene.

Many people have said that the graphic scene shows the reality of suicide and could make people think twice about attempting suicide. Maybe this is true for some, but let me explain what that scene meant for someone like me.

It was senior year spring break in college when I decided to binge watch the show. Everyone else was either home or on community service trips. I was severely depressed, so I stayed in my campus apartment alone.

I was already struggling with suicidal thoughts. When the scene came on, I couldn’t look away. I was enthralled. Had my brain not been so sick, I probably would have used better judgement and turned it off, knowing the impact the scene could have on my wellbeing.

But my brain was sick — and a part of me wanted to watch it. I feel gross saying this, but when you’re suicidal, the thoughts feed on themselves. All you want to do is die, so why wouldn’t your mind want to watch someone take their life?

This is why scenes like this are dangerous. A suicidal brain, at least mine, wanted more ammunition, more ways to die. Rumination can be a big part of suicidal thoughts. You think over and over again of how you could die and why you should die. Scenes play out in your mind.

That scene became another way I could kill myself. I was more suicidal because of “13 Reasons Why.”

I never wanted to be suicidal. I didn’t want to make it worse, but I didn’t have the capacity to take care of myself at the time. So, when people say, “You should just turn the TV off, or don’t watch it,” they don’t understand that some of us are fighting a battle between doing what’s right and what our suicidal minds compel us to do.

Now, a whole two years after watching the show, I still play that scene in my head when I have suicidal thoughts. I don’t want my brain to play the scene on a loop, but once something is in your head it’s hard to ignore. My thoughts are distressing, and I certainly don’t need a TV show adding to that.

I wish I could go back and take that piece of ammunition away from my mind, but I can’t. It’ll always be a part of my suicidal brain’s arsenal.

Some say the scene’s removal is too little too late. I agree that it’s too late for many, but it’s better than never. Other people in my situation won’t see it, and that could mean the difference between one person’s suicide and one person’s continued fight to live.

If you need support, you can reach the suicide prevention lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.

What They Don’t Tell You About Surviving a Suicide Attempt

Content Warning: If you need support, you can reach out to the lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.

A few months prior to my attempt, my therapist told me that people who attempt suicide typically have tunnel vision. Suicide seems like the only viable option at the moment.

She said that most people who attempt suicide regret their decision. This is true. There are a number of suicide attempt survivors who have shared their regret, most notedly Kevin Hines, who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines has said he felt instant regret as soon as he left the bridge.

What no one actually tells you about surviving a suicide attempt is that you can experience regret at not dying.

It’s irresponsible to push a narrative about surviving suicide without addressing the fact that many who do attempt still struggle. They may even attempt again. Forty percent of those who do die by suicide had a previous attempt.

While there were (and are) days I’m appreciative to still be here, there are days I regret being alive. Many times we hear survivor stories about gratitude. They share how they’ve since gotten better and no longer find themselves in that dark place.

This may be true for some, but it isn’t true for me or many others who attempt suicide. A previous suicide attempt is the “single most important risk factor for suicide,” according to the World Health Organization.

My attempt was three years ago today. May 16, 2016, was supposed to be the first day of summer break. Instead, I was finally giving into my thoughts and overwhelming emotions I couldn’t fight anymore.

The last five months of my junior year in college were hell as I juggled school and crippling depression. I thought things would get better as soon as I finished the semester. It was the reason I held out all semester, holding onto the last sliver of hope that I could get better.

When I didn’t feel better, I became completely hopeless. My friend/neighbor came over that day and found me distraught on the bathroom floor. (I will not detail the method I used because it’s proven to be dangerous to people at risk for suicide.)

Days after the initial numbness and shock of my attempt, I had moments where I realized the magnitude of the situation. I found myself grateful for dogs and mundane parts of life. This appreciation for life has come and gone over the last three years. I’ve cried thinking of how grateful I am.

But that’s half of the story, and the other half is just as important.

I’m not always appreciative. I think about all the pain I could have avoided had I died. My disorder is cyclical, so depressive episodes will be a part of my life forever. I still have suicidal thoughts, though not presently and not nearly as intense as they used to be.

This anniversary is both a blessing and a curse. I am stronger now than I was then, partly because of my experience. I can see how far I’ve come. It is a reminder, though, of emotions and worries I’d rather forget most days.

Thoughts of regret are just another version of suicidal thoughts, which I’ve learned to handle over the years. They come and go, which is why I know I can beat it. While one day may be tough, the next day might be better. The better days are worth it, and they will come. I hope you stick around to experience them.

What Made Me Stick Around After My Suicide Attempt

My therapist in college told me most people who attempt suicide say they regretted it soon after. Most people realize the gravity of the situation and lose their “tunnel vision,” which makes them think suicide is the only answer.

Many of us have heard the inspirational stories of suicide attempt survivors who realized the preciousness of life after their attempt. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it wasn’t my experience.

I didn’t have an all-knowing, eye-opening revelation about life and its value after my suicide attempt. For me, the aftermath was much less divine.

I didn’t immediately find wisdom that you supposedly only discover at the brink of death. I’m not even sure what that “wisdom” would be.

No, my revelation was much smaller. I was lying in the hospital bed on the medical floor silently scrolling through Facebook while the nurse tech (AKA my suicide-risk babysitter) sat a few feet away on a computer.

I came across a photo of a pug on my feed. That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me.

Holy shit.

I would have never seen another dog again. I cried and quietly moved into the bathroom next to my bed where I could have a couple of minutes to myself, without my babysitter.

That was my “come to Jesus” moment. A dog picture on Facebook.

But I’m glad it was something rather minuscule in the grand scheme of life because what is life if not for the small things that bring us joy and comfort?

But I guess that’s the wisdom I received from that experience. Dogs are worth sticking around for.