I dissociate when the pain of bipolar disorder becomes too severe. It happened to be just last night, in fact. I was wailing out into the night about the pain and suffering and willing it all to end (Losing a Battle with My Bipolar Brain), knowing that it wouldn’t, so I just dissociated. I separated from the world. My brain and mind walked away from each other. The pain of bipolar disorder forced me to dissociate for my own good.
What Is Dissociation?
According to the Collins English Dictionary, dissociation is, “the separation of a group of mental processes or ideas from the rest of the personality, so that they lead an independent existence, as in cases of multiple personality.”
And while that may, technically, be the definition, there are many forms of dissociation that are considerably milder.
Take, for example, one’s morning drive to work. It’s quite possible to write a grocery list in your head while considering all the emails you have to reply to and reminding yourself of your child’s soccer practice time all on your drive. In fact, it’s easy to do all of this and not remember in the slightest your actual drive to work. This is a mild form of dissociation.
When I Dissociate Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder
When I dissociate because of bipolar disorder, my consciousness separates from the brain that feels the suffering. It’s hard to explain because most people can’t do this at will. But it happens. When I can’t take the suffering, my mind knows how to do it.
For me, it often starts out as an extreme form of distraction from the negative thoughts. I simply think of anything that is unemotional. I do things that are unemotional. I embrace the suck, admit that I am suffering, know that it won’t end, and just push it to the side. I put it into a box, lock it up, put it in the closet and do anything I can to focus on anything but it. And sometimes when I do this, my mind simply severs from my brain. It’s like walking around in a haze. I’m alive and I know I’m alive but it doesn’t feel the same as alive. It’s like looking at everything from far away or through a fog (Brain Fog: A Symptom of Depression). My mind is tethered to my brain but it’s a long, long tether. It’s not what I would call pleasant but it is an escape from the pain – momentarily, anyway.
Dissociation in Bipolar Is Temporary
Of course, the pain is just waiting for me once I emerge from the fog. Bipolar pain is like that: relentless. Nevertheless, while dissociation is temporary it can prevent me from taking more permanent steps to end my suffering. Because, after all, when I wake up the next day, I’ll likely be at least a little renewed and better able to face the monster. I likely won’t feel as worn out and dragged down. And when I’m back to that state – not in as much pain as before – I appreciate not having taken more permanent action.
So dissociation is like a pro re nata (PRN, taken as needed) medication. It’s a completely temporary treatment, a treatment held together with chewing gum and bailing wire known to break in time, but it holds one over until better treatment (or brain change) kicks in. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone and certainly too much of it or it being uncontrolled can be bad, I’m just saying it works for me.
Check out Natasha Tracy’s book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar and connect with her on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.