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Dissociation Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder

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

Dissociation is a coping technique for bipolar disorder. The pain of bipolar disorder can create a wish for dissociation - so do it - in moderation. Read this.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 FacebookGoogle+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

10 thoughts on “Dissociation Because of the Pain of Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Hi, Natasha,
    I know just what you mean about dissociating. I do it when someone attacks me personally. It’s like I just leave the room while the attack is happening. I believe it is a reasonable protective measure against pain. I’m going to see if I do it with bipolar symptoms, too. I probably do but haven’t consciously noticed it yet.

    Thanks for writing on this topic.
    kb

  2. Hi Natasha, You’re right – in theory, there are always more things to try. Whether they have any realistic potential to help, and whether they are actually available/ whether there is any further help or support available are other questions entirely. Also, perhaps not all of us are as strong as you; it is possible to reach a point of having little fight left and also of it being entirely illogical to continue.

  3. Thank you for writing about this, Natasha! It can be hard to explain to people.
    I resonate with Maria’s comment about dissociation; sometimes it can be helpful but sometimes it happens unintentionally and seems like it would be better to be able to ‘stay’ and feel/experience what’s happening (and like there is more ‘fallout’ from having dissociated). Also, dissociation can really get in the way of therapy, which is frustrating.

    I don’t agree with you though, Natasha, that things always change and will get better with help. There are those of us who have treatment resistant bipolar and have tried a vast array of allopathic, alternative and other treatments and still just stay as sick/ keep getting sicker. It’s not just a few months of being intensely unwell and then a reprieve; it’s years without reprieve. Doctors just give up and have nothing left to offer. Sometimes eventually it does just boil down to seeking out the most peaceful means to end the relentless suffering. Sadly, in our society (unlike Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland) it is not possible to access medical assistance in this.

    1. Hi Kai,

      I hear what you’re saying with regards to years of suffering. But here’s the thing — I have had years of unrelenting suffering and I have had doctors give up on me. And still, change occurred. I don’t believe in giving up on anyone. There are always more things to try.

      – Natasha Tracy

  4. Dear ad, Although I’m almost 60, I have walked where you are walking. Most of my life, I have felt like there was no floor beneath me. Nothing to hold me up if I should fall. Nothing that could allow me to feel grounded. I have learned that when I feel the way you are describing, I make myself put one foot in front of the other. I feel worse if I lay in bed and focus on how i feel. If I get up and focus only on each task at a time, I get myself to the class, meeting or errand and accomplish that. Then I focus on the next task and accomplish that. At the end of the day, I feel a lot better than if I stayed in bed. And sometimes, I actually forget about the pain for awhile. I’m so sorry that you are feeling so much pain. Hang in there.

  5. Im a 20 year old college student suffering from bipolar disorder. Most days I can’t make it out of bed to get to class, or I struggle to work up the initiative to complete a task. I was wondering if anybody else with this problem feels like they aren’t attatched to anything? The best way I can descibe it is that im going through life without an anchor. I have friends and love them, but i just dont feel a connection with anyone or anything and I feel like they aren’t connected to me in a way. I just feel so lost at times and it’s hard to put into words how I feel because half the time I don’t even know. I talk to my therapist about it, but I need someone who could possibly understand what im going through, and help me.

  6. Please understand that dissociation is a way to survive. It is nature’s way. It is adaptation for survival. Please check out my website where I blog about PTSD and dissociative disorder. I hope that it gives you hope.

    Thinking of you,

    June

  7. I often dissociate when the going gets tough. Sometimes it feels great and helps. Other times I feel I should face the pain and work through it. I get angry at myself for withdrawing. For me Dissociating only masks the pain, it is still there when I drift back. Some days that monkey on my back is a gorilla.

  8. Reading honest examples of life with Bipolar always brings the tears. Today it’s especially hard to read because I’ve been heading toward suicide for 3 weeks. I’ve had enough. I’m glad you have a way to escape it. I need a more permanent solution.

    https://www.facebook.com/jim

    1. Hi Jim,

      I actually cried when I wrote it.

      I’m very sorry to hear you are in such pain. I have been there and attempted myself.

      But please know that things change — in fact, if there’s one thing I can promise, it is change. It is what happens to everyone in life. And even though you might not believe me right now, things do get better with help.

      Please look up some of our resources or call a hotline. There are people and places that can help you: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/

      I know that suicide sometimes feels like the answer, but it honestly is not. Please reach out.

      – Natasha Tracy

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