Goodbye Chronic Stress, Hello Dissociative Living

July 5, 2012 Holly Gray

When I published my last post almost a year ago, I was sure that it marked the end of Dissociative Living. I wasn’t happy about that. I was frustrated and angry with myself for what I saw as an inability to manage stress effectively. And I was sad that I had to give up writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder because of that inability. Since that post last September, I’ve learned some things, including: 1) there is a profound difference, practically speaking, between stress and chronic stress, and 2) you cannot manage chronic stress – you either survive it, or you escape it.

What Is Chronic Stress?

For a long time, I thought of stress as a purely psychological thing. If I experienced physical phenomena in conjunction with stress, I considered it a direct result of my state of mind. In other words, I believed stress exists in the mind and the body merely reflects it. I was patently wrong, of course, but I didn’t realize that until I learned what chronic stress is:

Chronic stress results from a state of ongoing physiological arousal. This occurs when the body experiences stressors with such frequency or intensity that the autonomic nervous system does not have an adequate chance to activate the relaxation response on a regular basis. This means that the body remains in a constant state of physiological arousal, which affects virtually every system in the body, either directly or indirectly. We were built to handle acute stress, which is short-lived, but not chronic stress, which is steady over a long term. – Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

(I swiped that definition from of all places. It was the best explanation I found in 100 words or less. I know, I was surprised too.)

If anything, stress is more physical than it is mental. That matters because it clarifies why people sometimes perform well in acutely stressful situations but eventually begin to decompensate when the stress doesn’t abate.

Chronic Stress Is Unmanageable

When I quit writing Dissociative Living I was living with some pretty heavy-duty stuff, and had been for a few years. (I’d give you the details but frankly, I doubt you’d believe me.) And I was not managing very well. I wasn’t managing at all, actually. I was surviving. I wanted to do more than survive but if you’re living in a state of constant physiological arousal, surviving is pretty much all you’re equipped to do. Well, except for fleeing.

Which is exactly what I finally did. And I’m happy to have recuperated enough to get back to writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder here at Dissociative Living.

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2012, July 5). Goodbye Chronic Stress, Hello Dissociative Living, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Holly Gray

May, 16 2014 at 8:38 pm

Hi Holly
I hope you're doing well. I miss hearing from you.

June, 20 2013 at 7:04 pm

hi holly.
i've left a comment at one of your youtube videos.
i hope you find this comment or that.
you've been very helpful, esp. re: state-dependent memory. it is rare & difficult to find such insightfulness, so i hope you touch base here or there soon.
thank you &
best regards,

August, 29 2012 at 9:20 am

Holly, this is a total "OMG" moment for me...
When I was hospitalized last, and for a couple months thereafter I was bombarded by my own senses... Every smell was overwhelming, I heard every sound and couldn't "tune out" any of them.
In the hospital I overheard intake conversations nobody should... I tried to explain that to one nurse who initially said that wasn't possible... until I repeated verbatim what two different people were talking about in intake interviews - she was stunned.
Everything from a physiological standpoint - sight (lights were too bright, colours almost too vivid), sound, smell (I could smell the faintest traces of everything...), touch, pain, everything seemed amplified...
I never realized that sort of thing had any explanation... Now I do...
... and I am so glad you're back, take care!

August, 26 2012 at 2:50 pm

Thank you so much, Holly, for all you've written. Wishing you light

August, 2 2012 at 3:57 am

Hi Holly,
I am glad you are back. Time is a funny thing. It continues to pass no matter who we are or how we are living. I am in the process of beginning to learn to live instead of survive. Tough to be ok when all I have ever done is survive. Best wishes to you.

July, 6 2012 at 9:40 pm

Hi Holly,
I know all about living, coping, surviving and thriving again after having to by no choice reintegrate every memory back into your consciousness. I will never be the same. Your right most ppl can live life but do they truly. They take a lot for granted and I know that DID has made me a better person bec we refuse to be anything like our tormentors and that means hard work but the motivation is there and will never die. As a DID survivor we use the skill and ability to our advantage. To be honest if it wasn't for other parts of me I wouldn't be alive so I thank God for them for giving we life. All they want is some time in and time out and as a nurturing loving parent to selves we do it. It's powerful and healing to give yourselves something your abusers never did. LOVE.
Chronic stress and extreme levels of dissociation as well as Crohns disease and other health problems will always be part of my life. However it's no defuse to not live my life. I lost my whole life. Mental, physical, intellectual, spiritual etc sEnse of selves whilst at my worst with global amnesia. Had to relearn how to do basics in life again n will never go backwards after that experience. Life after all is worth fighting for and there is a rainbow at the end. Finding me again! Wish u well

T M Hochscheid
July, 6 2012 at 4:45 pm

I am glad to see this post. Thank you Holly!!! I have the physiological effects of stress. They are real and I have a great M.D. who is supportive and caring.
I have a great book to share. It is Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky. There is also National Geographic video on Stress which discusses his work (it streams on Netflix). I recommend both of these sources if you want to know what happens after you have endured a long period of stress.
His point is simple, our brain and body has a stress response which is meant to keep us safe from harm - physical harm. Unfortunately, most of the stress we have now is mental and our body doesn't know the difference and the consequences are really bad for your health. Further, it is after the stress has abated that we see the physical problems occur.
Thanks again for the post and kudos to you for realizing you needed a break and for taking care of yourself.

July, 6 2012 at 4:05 pm

I have never read your blog until today. But, what caught my eye was that you came back. I have personally been in somewhat of a similar place as you have described. I had a lot to offer for a while and then the "stress" caught up with me and I felt as though I had nothing more to offer. I took a break from helping others with DID about 9 months ago and I have just this week realized that break is over. I'm back as well.
When I take a look back at those 9 months I can see so many things I learned, that I didn't know I needed to learn. I'm sure you can see the same. I definitely agree with what Jason said, the truth will set you free! I was at a place of needing more truth for myself and now I can take that truth to help others be set free as well.
I guess I say all this to say I'm glad your back because it encourages me. Whatever you went through this past year, now serves as such a testimony to others that even though things get tough and frankly unbelievable, we can pull through. I also wanted you to know, that you aren't alone on this mission to help people understand DID or how to live with DID.

Patricia Avila
July, 5 2012 at 2:07 pm

Welcome back, Holly, I missed you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 6 2012 at 10:51 am

Thanks, Natasha!
I love the graphic design of that page you linked. Pretty cool.

July, 5 2012 at 8:04 am

Holly, thank you so much for this post. I'm only just understanding how far-reaching chronic stress is. I wish there was more solid medical information about it so that doctors would take it more seriously and state that it is definitely a cause of physical illness.
My husband has a Personality Disorder that was just diagnosed within the last year. I never understood I was living with chronic stress.
Your post helped me greatly, thank you.

July, 5 2012 at 5:07 am

Glad to see you're back at it. I enjoy getting your perspective on dissociative issues, first-hand. I can understand your need to have taken time off (from normal life perhaps?), as we've lived with a DID sufferer for a while now. I'm glad to see you've made it through this period...I know what it's like to have experiences no one would believe. Keep working hard, it will pay off...the truth will set you free!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 6 2012 at 11:05 am

Hi Lizzie,
I feel for you re: trying to get the doctors to take it seriously. Western medicine cripples itself with pride, laziness, and complacency. The good news is, our western physicians are not the sole providers of information on health and wellness. There are other resources, too. In other words, mainstream, western medicine can give us a portion of the whole picture ... we must look elsewhere to see the rest.
Chronic stress is so hard on the body. Hang in there and take loving care of you. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 6 2012 at 11:12 am

Thanks, Jason. And thank you, Patricia (I missed you, too!)
It's so nice to get your warm welcomes. :)

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