today in mental health: dissociating and the importance of taking care of shit as it comes up

it’s funny what can become a measure of success. today, i spent all day feeling like i was in my body. i spent yesterday and sunday like that, too, amazingly. this is in contrast to saturday, when i had to call my brother to talk my anxious, dissociating ass down. i spent at least 10 minutes on the phone with that kid completely unable to understand anything he was saying. this was partially due to his sore throat and partially due to me just not being able to function – like, not even baseline function enough to process auditory information of that complexity.

i was driving back to iowa at the time, where a friend of mine was having a well-deserved party thrown in his honor. the party was taking place in a building owned by my aunt, whose abusive behavoir i’d left town over just three months prior. this building is across a parking lot from my old apartment, which i’d rented from her until she scared me too badly to stay there anymore.

it’s a three and a half hour drive to get there, which, normally, i love, but i hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep the night before and on top of that, going back was making me batshit anxious. and, oh yeah, dissociating is a thing i do now.

“you’re gonna be okay, ky,” my little brother promised, over and over until i calmed down enough to hang up. “don’t make the mistake that thinking now is forever – it’s not.”

it’s really good advice and i wouldn’t have taken it from anybody but him. i’ve given him that advice a time or two. that kid knows where i’m coming from. even when i’m not able to articulate it at all, which i couldn’t during that phone call. who knows if i even got words in their proper order; he’d have been able to understand me regardless.

an hour or so later, i was sitting in a village inn swapping mental illness horror stories with a friend and telling her just how goddamn glad i was to feel like i was actually inhabiting my own skin. lately, it’s often felt like i slipped out the back door of my body for a quick breath of fresh air only to find that somebody had snuck in and locked me out. looking back, i don’t think it’s an entirely new phenomenon for me to experience, but over the week or so leading up to the party, it’d become an unsettingly common occurrence. i have this powerful urge to staple myself into my skin using tattoos. not that i know if that’ll work.

in any case, feeling real and present is very exciting these days. this is not the kind of bar i expected to have to stretch to meet, y’know? like, i’m not ashamed of it – everybody’s got their shit and this is mine – it’s just not the battle i was fighting with my mental health eight months ago. and i had my hands full then.

i’m very…tired. which is how i’ve been ending every conversation i’ve had with my loved ones for probably two years now: “i’m just so tired.” i don’t know why i didn’t do anything about it. didn’t feel like i could maybe – you gotta work to pay bills. didn’t want to abandon the life i was building. didn’t want to ruin the appearance of success i had. didn’t want to seem weak.

and then life went and gave me the opportunity to burn everything i had to the ground for somebody i loved and i did. under the most traumatic possible circumstances. so now i’m in life limbo.

i think i’ve moved passed the bulk of the physical exhaustion finally – i feel pretty good and my stamina’s decent. but i’m still emotionally worn out. it’s taken me two days to build up enough energy to write this. in these past two days, i’ve done – quite literally – nothing. yesterday, i did not get dressed. today, i did get dressed, but i did not shower. i spent all yesterday in bed and, while i did switch rooms today, i did not step foot outside the house, not even to roll my car window up which has been snowed in now. i’m taking shit back to basics; rebuilding my life and health from scratch. i don’t know what else to do.

it used to be i’d always try to add something to aid my mental health. i needed to eat better or sleep a regular schedule or see about getting my ass in therapy. but i never thought maybe you should fuckin’ quit some of this other shit ky. it seems obvious now that i should have. i think if i had dealt with the tired problem before life went to shit and added the dissociating problem, i’d be better off right now. i think also if i had dealt with the “i need to get my ass in therapy” problem back in 2014 – the best year i ever had by any measure – i’d be better off now, too. if i’d just tackled the small problems before i ended up with bigger problems, these bigger problems might not have been so big.

now, i’m very overwhelmed. and i’m scared that i’m not going to have the time i need to build life back up slowly and deliberately, while taking care to build things like responsible eating and sleep schedules and going to therapy into it as a natural part of it. not to mention it’d be cool to have fun sometimes. build relationships. foster some hobbies. just simply taking care of myself seems like too much task for one person and one person is all i’ve got. one person who’s gonna have to get a job again soon. which i have absolutely no idea how to handle on top of all of this.

i wish i had some advice to give on how to deal with shit when you’re all the way done, but i don’t. my life just kept exploding on me until i couldn’t, literally couldn’t anymore – i stopped getting up in the morning; i stopped sleeping at night; i stopped holding conversations. and then my mom went “hey, how about you step outta that mess, huh?” and took me into the purgatory of her home, the land of no expectations.

that’s not an option for everybody; i know that. it wasn’t an option for me until i was down to absolutely nothing. my parents are always game to save me if they can, but i’m not always down to be saved by them, y’know? often, my needs necessitate otherwise. and that’s not even beginning to think about situations in which you have to pay bills. or feed people.

the only advice i have from this is take care of your small problems while you can. address those little issues you think aren’t worth bothering with because everything else is going pretty good. if you suffer from depression but are feeling good right now: go to fuckin’ therapy or something. depression isn’t a one-and-done, at least not in my experience. it’s cyclical. most mental illness are that way, are an issue of maintenance, not curing. so work your shit out. build healthy coping mechanisms. actually do more than just build healthy coping mechanisms – build healthy habits, i.e. ways of being. give yourself tools to use not only when things are rough but when things are good so that maybe things won’t get rough or won’t get as rough.

i did a lot – a lot – of work on my mental health in the years before everything went to hell in a handbasket. before i discovered what i believe to be ptsd (and all of its accompanying symptoms, dissociation included) – which i think originated in some childhood trauma and got big time compounded by my recent experience of very similar trauma, which i only delineate to emphasize that if i had dealt with this stuff with greater intentionality and with the help of a professional at an earlier date, i could be in much better shape right now. the work i did was good and important and i’m proud of it – but it was a bandaid when i needed stitches. i was treating symptoms, not the problem — not on purpose, i just didn’t know. i feel fairly confident, examining the past with that 20/20 hindsight vision, that a professional could’ve gone: “that thing you think is a personality quirk is actually a mental health issue, dude. you’ve really gotta get some healthier ways of dealing” and then helped me build healthier ways of dealing.

of course there’s no way to say whether or not dissociating would still be a thing i do now if i had taken care of this stuff. and honestly, at this point, it’s like hey look at what i’ve got to be excited about today: i actually feel like i’m in my body! incredible, a success. i mean things are what they are.

(and, i really want to emphasize this, i do not have anything to be ashamed of. and neither do you. no mental illness you’re experiencing is shameful – whether you might have been able to prevent it or not. there might be some behaviors you want to rethink, but having a mental illness is just a thing that happens. stigma sucks and also it’s bullshit.)

i’m not mad at my past self for her failings; i’m irritated, for sure, at my little 22-year-old punk ass who thought she had her shit figured out when she hella didn’t, but the thing is that everybody learns at their own rate. i just hope that this moment for you is a moment when you’ll learn faster than i did. see my mistakes and please don’t make them. fix!! your!! shit!!! i’m rooting for you, babes. ❤

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