What It’s Like Having a Dissociative Disorder: Samantha’s Story
I have been losing track of time since I was in my teens. And I don’t mean losing track of time like the time just flew by; I mean literally losing track of time to the point where you have gaps in your life where memories should be. It would take almost 20 years to figure out why and for someone to actually pay attention to what I was saying and believe me.
When I was younger somehow my belongings would be found in the strangest places; toilet paper in the freezer and keys in the fridge. Someone would finish my drinks and move my cups around. For years, I thought it was my family messing with me, but it wasn’t. I was the one putting things in odd places and finishing my drinks but I would have no recollection or memory of doing any of it. I would just shrug it off and go on with my day.
These time gaps didn’t bother me until I started to get older and realize that I was having conversations with people during these gaps and I started to notice that I was no longer losing small chunks of time but hours and at the worst even days would be unaccounted for. Trying to hold down a job while “blacking out” as I have always called it can become extremely challenging, if not dangerous.
I Tried Talking to A Medical Professional About It…
I tried telling a Physician’s Assistant that I used to work with years ago about these gaps in time and he was quick to label me as a severe drunk and started talking about rehab and he was even threatening my job. He had me in tears and thinking that I was causing this damage myself and that I was just absolutely crazy. No one took my seriously until I got sober but yet these time gaps were still happening in varying frequency. Even after a full year of being completely sober, these episodes or “black outs” didn’t ease up. It made no sense. I mean, after all, I had a medical professional tell me that it was solely my drinking causing this massive problem in my life but here I am, fully sober and still blacking out.
It Can Be Comparable to Drunken Black Outs
It’s scary not knowing where the time has gone or what you did or said during those black outs. It comparable to waking up from a drunken blackout where you might have bits and pieces of information but not the whole story. Then you are stuck sitting there trying to piece everything together which is impossible with so many vital pieces missing. I have already blacked out while sitting at my desk and then snapped back to reality somewhere else.
I think, by far, my worst black out was when I got arrested twice for shop lifting within a 24-hour period (none of which I can remember) and waking up or snapping out of the episode to find myself sitting in holding cell at the local county prison. I didn’t know what happened, how I got there, or why I was even there in the first place. I just started bawling my eyes out uncontrollably until they released me.
It’s hard to explain having episodes like these and trying to explain it to people without sounding completely nuts. I can’t even count how many times I just had to play these episodes off of simply forgetting what I had done or said compared to not actually knowing what went on because I somehow was just not mentally there.
I Found Someone Who Could Relate
I never thought it would happen, but I finally found someone in my life who could relate because it happens to them too. I went with this friend to one of their therapy sessions and was able to talk to their therapist about my symptoms. The therapist told me that it fully sounds like a dissociative disorder and started asking me about any trauma I had undergone in my life.
Trauma and dissociative disorders can go hand in hand. Dissociating can be an extreme way the mind tries to block out the bad things that have happened to you such as going through abusive situations or even being sexually assaulted. It is the mind’s way of creating a natural coping mechanism.
I had been brining up these episodes to my own mental health team for sometime before they even acknowledged that something could be wrong. I guess dissociative disorders are not that common. And I feel like no one listened to me until I started brining up my friend’s therapist and what she had said to me. I even had to have my friend come into my one therapy session with me to tell my therapist about my black out episodes and that I wasn’t making them up.
It’s just really humiliating having to mention these episodes in the first place, and then not having your doctors believe you or listen to you is even more humiliating. It kind of just makes you want to clam up about the whole thing until it starts causing problems again.
Getting Diagnosed & Learning How to Cope with The Unknown
The fact that it took almost 20 years to realize what was actually happening with me and my mind is slightly frustrating. But at least now I do know what is wrong and that it wasn’t all in my head or because of my drinking like I had once been told. There is actually a legitimate diagnosis for these types of episodes and situations known as dissociative disorders.
I’ve tried explaining my dissociative disorder to those closest to me and I have been laughed at, judged, called crazy, but then there were also a few people who seemed to understand and suddenly my past behaviors started to make sense to them. It was probably more like, “Ah ha! That explains a lot!”
My psychiatrist said even being diagnosed pretty much means nothing because there are no medications they could give me to “cure me” and that it was something that just needs to be addressed during therapy. Which I find tricky to work on this issue with my therapist since I don’t feel like she totally understands this disorder a whole lot either. I would need to see someone who specializes in dissociative disorders but I have yet to find a therapist who will take my state insurance that does deal specifically with people who have dissociative disorders.
I can’t say that I have found any real ways to cope with these episodes yet. One thing that was slightly working when I kept up with it was when I used to journal every day, it became such a strong habit that I would even journal during these episodes so that I was at least able to piece together certain parts of my life that had gone missing.
Being Open About My Mental Health Doesn’t Mean I Discuss Everything
Writing this was pretty challenging for me because my black outs aren’t something that I talk about very often or in much detail either. I still find them slightly embarrassing when I shouldn’t. I think I keep this part of my life pretty much well hidden from most people because of the mixed reactions I have had when trying to open up to those closest to me about it.
But I really wanted to share what I had gone through with my dissociative disorder in case someone else out there is going through it too. I want them to know that they are not alone in this struggle, and believe me, the struggle is real! #SickNotWeak
Samantha is the author of "My Bipolar Mind: You're not alone," she is also a freelance writer, blogger, and mental health advocate who runs and manages her own mental health blog MyBipolarMind.com.