(BPD A-Z) is a series aiming to cover an abridged run-through of some of the most characteristic elements of Borderline Personality Disorder, written by a 25-year-old who lives with the mental health condition.
Can I start this post by clearing up that neither dissociation (nor its dastardly cousins derealisation and depersonalisation) are exclusive to Borderline Personality Disorder. Dissociation is actually commonly attributed to Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which I was diagnosed with at the time I first started experiencing it; long before BPD was mentioned to me. But as misery likes company: BPD loves a co-morbidity.
Dissociation could be likened – baring in mind that I have never actually ‘dropped acid’ personally – to daydreaming on acid (or really strong tranquillisers). It essentially refers to the experience of zoning out; which can be as ‘harmless’ as just completely losing track of conversations and feeling like an ignorant arsehole accidentally, to extremes of blacking out for periods of hours to days at a time. During this time, you’ll have no recollection of what you’ve done, which is terrifying (believe me!).
My first experiences with dissociation and – in turn – derealisation, mark one of the earliest occurrences that made me realise I wanted to be vocal about my mental health and to hopefully help others someday.
When I was around 17, my anxiety started mutating into scary guises that I’d formerly never dealt with. Depression and anorexia had been my main bag – the latter of which I was in recovery for and undoubtedly exposed to heightened anxiety as a result of which. Depression I could reconcile with; it was familiar and comfortable in its gloominess, but this new-found anxiety really knocked me for six.
I started feeling very detached from everything around me, looking too far inwardly until the warped rhetoric that my brain was spewing became louder than my rational mind. Holding conversations became incredibly difficult as they brought with them a bizarre new feeling that something just wasn’t right; something more intense than general social anxiety.
Reality felt floaty and unlinear, with sunny days in particular making me feel ‘unreal’, or like I was in a dream.
This kept seeping into more and more of my thoughts, until the only times I didn’t feel ‘unreal’ were when I was distracted by sex, drinking, or watching ASMR relaxation videos (my partner at the time didn’t complain, unsurprisingly).
One day, I hit something of a breaking point after being in the kitchen with my ex-partner and my mum whilst they were having a conversation. I watched their mouths move and could almost tell what they were saying, but I felt lightyears away from the room and I just couldn’t understand them. It felt like I was on another planet, trapped in the terrifying recesses of my brain, no longer properly present.
At that point, I was convinced I’d gone insane and that my brain was irreparably broken, so decided I had no choice but to kill myself. Thankfully, my active suicidality only kicked in 7 years later, but I sat on the bathroom floor bawling my eyes out in secret, desperately looking for answers on my phone.
I tried to research it without scaring myself further; paralysed with fear at the prospect of telling someone lest they locked me up.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you exactly which video it was today, but I happened upon a YouTube clip where someone was describing their experiences with anxiety and how sometimes – in bad periods – they sometimes feel ‘unreal’, or disconnected. I cried my eyes out with relief.
I wasn’t broken. I didn’t have to die – I was just severely anxious and experiencing what I then discovered was dissociation and derealisation.
And guess what? From that realisation, the severity and frequency at which I experienced those symptoms waned significantly. So, for goodness sakes guys: let’s keep sharing our stories, no matter how uncomfortable or scary (and oftentimes, even embarrassing) it can be. That YouTuber may have saved my life.