In The Fog
By Sudhashree Somers
It has been years since I have recognised the face that stares back at me in the mirror. I know I should recognise it. The hand in the mirror moves the same as mine, it runs it’s fingers over the scabs and freckles at the same speed my hand does. I know in theory that it has to be my face, it has the exact same features as the one I used to know. And yet, as I brush my teeth each morning, I stare at the face with confusion.
It turns out this feeling has a name: dissociation. Many people dissociate, it’s a common experience. Have you ever been in a stressful situation and had the thought ‘this feels like it isn’t real’ pass by? Or ever zoned out in a car, not remembering the journey once you arrive at your destination? That feeling is dissociation. But for me that experience isn’t fleeting. Almost every second of every day I spend in that fog. It is all encompassing and exhausting. It’s hard to get stuff done on days when I am so disconnected from my body, the world around me feels like it is a movie and it can be embarrassing to not be able to remember how to move my body or not recognise my surroundings.
Many websites and therapists have told me to learn ‘grounding skills’ – to learn how to drag my brain back to the present by paying attention to the world outside my body. There have been mindfulness worksheets and different ways to breathe deeply and paying attention to the way my body felt. As soon as I approached the present, I jolted even further back into my mind. I couldn’t comprehend why it felt so horrible. It was what the experts said was best, why was it making me feel so much worse?
Dissociation does not mean my brain is broken. It is there because of the trauma I have experienced, to keep me safe. Some days, it is better for me to be dissociated than not. My darkest days are wrapped up in carefully frosted glass; only the most important details are visible to me. Those details are deeply painful, they ache deep in my chest and feel like my soul is being torn apart, but represent only a fraction of what happened originally. It feels like those memories happened to someone else in a different reality, and it is safer for it to stay that way for now. I shelter in my own head because the storm around me is too furious and dangerous for me to be in. Trying to drag myself into the storm wasn’t helpful because the storm hadn’t passed yet.
I don’t want to imagine a life where the worst parts are in full technicolour, where every detail isn’t dampened by the fog. I have come to peace with the way dissociation works. It is still scary, it is still hard. But I have come to appreciate that for me, a life recognising my own face isn’t necessarily the best life for me. My trauma stripped me of agency and self-determination. I am the one who has to live my life, and I am determined to live it on my own terms from now on.
When I feel truly safe, I will be able to live my life as me, not a ghost. But for now, I am able to retreat into my mind until the storm has passed.