My therapist, Eamonn, always asked me what went through my mind whenever I had dissociated. (I use “disassociate” and “dissociate” interchangeably; whatever feels comfortable in the moment. Both mean disconnecting from the real world.) Most of the time I could not recall where I went in my head. My disconnections became frequent, or I started to notice how frequently they occurred, and every time I had trouble recognizing the place where my mind had wandered.
PTSD is especially marked by these dissociative occurrences. The tendency is for the mind to relive the moments of trauma that had led to PTSD. Observers often witness PTSD patients reliving their experiences live as they shout out or seemingly talk to themselves, behaving schizophrenically. Perhaps some develop schizophrenia.
Yesterday, I had an especially dissociative episode in the food market. Once again, I did not know where my mind went. To me, I just checked out. My dramatic reaction to someone helping me get to the cashier at the store augmented the incident to the point where I began to question where exactly my mind goes when I dissociate. Not that I hadn’t questioned it already; I just didn’t have much of an idea.
Later on in the evening, I took Penny out to pee. As we went around the building, I, in an exhausted state of mind, thought about the store drama. And then it struck me. I relive my trauma on the night of 9/11. In my reliving, I am listening to desperate people searching for their loved ones and work colleagues and I am unable to give them hope. I am in a complete loss of words and I take their pain in. This is why I broke out in tears at the store. I was feeling their pain and the contact with another, real person released those sentiments as if the phone conversations were happening right there. When I got back to my apartment, I broke down in sobs at this epiphany. Penny came over and sat in my lap.
Why I dissociate in food stores is a mystery. I don’t remember well, but it’s possible that the morning after being at Brooklyn Hospital all night, I stopped at the store before going home.
In the morning, today, I felt unusually light, as if a weight had been lifted. I felt happy as I walked Penny around the park and almost engaged with other dog parents. (Penny didn’t want to hang out with other dogs, so we left.) Usually with PTSD, I avoid people, especially dog parents. Really I avoid trite conversations– and political ones.
Now that I know what I relive when I disassociate, what will be next? Will I be able to stop reliving that night.?