I learned something AMAZING in PTSD class today. Quite literally I solved a mystery that’s been bewildering me since I was a child. Some of you may remember me talking about how I felt ‘disconnected’ from the physical world during my times of depression (Layer’s of my Depression blog). And that the best way I could explain this sensation was that I felt like an alien and that everything around me wasn’t real; I felt like I was outside of my body. Growing up I told very few people about this feeling (until now…lol) because I was embarrassed by it, and my attempts at trying to describe it usually resulted in one of two responses; “I’m really not sure what you mean”, or “You worry too much Natalie”. Sigh So for as long as I can remember, I kept my mouth shut when my depression demon descended. I would frequently drag myself through life in my alien bubble, lost and utterly alone because I just didn’t know what was going on with me. It was SUCH and isolating feeling. I hated it and I couldn’t wait for the feeling to go away so that I could finally feel human again. If I only knew what was making me feel that way?….
Fast forward to today. Have you ever heard the word ‘alexithymia’? Well I sure hadn’t until a few hours ago. It literally means to have ‘no words for a feeling’. I could relate to this odd definition instantly! So could many of my peers. My teacher then went on to tell us that it’s used to describe the sensation from a condition called dissociation. “What is dissociation?” you may ask. Well, sometimes when people experience major trauma(s), they teach their bodies to numb, or remove themselves from an uncomfortable feeling as a protective response. Dissociating can make us feel like we are outside of our bodies looking in, but there are no exact words to describe the feeling! Eureka! Does this mean I wasn’t going crazy all these years? Other people experience this phenomenon too? Yes it does.
Dissociation is a highly effective coping mechanism; but not necessarily healthy. It allows us to create a different world that is void of any emotion hence saving us from the pain a traumatic event would cause. But after months, years, decades, of dissociating when a trigger reminds us of the trauma, this alien state can emerge without us even recognizing the trigger; it becomes our normal coping mechanism when we least expect it. My alien world is now starting to make sense to me!
The traumas I’ve experienced over my life caused massive depression and most likely a dissociative state in order for me to hide from my painful emotions. (Layer 1 – ‘weird’ feeling) Coupled with the fact that I was never encouraged to express my emotions growing up, dissociation would have been the perfect escape route for me.
Now, in my adult life, when my depression starts to rear it’s ugly head, my dissociative feelings bubble up (with or without trauma) because it’s been so closely linked to my depressive world all these years. Yes, I only just learned about this condition ‘dissociation’ today, and my eagerness to link my alien moments to it may be premature, but it sure makes a lot of sense to me.
I REALLY hope that this post answers questions to any possible moments of alexithymia you may have experienced out there in blog-world. And remember that you’re not alone, and you’re not an alien.
I recommend talking to your doctor about any of your mental health concerns to get more clarity as my opinions are only my own. But in the meantime I’m sending a big hug out to anyone who has ever been confused by this symptom. I know I sure could have used one while I cried in my alien world.