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Who Needs a Therapist When (Pt. 5)

It's dissociation time.

Image Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema CC

Me. I need a Therapist. Thank you internet for being one. All tips will go to someday affording a real professional.

Back in high school, I used to do quite a lot of theater and public speaking. While my friends were plagued by nerves and stage fright, I, the anxiety- riddled mess that I was, had a unique stage fright gift. I'd still get a watery voice, the wobbling knees, the heart rate that stuttered and raced, I'd just get all of that after the presentation or play or song was over. Performing itself was like a trance—one where I couldn't focus on anything but what I was actively doing, one where the anxiety dialogue had to take a backseat until the important work was done.

Over the years, I started to notice this trance happening more and more often. Big group conversations, job interviews, and talking to crushes all triggered this heightened state where emotions didn't exist unless I needed to tap into them. I wouldn't remember a word said later, and I could hardly control the flow of words out of my mouth, but it didn't matter.

I was flawless until I stepped away, and then I'd be pudding.

I'm pretty sure this state is one that others feel. After all, musicians and actors alike have spoken of the transcendence of self that happens during big performances. I'm just not sure that everyone else feels it quite as often as I do. And I may have gotten addicted to that feeling of suspended animation. I may have let myself fall into that trance, performing myself as though I was a character on dates, at parties, and on the job. I may have gotten used to the way that performance made space for little white lies to become big white lies to become enormous omissions.

And I realized that it isn't unlike a state that I spend a lot of other time in.

Today was a bad anxiety day. Actually, it's been a week or so of severe anxiety. A week of feeling panic attacks roll through me on the regular, of gnawing at my fingernails every chance I can, of my heart rate just resting above 70 while I do ordinary things. It's been a whole week of anxiety dissociation, of hovering just outside myself, of things moving too fast for me to process, of my emotions being too abstracted to feel. I still have enough motivation to keep my life in line, but just barely.

So I went to get coffee with my girlfriend. It was a good time. I floated in the trance state a little. I always do when I'm with her. I like her too much not to. When I went to my car after I could feel the trance state lifting, and as usual, all the anxiety of did I say the right thing, was that a weird face, should I have done, and am I enough all came crashing through me.

Only it wasn't just that anxiety. I could feel the loose emotions that I'd been avoiding all week riding that train. They made those little anxieties into giant ones, into great crashing waves that washed over me as the dissociation lifted and the panic panic panic hit me. I made it home, but I was useless for the rest of the day.

But I realized. Those trances. They are useful. They get me through the times when I legitimately cannot panic. But they aren't quite as normal and harmless as I've been thinking. I'm pretty sure they are controlled dissociation, which means they are just a tool to put off the emotions until later. That's fine for a play or a speech or a conversation. But that isn't a great place to spend a relationship, and it's not a great place to spend my life.

I'm not sure what to do with this. Dissociation is one of those states I don't always feel I have control over, and lately it has felt like it's where I live more often than not. But maybe these halfway helpful trances can help me find a key to making dissociation less awful—both when I'm doing it and when it ends.

To read more of my ongoing meltdown:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Last Week's Madness

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Who Needs a Therapist When (Pt. 5)
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