“I was putting one foot in front of the other, like a machine. I was dragging this emaciated body that was still such a weight. If only I could have shed it! Though I tried to put it out of my mind, I couldn’t help thinking that there were two of us: my body and I. And I hated that body.” — Elie Wiesel in Night
Trouble has a way to dissociate us from ourselves. There is you and then suddenly there is another one of you, spurt out of the same blueprint. You stand afar looking at it, observing it as something foreign and external. It has a power of its own and you want neither the responsibility nor the burden of driving anything. Just let it go its own way, you say. It doesn’t matter.
Strong events in life have the ability to drive our consciousness out of its place. It’s somewhat how being in the flow works. The adrenaline and rush are so high that there is no room or place for it to stand. Your self is changing course and relies on its instinct to move forward. You are allowed the spectator seat our of courtesy rather than anything else. “Thank you very much for your contribution and fine ideas sir, but thanks, no thanks. We can handle it better on our own”. Now imagine that. Your participation request got turned down ruthlessly by your very own self and you remained uninvited in the party like a 15 years old teenager.
But flow is one of the nice ways your brain is shutting down your logical abilities. You can feel lucky when this happens, and you are allowed to pat yourself in the back 3 times. Dissociation, most of the time, comes from the opposite route. When things happen so fast that you barely have the time to shuffle out of the shock before the next thing hits you.When events are ruthless and external forces span out of control, setting their path to do their thing and ignoring your opinion. So what’s the point, you ask. Your soul gets crushed as the world you knew shutters.
The Basic Ingredients
Dissociation comes right after the moment you gave your best shot and somehow got a glimpse of its futility. It’s right at the point where all hope vanishes and the vision for something better fades away. Put in some moral injustice in it, and the world becomes a place you are not sure you want to mess or engage with. This is part of the thought pattern that makes the situation bleak as the 7 hells. Understanding that whatever forces are messing with you, could easily have done right with a minor move. And it would cost barely anything to them. Maybe they could sit down and listen to others instead of caring only for their own ass or give their 5 cents to help and protect people instead of putting another golden jeep in their collection.
Istill remember a few years back trying to find a job with my little framed up bachelor’s degree. I would knock left and right only to find closed up doors. My excited smile dissolved into a disappointed clownish curve, resembling a sad Joker. And the realization was harsh as it was bitter. I did everything in my power, spending years studying and working hard, only to find out it wasn’t as important as I thought it would be. And at the moment it felt there was nothing more I could do. All the time spent in stress and agony proved futile. Notice the phrase ‘I did my best’. There lies the recipe for the dissociation pattern. Probably its most important ingredient. Together with unfulfillment and defeat, they create a beautiful plate of withdrawal. And that’s what I did, I evacuated the castle spending days merely watching my body moving like a ghost. Soulless and unable to feel anything. Till I had the luck to get a push, let’s just say from a magic hand.
But what fazes me the most looking back at it is the level of ignorance I was showcasing back then. I just didn’t want to admit I needed help. Too proud to ask for advice. Too arrogant to show I couldn’t handle it. Preferred to walk down the path of hiding it all by shoving it under the bed than appearing weak. And so I lost time, fighting against something, foolishly, instead of following a more wise direction someone else could offer me.
Dissociation And Stoicism
But I know what you are asking. Doesn’t dissociation resembles a little bit of stoic philosophy and the apathy they so vividly promoted?
“Pain is slight if opinion has added nothing to it;… in thinking it slight, you will make it slight. Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer…. So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, — for the reward is… virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time.” — Seneca
Apatheia comes from the Greek word that means without-passion. The purpose was obvious. Eradicate passions and any kind of emotional reaction to external events. But this is not to be confused with indifference. This does not mean give up on doing your best and submit into the lethargy of no-action. It is the total opposite. Take everything as it comes and act on the little circle you can influence. Accept everything else as it is pointless to grin on whatever you can’t control.
People are so full of bullshit many times. We understand physical hurt or sickness, but refuse to acknowledge its mental counterpart. Mental health is as real as the physical one. Mental illness exists and is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated and dealt with efficiently most of the time as long as you are willing to fight it.
Of course, we don’t want to give up on the first sign of difficulty and run like little kids in search of help. We are grown-ups; we are supposed to handle stuff on our own and know how to navigate our lives. But there is a clear distinction between being a frightened cat and understanding the fact that you are stuck and need a hand to get going again. It’s called self-awareness and above all else, requires honesty with yourself.0