Last Thursday I went in to work, then home for dinner, then out again for my first session of group therapy. I almost never go anywhere after work – not because I have no interest, but because it’s too stressful for me. It’s as if my inner container of stress gets completely filled up by the workday, and then I need the rest of the evening to calm down and let some of that stress evaporate, only to do it all again the next day.

So going out to a group after being at work was stressful just from the sheer fact of going out after work. I didn’t know what to expect, so that was also stress. It turned out to be a very unstructured group. It’s run by my therapist, and he pays a lot of attention, but doesn’t involve himself much at all. There were five of us, and there was quite a bit of silence as we tried to figure out what to do and people gathered their courage to say something.

The whole time I was there, I felt this huge need to leave, so I was fighting that for an hour and a half. The only time it stopped was when I was actually talking – and I can’t talk the whole time obviously. In fact, I don’t want to. For some reason, a few people kind of challenged me or reacted to me a little negatively. I thought it was OK though. They’d just met me. I didn’t feel they could have real issues with me already, and I didn’t feel at fault. I think the problem was the urgent need to leave and feeling unable to do so. 

Somewhere in there I ended up massively dissociated, which I haven’t managed to come out of really until this afternoon. Dissociation the way I experience it is feeling blank, as if I’m seeing a blank page. I can’t feel anything, and my mind doesn’t work well at all. I get stuck, like I’ll be wanting to make something to eat but I’ll get stuck in the kitchen kind of staring at the wall. I can’t really carry out the steps to make a meal.

I didn’t notice I was in this until after my individual therapy on Friday. It may seem odd that I wouldn’t notice something like this, but I just don’t pay attention, is the only way I can describe it. I couldn’t sleep without pills after the group, because I was anxious, so that should have tipped me off. Then getting to therapy in the morning I was on auto pilot, and then just coped with talking to Ron. It’s odd to me that I didn’t notice this state I was in. Unless it really clicked in at the therapy session? Where I didn’t feel understood and stuff.

Being dissociated is the opposite of where I want to be. I want to be able to feel – this is the opposite of feeling. It is so automatic though I don’t catch that it’s happening until it’s established, and at that point, I can’t seem to escape it.

For me there’s a real sense of badness and wrongness attached to this also. It’s not just blankness. Also I feel very alone. I just feel unable to talk to anyone.

So at this point I’m back in my legs, as I started to feel them again this afternoon. And I can feel a warmth in my stomach, so my stomach is back. I can’t yet feel the upper part of my body much. This will sound stupid, but at one point I actually looked at my arms and chest and said, yep, my body is still here – I needed to see it to believe it.

Obviously this isn’t the goal of group or any kind of therapy. It’s just not helpful to me at all. I’m going to try the group again, but with differences. I emailed Ron about my difficulties, and asked whether I could leave the room if I needed to (you’re not really supposed to – it’s only an hour and a half). He said I could get up and move around, and if I really need to, I could leave the room and try to come back as soon as I could. I will definitely be leaving the room. Maybe more than once. Maybe walking around also.

I’ll take some water or a drink to sip on, and peppermints to suck on, and I’ll think about feeling my feet. These are all things so I stay connected to my body.

I’m going to pay attention at work to see if the dissociating starts there. I think it might, because it takes me so long to recover from work. I’ll try and stay grounded on Thursday at work somehow or other.

Ron offered to set up a phone time for us to discuss this before the group, which is kind of him. I appreciate he is concerned. I might talk to him on the phone Wednesday. Not sure if this will help or not. The problem I’ll be having is on Thursday, when unfortunately all this fear will kick in.

You know what really would help? If when I got to the group, someone spoke to me softly and kindly, someone who liked me, maybe held my hand until I could calm down. Almost as if I was a kid. I need to calm down before I can do group therapy with any success. Unfortunately there is no such person. Ron, whom I depend on to like me, kind of acts like he doesn’t know anyone. Well, I just mean, he talks to the whole group, not one person. He’s everyone’s therapist after all. When we left, he didn’t say goodbye to anyone, he was just quiet. The kid part is actually quite hurt by this. I the adult understand it. The kid can’t really grasp the different roles Ron needs to play as part of his job.

  1. diver said:

    'I think the problem was the urgent need to leave and feeling unable to do so.'How horrible for you. That sort of thing is my pet hate – the feeling of being trapped in a socially confining group situation. So claustrophobic! Something like that would leave me with ripples of anxiety for days after, as though a big rock had been thrown into my psychic pond. Sometimes it takes me a whole week for those ripples to settle down. You call it 'dissociated' which sounds similar, although maybe the dissociation is a sort of self-protective thing, like a cocoon you put yourself into in the face of or after a truly shocking experience.Good luck with it Ellen. Were I in your position I doubt I'd be giving it a second chance.

  2. Ellen said:

    Hi diver – Yes you do know that feeling also, I can see that. Didn't know you were still following along…very nice to hear from you. Yes – it is as if a rock was thrown in my psychic pond! Great description. Dissociation is a little different from anxiety – it's more like the absence of all feeling, which might be preferable to very severe anxiety actually. The tendency to do this is an effect of early childhood trauma. Thanks for the good wishes diver.

  3. diver said:

    O yes, following along Ellen, always following along. I read every word you write with interest and concern 🙂 Just been biting my tongue lately due to evil thoughts about Ron and what seems to me to be his well-intentioned but half-assed approach to your therapy.And yeah, I figured the dissociation was an early learned response to your trauma. I agree that it may be preferable to severe anxiety too.Always wishing you well Ellen 🙂

  4. Ellen said:

    Huh, didn't know that diver. Well, feel free to tell me how Ron is going wrong if you wish. I'm angry with him often enough….Though of the therapists I've tried, he is the best. Very irritating and hurtful though he can be at times. thanks for the good wishes. take care

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