Family visit

I feel dissociated. It’s a feeling of not being in my body, being just beside it somehow.

Today I went to church in the morning, which was OK. Very difficult to know what to do when I feel so blank. I spent the time in church trying to feel. At tea a nice woman chats with me. When she mentions she used to teach at a local university I get really anxious and need to leave.

I go to the grocery store. After that I don’t manage to do much. I’ve lined up vegetables on my kitchen counter – I was going to make lentil soup, but I can’t get myself to actually do that. Laundry remains undone, carpets unvacuumed. Mostly I lie down. I start and stop my novels, one mystery, one more literary. I don’t care about anything.

The day is lovely and cool – yet I don’t go out for a walk. It’s easier to just lie down.

Yesterday I went to visit my parents. They are old now, and they don’t understand why I so rarely go to see them. They live in the same city as I do – it’s not difficult to do. The visit is likely the reason I’m dissociated today.

My parents are very polite. My father asks me in detail about my job, so explain a bit what I do. My mother cooks a very fancy type of fish, and it is very tasty. Black cod. This is not a kind of cod really, she explains, it’s a completely different fish. She spreads on a paste, and lets it steam very gently for only a few minutes, so it is moist and flavoursome. I should be noting how she does it – my fish is usually overcooked.

I’m carefully observing what happens – I want to know what goes wrong.

I guess usually they wouldn’t pay so much attention to me, but as my siblings are not there, they are attentive. At dinner, they talk about plays they’ve been to see. My mother says a bit about a book she read. It’s a little boring – they don’t really say much about these cultural things they love so much.

But, I’ve been paying attention to what Ron tells me, so I ask a few questions, and it’s interesting. My mother says she really liked a play, so I ask her what she liked about it. She is taken aback to be asked anything, thinks, and then comments on how the chorus sang a little like a rap song – one person after the other, and very rhythmic.

My family tends not to discuss their own concerns. Growing up, I didn’t know that people could talk about their feelings, or about other people and how they behaved. I didn’t know these things could be discussed, that you could try different courses of action, that you could actually discuss your life. Only my father did that, when he talked to my mother about his day at work.

I’ve never told them about my struggles with PTSD and depression. I’ve never raised the fact of my father’s pretending I was invisible for so many years, or the abuse that happened when I was a tiny child.

There is such a wall of denial of any kind of problem, it seems impossible. In fact I tend to feel I must be making this stuff up, when I’m with them.

So I don’t tell them much about my life. They wonder I think why I don’t do that well, why I don’t have a partner, take vacations, buy furniture. But they don’t say anything.

So we have this polite evening. I realize afterwards I did bring up death a few times, completely unconsciously. I really was worried about dying last week. I mention I was watching the DVD of Upstairs Downstairs, which we all watched as a family in the seventies. The part where Hazel, the daughter-in-law, my favorite character, dies of the Spanish flu. She is so shy and serious, so lovely, and how the men don’t react to her death at all. They don’t care that she died.

Then I also explain the plot of a book I’m reading, in which the main character discovers he has only a month to live, and sets out on a journey based on the letters of the alphabet. So they mention a public figure who also knew she was dying but didn’t feel sick.

Interesting I end up talking about a topic that preoccupied me, without doing it on purpose. Maybe they are doing that also, but I can’t tell what the concerns are. At least I’m paying attention – maybe I’ll figure it out sometime.

I stay for dessert, which my mother has also made – cooked pears with strawberries, the pears carefully peeled. Year after year, my mother cooks these careful, thoughtful meals. I can’t get it together to cook lentil soup.

I leave quickly after that. So – I’m not sure this should make me feel dissociated. Nothing bad happened to me.

Well, now I’ve written this out, maybe I can scramble some eggs and make spinach. And go for my walk. Is that too much to ask? Surely I can do this much.

  1. Penney Knightly said:


    It sounds like a lot the turmoil you’re enduring is based from feelings of isolation and alienation. You can’t connect to the people who you should be connected to you the most – that’s partially a PTSD symptom, and I think a lot about what you mentioned about your father treating you as an invisible child, and the “polite” behavior or your parents, which translates to “tolerate” and “unwilling to understand.” (You also mentioned being abused as child – and there’s a lot of triggers there) Possibly, they’re afraid of the baggage you carry, and don’t want to stir it up. It’s hard to tell – maybe it’s merely a huge generational difference. It depends on what time period your parents grew up in, and even their own backgrounds: how did their parents behave towards them? What coping techniques do they use?

    I know this emptiness you’ve described so well. This dissociative sense of floating, of being outside of your life, looking through a glass pane, and not able to touch it. I think that’s where my anxiety kicks in, and the social awkwardness – I can’t seem to live in the present moment with other people, and everything they say and think seems so contrived and artificial.

    Don’t be sorry over not making the lentil soup, you will get it to when you get to it. I am working to break the habit of comparing myself with others – your mother wouldn’t do what she’s doing if she were carrying the load you were carrying, at all. You are using your energies and time to heal, that is your job right now. It’s the hardest and most important thing you’ll ever do – but it must be done. Give yourself love and credit for daring to venture into your mind and heart where most of the human race is afraid to look at honestly.

    • Ellen said:

      Penney, thanks so much for your kind comment. I actually read this in the middle of the night and it was very comforting. My parents is a fraught issue for me and I don’t know how to tackle it right now. Your comments make a lot of sense.

      Also that’s really astute to note that the feelings of isolation I have generally may stem from my relationship with my parents and how that went wrong. I think that’s probably really true.

      That is how I experience the dissociation, yes, exactly.

      Healing is a difficult job for sure, and one my mother never has tackled. So I will give myself love and credit for doing that, and you also.

      take care

  2. laura said:

    hi E,
    such an interesting account!
    I read something yesterday – one of the other blogs – that said that psych students are routinely advised to check how they are feeling after they’ve interacted with a client. If you’re feeling depressed, it’s likely that they were feeling depressed.
    Perhaps you pick up disassociation because your parent’s are disconnected from how they feel? Or from the bizarre juxtapositions?
    It seems as if, while you were with them, you were not dissociated though, and were able to talk spontaneously about what was on your mind, and have an authentic interaction. It sounded, in fact, less problematic for you in terms of unruly parts, and more intellectually (and gustatorily) rewarding than most of your interactions with the folks you usually associate with – is that accurate?
    We are lucky to have good therapists. We won’t be where our parents are, when we are their age!

    • Ellen said:

      Hi Laura – Glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes I just like to describe things as you’ve noticed.

      I don’t know why I was dissociated all the next day. A question for Ron. But he’ll ask me what I think.

      Parts mostly go into hiding around my parents. I wouldn’t say that’s a good thing actually, as they don’t feel safe. Everyone in my family is fairly smart and well informed, so it can be interesting talking to them. However, in the background, bad stuff is going on which I don’t have a handle on. So no, interacting with them is not truly rewarding for me.

      I’m counting on Ron to help me figure this out for sure.

      Thanks for commenting.

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