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Grounding - Dissociative thoughts

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

*Potential trigger warning for people with dissociative disorders*

Grounding techniques are one of the biggest tools taught to people with dissociative disorders. Ways in which to bring yourself back to 'reality' and out of the dissociation. Different strategies will work for different people, whether it be using your senses, changing your posture, words or statements said aloud, etc...

I struggle with grounding.

I remember coming across a story a long time ago, that I've never been able to find since, in which a mother loses her child to a dream world. The child comes to believe that the dream world is the 'real' world with their 'real' parents, and that the 'waking world' is actually their dream world. They begin to sleep more and more, wanting to spend time with their 'real' family, until eventually they are lost forever. No matter what the mother tried, she simply couldn't reach her child and they slowly faded away.

I've never been able to shake this story. It always resonated with me. What if I'm stuck in a dream or a nightmare believing it to be real and the moments I experience as being 'dream-like', where the dissociation kicks in, are really me recognising the dream for what it is? What if the dissociation is my way of explaining away irregularities - like glitches in the Matrix - so that the dream continues? How could I ever truly know?

What if I'm not crazy for feeling out of touch with reality and like nothing around me is real, what if I'm crazy for thinking it is?

We had a discussion in our Religious Studies class once, about reality and our existence, in which my teacher picked up a pencil and asked the class to prove to him that it was real.

"Prove to me this pencil exists."

There were responses along the lines of, "Well if it isn't real, how are you holding it?", to which he responded...

"Prove I'm real then."

The idea was that you couldn't prove that we weren't all just a figment of his imagination, or that everything we saw and experienced wasn't just a figment of our own. That idea of a brain in a jar that has no idea what or where it is.

I never forgave him for this lesson. It was careless. Most of the students just moved on and forgot about it, to them it was a gimmick, but for me it planted a seed of doubt and once it had taken root I could never get rid of it. I already felt as though the world wasn't quite there, as though it would turn to smoke if I tried to reach out and touch it, and I fully understood what he meant. There was no way of proving anything to be 'real'.

We know the brain is capable of inducing physical sensations in the body - stimulate the right area of the brain with an electrical impulse and suddenly the person will be smelling burnt toast where there is none. Think of how realistic dreams can feel when we are in them, or of the existence of psychosomatic symptoms. How can I prove that I'm holding my pen when I know that my brain could fabricate its presence on an understanding or something's feel and texture just by sight? I can't.

So how do I tether myself in reality if I can't even trust my senses to ground me? Logically I know this is all speculation and I must be awake in the 'real world', but is the 'proof' I have really proof? Or is it something I've created? What if a paradox in my world is just a flaw in my own imagined logic due to my limitations of understanding? For example, the world cannot possible exist, and yet it must at the same time. It cannot be infinite but if it stops there must be something beyond it - which also cannot be infinite - so what is beyond that and where does that stop?

How out of touch with reality am I really?

Does it matter?

If I am that child lost to their dreams, have I gone too far to return? If I am that floating consciousness or brain in a jar, does it matter that my world is fabricated? Would knowing what I am be the better option if I have no power to change my circumstances?

It matters.

I need to know. I need to be certain. Even if the answer isn't what I want to hear. I don't like feeling in limbo.

This brings me back to where I started all this speculation - grounding. The techniques I have ground me in this world. But what if I'm grounding myself in the wrong one? Reinforcing the dream and slipping further from reality? How can I want to ground myself in a world that I don't fully trust exists? How do I know I'm not really self-destructing by doing that?

Perhaps this is why the physical presence of people/others is key for me. It is the closest I can get to being sure that this world isn't of my own creation. People are too unpredictable and uncontrollable to be something that originates from me, or something programmed in to me by another mind. That is why my grip on reality slips the more I'm away from people - something I found increasingly challenging to deal with during the pandemic restrictions - everything else could just be those figments of my imagination with which my teacher so carelessly sparked a fire.

This has always been one of my deepest fears. What if this isn't real, and if it isn't what does that say about me and the traumas I've inflicted upon myself in my own imaginings?

I suppose this is the extent of my dissociation and a fear that underlies the idea of ridding myself of it, to whatever extent I'm capable, because what if it's the wrong choice?

One of the biggest curses I've found with my dissociation is that there is conflict between my logic and rational thinking, and the creeping doubts that slip between the cracks. Dissociation is distinct from other disorders in that sufferers are not delusional. They may experience feelings and thoughts that they know are completely irrational, such as all the above, and their logical brain knows it isn't true, but it can't be dismissed completely because that detachment from your reality makes you question it.

I'm not crazy, I just feel like I am.

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