The feeling was scratching away at the back of my mind, inching its way to the forefront of thought, but unrecognizable as consciousness. It was more like an idea, a vague notion of something I might have known once. Like when you walk through a doorway and suddenly forget what it was you’d come into the room for. That sensation. Something vital gone missing.
It took the form of a hollowness. Not empty, more profound. Abandoned, perhaps. Ditched. A shape like the inside of a large tube, right there in my chest. The feeling would not let go. It hung in my mind like hotel air—that cloying pervasiveness that you can’t rid yourself of no matter how hard you try. Had I forgotten something? Was I shirking a responsibility, ignoring a fact? Had I lost something crucial? It felt like the latter. Missing, not misplaced.
The sensation was hauntingly familiar. For weeks before I had been preoccupied with searching online for answers to existential questions. At the time my thoughts were private and dark. I wasn’t sharing with my therapist or my friends. By the time I would, the tube-shaped emptiness had all but swallowed me whole. I felt distanced from myself. I had become inconsolable. I wanted to believe that I was in control of my thoughts. I was worried that I might have been going through some sort of replay of last year’s psychosis, and doing so while medicated, which seemed doubly disconcerting.
I sensed that my mind was splitting, which was apropos being that I live with schizophrenia. The term ‘schizophrenia’ comes from the Greek skhizein, meaning ‘to split,’ and phrēn, ‘mind.’ Among the many symptoms of schizophrenia is the experience of dissociation, a fragmenting of thought brought on by persistent stress or a history of trauma, affecting identity, memory, and perception of the common reality. Living with any mental illness can be stressful or traumatizing; combined with despair, the result is crippling. That’s where I was, at that crossroad.
I hesitated to explore my experience with my therapist because it meant that I would have to share the path my darker thoughts had taken. When I finally did, we explored dissociation and it seemed to fit. I began researching this symptom with which I used to be well acquainted. I was not surprised to find out that dissociation was listed as a side effect for two of my medications. Here I am, a year into taking them, and a symptom I’d thought I was relieved of persists. The sensation has left me feeling tentative. While I may have my mental illness seemingly under control, maintenance of my daily regimen is essential to my continued recovery.
Side effects commonly start showing up within the first six months of beginning a new medication, which is why it is so critical to keep your appointments with your psychiatrist to monitor the effectiveness of your medicines. If I think back six months, much of what I’m currently dealing with is essentially the same. The dark thoughts, the dissociation. At the time of this writing, I feel derealized (detached from one’s self) and depersonalized (detached from one’s surroundings) to a level very similar to my previous, unmedicated self. Side effect or symptom bleed-through, either way it’s a disturbing experience, one that disorients me while reminding me that my world is a delicate one, not to be taken for granted just because the meds are, for the most part, working.
I’m left with a sense that the world is unreal, or worse, that I am. Like many mental disorders, dissociation is on a continuum; I can lose memory or just feel absent-minded depending on the degree of pathological manifestation. It’s distressing. Not being able to place a value on things, or tell what I do or don’t feel, takes its toll. It’s as if I’m stuck in a dream, watching a movie about my life, but I don’t know the plot, the characters are completely foreign, and I’m the only person in the theater. I’m both involved and detached simultaneously, unable to make connections with others or the outside world.
In almost every other way, thanks to my medications, I feel more cohesive as a person, able to communicate more fluidly and with better precision than when I was so frequently sick. Still, this numbness has taken the vanguard of my thoughts, and I don’t quite know how best to approach feeling better, apart from opening up more to my psychiatrist and therapist. Since my instinct tells me that my dissociation is organic, I guess I’ll continue to talk.