Experiences with Dissociating and Self-Injury

Trigger Warning

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 4 p.m.

“Hey, come back…Come back to me; it’s okay,” Taylor says gently as he tries to pull Nicole’s mind back into the room.

She is dissociating for the fifth time during their session. This happens when she feels so overwhelmed with anxiety that her thoughts pull her in and hold her captive in her mind.

Before I continue with this story, I’ll mention that Nicole has severe anxiety and depression, so she goes to her college’s counseling center to get help. She has been meeting with her counselor every Tuesday for the past couple months. Over these two months, she has tried Zoloft in several different dosages. Her mother found out about her anxiety and medication but didn’t really approve of her taking antidepressants. She stopped the Zoloft as she found it didn’t help and was prescribed a new medication, Effexor, which she decided not to take.

This brings us back the session. Taylor is talking to her, and so many painful things are going through her head. She doesn’t completely know what he is saying to her. All she really hears and understands is Taylor telling her to come back.

“Nicole. Come back. It’s okay.”

Taylor tries to coax her out of her mind. She finally comes back to the present moment and looks up at him. He notices how anxious she is and suggests they do a grounding exercise.


After the session, Nicole goes back to her room, where she can think and process what happened during the session. She feels absolutely terrible and depressed because she accomplished nothing during the session. Her mind continues to criticize her, telling her how pathetic and embarrassing she is, how she’s so worthless and hopeless that she shouldn’t even be in counseling. These thoughts race through her mind, and she tries to stop them. Sitting on her bed, she reaches into her backpack next to her and grabs her twist tie wire.

Exposing her wrist, she pulls up the left sleeve of her sweater, and drags the wire across her skin, leaving a small pink mark. She repeats this, each time dragging harder, so she rips her skin more. Some of them turn bright red and others bleed a little. With each mark, her emotional pain fades as she focuses on the physical pain of her wrist. It calms her and brings her back to reality. She pulls her sleeve down to conceal her wrist and reluctantly leaves her room. She walks from her residence hall to the dining hall to get dinner.

In the dining hall, she sees some people she knows but avoids them because she cannot handle her anxiety when around them, and her depression tells her to isolate herself from them because they don’t really want her around.

“Keep your head down, keeps your eyes on the floors, don’t make eye contact, walk quickly, get as little food as possible and as quickly as possible, then walk back the same way.”

Her anxiety tells her this over and over again. Once she manages to consume something, she is still a little hungry but can’t get up to get anymore food for the fear of being judged or noticed.

“Nobody wants you here; why are you even here? Why are you eating this food, you’re wasting this precious food on your fat, disgusting self, you don’t need this food, you can go without eating. You deserve to suffer.”

Her depression screams this in her head. She finds it hard not to listen and believe these voices in her head, when they’ve been saying the same things for the past several years.

A week later……

As the week of homework and self-hatred goes by, Nicole survives until her next counseling session. This time she feels much better being there and she is able to talk more and dissociate less.

During the last session, she had a panic attack and dissociated countless times, so they weren’t making any progress. One of the things they’ve been doing in sessions is helping Nicole find her voice and talking more, so to do so, she reads parts of a book. The first time they tried this she was able to read, but the second time, she had a panic attack and was unable to read. So, this time Taylor wants to start slow.

“Alright, I’m just going to place my hand on the book.” Taylor places his hand flat on the book sitting on the little table next to him. “How’s that? Are you okay? Did it bring up anything?” he asks in a calm voice.

She quietly answers, “Yeah.”

“What did it bring up?”

She’s only able to answer with one word, “Panic.”

“Okay, let’s just sit here like this.” They sit there for a minute while Nicole calms down. She’s not really sure why this first step caused her so much panic. “Okay, is it better?” She nods, and Taylor continues, “Okay, now I’m going to pick the book up and hold it. Did that bring anything up?” She shakes her head indicating no. “Okay, now can I hand it to you?” Nicole nods again and he asks, “How was that?”

She whispers, “It was okay.”

“Did that bring anything up? She shakes her head, and he asks, “So me placing my hand on the book brought up panic, but when I picked the book up and handed it to you, it was okay?”

She confirms by nodding and says “Yes.”

He continues, “Okay, can you open the book?” She hesitates, but after a few seconds, she is able to open the book to the first page. The book is the fifth Harry Potter book.  Once she opens the book, Taylor asks, “Can you read any part of it? You could read the title of the chapter or the first sentence or just the first word; whichever you can do.”

She tries to decide what she is going to read. Her mind is racing; she can’t breathe too well. She hesitates and tries to speak, but she can’t. After a minute or two, she manages to croak out the title of the chapter. She wishes she could say it louder and maybe enunciate better, but at least she spoke. After saying the chapter title, she can barely breathe, and she’s trying to keep herself from going into a panic attack.

After their session, she bikes back to her room. She’s so emotionally and mentally exhausted from the session that she goes straight to her room to lie down. She falls asleep for about an hour or so. She didn’t realize how difficult the things she was doing were until she laid down. When she woke up, all she wanted to do was to stop existing, but she made herself leave her room to go to be around people.

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