How Dissociating Sabotaged Meditating: A Head Too Crowded For Peacemaking

It’s been there eighteen months.

Yesterday I went inside.

It’s just a little doorway on Westgate Road in Newcastle.  If you weren’t looking for it you would almost certainly miss it.  I knew it was there and I still managed to miss it many times.

The sign above the door reads “Just Meditation” and beyond is a three storey meditation centre.  I know some of the people.  Before they opened the centre they used to run two meditation groups every Saturday on the sixth floor of another city centre building.  I’m still there on many Saturdays.  We have a small theatre workshop for people with mental health difficulties that takes place in the room where I used to meditate.  The meditations there had several advantages over many others:

  • There was little religious content.  The meditations were usually led by one of the founders of the meditation centre, an Anglican priest with a doctorate in Buddhism.  But religion was kept to a minimum and belief or unbelief in any creed, god, or spirituality was not a barrier to being there.
  • There was acceptance.  The meditations grew out of something that began with a charity, Changing Lives, working with people with complex needs including homelessness and addiction.  The other founder of the centre was part of that charity.  If you were struggling socially, financially, or with physical or mental health you would not be looked down on in any way
  • There was nothing to join.  No pressure from any organisation.  It was just “come along and meditate in a group as often as you like.”
  • The meditations were free.  They had a bit of funding to be able to offer this.
  • There was a free lunch between the running of the two meditation groups.

They’re good people.  If you want to try a meditation group I’d recommend them.  They have regular sessions at 11am on Wednesdays and Saturdays with other events and talks happening frequently.

I showed up yesterday.  The session is simple enough.  An introduction.  Ten minutes of meditation, usually with the breath although that’s not compulsory.  A little bit of discussion.  Twenty minutes of meditation.  Tea drinking.

Easy.  Surely.  Nope.  Not for this head.

I’ve recently become very much more aware of some dissociative aspects of my mind.  I knew I heard voices and I knew there were more voices than I could make sense of.  Sometimes they merge into an overpowering mess of shouting and screaming as each tries to be heard over the other.  It can be debilitating.

I didn’t know what they were.  Hallucinations?  Psychosis?  Some unfortunate physical symptom?  I’d never thought about dissociation and it turns out that in part that’s because the voices didn’t want me to.  Everything was hidden as much as it can be while talking lots.  Recently I’ve been seeing a psychologist regularly – with more sustained input than I’ve had from any psychologist ever before.  He picked up that I was dissociating in some way while sitting in front of him but I swore with total certainty that I didn’t dissociate much at all.  After several sessions I agreed to answer the questions on a dissociative experiences questionnaire.  Well I aced the test.  He said the test gave incomplete results and was only a guideline but it pointed very strongly to two more diagnoses with “disorder” at the end of their name.

As we moved on it became clear that the two therapeutic routes he could offer were CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).  I strongly drew back from more CBT which left EMDR.  If you don’t know what EMDR is, look it up.  It’s very fascinating.  I thought I’d find it a bit boring.  I thought I’d analyse the experience logically and it wouldn’t do anything to me or for me.  I was wrong.

Within twenty seconds of beginning the first session I dissociated.  Lots.  An eight year old child ego appeared and we spent the remainder of the hour going back and forth between me and the child – who is now calling herself Lucy.  The psychologist had to keep working hard to get me back and to make sure it was me who left his office rather than a middle-aged eight year old.

That was a complete shock to me.  It also left me with a disgustingly bad headache for a week.  Lucy took over completely several times that week and got extremely panicked about the process of EMDR, looking at my past, and being discovered.

For the second session the psychologist made it as gentle as possible.  As before I had to focus on an image from my childhood.  This time though I was not permitted to focus on any of the accompanying emotions.

Within five seconds I dissociated.  Lots more.  It wasn’t just Lucy.  Two adult egos appeared.  I have almost no memory whatsoever of that appointment.  The psychologist was watching different personalities come and go but managed to get me back in time to make another appointment and send me on my way with another disgustingly bad headache.

I’m not having more EMDR.  At least not for now.  He says that the dissociative structure refused permission to continue.  A big relief all round.  He also referred me for more specialist treatment which I’m being assessed for in a month.

Since that time I’ve been trying to process this new information about myself.  It’s been incredibly difficult.  The voices got louder.  Some of them got a lot clearer and I have some idea of who and what some of them are.  I’ve tried to read about dissociation but Lucy especially gets very stressed about it and often the reading is impossible.  Mostly I can hardly retain anything anyway.  I’d been recovering very well from my worst period of mental health in a lot of years.

Processing dissociation and the distinct possibility of either DID (dissociative identity disorder) or DDNOS (dissociative disorder not otherwise specified – which is like DID but with a few small differences) knocked me back a long way.  Sometimes it’s brought me back to being strongly suicidal.  Seriously things have been pretty shit and I could have done with a lot more support than I had the ability to get even in times of knowing what kind of support I need – which is generally just a quiet safe space without judgement.  I haven’t been able to reach out or find that much support and lots of offer dry up when they’re desperately needed and publicly called out for.  Friends very often aren’t there when you’re at your lowest.  Some of them even cut you off entirely.  Some tell you off for not calling out in just the right way to satisfy they view of how it “should” be done.  As if you’re able to do that when struggling so much.

However, while going through hell (again) I’ve still managed to cut down on my medication somewhat and may be stopping the last drug entirely in a week’s time.  I’m still here and fighting and trust that the long-term outcome of recognising these things about myself will be far better than the long term outcome of not recognising them.

Lucy has been able to make art – alone and with me.  That’s been brilliant.  Much of it is on our Instagram page together with lots of photos of my life and of Newcastle and the surrounding area.  We’ve averaged a post a day this year, sometimes with multiple photos, and it helps me a lot to be able to look back at so many good things easily.  It’s not the best art in the world because neither of us possesses skill.  But I or we have possibly made more art of some kind in the last month than in all the years since I left school.

So.  The meditation.  Relax a bit, although the psychologist actually barred me from doing any practice that includes any relaxation.  Be more still.  Breathe.  Ahhhh.  And the voices. The voices. The voices.

  • Lucy first. She cried through the whole thing and kept wailing “Why?  Why?  Why?” and “Don’t do it.”  I had to work hard to stop her taking over and making us walk out of the place half way.
  • The “You’re a shit” voice was very angry.
  • Someone spoke up and told me I was a complete idiot for walking away from my Christianity.  “It gave you purpose and meaning and I don’t give a fuck that it was all nonsense and that it fucked you up over and over again it gave you purpose and that’s what’s important and so what if you don’t believe it and shouldn’t believe it, go back and do it anyway.  Why did you have to leave?”
  • It felt physically like one of them was kicking me in the brain stem.
  • A woman who usually stands in front and a little to the left just watching with her arms crossed looking sad uncrossed her arms and wanted to strangle me.
  • A man kept laughing at me for not even knowing how to breathe properly.
  • Another woman kept patting me on the top of the head and saying “There, there.”  Which was kind I suppose but not very helpful.  Perhaps she doesn’t know how.
  • The Purple Man put in an appearance for the first time in ages.  He’s not someone I welcome into my mind but I guess I’ll have to come to terms with him one day.

There were others too, straining to be heard over the noise.  I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was when the meditation time was over.

They are very pleasant people at the Just Meditation centre.  But perhaps it’s not the place for me just at the moment.  I used to like focusing on my breath or on some version of mantra or visualising images around colour and form.  My head feels very different to how it was just a few months ago.  It’s not different of course.  It’s just that recognition has made it all feel very different and the beginnings of understanding have changed my awareness a great deal.

I’d like to get back to some kind of meditation practice.  I enjoyed it in the past.  Finding some kind of peace in my head whether through breath or metta (kindness, unconditional love, compassion) or whatever other form the meditation took.

With the way my mind – our mind – is at the moment perhaps it’s not a good idea.  The psychologist is right that specific relaxation is not going to be good for me.  Perhaps seeking peace within when there isn’t peace to be found is unwise too.  For now.  When I’m assessed we can ask about these things.

Our only hope for the assessment is that they agree to offer me treatment.  They might not and that would be our final and only option within the NHS gone.  We’ve been pushed back and had help denied so many times that I am finding it hard to be hopeful.  If they say no I don’t know what I’ll do.  If the say yes that will mean joining another waiting list of some kind.  But at least I’ll be on the list.

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