This sunset was one of many beautiful Hawaiian sunsets I photographed this past summer.
It’s also the perfect visual for a part of my life that is otherwise hard to describe: dissociation.
I know I’m dissociating when my world narrows. My vision disappears. All I see is a tiny circle of light with darkening clouds around the edges.
Just as I manage to tell you I’m triggered, the storm hits. I feel hollow. I float into the atmosphere because suddenly, I can’t move. I forget how to speak, likely for up to an hour. Time halts, replaced by a long moment of quietude.
If you’re speaking to me, I can no longer hear you. Your words are no louder than an indistinguishable breeze.
If I could feel anything, I would panic and flee. But all feeling is overwhelming, so instead, I cease to be. The universe fades into twilight.
In the following days, I’ll pay the price for this stillness. My body trembles. My muscles tighten. I crave magnesium in the form of chocolate and Epsom salts. Otherwise, I can’t eat. I put my life on pause for a few days, maybe a week, to self-care my way back to vitality.
But while I’m frozen, I’ll feel perfectly tucked away in the safety of darkness.
I’ll need sensations to bring me back. A tight grip. A warm hug. Intense focus on the color palette of the horizon. A few carefully chosen words — I’m right here; I’m not going anywhere — to break through the silence.
Overwhelm will make me forget what triggered me. But I’m no stranger to these memory lapses, and I’ve learned my triggers intimately. They’re always the same. A deep craving for connection juxtaposed with sheer terror, because I’m already guessing the next words out of your mouth. When you mention our relationship, what I hear preemptively is that I’m rubbish and you don’t want to see me again.
I walk away from each of our encounters fully believing it’s our last.
Slowly, I’ll return to the physical world, ready to bask in embarrassment. I’ll feel shame for taking up time in your life in a bumbling, non-verbal state. I’ll be confused because that night, you didn’t reject me. You held me and held space for me, though I felt a mere glimmer of your touch.
I’ll remind myself that dissociation is normal for someone like me and that it once kept me safe.
And finally, once the tremors stop, I’ll feel gratitude. I’m living in a world where I can practice connection, even when I fumble.
Life was once a permanent state of blackout. Now, I’m lucky that haziness is an infrequent visitor. Only as potent as a steadily vanishing sunset.