Due to my success at the mall we talked a lot about when and how I dissociate, when I get panic attacks and how those two things connect. Basically I dissociate very quickly when something is too much for me, no matter if it’s a crowd, a (too) emotional conversation, noise, unwanted physical contact; just everything that makes me feel overwhelmed can trigger more or less serious dissociative states. That can go from a slight feeling of derealization to feeling as if I was behind a pane of glass or to states where I completely “leave” my body or can’t feel my hands anymore. Speaking still works most times but I won’t say much more than “yes” and “no” then. At least I can always nod.
My feeling is that panic attacks have always occurred more often at times when I had ignored such states for too long, as if they were the last emergency plan my body uses to make me flee. Since I started working on it in therapy I notice dissociation earlier, deal with it differently, leave situations that don’t work more often and therefore the panic attacks have gotten less.
My therapist thinks that all this has to do with boundaries – in my family there was a person who never respected my physical boundaries and another one who never knew any emotional boundaries when I was concerned. So now as a grown-up is the first time in my life where I can actually explore where my limits are. If you say you’re learning to set boundaries in therapy that sounds quite well-worn but I’m not even learning to set them but merely to even notice them! What I’ve known so far is that self-harm is the epitome of a boundary. Even as a little child I chewed the insides of my cheeks when I was in a difficult situation. I never knew any other way which is why it’s so difficult now.