Monday, August 17, 2015

Thoughts from the Road: Dissociation




The drive from San Diego to Phoenix was actually the worst drive I’ve ever inflicted on myself/endured. Period. I knew it was going to be hot, as I was obviously driving through a desert. At some point the combination of the heat and the utter desolation that was the landscape made me feel like I was in a Mad Max movie. I passed the time for a while trying to pretend I was a young Furiosa on a long-haul.

But as the AC in my car is broken, eventually no amount of daydreaming would hold the misery at bay. It was approx. 117 degrees Fahrenheit and I was terrified of coming down with heat stroke—which, in a behavioral pattern that was so very Tahni it’s almost frightening, I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to worry. Instead I said a lot of unheard thanks for the ice chest my cousin and his wife leant me while wrapping ice in a cloth and holding it to my face and throat. When my water bottle was empty I put ice from the chest into the bottle, let it sit a few minutes, and drank it because it was already melted. At one point I didn’t drink any water for about half an hour, only to discover that the water in the bottle had heated up to a comfortable tea heat from just sitting in the cup holder.

I was actually miserable by the time I arrived in Phoenix. My head hurt, I felt a little sick (at least in part because I hadn’t eaten in far too long) and I looked and smelled like I had just crawled out of the pits of Hell. Only to find myself in Phoenix, which is essentially Hell.

I feel yuh, bro.

The hotel I stayed in was a bit stanky, but I could live with that. The guy at the front desk, however, came on to me in a way which wasn’t aggressive or directly threatening, but was just obtrusive and crude enough to make me very uncomfortable with the fact that this guy knew what room I was in. This in combination with the already feeling shitty more or less reduced me to a teary ball on the bed (after setting all of the locks and putting the chair in front of the door).

While I was laying there crying and being pissed that I was loosing water because I was crying—but also trying to sleep—I started pretending that I was someone else. Specifically I started pretending that I was Terra, one of the two main characters from my most recent fiction writing undertaking. I was crippled by loneliness in that moment so I pretended I was only waiting for Tom (the other main character) to come back from getting ice or picking up take-out. After spending far too much time watching THAC TV on my phone I finally fell asleep making believe that I was Terra and Tom would  be back any minute now.

Everything is beautiful and life is amazing.

The next day I listened to a How Things Work podcast on Dissociative Identity Disorder while I was driving to Taos. (By the way, pretty much the instant I left Phoenix the heat dropped to a half-way bearable temperature. Why would someone willingly chose to live in Hell’s Asshole Phoenix?) I was listening to this primarily because that new story I mentioned is primarily about DID. Tom has DID. I know a lot about how it works and why it works the way it does, but I learned a lot about the history of DID and the evolution of our understanding of it, which was phenomenally interesting. I also learned that there are four types of DID, including the most familiar, multiple personalities form, dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue states, and a variation that doesn’t involve other personalities but rather involves being dissociated from one’s life in such a way that they’re experiencing their life almost in third person, rather than first. People with DID—the most severe and most well-known variety—usually experience the other three forms to varying degrees at different points in their lives, though the other  varieties don’t necessarily include multiple personalities.

This is what I was looking at while listening to this podcast.
Everything about New Mexico is better than Arizona,
in my humble opinion.

It’s a stretch, but while listening to this podcast I wondered to what degree fiction writing is a focused/controlled dissociative activity. Obviously I’m not saying that writers have a dissociative disorder of any variety, but I thought about what I was doing in Phoenix: pretending to be someone else. Someone else whose situation was just different enough from mine that she would feel relatively safe, comfortable, and not alone. It’s certainly not dissociation in this specific meaning of the word, but it falls in a similar vein. (Dissociation only means the state of being disconnected, or disconnection/separation from something, and it is something which is everyone does to some degree at different points in their lives. It’s not really a problematic thing until it becomes a disorder like the ones described above.)

Could fiction writing be said to be in a similar vein, as well? I wonder this primarily because of how involved a writer can get in the creation of a world and the people who populate it. I was so involved in the world of my recently finished novel, and so involved in the lives of the characters that I created, that the death of one of those characters reduced me to tears. I was a blubbery, snotty mess for a solid hour while finishing the end of the novel. Somehow these characters become so real to me that I move into a state of grief and mourning upon killing one of them off. And to get to that point I have to, to a degree, separate from what’s actually happening around me at any given moment. My mother could testify to this: I often get so absorbed in what I’m writing that when she walks into the room and says something to me I just about jump out of my skin because I hadn’t realized anyone had walked in. My mother is also just kind of a creepy person, though…she’s very good at sneaking up on people.

It’s probably not dissociation that I’m thinking of or experiencing in these moments so much as some sort of imaginative state. I’m not sure what that would be called, but it was kind of an interesting thing to ponder while I drove yesterday, the degrees to which we walk lines of dissociation and where those intersect with imagination and creativity. Needless to say I’m very thankful I’ve never had cause to slip over any of those lines into a disorder of any kind, but it’s interesting to take into consideration the role mild dissociative behaviors play in our daily lives and perhaps even our creative ventures.

Furthermore, I am incredibly thankful to once again be staying with someone I know and trust. What a lovely feeling that is.

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