By Tara Overzat
Another coping strategy I used as a child was dissociation. I daydreamed a lot. By daydreaming I could have fun and do things while being quiet (silence was what all the adults in my life wanted including my mother who was too engrossed in her rituals; my father who was too drunk to handle anything that couldn’t be done on autopilot; and my teachers who were trying to rein in classes of 25 hyper kids).
Dissociation made it possible to deal with the mental and physical abuse by my parents, and to not be dragged down into an even deeper depression by my classmates who, acting by social instinct, ruthlessly made fun of me and ostracized me for years in school. I mention in “The Tyranny of Looking the Other Way,” that many of these classmates remained in class with me through high school and some even would up at my college. This caused an embarassment that was awful to bear, and while I did well in school I was anxious many days around these upper-middle class kids who probably remembered clearly my days of being the smelly, poor, fat girl in the room.
The funny thing about dissociation is that too much of it can be a bad thing. Dissociation can lead to derealization, where everything around you can seem surreal. Derealization is like walking through a dream… except even dreams can seem real, whereas derealization never does. You can be experiencing things mentally and even expressing the correct emotions on your face, but not be wholly feeling the moment.
As things slowly got better in my life, around age 12, I had to fight my desire to slip into daydreaming instead of interacting with people. The people around me were so cruel that it just seemed safer to stay inside myself. It took a long time for me to be more social (such a pity, since I remember when I was quite young being gregarious when I was away from my parents), and when I’m feeling down I still revert inside myself and only want to socialize with people I already feel close to.
I am still struggling with the idea that my childhood was not my fault. Logically, I get that. Emotionally, it is still a challenge. But I am glad that I can recognize my feelings for what they are now and can continue living my life the best I can… which is the most any of us are able to do.