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Facing My Feelings
It may be time to confront my past
Cynthia Orbes
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Last year I started to experience a strange foggy feeling, like I was not inside my body. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. It lasted for months. It was very scary.

I decided to talk with a therapist about what was happening to me. I spoke to Dr. Steven Kuchuck, a psychologist who works with teenagers.

When I got to his office, I told him about my feeling. He told me that it’s called “dissociation,” something that happens in your unconscious mind that you don’t have control over.

“It happens when someone is very depressed or anxious, and old memories are coming back that you don’t want to feel,” he said. “You want to bury those memories and you separate from your body to get away from them. It’s too much for the mind to handle. Your mind shuts down and goes into a fog, and it’s like you’re watching someone who’s not you.”

His description was exactly right. When I’m in that state, I forget things and I don’t even realize what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.

Burying My Sadness

Dr. Kuchuck and I talked a little about my past. I told him that my dad died when I was 8 and my mom died when I was 10. That’s when my sister and I came into foster care. I also told him the “dissociation” started after I broke up with my boyfriend, who I’d been with for three years.

“Your mom and dad were your whole world and you had a life with them and then it was just gone,” he said quietly.

He explained how that might be related to the foggy feeling I was having now. Dr. Kuchuck said that when I was 10, I couldn’t handle all my sad feelings. I had to bury them instead.

Dr. Kuchuck said that breaking up with my boyfriend reminded me of those feelings because he became my whole world, so again it was my whole world I was losing, not just him. “I think you probably have a lot of really bad memories,” he said tenderly. “Upsetting things happen, and it reminds you of other losses and scary things.”

A Safer Distance

While I was dealing with dissociation, I also had an experience in which my heart started beating wildly, and I was cold, sweaty, and shaking. I felt like I was going to die. He told me that sounded like a panic attack. “That comes from a lot of things that have been buried,” he said. “That stuff builds up and has to come out.”

image by Sara Goldys

Dr. Kuchuck explained that the panic attack was my body’s way of telling me I have these feelings from the past and have to deal with them.

“It may be time to let yourself start to feel things,” Dr. Kuchuck suggested. “You might be safer now.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but he said that as you get older, your mind can deal with things you couldn’t handle at 10. When you’re out of the dangerous situation, and you have some distance, you’re safer. “It was a good move to ignore the memories then, but you may be ready now,” he said.

“I have to bring them back?” I asked.

“You do, but you may not be able to do that by yourself.”

Survival

He recommended that I keep talking to familiar people—like my sister—who make me feel more like myself. He also suggested talking to a therapist who makes me feel safe.

“People say, ‘Why talk about things I want to forget?’ Well, you can’t forget. That’s why you talk about them slowly, a little bit at a time, so you’re not overwhelmed,” he said.

I think he’s right. My body is telling me that now I need to pay attention to this stuff from the past. If I’m really strong, I can face those feelings.

“What are you thinking?” he asked me.

“I’m a survivor,” I told him. I was feeling proud that I survived all the losses I’d suffered when I was little.

“You’re a survivor,” he said. “No one can take that away from you.”

We were quiet for a minute. Then he said softly, “Letting your feelings out is another type of survival.”

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(FCYU-2009-07-13)

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