October 4th, 2018.
It’s way too hot for it to be considered Autumn. I flipped through all of the drawers of my dresser to find something to wear on this already frightening day. It was finally the day I got up in front of my grad students and spoke about my thesis and grad school experience for the majority of the class. No matter how many times I rehearsed it in my head, in the shower, in an empty room of my apartment; I was still fucking nervous. To say the least: I was an anxious mess in the hours prior. I worried if I was validated enough to even do something like this. Will they like me? Will they appreciate hearing my experience? Will they find me a nuisance? Something bad was bound to happen, I kept telling myself in my head, and I hope that it wasn’t true.
I arrived later to the campus than I actually wanted to; that’s how much of a mess I was for most of the day. By the time I got there, the class was about to start in 30 minutes, and I had just a little amount of time before it was finally time to get up there and share my experience, and how I got where I’m at. I smiled and said hi to all of my grad students when they walked into class, trying to distract myself from what was going to happen. My former thesis advisor walked up to me and greeted me, to in which I blabbered out how nervous I was. Of course, she reassured me, telling me I was going to be fine and that ultimately, this is about me and my process. After one class presentation later, it was now my time to do my thing.
Please let me get through this without any hiccups.
I placed my powerpoint slides on the projector and panicked a little when my former thesis advisor left the room to grab some water and start without her. Shit, I’m basically in control now. I looked out into the classroom of grad students looking up at the board, at me, wherever really. I didn’t know how to start this presentation without it being way too awkward, so I just opened it up with some background of where the hell these slides came from and how much of my thesis I’ll be reading from tonight. I even made a joke about how if I were to read my 40-page thesis, we’d be here until next Thursday. Some laughed. Some didn’t. I took a deep breath and began reading what I prepared.
I began the reading feeling okay about it; it was nothing to be worried about besides here and there where I got nervous and stuttered a bit. You got this, Liz. Fuck that speech impediment and do your thing, girl! I looked up here and there to see if the class was into what I was saying because I’m insecure like that, and noticed that there were these friends who were talking among each other, laughing. Immediately, I felt exposed. Not knowing if they were just having a conversation about whatever to themselves or laughing at me for stumbling over easy ass words here and there, I immediately felt myself disappear.
The words looked blurry on the paper. It felt like my heartbeat was in my ears. I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth. My vision was impaired, my body felt sniff, I felt like I was floating, yet I had no control over what I was doing. My body was not mine at that moment, it just felt like a statue.
Liz, you’re dissociating. It’s fine, it’s cool, just fucking focus. Don’t let your anxiety win tonight. Prove yourself wrong.
I took a deep breath. I made it known that I was extremely nervous. For the most part, the class supported me. They said I was doing great. To keep going. So I did.
I don’t know when I began to focus, and I don’t know when I stopped caring if people were listening to me or not, but I remember looking calm. I remember feeling calm. I remember cursing like a sailor because I tend to curse my mind out when I’m nervous and passionate; good thing you can’t tell the difference in person, but most importantly, I remember reminding myself why I’m there in the first place. I wanted to help others out by sharing my story in a sense. I wanted to give others the guidance and advice I didn’t get when I was in their position. I wanted to reassure them that they will make it out with a damn degree like I did. I also wanted to conquer my own fears of public speaking and challenge my anxiety a bit. Standing up there every week for that class is a constant battle I am fighting against my anxiety.
I challenge my anxiety and sometimes anxiety fights back by having me dissociate from time to time.
Standing up there every week, I find myself dissociating. It may not be publicly noticeable (most dissociation isn’t), but I know when I am. I don’t hear the words come out of my mouth, I get sidetracked, I forget what I’m saying mid-sentence & have to pause to remember what the hell I’m talking about, but I eventually get over that feeling. I began to focus and observe the class. I take mental notes on how I’m doing and how the class is doing and I remember why I’m there.
**Dissociation is something you shouldn’t feel ashamed of if you experience it! Just because you dissociate doesn’t mean you now have DID, so please do not confuse the two! DID is a mental disorder, dissociation is a behavior/reaction due to a very nerve-wracking/anxious environment! Of course, not everyone experiences dissociation the same, so please acknowledge that the way I experience it will be/can be completely different than someone else!**
In other words: it happens, especially when you’re challenging yourself in the environments that trigger the most anxiety. The key to overcoming it, in my opinion, is to challenge it back. Don’t let it take over you and defeat your purpose of doing something. Don’t let it discourage you and hating an experience that didn’t actually go as bad as you think! In my experience leading a class that night, I received feedback I didn’t expect and it felt fucking amazing.
In my self-discovery, I am learning to challenge these parts of myself in order to take back control of my body. Dissociation & anxiety do not own me. Neither should it own you.