How TV Helped With My Dissociative Disorder

“Scrubs” was my favorite TV show growing up. It was on TV at around 4 p.m. every evening on ABC1. I’d come home after a grueling day of senior school and be home just in time to veg out on my bed to a double bill. It made me forget about the day I’d had.

I never liked school. I had good friends and I had favorite lessons, but I’ve always been highly introverted. I’d find it extremely difficult to be around so many loud, opinionated people for six hours a day. Watching TV when I got home would help me to unwind and recharge.

If I was at school now, I think I’d struggle more now then what I used to. When I was a teenager I didn’t care about anything, and if I did care about something, I’d simply need to be alone in my room to process, recharge, and then I’d carry on. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely devoid of human emotion, but I coped on the bad days. I knew it was just a bad day. I was much more resilient and thicker-skinned back then.

Something changed when I became a mum, and I’ve been grieving ever since. I know we are meant to grow and change as people and in a lot of ways I have improved, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. But there are some things I have lost, and I feel really sad about it. I miss having a tougher skin and I miss my resilience. The reason for this is I believe these are the traits that should not have been taken from me. I’m sad I have changed because my old self was stolen by trauma.

On bad days, I am oversensitive and I am incredibly anxious, to the point where at times I cannot leave the house. I worry a lot. I struggle to live in the moment. I forget a lot of things. Some days I have hardly any memories and other days I have too many memories that give me nightmares. I don’t sleep well at night and I can’t get up in the morning. I don’t know how to react to people and everyday situations. I overanalyze my interactions because I’m unsure if I’ve been oversensitive or not, or if I’ve come across as inarticulate or dumb. I find social interactions really hard because I am waiting for something bad to happen. It bugs me that I’ve changed, doing things I never used to do and having problems I never used to struggle with — but I finally understand why. I am not well. I am struggling with depression, anxietydissociation, derealization and depersonalization — due to repeated trauma.

This is why I have changed. It turns out I’m not as abnormal as I think I am. I’m having a normal reaction to a chain of abnormal events.

There are a range of physical and emotional symptoms that trauma survivors struggle with on a day-to-day basis. The emotional and psychological symptoms are:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Confusion and difficulty concentrating
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected or numb

There are also physical symptoms too. These include insomnia or nightmares, fatigue, palpitations, aches and pains and muscle tension.

I have struggled with many of these symptoms due to a string of traumatic events. I am very much in recovery; I completed therapy a month ago and I have recently started antidepressants because I have realized that trauma has made me forget who I am. Anxiety has made me forget who I am. Depression and acknowledging my childhood trauma has taken away my old self.

I am not expecting to return to the person I used to be; I know I am expected to grow and be a healthier person now that I am reaching the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel. But I feel like I am on the other end of the extreme, unsure of who I am and how to feel.

I feel the need to check out of reality in order to heal again. And the way I do this is to watch my favorite TV shows. It is usually sitcoms that make me sit back and think about my life. I don’t know how they do it, but watching something funny and upbeat that captures real-life brings me back down to Earth.

“Brooklyn 99” is one of the shows that helps me and has caused me to reassess my life. It reminds me of the group of friends I had when I was well — but I lost everything when I had to move house after family trauma. I lost what most consider a normal life. I don’t have any friends. I’m a stay-at-home mom, which means I was isolated before the pandemic. I find interacting hard, some days.

When I watch “Brooklyn 99,” I see that busy precinct and I am reminded of how I used to be like Rosa — laid back, didn’t care about much, a loyal friend and people knew not to mess with me. Now I wouldn’t even be able to enter the room knowing it was full of people, and knowing that I would be oversensitive and take their banter to heart because my anxiety makes me easy to trigger.

I have recently been told by my therapist that I dissociate. I was already aware of this, but I didn’t know just how long or how deeply I had been dissociating. I have written about my dissociation before, and the way I have been taught to deal with this is by grounding myself. When I start dissociating from the present and slip into the past, I have to distract myself. One of the ways I do this is to watch comedies — but since watching my favorite boxsets, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I used to be, and have been feeling a sense of nostalgia as I watch the shows I used to watch when I was younger.

Watching shows like “Scrubs” has made me realize what I want. I want to live a normal life. I don’t want to be scared of danger walking down the street. I want to be resilient again. I don’t want to be anxious around crowds. I don’t want to be so depressed I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to keep being immobilized by the past. I want to live a normal life, firmly stuck in the present, in a job I like with a close circle of friends. I want to be happy.

It may sound positive, my sudden realizations of who I want to be as my favorite shows force memories to come flooding back. But I am also aware that because of the way I react to trauma, I am likely to get so absorbed in things that stimulate my mind, I can dissociate too deeply into things like TV and games and become an unresponsive couch potato. I have found myself wanting to live inside the TV and be someone else for a while until the pain of reality stops.

It may sound strange that TV has taught me how to feel, but it’s been a game-changer. It’s made me think, really think, about the life I want and how I react to everyday stimuli. It’s not “normal” to get so absorbed in a boxset on Netflix that you don’t want to live your real life at all.

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I’m determined to stop dissociating from reality as heavily as I do. I am determined to turn my life around so I can be a better and more present parent for my son. I know what it feels like to feel neglected, and be constantly worrying about your parents who you know are under a lot of stress and are losing themselves because of it, but you don’t know why. I don’t want my son to go through what I went through. I don’t want him to spend his childhood worrying about Mummy’s mental health, or wondering what Mummy is thinking about today and when she’ll be back from her dream world.

I don’t think anyone should hate their real lives. No one should feel the need to excessively escape their reality, or be so distressed that they simply don’t want to be here anymore. That’s what watching more TV during lockdown has taught me. I am not 100 percent happy with my life, and I should do something to change that. Because after everything I have been through and how far I’ve come, I deserve a good life. I deserve to be happy.

A version of this story originally appeared on Medium

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