I have supported my friend with her depression for about 4 years but one aspect of the depression that I was not expecting was her dissociation, or as we call it, zoning out. It has been an ongoing problem for the last couple of years and happens most days, for different periods of time. It is a defense mechanism where her body appears to shut down to a certain extent when she is getting particularly worked up, stressed, anxious or sad. We have since found out that this is actually quite common in people who have depression.
When my friend is zoned out she is still able to do things but she has no conscious recollection or control over what she does during these periods. She can be zoned out from a matter of minutes up to around 12 hours. We are still unclear what she does during these periods however we know she wanders and regularly ends up in a place where she does not know, often quite dangerous places, like on a bridge or railway lines, but also in very peaceful places. She has spent nights outside without appropriate clothing, money or her phone. This makes her incredibly vulnerable and has been very challenging not only for her but the few of us who are supporting her as well.
The doctors have been unable to help with the dissociation and therefore this is still an ongoing problem in which we do not know how to resolve. It is also having huge impacts on her treatment as she gets anxious about appointments, zones out and misses the appointments which then leads to her being discharged from treatment groups, therapy sessions or just never actually being able to attend them. Due to this it means that her overall treatment has really been halted until this issue is sorted.
When my friend first started zoning out it was truly awful. None of us knew what it was and she was so distressed each and every time she came around from it. She would ring us up from a location that she often did not recognise and we had to try to calm her down and get her safely back home. She was petrified at the lack of control and not understanding what or why it was happening.
As friends and onlookers of the situation, it was, and still is a very stressful experience. When we did not understand what dissociation was we would get extremely worried and panic about why our friend was not responding to our endless texts or phone calls or why she was not doing anything on Facebook. It was not like her at all. For hours we would keep texting each other hoping and praying that our friend had contacted one of us. We would call her housemates to see if she was home and we would check news sites just incase this was it and she had gone ahead with killing herself.
Then all of a sudden we would get a terrified phone call, she had come around and was confused, alone and had no idea where she was. We would all be relieved to hear from her but it was so challenging trying to calm her down and reassure her.
The more she zoned out the more used to it we all got. We learnt ways to try to track her and got better at calming her down and getting her back safely. However, the more we knew the more we had to worry about. We knew she was wandering, often at night around a big city by herself. We did not know what state she was in when she was like this and we were constantly worried that someone would take advantage of her. We were also concerned as she often went out without coats or shoes. When she came around she would be freezing and sometimes unable to speak due to the coldness. Sometimes she did not have her phone or money with her so we either did not know about it until she returned home or we would often have to try and get her home for free if she had no money.
She also possessed a risk to others as when she zoned out she would stop whatever task she was doing and leave her property. This meant that she regularly left the gas on, food in the oven, and left the door to her property wide open or with keys left in the lock. This was a huge concern for her housemates as they did not know what state the house would be left in or how safe they were there.
The most worrying thing was that she sometimes found herself in dangerous locations. This combined with her coming around confused, distraught and angry that she has zoned out again provided a very bad combination and put my friend at a lot of risk. Although we could track her to some extent she often disappeared and this meant we had no control over helping her.
One slight positive was that although she would sometimes turn up in dangerous locations, she would also regularly turn up in very peaceful locations. It was almost like her body shut out all the stress and went to find somewhere to calm herself down. We felt that the zoning out took her away from danger in one respect as it would occur when she was working herself up and likely to harm herself and then by the time she would come around there was a possibility that she would be exhausted and just want to get home. So in one way it saved her from the potential risk she caused herself but in other ways it put herself and others in danger.
About the Author:
Mu has struggled supporting her depressed/suicidal friend over the years and decided to start up a blog to share her experiences and highlight what supporting someone with a mental illness is really like.
Submitted by - Mu (firstname.lastname@example.org)