Disassociation and dysphoria?

Questions and discussions about gender, gender roles and identity.
Raffles
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Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

Hi! I'm back with yet another question.

I've kind of realized that I've spent my whole life feeling like I'm not very connected to my body. It's like driving a car: You know that you're in control of the car, and you have the sensation of the car moving, but you don't physically feel like a part of the car. That's how I've felt about my body, that it's simply a vehicle for my brain, but I'm beginning to suspect that it's been dysphoria in disguise. There are times that I feel more and less in my body. The times I feel truly *in* my body are when I am doing physical activity or having a strong sensory experience, like playing an instrument or eating a new food. I feel strongly disconnected with my body when I see myself wearing typically feminine clothing (like dresses) or when I wear a tank top and see my cleavage when I look down. It's a weird gut reaction of "this isn't what my body looks like," even though it is.

What makes this more difficult (sort of) is that some of the sensations I like physically make me uncomfortable visually. Take dresses, for example. I like how the fabric and fit feel, but I don't like that it makes me look "feminine." Ditto for having long hair. I feel like that gets into societal constructs of androgyny, so I won't get into it too much. But I think it's interesting that the physical experience causes a different reaction than the visual experience.

Anybody else have similar experiences? Anybody have suggestions on how to deal with this?
penPal
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by penPal »

Hi Raffles! First of all, I'm sorry that you're experiencing those sensations. I remember feeling similarly a few years ago, and honestly, I still sometimes get those dissociative feelings. It can be really unpleasant and hard to process, especially if you don't have other people to relate to.

What you're saying about feeling disconnected from your body, especially visually, sounds a lot like how I experience dysphoria. I'm an afab (assigned female at birth, if you don't know the term) nonbinary person. I've been out for a few years now, but it took several years for me to even have words for how I felt! I would sometimes wear baggy clothes or a button-up shirt and notice in the mirror that I couldn't quite tell if I looked like a girl or a boy. That felt good, and I didn't understand why until I came across other people describing dysphoria.

I *absolutely* relate to the feeling of "I enjoy this outfit/fabric, but it feels wrong when I see myself in it". I love some traditionally "feminine" things (makeup, jewelry, lots of "feminine" cut clothes), but sometimes when I look in the mirror while I have those on, I feel uncomfortable, like my body isn't actually showing *me*. Sometimes my dysphoria is subtle - I have short hair that I dye because of dysphoria, and whenever I take a while between a cut and/or dye, I feel vaguely uncomfortable and get depressive symptoms. Because hair growth and dye fading is such a gradual process, I often don't realize why I'm feeling bad until I get a cut/re-dye, and then immediately feel *way* better.

As for suggestions, I think my biggest method of dealing with my dysphoria is to just give myself permission to do what I need to. I used to feel silly about needing to change clothes halfway through the day or having so much of my dysphoria tied to my hair. I felt like I should just be able to push through, like I owed it to myself or other people to just make myself get through the day while I felt uncomfortable. That made me miserable! Giving myself permissions to take off what made me uncomfortable, even if I'd spent an hour getting ready, or to buy/wear things that felt like they shouldn't help as much as they did, changed a lot for me. It's okay to do what makes you feel good, even if it seems silly. You don't need to be ashamed of taking care of yourself, and you've got nothing to prove.

I hope my experiences help you at least feel like you're not alone in this!
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

Thanks! I think part of my problem is really not knowing how I want to look. I'm AFAB as well, but the AFAB non-binary "androgynous" stereotype isn't really for me. If I think about what I want to look like, I'd love to look like a woodland elf (strong jaw, long hair), lol. I have very feminine facial features, so I don't think that's really in the cards for me. This is where I really struggle with what it means to have an androgynous appearance, because it's still kind of determined by gender assigned at birth. Gender and presentation are really something, aren't they?
Mo
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Mo »

It's been helpful for me as an AFAB nonbinary person to wind up with a lot of friends (also AFAB nb) who don't fit that thin/white/androgynous image as well; I certainly know more of us who don't fit that mold than do, and I hope that as time goes on fewer people will have this as their go-to image for what a nonbinary person looks like. The joy of a nonbinary identity, to me at least, is that there aren't rules for what that looks like, and it's always a bummer when I notice people trying to define a nonbinary "look" like there's just the one.
But I definitely feel you on feeling limited in your presentation options based on physical attributes that are impossible or difficult to change. I have a few things I'd love to do if they were possible! Hopefully with time you'll find a presentation that feels good to you, even if it isn't exactly what you're imagining right now as the "ideal" one.
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

I'd like to start by apologizing for making yet another post.

I'm writing tonight because I came out to a friend of mine and it went very strangely. I explained to him the above, how I experience dysphoria, and how it all makes sense why I've felt so detached from my body since middle school.

His response was this: If your worried about all that I would highly recommend a therapist who specializes in sexuality or gender. I think it's fine to decide if your asexual or bisexual or about who you like or if you like nothing that's fine too (side note: I'm already out to him as ace). But I worry about the dissociative states, and please be careful labeling yourself on mental stuff. It's playing with fire and can lead to mental whirlpools trust me. Happens many times with psychology undergrads that they made a disorder for that too."

All of this is completely fair. I think I might be making up my dysphoria, and (by extension) my gender identity. Maybe I'm just a cis person and don't feel like I have a gender because privilege. I think I watched too much tv and diagnosed myself inappropriately. I think that the other explanation is that good old depression makes it hard to feel stuff, and maybe that's why I think I don't have a gender or feel weird about my body. I had a spike in "dysphoria" when I started labeling myself as agender, but now I think that might just be a placebo effect.

Ugh. I'm really worried that I made all of this up for attention on the internet.
Sam W
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

No need to apologize, I'm glad you feel comfortable enough in this space to come and talk to us.

So, I know what your friend is referring to in his last sentence, and it's honestly not all that relevant to your situation. There's a cliche that psychology students start labeling themselves and people in their lives as having various disorders because they learn about them in class. Setting aside that this cliche is based on anecdote more than anything else, it misses a really important point: sometimes a student may identify the symptoms of a mental health issue in themselves because they actually have that issue. Sometimes the description of a mental illness makes them go "whoa, hang on, not everyone feels like this? And there's a name for it?" When you think about dysphoria, or when you think back to when you first learned about it, did it feel like there were moments where it was like you'd found a missing puzzle piece that made things make a little more sense?

Too, what you've described to us doesn't sound like a cis person who thinks they have no gender because of privilege. To give you an example, when I first encountered the idea of transness, I did have to stop and examine my own gender. And as I poked around, I found that "woman" still felt right; it sounds like when you've thought about it, that dysphoria shows up. It sounds like a very real thing you're experiencing, not something you're making up.

That being said, it could be useful to explore these feelings and how they intersect with depression with the help of a trans-competent therapist. Is that something you'd want to try?
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

Hello Sam!

I'm glad I found scarleteen message boards. It's a good place to talk to others with similar experiences and a wealth of resources.

There were a few moments that clicked into place for me. I remember one time in sixth grade when I described my style as "tomboy." The person I was talking to said something like, "but you don't feel like a boy, right?" And that was the first time it occurred to me to "feel" like a gender. I didn't even really know how to answer the question. This continued on through high school. There was a speaker at my school who was trans and he said something to the effect of "you know how you just know your gender?" And everyone around me nodded, and I was just very confused. I remember thinking that I could make a complete and accurate description of myself without gender, that if I didn't have a body, I wouldn't have a gender. At the time, I thought that was just how all feminists felt.

In high school, I conformed to beauty standards more. When I would wear dresses (like once or twice a year), I sometimes like it. It make me feel pretty, but only sort of. It didn't make me uncomfortable with my body, but it gave me a massive sense of imposter syndrome. I felt like the person I looked like wasn't the person I was on the inside, but I couldn't figure out why. I now label that as dysphoria, but I'm not sure if that is accurate.

Since I discovered the term agender, I've felt like Pandora and her box. Before, I was fine with being a cis woman. But now that I've sort of adopted the agender label, the idea of going back to being a woman makes me unhappy. I don't like thinking of myself as a girl, and I don't think I want others to see me as a girl.

As for finding a therapist- That is at the top on my list of things to do when I'm a real adult, for a multitude of reasons. I'll definitely look for queer-affirming people. I'm a little stuck right now because I am not financially independent or on my own health insurance. I'd strongly prefer that my family not get involved, so I'm waiting until I've got a job and a health insurance of my own. It kind of sucks for now, but it's only few more years. My university does have a counseling program, but they were overburdened and it would take months to get an appointment. Now with the world as it is, they're even more understaffed/overextended than before.
Sam W
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Sam W »

If that's how discovering the term agender felt, and how you feel about going back to identifying as a cis woman, then I'd say that's a strong indicator that you're not making it up for attention.

Yeah, finding a therapist has sort of been set to extra-hard mode for a lot of people since the pandemic. If you want help finding one when it's financially doable for you,we can certainly point you in the direction of ones who know how to handle gender stuff in an informed way. Too, if you decide you want to find one sooner rather than later, we can also help you figure out how to navigate that while still being on your parent's insurance.
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

I'll definitely take resources. I'm not sure exactly what my plan is yet, but it's good to know what's available. Thanks!
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by asunflower »

Hi Raffles,

I read your posts and just wanted to drop in to say I can relate. First, gender identity is such a can or worms, but I think what you've described here is how me and lot of folks I know who identify outside the binary often feel. I've also been discovering more about how I identify in recent years and have, as a result, been using a few different pronouns in different situations to test out how I feel when people refer to me by those pronouns.

At first, like you, I was also worried about whether or not I was deceiving people or lying to myself somehow about the way I felt in my body. I spoke to a friend once about it and she wasn't outright discouraging, but her response troubled me. Still, after thinking about what she'd said, it made me realize that I don't need anyone to approve my gender identity for me and that as long as I'm doing what feels right to me, I'm not doing anyone harm by asking others to use different pronouns or by adopting (or not adopting) new ways of dressing that align with my how I feel.

I'm glad you've found folks here to talk about gender identity with and not to get too lecture-y, but gender is a lot more fluid than most people like to think about it and I hope you know it's okay to feel things out and see what fits right for you.
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

It's been a while since I've posted on this thread, but the guy I came out to just messaged me out of the blue to ask how I am. I haven't been able to get over how our last conversation went, but I don't want to be rude. It's just all so awkward right now.
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

I can definitely see how it would feel awkward, given that last conversation. Is this someone you'd like to maintain some level of friendship with?

Also, just wanted to check-in, have you had any luck finding an affirming therapist?
Raffles
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Raffles »

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond.

I ended up just having a regular conversation with him. It is unlikely that we will ever meet in person again, so I am okay with things staying awkward as they are.

I haven't, but it's mostly for a lack of looking if I am being honest. Things are very tricky right now with living in two different places and not being able to predict where I will be when. Perhaps things might settle down enough next fall, but it's hard to say.
Sam W
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Re: Disassociation and dysphoria?

Unread post by Sam W »

No worries, glad to hear you've found a dynamic (even if it's an awkward one) that you're comfortable with!

Since moving between places can make accessing mental healthcare tricky, maybe it would work best to look at remote options for now? That would connect you with some level of care without you having to wait until the fall.
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