My name is Ilijas, and in all honesty, it makes me physically ill to think about what I’m experiencing. This is my third major episode, and I feel like I’m burning and dying from the anxiety that this dissociative experience brings. I’ll try to keep it short: my first episode was when I was 16. I remember it coming on very suddenly – one afternoon in the middle of winter when I was lying on a bean bag at home during school holidays. I’d spent most of the holidays sitting at home. This is in fact the recurring theme: anxiety, then mild levels (previously unrecognized) of dissociation, and then the full assault. I’d love to stay positive about this, you know, hopeful and not so anxious. And I truly apologize to any reader who finds this a depressing and thoroughly doom and gloom laden recount. I feel like howling with pain, and that’s the honest to God truth. Anyway, back to the story. When I was sixteen it came on really suddenly. I remember feeling quite freaked out by what was happening. It was as though the universe was caving in inside me. Then I remember feeling like I wasn’t in my body, like my body was this weird prosthetic that was attached to me. It was like there was a small me inside my head that was trying to fill the vacuous space that was my body. It didn’t make any sense how my hands were mine, how I was me, how it could possibly be that I was right here right now. I felt like I was floating in and out of my body in a hazy dream that I felt I flickered in and out of – it did not feel like a continuous experience with a solid time-line, it was kind of like a strobe-light experience. I was constantly thinking about how am I myself, how does it feel to be me, how is it possible that I am always me, how does it feel and how could it make sense that I feel like I’ve eg picked up a glass of water when my hand doesn’t feel like it’s mine etc etc. Non-stop night and day. The physical fatigue was also overwhelming and I couldn’t speak properly – my speech was quite slurred as I couldn’t my tongue around words. I also became obsessively anxious about my “th” sounds – just couldn’t say them without making a mammoth effort. After months of feeling like a zombie and like I was looking at someone else it very slowly start to fade away. I still didn’t quite feel like “me” for another year and a half – quite empty, but I was no longer in that hazy distant dream. Years went by and I only thought about the experience once a year, or so. I remember questioning if it ever really happened, as it was all so surreal. Well, when I was 25 it came on again. This time following a period of being very withdrawn and living in a fantasy world inside my head (pretty much like first time, really!) I could feel it starting to come on over a period of 3 months – the “th” sounds were starting get hard to make, my legs felt like they weren’t part of my body etc, but I tried to ignore all that. Then it came on in its full strength and I freaked completely. Didn’t sleep for over a week, and left work. I was house-sitting my mother’s house at the time whilst she was overseas, and she rushed back on the first plane as soon as I told her what was happening. I must say this: I’m an only child and gay, and my relationship with mum has always been one of intense love-hate. I do see her as a very unstable element in my life, in that she’s always been extremely needy, but also highly controlling and emotionally manipulative towards me. But, hey, I was having a breakdown and I needed help and looking after. That she did in a way – apart from screaming at me about how I’m sick like this because I’ve brought it on myself (the gay thing) blah blah blah. I coped with this by having loads and loads of sex in gay saunas. Not that I enjoyed much of it, but it took my mind off things at least for a while. I’m extremely fortunate in that (touch wood) I have never contracted anything. This went on for about a year and a half, and I had a little relapse after I went back to my old job (the one that I thoroughly hated and felt trapped in before I got sick) but I went off to Canada with the old girl later that year. This is two years after the crack-up. I felt back to my old self 100%. To me it looks like whenever I feel trapped in my life I withdraw inside my head like I did when I was a kid, and then I get this coming on. And it’s happening to me right now. I’ve just bought an apartment in Melbourne (a town I’ve only been in for two years) and feel like I’m about to lose it big time. I keep trying to remind myself that I’ve survived this before, and resumed a normal life, but what scares me is that I’ll got through the horrors of the full-on episode where I’ll have to move back in with ma, give up my job, and spend months and months feeling like a zombie, and having no sensation of what it was ever like to feel “normal”. That’s how this is for me. Being in this town also makes me freak as I’ve got no real support network. No friends that I’ve felt emotionally close to. Lastly, I must apologize again to anyone reading this. It’s not a happy tale. I suppose there is hope even in the darkest hours.