The Psych Central Report
Coping with Dissociation as a Student
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Coping with dissociation during homework.
Homework time has often been the time when I see the effects of my dissociative responses the most. When writing a paper, reading a chapter, or completing an assignment, I find it hard to stay in the moment and keep my mind on the task at hand; particularly when I'm dealing with a lot of problems in my life. I find that many of the same methods I use during lecture can also be effective during homework time: drinking a cold and flavorful beverage, tapping my foot or bouncing my leg, and also note-taking during reading.
Reading the assigned chapters in most classes has always been a struggle for me. It becomes so easy to drift away in my mind and forget what I just read. Very often I read a paragraph and seem to be unable to process the information fully. I may not comprehend the words I just read, even if I read them and tried very hard not to let my mind drift off. This can get discouraging very quickly when I know I have to learn the material in this chapter and I just can't seem to do it. I have found that a number of things help with this.
The first and probably most important thing I recommend is to stop after every paragraph or two and ask your self: Do I understand what I just read? See if you can remember what you just read at all. Do you understand the main point of that section of text? If not, read it again. If you have to, read it again and again. This can get frustrating sometimes, but sometimes it is the only way to push through the material. You just have to do it. This can be particularly effective if you're covering hard material to understand.
Note-taking while reading can increase how much you understand and remember, and decrease the number of times you have to read over the material. It might seem excessive to some students, but I think that most students who dissociate frequently will agree that reading the chapter can be difficult. You'll find that taking notes may be a bit time-consuming, but very worth it. These notes make for great material to review in preparation for exams. Get as detailed or as general as you are comfortable with in your own notes, but pay special attention to headings in bold. I generally take about four to five pages of handwritten notes per chapter in any given class, but I also have large handwriting and write it out in outline form. Figure out how much detail seems to work best for you and go with that.
Another way of completing your homework successfully in spite of dissociation is to take very frequent breaks. Forcing yourself to sit down for long periods of time and focus that long can be draining and frustrating and it can make your problems with dissociation even worse. I find that if I take very frequent, short breaks, I am able to push through even the most boring material much easier. Focus intently and use grounding techniques, but only for short periods of time. Then get up and walk around the house. Listen to your favorite song. Check your email. Do something, anything, to take your mind off what you are studying. It only takes a few minutes, and then you can get back to your homework more ready to focus. I find that this can even serve as a reward system for me. I reward myself for being so determined and focused by letting myself take breaks and relax my brain before I become frustrated and escalate to the point of dissociating way too much.
Negotiating with alters.
For people with DID, being dissociative presents additional challenges in the form of alters who can interfere with schoolwork. I recommend negotiating with them. Explain to them that you need to have your school time and it is very important. Be willing to give them time for the things they want and need to do, in exchange for their consideration of your needs. This is just another of the many things that have to be worked out as a team. If you are kind and understanding in your approach, the rest of your system will be much more likely to work with you. Your therapist can also help by participating with all of you in working out agreements like this, helping you to communicate well with each other inside, and explaining the importance of your schoolwork to your alters if needed.
You may want to develop a specific plan for what everyone will be doing while you are in school, to make sure that problems don't arise unexpectedly. For instance, you might have the little ones inside go to a specific special place while you are in school: maybe somewhere they like to play, or somewhere they will feel safe and interested in staying there. You and your therapist know your own system and together all of you can figure out more specifically what steps should be taken.
One of the most important things you can do to minimize dissociation as a student is to find a subject you love! If you don't enjoy what you are studying, it becomes much harder to be dedicated enough to work past the problems dissociation can present. On the other hand, if you find a subject that you really enjoy, dissociation will be less of a problem and your schoolwork can even provide a very helpful and enriching aspect to your life. Your schoolwork can be a great thing that helps you to cope with other problems in your life, and can even be a nice break from some of the less pleasant aspects of being dissociative and being a survivor of traumas. Schoolwork can give you something else to focus on and add dimensions to your life that make it much more enjoyable and purposeful. Best of luck to you!