The Humble Art of Dissociation

Dizzy, Anaïs Chartschenko
Fugue performed live, Anaisbelieve

As a novice singer, I lay on the floor of my world-traveled opera coach’s house and learned the humble art of breathing.

She was everything I wanted to be. The power of her voice brought tears to my eyes- eyes that prided themselves on cynicism. She was larger than life. Firm yet kind, definitely not a push over. A leading lady diva that laughed and drank tea and assured me I had it.

I was far less sure I had it, that ethereal substance that I saw in her. The thing that makes one want to be with someone, listen to even the hum of their drawn breath, be a part of their stories… the thing that brings a young woman back week after week to breathe on a floor while getting admonished that it isn’t quite there yet.

I learned to be myself from her, that mind and body are firmly connected. It seems obvious, but until I spent a year learning to breathe, to lift my soft palate, to notice small increments in my posture that effect the voice- well. It was all theory, and not the physical thing it came to be.

I was elated when I began braiding all the elements- breath, language, core strength. When I powdered my face blue and sang an aria of death and had the most powerful voice in the recital- forgive my moment of pride. Kristina- my vocal coach- and I grasped each other backstage and squealed like little girls. The acoustics! The high note! Oh, I’m sure there were areas I could have improved on. But I sang an aria in Italian and it was fabulous, dah-ling.

We talked about plans for auditions.

The author as a young aspiring opera singer

And then.

This is to say, I know how to be in my body very, very well. I trained for ten years to be in my body. To hold my head just so. To fill my lungs with breath and then manipulate it into pathos.

It is why I am confident in my choice to dissociate from my body. I don’t need to be with it twenty four hours a day. I have rather more important things to do than suffer, thank you very much.

I’ve had people exclaim in horror at my choice. They think I ought to seek therapy to ground myself.

I can come down anytime.

I say that with the cheekiness of an addict, I think, I’m addicted to day dreaming.

I do find it a bit odd that dissociation from chronic pain is frowned on. You can’t have pain medication, but you can’t dissociate either? What can you do? Be miserable while you mouth platitudes about gratitude? It makes no sense to me.

I see it as another tool, the way learning how to sing classically is a tool one can use to be a better pop singer.

I dislocated my shoulder the other day. It is okay (not really, but since there isn’t anything to be done about it, we best just accept our lot). I tuned it out, figuring it would go back in when it was ready, since it wouldn’t with the usual flopping I do.

I got a searing headache for a few days, completely forgetting about the shoulder.

I didn’t need to remember the shoulder pain. It was fine that I dissociated from it. Great, in fact, since I didn’t use alcohol or narcotics, or anything.

After a few days, I remembered the shoulder and took my muscle relaxers. It went back in, the headache went away, and I’m back to semi normal. I should point out the muscle relaxers would not have made it go back in the first night, I’ve tried that. It takes time. For me, maybe someone else would have better luck- the point is, it didn’t hurt anyone that I checked out so I don’t understand the tizzy people get into.

In fact, I do some of my best work when I dissociate.

I was standing there, dissociating, and I was asked what I was doing. “Watching a movie in my head of my next book. I have to watch it all or I’ll lose it.”

Seriously, that is how I’ve written books and music. Maybe it’s a different part of my brain or something like that, I don’t know. But it’s kind of neat when it happens.

I appreciate it, my ability to turn off the emotions.

How do I come back?

Like all good things, the movie comes to an end.

I use my training. I do vocal exercises, I think of the colour of a tone. I feel the burning in my lungs as I hold a note, the way I stand, all I learned. I think of Kristina, who I love.

And then it is easy. Love can let you into a dream and just as easily lead you back out when you’re ready.

Anaïs Chartschenko hails from the Canadian wilderness. She has come to enjoy such modern things as electric tea kettles.