Involuntarily staring at ‘nothing’ is a coping mechanism used by millions with PTSD. It is a sign of Dissociative Disorder.


Dissociation is a daily part of my life. I do it countless times a day both knowingly and unknowingly. I say that because while I realize that I do dissociate quite often, I don’t always realize just how much I do it and in what circumstances it occurs.

Here’s how a typical day recently went for me.


Got up, got my shower and I can remember zoning out just standing there for about a good 10 minutes. Thinking of nothing in particular, just standing there spacing out into nowhere. This of course got me running a bit late getting out of the house to leave for work. I’m not a morning person at all. I’m very slow and methodical until I get my brain in gear. You’ll never catch me up at 5:30am pulling a Rocky Balboa and drinking raw eggs before an epic workout while it’ still dark outside.

I went downstairs about 7:15 and turned on the TV like usual to listen to the news while I made my lunch for work and fed the fish. I began making my sandwich, and then tried to decide which chips to put in a bag. I stood there for 5 more minutes staring into the cabinet, not even thinking about chips, just staring.

I snapped back to reality and realized I better get it in gear so halfheartedly listened to the news and weather, fed the fish, double checked the lights and thermostat and walked out the door. Of course, being OCD, I had to make sure the TV was off, even after I turned it off. Then I had check the thermostat twice, and check that I locked the door, twice. This whole OCD thing, that’s a whole other post I should consider writing about.

Anyways, I get in the car, it’s about 7:35 a.m. and I’m letting it warm up for a minute.  I’m sitting there checking my phone in the car, reading my Twitter timeline and just zone out to nowhere again for a few minutes. Was I thinking about anything in particular? Nope just sitting there staring at my phone and not even realizing the screen had turned off.

Again, snapped back to reality and fortunately made it to work in time, but not before I zone out yet again while driving. I swear I don’t know how I do that so often and not end up getting into a wreck!  Often times I can’t recall the last few minutes of a drive when come back out of a dissociative state.

I get to work and start setting up my work laptop for the day, and go for coffee. While I’m waiting for the machine to fill my mug with the nectar from the gods, I actually catch myself gazing at a company logo on the wall for a minute.

Back to my desk and start answering emails, checking on how the night shift went, what’s going to possibly need my attention today besides my usual projects. That in itself is quite an anxiety boost, thinking about what could happen throughout the work day.

As the morning goes on I catch myself staring at my email for a few minutes, with a blank star. Not actually typing anything, just looking at the monitors. Then the phone rings and back to reality I come. I start a conversation and my mind begins to wander after a few minutes. I have to concentrate to stay on task and stay focused or I’ll completely lose track of what the other person is saying to me.

Lunch time and I’m in the break room reading my Kindle, halfheartedly also listening to the various conversations of others. So essentially I’m not getting anywhere in my book because my mind is trying to do too many things at once. I suck at multi-tasking; I mean I really do. I’m just not good at it. So if I don’t focus on the task at hand, whether it’s business or pleasure, I’m screwed.  I think I actually got through one page in the chapter I was reading.

Then a problem arose that needed my attention and it ended up being a 4 1/2-hour long conference call, which included 8 other people trying to fix the problem. So for the entire afternoon I was on the phone, and guess what happened multiple times? Yep, random zoning out, staring into space, looking at my screen, or the ceiling, or whatever as my mind wandered into nothingness. I know I did this at least a half dozen times.

Work is over now, and I go to pick up my son and then meet my daughter for dinner. Sitting there in the restaurant looking at the menu, I caught myself just looking at the same page for about a minute and not really doing anything but just, looking.

Therapy time, thankfully I don’t usually Dissociate there. We are so actively involved in discussions that I can usually stay on task.

I get home and my son was playing his video games. I say “Hi” to the cats, my fish, and my turtle, Flash and sit down on the couch. Within a minute I was blankly staring at the fish tank and literally thinking of nothing.

That brings me to wrapping up this post, as I decided once I snapped back to reality from looking at the aquarium, that I wanted to write about how Dissociation affects my life on a daily basis.


Dissociating was a blessing in the sense that my mind saved me during the abuse when I was a kid, but it’s also a royal pain when you have to work so hard to concentrate and stay on task.

This post was originally published on the author’s website and is republished here with his permission.

About the author, Matthew E. Pappas:
A survivor of childhood sexual abuse and narcissistic abuse, my blog is the story of my life living with Dissociation, Anxiety, and PTSD.
Twitter: @SurvivingMyPast

This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness.  To submit your story, see below.


Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.

The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.

For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Postthat discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.


The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21stcentury.

Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.

As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”

We are partnering together on this Call For Submissions, because our missions overlap and because we want to extend this conversation further.


If you are a man living with mental illness, and want to share your story, we would love to help.

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