I’ve been thinking about writing about this for some time. I have even hinted at it, some might say I did more than hint. Anyway, I did not think I had said it directly, so here it is…
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
My 16 yr old son asked me the other day, “Mom is DID the same thing as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)?”
I had told my teenage children quite awhile ago that I have DID, but I guess he didn’t make the connection. I explained that yes they are the same. He then had more questions. Can the parts really be different sexes? Yes. And have different medical issues? Yes. Different ages? Yes.
I could be wrong but I sensed a bit of “Wait a minute, you didn’t tell me it was like THAT.” My point here is that even though he lives with me, he didn’t realize. DID is NOT obvious. People with DID have families, hold down jobs, get college degrees…all the things that “singletons” do. (Yes, we call you guys singletons.) The only difference is that our divided mind helps us be able to take care of all these day-to-day things while the skeletons rattle in the closet.
So the first thing I want you to understand about DID, is that you could know someone, even live with them and not realize they have it. It is not obvious, it is not like it is portrayed by Hollywood.
Before I tell you a little more about how I experience DID, I need to make a disclaimer that I do not speak for everyone that deals with this disorder. It is much more common than you would think; I have met others with DID, in real life and on line. There are forums and hospitals and therapy groups for people dealing with this. What I have learned from sharing with other “multiples” is that while we have much in common, there are also many differences.
I hope that by explaining a little of why I believe my “system” works the way it does, will help you understand why two people with DID can experience it so differently. First we need to consider how it begins. DID is commonly believed to begin in childhood as a result of severe, and often repeated trauma. I think of it as a God-given gift to help child survive and cope. A child’s mind does not have the experience, the coping skills etc to deal with such trauma, so the mind resorts to chronic dissociation.
Remember I explained before that dissociation is something that everyone does. Daydreaming or highway hypnosis (when you drive somewhere and then feel startled when you realize you remember very little about the drive…you were on “auto-pilot”). This sort of dissociation is normal. But when a traumatized child uses dissociation over and over as an escape to the point that it becomes chronic, then it crosses in to the disorder side of the spectrum. Because the abuse each person suffers is different, the severity of dissociation can vary as well.
The way the “system” is set up varies greatly as well. When I say the system, I mean the parts or alters. Remember My Haunted Mind, where in each room there is someone that holds some memory or memories of my past. What I didn’t mention in that post is how real those “people” in the rooms feel to me.
I want to tell you that I know they are not real and yet I can’t…and let me tell you why. This is a conversation that I have had with my therapist more than once. I will mention to him the name of a part and say, “I know I need to help _____________ . She’s crying and upset and so alone, but I can’t.”
You have to understand that helping her means remembering what she knows, feeling the pain she feels, the pain she has held for me all these years. The pain, emotional and physical, of rape. Can you understand why I don’t want to help? It is not a matter of just giving her a hug, it’s hearing what she has to say and feeling it. So I tell myself and my therapist, “I don’t have to help her. She is not real. She’s part of me and therefore I can ignore her and keep that part of myself buried if I want to.”
Doesn’t that sound like a good solution? I wish it worked. But it doesn’t. Whenever I say or think that, the walls in the Haunted Mind start to melt and all the pain held by all those children in my mind comes rushing to me at once. I fear that the pain will separate me from my tenuous hold on sanity. I wonder, “Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like?”
To stop the pain, to stop the melting walls, I surrender. “Ok, ok,” I say to myself. “She’s real.” Not in a physical sense, of course, but in my mind she is real. She has a name, and her own personality. I can picture her in my mind’s eye…and most of the time when I see her she is crying. How can I then not go to her? There in is my dilemma. I must help her. What kind of monster would I be if I didn’t? And yet helping her terrifies me.
I believe that at one point in my childhood, I thought if I was a boy then the abuse would not happen. It didn’t work, and now there is a little boy part with memories of his own. I don’t know his name, and really I don’t want to know anything about him…and yet, I know in time, I will have to accept him too.
Another time I must have wished for a teenage brother to protect me. . .and so it goes.
The goal of therapy is either integration or co-operation between the parts. I say “or” because some multiples do not wish to integrate. They feel they will lose something in the process. For me, I do aim for integration. I think of it as my parts coming together, holding hands, sharing the pain equally, but also sharing joy equally. We are not there yet, but someday. . .
I know I am taking a huge risk in sharing this with you. I already feel that sharing that I was abused makes me INVISIBLE or an Emotional Leper and this because people don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. So why in the world would I tell you something that is going to make you look at me like I am some sort of Circus Side Show (my apologies to my friends with DID…that is certainly not how I feel, just how I fear others may see this).
I’m sharing for two reasons. First I hope you will see that DID/MPD is really not “freaky” or “crazy”. Some of you that read this blog know me in real life and can say, “I never knew.” That is the point. The whole reason for the dissociation is to hide things. To hide the pain and the abuse from everyone including me. AND then to hide the dissociation. I may have younger parts of myself that feel absolutely real to me, but the rest of the “system” keeps them hidden from the outside world to protect them. I want people to see that this is not “crazy”, not what it is portrayed in the media as, but rather a creative way to deal with trauma no child should ever have to deal with. Not all survivors have DID, but many do…it is much more common than you realize. (I know I said this before, I’m repeating it for emphasis.)
Second, I share because I hope that if you understand the serious and life-long consequences of abuse, you will be more willing to take action to prevent it. In our culture, we are far to likely to try and protect the abuser than the victim. Case in point, I read an article from ABC News about Victim 1 in the Sandusky case. When he and his mother approached the principal and the school counselor about the abuse they were told: “Jerry has a heart of gold and that he wouldn’t do those type of things,” And then they were told to go home and think about it.
Where was the concern for the victim??? This is the kind of thing I am talking about. This has got to stop.
The principal and the counselor told the boy’s mother NOT to call the police, they would handle it. Again at this point they were more concerned about “the nice guy” than the victim. Fortunately, they were required by law to report it to the Child Protection Services so they did. It was three more years before Sandusky was arrested (how many more violations occurred during that time???) Because the authorities said they needed more witnesses…after all we can’t prosecute this “nice guy”.
We have to stop the denial, stop worrying about the perpetrators and start protecting victims. The more we understand, as a culture, the effects of abuse, the more likely we will be to help the victims. Or even better to work on prevention. At least that is my hope. And I’m putting myself on the line to help make it happen.
If you have any questions about DID, feel free to ask, I will answer them the best I can based on my own experience and research, but remember I don’t speak for everyone.
Photo Attribution: Michael Drummond