The Mirrors of My Mind

Reflection by *79Silver CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART
Reflection by *79Silver
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 deviantART

I remember as a child being quite captivated by a  poem I found on a bookmark.  It was Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte.  The poem begins:

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn . . .
If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight . . .

It goes on to talk about positive things also.  You can read the entire poem here.

I have been thinking about a version of this recently.  Sometimes I feel that our society gives mixed messages.  On one hand we talk about how important childhood is, as this poem portrays.  And yet on the other hand, when you are struggling as an adult due to things that happened in your childhood some well-meaning people will tell you “don’t dwell on the past” or “just let it go”.

Some things cannot simply be let go, but they have to be worked through.  Sometimes our mental software needs re-writing.  Lately I think of it as a mirror.  One of my favorite books is  Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson.  It is a fascinating story of a girl from our world who is swept into another world where mirrors do not reflect, but show scenes from other worlds.  Scenes of things that someone with the right skills can bring forward, sometimes with horrifying consequences.

This is a great analogy of how our minds work.  When a child is raised in a warm and loving home, they develop a mirror in their mind that reflects realty (as much as people can, everyone has blind spots after all).  But when a child lives with fear, even terror, with isolation and loneliness instead of love, their mind forms a mirror that does not reflect reality, but scenes from the past sometimes with horrifying consequences.

Another way to understand this is to think of PTSD and triggers.  A stereotypical example would be a soldier who hears a car backfire and hits the ground because the skewed mirror in his mind tells him it is a bomb going off.   In this scenario, the soldier’s mind is not presenting him a reflection that is true.  War, childhood abuse, rape and other traumas can skew our internal mirrors.

Fortunately, these skewed mirrors can be repaired.  The mind can heal.  During dark times, survivors may wonder if healing really is possible.  Yes.  Yes, absolutely.   Consider these hopeful words from Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood.

“For more than thirty years, Dr. Richard Mollica of Harvard Medical School has treated refugees traumatized by war, violence, and torture.  His travels have taken him to the darkest places on earth, including the killing fields of Cambodia, the massacres of Bosnia, the genocide of Rwanda, and the ruins of the World Trade Center.  Dr. Mollica and his colleagues at the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma have counseled more than ten thousand survivors of unfathomable brutality.  He has helped patients who are physically paralyzed because of their psychological damage.  He has worked with women who literally cannot see because of their emotional anguish, a condition called hysterical blindness.  In all his encounters, he insists that he has never met a person without the capacity to overcome suffering.  “Never a hopeless patient,” he says adamantly.  “Never.. And I don’t say this lightly.”

The mirrors of our minds can be reformed.  There is always hope.

Photo Attribution


When I Was Who I Was, Which Is Not Who I Am Now

Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors by be-holder   CC BY-ND 2.0 Flickr
Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors by be-holder
CC BY-ND 2.0 Flickr

I really love this picture because it captures what I am feeling and want to express with this post.  It’s the idea of the ‘rear view’ mirror that appeals to me.  As if seeing yourself, but a past self, someone you were but not who you are.  Not a past self from long ago, but a past self from yesterday, or even a few moments ago.

I missed posting two Thursdays in a row. This frustrates me, and I don’t know how to explain except to tell you the truth–there is a war going on in my head.  Maybe “war” is a little strong, but then again . . .

While I try to explain this remember that people with DID have many similarities, and many differences.  As you read my experiences, keep in mind that others with DID may feel similarly, or they may not.  I don’t claim to speak for all of us.  Heck, I don’t even feel like I can speak for all the parts of me–let alone other people.   The reason I missed two posts is because even though writing is very important to one aspect of me, another part of me feels like “Meh, I have other things to do.”  This is not writer’s block, it is simply lack of interest.

Sometimes I feel like the mother of some very unruly children and teenagers, and they all live in my own mind.  Most mothers can relate to the feeling of frustration in trying to get the family on board with helping with house-hold chores and doing them well.  Often what is important to the mother in this area is less important to other family members.  That is how I feel about my mind sometimes.  I have this sensation of waking up (I don’t “lose time” as some DID people do, I remember, I just feel different) and I think “What?!  You didn’t write the blog post? C’mon that’s important to me.”  But the other self says, “Ho hum.”

I know this probably sounds like something from a bad fantasy movie, but I’m really not joking.  It is frustrating.  Part of what my therapist and I do in therapy is work on inner co-operation.  I have pretty good inner-communication which is why I don’t lose time, but the co-operation thing needs work.  Still we  I am making progress.

While I am on the subject of writing, you may wonder if different parts of me write this blog.  The answer is yes.  At times I have felt a little embarrassed by that and wondered if anyone noticed.  Despite what you see in the movies, a huge part of the purpose of DID is to HIDE that fact that you have it!  I asked a close friend about this and pointed out one post in particular.  She said, “I just thought you were being creative.”  Yeah, some part of me was being creative.

Other co-operation problems of my mind:  sometimes I am certain I am an introvert.  I thrive on being alone, and really don’t care that much for people, and then without warning or explanation, I crave human contact and I want to share my every thought with someone else.  Am I an introvert or an extrovert, who can know if I don’t? Am I a writer or not?  A pessimist or an optimist?    Do I think swearing is bad, or do I love a good damn, damn, damn? (Today it’s the latter or I wouldn’t have said it, but I know inside some part of me is not pleased.) In fact, I can only write about DID when I am in a certain “space” and later I wonder if it  was a wise choice or not.

Even more than who I am, I wonder who will I be?  I mean when I fully integrate my mind so I can function more like–well, like you.  How will this odd conglomeration of parts come together?  It’s exciting and it’s scary.  What will I gain, and more importantly what might I lose?  It is no wonder some DID people chose not to integrate but just work for inner-communication.

Some of the feelings or experiences I have shared may feel familiar to you.  Naturally.  DID is after all, an extreme version of how all our minds work.  Just be grateful that you mind is a little more obedient than mine is.  As for me, I’ll keep going to therapy.

Photo Attribution

Hearing Voices: Schizophrenia and DID

Today I have a special treat for you.  An amazing TED talk:

The Voices in My Head by Eleanor Longden

First, I want to clarify–I understand that schizophrenia and DID are different disorders.  But I could really relate to what Eleanor said.

I love this video because Eleanor, who is now a psychologist, shares ideas about mental illness that really resonate with me.  Also her message is one of hope–hope about our ability to overcome even something as debilitating as mental illness.

One of my favorite parts is when she says she remembers everyone who has hurt her, but more importantly she remembers those who helped her–helped her by empowering her to save herself.  Then she says something else that really resonated with me because I feel the same is true of DID–

“My voices were a meaningful response to traumatic life events, particularly childhood events, and as such were not my enemies but a source of insights into solvable emotional problems.”

People with DID sometimes hear voices as well.  Our voices (or alters) can also be menacing and direct us to self-harm as Eleanor experienced.  I don’t usually hear voices, but there was one memorable time that I did.

I was sitting in church, and I had a sudden urge, a very powerful urge to cut myself–elbow to wrist–long and deep.  I had never self-harmed before and had no idea why I suddenly had such strong craving to do it.  A battle began in my mind.  Part of me thinking of the pocket knife I had outside in the car and wondering if it would be sharp enough.  Another part of me resisting and crying out, “But why?  That would hurt.”  Then I heard the voice.

“Because you need to be punished.”

That scared me deeply.  I started sobbing and immediately got up and left the chapel, horrified.  To further complicate matters, in my church (I’m Mormon), we believe that the Holy Ghost can speak to you in a voice.  I knew this wasn’t the Holy Ghost.  But I had no idea what it WAS.

Looking back, I realize that as Eleanor said it was a source of insight. I think the voice was my own recreation of a similar voice that I heard as a child.  Punishment and cruelty was the only form of attention I received from this person that I desperately wanted to love me, so I understood that as love.  When I was hurting and needing love, my mind reached into the past and recreated that for me.   Understanding helped me to begin to heal that wound.

I have a growing concern about treating mental disorders and illness with medication only.  I’m not against medication, but I worry about people receiving medication without also receiving therapy.  It sort of reminds me of the old children’s joke.

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I hit my head like this.

Doctor: Then stop hitting your head.

Taking medication, without ALSO going to therapy seems like taking an aspirin for pain while someone is still hitting you.  I have talked to friends who have used a combination of therapy and medication and found it very helpful.  So my concern is not with the medication, but the assumption that things like anxiety, depression (even schizophrenia) are simply biological.  Anxiety seems to be a genetic problem in my family, which leads me to think perhaps there is a biological tendency for certain disorders, but I still think that therapy along with medication would be the best option.

I’m not a medical expert of any sort so my opinion is just that my opinion.  But Eleanor Longden has experienced both sides.  She has experienced mental illness and she is now a psychologist.  That gives her ideas particular weight for me.

If you are interested in further reading on this subject, check out the TED blog where you will find some recommended reading.

Eleanor mentioned InterVoice and Hearing Voices.  You can learn more about that at Hearing Voices Network

Finally, I’d like to thank fellow blogger mm172001 for sharing this TED talk.  That is how I discovered it.

Thanks to Eleanor Longden and all who share their story in order to help others.  Together we can heal.

Monday Mitzvahs: Sharing Hope

Do you ever feel like an emotional zombie?  Dead inside but still moving?  That is the kind of week I have had.

DID is a mixed blessing.  I do believe that children’s ability to dissociate is a God-given gift to help them survive trauma.  Without dissociation I would be insane (I mean literally in a hospital unable to function) or I would have killed myself as a child.

So DID saved me.  Sometimes it helps me get through difficult situations today.  It has also helped me get some reprieve from the past and enjoy life.  But other times, it feels more like a curse.  Some days I feel so weighted down by pain that I fear I will suffocate, and I don’t even know why.

“Hey Leslie!” You say, “Monday Mitzvahs are supposed to be light-hearted, did you forget?”  No I didn’t forget, I just had a really, really hard week.  I am feeling better now, though I wouldn’t say I am happy–yet.

Today’s mitzvah is born of this week’s pain.  When I get into emotional quicksand like that, I fight like a wild animal to get out.  That does not mean I always succeed.  This time I was “triggered” out of the bad place I was in.  Who would have thought being “triggered” could be a good thing?

While I was in the pit, fighting to get out, I turned to one of my heroes, Marilyn Van Derbur (should I say heroine?)  I wanted someone who understood my pain to tell me it would get better, and she did.

Marilyn Van Derbur was molested as a child by her father.  She dissociated, in the sense that she did not remember any of it until she was in her 20’s and I believe she really began the work of healing in her 40’s.  During the years that she did not allow herself to remember what happened during the night, she was driven to succeed.  Driven, she realized later, to prove that she had worth because her “night child” who did know of the abuse was sure she had no worth.  One of her accomplishments as part of this drive was to become Miss America.

In the attached video, she starts out talking about the worst day of her life.  A reporter had found out that she was in therapy because of incest.  This was big news due to her status as a previous Miss America.

I love this video and her book, Miss America By Day, because of her message:  There is hope, you can get through this.  You can get to a place beyond the pain, but you have to do the work of healing.

Such validating and hope-filled words!

I have to note also–when she is talking about “the work” of healing, she mentions confronting one’s abuser.  I do NOT think this is necessary for everyone.  I suppose if your abuser is still a part of your life, it could be helpful  (talk to your therapist), but I haven’t seen my abuser for many years and have no desire to initiate contact now.  For me the hard work of healing is going to therapy each week, facing my demons and working through the pain of the past.  I am holding on to the hope she offers that some day this will bring me some peace.

So my mitzvah for today is to share this video with those of you who are also survivors.  Sharing hope.

And YOUR mitzvah, should you choose to accept it, is to SHARE HOPE with someone else.  There are many ways you can do that.  You choose.  You could share hope by sharing a video, or a song.  Perhaps by sharing your story–or like my husband you can give a loved one hope by letting them know that you will always be there — no matter what.  (Thanks Honey!)



Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1,000 Mitvahs


Today’s Coping Skill: Reframing

Today let’s start with a true but embarrassing story.  (Come to think of it most of the stories I share with you are embarrassing, but I digress.)

A couple years ago, I was driving and a drunk ran a red light right in front of me.  I tried to brake and/or swerve to avoid a collision, but to no avail.  You know how time slows down at moments like these, right?  Well in that slow motion moment, when I realized I could not avoid hitting him, I thought, “Uh oh, I don’t have my seat belt on, I hope this doesn’t hurt too much.”

The accident totaled my van (mostly because it was old) and bruised me where I hit the windshield and the dash.  I was dazed and confused, but otherwise fine.  In fact, I went on to work and did my shift that night, although I can’t recall how I got there.

The drunk driver tried to flee the scene, but there was a police officer behind me who saw the whole accident (and told me he didn’t think he would have been able to avoid it either.)  He pulled the drunk over and arrested him.

After that I was a faithful seat belt wearer for–a couple months. Then about a year ago, I was pulled over by a police officer because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt.  I have been a faithful seat belt wearer ever since.

What made the difference?  Was it the fine? Nope, it’s my fear of being pulled over. I am terrified of being “punished” by “authority figures”.  (This has roots in my childhood as you might well imagine.)  So the point of this story is that I am more afraid of “authority figures” than car crashes.  Seriously.

My fear of authority figures is a big problem since I consider a lot of people authority figures.  Doctors, my therapist, leaders in my church, my children’s teachers and, it goes without saying, police officers.   I’m not just afraid of them “punishing me”, I can also become badly triggered when I feel that an authority figure has let me down in some way, or when I fear I have let them down.  Another problem with this: when you are an adult people expect you to act like an adult, having DID and issues with authority figures often made acting like an adult quite complicated.  I hoped in time and with therapy I could overcome these fears and triggers.  Then recently I got an idea for a new strategy. (Something that would help faster!)

Reframing the Holiday by Jessica/goaliej54    CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Reframing the Holiday by Jessica/goaliej54 CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Reframing.  I thought I invented this idea until my friend Laurel told me they use it in Weight Watchers too.  Exact same idea, exact same name,  there goes my brownie points for originality.  Anyway, in case you aren’t in Weight Watchers, reframing is basically changing the way you think about something or looking at it in a new way.

I decided from now on– no more authority figures.

I accept experts and servants,but no more authority figures, after all, I am an adult (at least physically.) No one is my “boss”.

Doctors are experts in medicine and I look to them for advice about my health, but it is my choice to follow their advice or not.  And if they disappoint me, I can change doctors.  Wow, that feels liberating.

My therapist–when I think about it, he has never pushed me to do anything I don’t want to do, or even seemed disappointed in me if I chose not to face something difficult.  I don’t have to please him, or try not to anger him.  Sigh of relief.

Leaders at church–well, they are really servants aren’t they?  I don’t mean servant in the way that a maid is a servant, but someone who is willing to give of their time and talents to help others.  But they also are not my boss.  If they give me counsel, I am free to accept it or reject it.  If I reject it, nothing terrible will happen. (I’m not talking about spiritual repercussions here people, but the fear of a traumatized child.)

Police Officers–well, that one will take some more work. I can tell myself that they are servants, servants of the law, but I don’t think that will calm the fears of my ‘inner children’.  One step at a time . . .

It’s too soon to say for sure, but this really seems to be helping.  I have used reframing for other issues and it is a great coping tool. What about you?  Is there an issue that you are dealing with that you could resolve with reframing?

Photo attribution link

Dissociative Identity Disorder Hero: Robert Oxnam

Friends,  remember the old days–when you would turn on the TV (and you had to actually walk over and turn the knob because remotes weren’t invented yet) and there would be a blank screen except for the words, “Experiencing Technical Difficulties”.

That is sort of how I feel tonight.  I swear I spent an hour staring at the blank screen, type, delete, repeat.  It’s not that I have writer’s block.  I have plenty to say, but with the mood I am in, I’m not sure you would want to read it.  My inner turmoil would make the Hulk look like a kitten.

But never fear, I have a back up plan for these kinds of “emergencies”.  A guest post well . . . sort of.  First I’d like to introduce you to my guest, Robert Oxnam.

Robert Oxnam is an internationally known expert on China, a scholar, and he has DID.  Here’s a short clip from an interview he did with 60 minutes.  It’s only about 2 minutes long.

Robert Oxnam on 60 Minutes

When I was first diagnosed, naturally I had a lot of questions.  A couple of resources I found very helpful were Robert Oxnam’s book A Fractured Mind and a DVD that he helped with called, You’re Not Crazy and You’re Not Alone.  The DVD is about an hour long.  I found it at the library. Youtube has a 9 minute video with clips from it:

Oxnam was such an inspiration to me.  The strength he gave me is a large part of the reason that I decided to share publicly that I have DID.  His example showed me that DID is nothing to be ashamed of. And as the video says, if you have DID, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Call me Clark, Clark Kent

Is having Dissociative Identity Disorder something like being a superhero with a secret identity?

My daughter thinks so.  Yes, that is her in the picture, and it was at her suggestion that I am writing this post.  Does this mean she thinks that I am a superhero?  Um, no I wouldn’t take it that far, she is a teenager after all . . .

Photo credit Vienna Nelson all rights reserved
Photo credit Vienna Nelson all rights reserved

Let’s put this to the test.  Superman vs DID & Me.

SUPERMAN: alter ego in Clark Kent.  He pretends to be something he is not (bumbling, and shy) to keep people from his secret.

DID  AND Me:  I have parts of myself that “front” to hide my inner world of turmoil.  It’s a pretty powerful arrangement when you think about it.

Imagine for a moment, a woman who has been raped, and then the next day she gets up and goes to work as if nothing happened.  She doesn’t tell a soul.  Not because she was unaffected, but because she is.  There are a number of reasons that a woman might chose not to tell anyone.  I don’t recommend this; I think it is tragic, but it happens.

Now imagine a child in the same situation.  Even more tragic.  Overcoming that and becoming a functioning adult is nothing short of heroic, if I do say so myself.

SUPERMAN:  faster than a speeding bullet

DID and Me:  Hmmm, does my humor which I use as a coping mechanism count?  Hey now!  I’m more funny in real life than in writing.  Still no?  OK, then surely the way I can switch from laughing to crying in one breath during  therapy surely does.  Which reminds me–

SUPERMAN: has one weakness kryptonite

DID and Me:  My kryptonite is Triggers.  No question on this one!  A trigger can dissolve me in nano-seconds from a normal adult, to irrational, emotional and over-reacting (or so I assume it appears to others.)

SUPERMAN: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound

DID and Me: Hey, if being able to dissociate the better part of my childhood, hide pain and trauma from myself so I can function doesn’t count, I don’t know what does.

SUPERMAN: lazer-vision

DID and Me:  Hyper-vigilance.  I have recently come to understand that hyper-vigilance is so much more than being “jumpy” and easily startled.  Those things are physical, but the hyper-vigilance extends to emotions, thoughts and–sigh–relationships.

SUPERMAN: amazing strength, they call him “Man of Steel” for a reason!

DID and Me:  Sometimes I wonder if other people see me as fragile.  If they do, well that is fair.  Sometimes I am fragile.  BUT I am also quite strong.  I believe all survivors are.  To all my fellow survivors–kudos, I think you are amazing.

So what do you think?  Was my daughter right?  While you are pondering it…I want to share an amazing youtube short film on DID.    Seriously check it out, it’s artistic, not scholarly, and I love it.