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.


Music Therapy: Good for What Ails You

Fox's U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle.
Fox’s U-Bet in plastic squeeze bottle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier today (Wednesday) as I drowned my sorrows in Death by Chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup, my husband said, “Who needs Prozac when you have chocolate, right?”  Funny dear.

He was trying to cheer me, and often his joking is helpful, but today the chocolate was better.  I realize eating is not the healthiest form of coping though, either mentally or physically.  I am working on other forms of coping. I use mediation, art therapy, journaling and blogging. In fact, I wrote a very raw blog post before I ate the ice cream, but I decided not to post that one (you’re welcome).

Today I would like to talk about music as a coping tool.  I don’t know if what I am thinking of would technically be called music therapy, but hey, we’re not technical here, right?  A wonderful blog post I just read inspired this.  Author Jane Kirkpatrick was responding to a question about whether her background in mental health played a part in her historical novels. She said it did and she also said:

“I worked for 17 years on an Indian reservation and I know that some of the healers there said that when they went in to meet with someone ill they asked three questions. The answers determined how far from health the person had fallen.  The three questions:  When was the last time you sang; when was the last time you danced; and when was the last time your told your story.” Mental Health and Historical Novels by Jane Kirkpatrick

This version of “music therapy” intrigued me.  It is true, I remember singing in the shower one morning, and realizing that I had not done that in a long time.  As the healers said, it was a sign that my depression had lifted.

In addition to singing, I have found listening to music very helpful.  I have different music for different moods.  I imagine you do as well. Just a couple of my favorites:

Spiritual:  My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee

Comfort Josh Groban‘s You Are Loved

For anger and depression: Brandon Flowers‘ Crossfire, and several songs by Linkin Park

One night, a friend of mine created a list of suicide songs, which I contributed to (we were both in a very dark place), but I’m not going to share any of those, because it would not be very therapeutic.   The point is there is music for every mood!

Jane Kirkpatrick’s post made me think, what other ways could I use music for coping?

Dancing?  Hmmm, I wonder if Just Dance (WII) with the kids count?

Or how about playing an instrument?  I wish I could play the piano.  I don’t have time to learn right now, but I do have a tin whistle and instruction book that I bought for my husband.  I wonder. . .

I’ll have to give these things a try and report back.  In the meantime, have you used music therapy?  What songs do you listen to?  Do you dance?  Or play an instrument?

And just in case you need it–Top 100 Songs About Chocolate— ahh, the best of both worlds!

Art Therapy: What’s In It For You?

We have art in order not to die of the truth.  Friedrich  Nietzsche

Art therapy has been an important part of my healing journey.  Sometimes it helps me deal with difficult and painful emotions, sometimes it’s a vehicle for my unconscious to speak to me, sometimes it’s just plain fun.

It started early in my regular therapy. When my therapist went on vacation, it was really hard for me.  On the outside I would say, “No problem.” But on the inside I felt this urge that roughly translates to throwing myself on the floor, holding his leg and crying, “Don’t leave me.” (Boy is it embarrassing to admit to that.)

Obviously, I couldn’t stop my therapist from going on vacation, so I needed to find a way to self-soothe. My first thought was art.  I had heard of art therapy and the idea really intrigued me.  There are therapists who are specifically trained in art therapy–but decided I couldn’t afford my ‘regular’ therapy and art therapy. So I did the next best thing. I started checking out art therapy books from the library.  I continued looking at different books until one day, I found it.  The book that for me is the perfect art therapy book:

Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox

From the book: “Visual journaling speaks a language deeper than words, drawing from within our beauty, our truth and our wisdom.  It brings to paper the landscape of our life’s serenities and struggles, joys and tears, passions, fears, and dreams.” Linda Hill-Wall

In this book, which I highly recommend, they combine a sort of mediation with art and the result is fascinating. My drawings are rudimentary and childlike,which is alright.  They serve the purpose of helping me understand myself.

But for this post I would like to share my friend Carrie’s drawings.  I was so enthusiastic about this book that I told Carrie about it and she decided to give it a try.  I love her drawings, but that is not the main reason I am sharing them.  I asked her permission to share her drawings and her comments on them because I really like the way she explained how the process worked for her: what she was thinking as she drew and how the outcome managed to surprise her.  She really captured what I am trying to share.  So, here’s Carrie.

Don't Fit by Carrie all rights reserved
Don’t Fit by Carrie all rights reserved


“Here’s my first one! I was going to not bother doing it, but I remembered saying to you that if you don’t give the other parts a voice, they don’t have one – and I knew the ‘right’ side wanted to say something. I remembered you saying that you have to silence the left side in order to find out what’s in the right side. I found that I had a box of craypas, too! And I used my left hand, and although of course the left brain wants to chatter away, I also held an image in mind of a little girl drawing without talking. I asked her what she wanted to draw, and it was amazing how this thing “I” meant to be just a black ball turned into a girl in a fetal position. And how she had to be all the way over to the side. And waaaaaay over there is a wall, a brick wall, with a tiny opening (one brick high). And she has this beautiful flower she’s growing, with many layers of colors. And it keeps getting big, so big, and she’s just curled up trying to hold onto it. But all the good things, well, all the other good things, are all behind that wall. You can’t see it, but that’s where the cozy houses with lighted windows are, full of people enjoying each other’s company and listening to each others’ stories. And there are big overstuffed chairs there where men sit. And things smell good and look pretty, and gardens grow and people cook together from them. And where people care about what you think and feel. Oh, and most important, no one has to pretend. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? But the only way in is this teeny tiny mouse-sized hole. And she doesn’t fit in. Isn’t that amazing? I knew the hole had to be small, but I didn’t know why till I was all done, and then the title came to me.”

Because she was so intrigued with the first experiment, she decided to try it again.
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved
Castle Mountain by Carrie all rights reserved

“I started out asking myself, what color do you want? And I picked gray. That immediately turned into a castle in my mind. But then I just did some scribbling in a castle-like direction, and it started to take shape. But at first it was up in the air, and I thought, no, it has to have stairs up to it. And the stairs have to reach the ground, because I absolutely have to be on them. And then the air was just not right, it had to be grass, and that turned into a mountain. And when it all filled in and I looked at it, I realized my mind had done one of those pun things – it’s an illustration of a quote from Dan Siegel, talking about how he got along in medical school: “Medical school was my mountain, and I wanted to climb it.” So the caption to my picture is “This is my mountain, and I want to climb it.”

If you have ever thought about art therapy, I recommend giving it a try.  You don’t have to be an artist.  As I hope Carrie’s comments show, in art therapy, it’s not about the art, it’s about discovering you.

Embracing Fear with Dissociative Identity Disorder (repost)

Wanderingnome CC:BY-NC-ND Flickr
Wanderingnome CC:BY-NC-ND Flickr

Sometimes I feel like a baby bird.  I take a few nervous strokes of my wings.  I feel the wind beneath me and I marvel.  Then I crash.  Owww.  Since last Thursday there have been a couple crashes.  I got triggered.  I cried harder than I have in quite awhile.  I worked hard in therapy by which I mean allowing myself to feel the pain instead of pushing it away.  Feeling the pain and working through it is so important, and so hard.  I am feeling a bit battered and bruised.  But I will try to fly again. . .tomorrow.

Part of the difficulty this past week was a visit to the dentist.  That is getting better, but it is still hard.  So today is a re-post, but maybe a new post for my newer readers, Welcome!  This is post is about my last dentist appointment 6-7 months ago.

Embracing Fear and Conquering

I have a severe phobia of the dentist.  I mean severe.   It’s the chair.  Yes, not the shot, or the drill, it’s the chair.  Lying in the chair represents submission, and as you can imagine that terrifies me.  You sit back in that chair and open your mouth, and then trust.

Trust is a big issue for survivors of childhood abuse.  It is really a struggle for me.

My fear started when I got the reminder call about the appointment.  It increased as the time approached. I was emotional and distracted. The day of the appointment I was a basket case, I couldn’t concentrate.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I am really not.

As I sat in the lobby filling out the new patient paperwork, I knew that as soon as I started walking toward the chair I would become, emotionally a child.  I would be paralyzed by fear and unable to speak up or advocate for myself.  I know this because it happens every time I go to the dentist.  So I wrote a note to my new dentist and explained my situation.  The dentist, bless him, read my note and then came out to the lobby and sat and chatted with me for a moment to put me more at ease.  That was wonderful, but still when he said, “Come on back.”  It happened.  The paralysis set in.  I was like a helpless child.

I sat in the dreaded chair, and the hygienist began the cleaning.  That’s when it hit me.  I forgot to ask for laughing gas for the cleaning.  I hate metal touching my teeth, and what do they do in a cleaning but scrape your teeth with metal…argh!  As an adult, I would just put up my hand to stop him and ask for laughing gas, but I was not an adult at that moment.  I was a helpless child at the hands of an “authority figure”.  I could not make requests I could only wait helplessly until it was over.

My body tensed, and my heart rate increased as my panic grew.  How could I get myself through this situation.  Desperately, and with frustration, I thought, “Why can’t I dissociate myself out of this?”  Then a glimmer of hope came to me, “Why can’t I?  Where should I go?”

I was ready to mentally transport myself somewhere else.  I figured I have been doing it unconsciously since childhood, so this time I would do it consciously.  That was my only goal.  As I considered where to go…it would have to be somewhere I felt comfortable, and somewhere well-established.  Some how I felt that I would not have the “strength” to go to a new place, I needed to go to a comfortable place in my mind I had been to before.

I chose my DID Landscape.  This is a common thing among people with DID, to have an organized space in one’s mind for all one’s parts.  I don’t want to give too many details about my DID landscape, but suffice it to say that even though there are parts there that have painful memories, and one part in particular that I am avoiding, it is still a beautiful place that I created for traumatized parts to heal.  So I went there myself as I have many times before in therapy.

I stood at the entrance and thought, “Now what?”  Then, an idea came to me to go to the part of me that holds the memory that causes most of my dentist phobia.  That part is a  young girl, 4 yrs old (she has a name, but I am not comfortable sharing that).

William X CC: YB-NC-SA Flickr
William X CC: YB-NC-SA Flickr

I approached her and took her in my arms, lovingly.  I rocked her and stroked her hair.  I spoke to her quietly, “I am so sorry for what happened to you.  So, so sorry.  I know you are scared, but what is happening now is different.  Feel what the body feels now, and see that this is different.  I promise, I will never let anyone hurt you again.”

Something amazing happened, the terror I felt eased, a very peaceful, healing feeling replaced it.  I felt so good.  I marveled at it.

At that moment, the hygenist (who was very gentle) slipped and that sharp metal hook hit my lip.  I thought, “Buster, if you do that again we are done.”  And I meant it.  If that happened again, I would raise my hand and simply say, “I’m done.  I can’t do any more today.”  No explanation needed, it’s my body and if I say stop, it stops.  That is when I realized, I was back in adult mode!!!  I can’t express how incredible that felt.  I was no longer a terrified child helplessly submitting to whatever the “authority figures of the moment” subjected me too.  I was an adult that could speak up for my needs and defend my boundaries.  I was exhilarated.  I could hardly believe it.

When the cleaning was done, I glanced at the clock on the wall.  I was stunned. How could I have been at the dentist for an hour?  It literally felt like 15 minutes.  As I got up from the chair, my leg muscles, knees and ankles were so stiff and painful that it was difficult to get up (I hadn’t had pain when I came in) but emotionally and mentally I felt like I could fly.

Ina Widegren CC: BY-SA Flickr
Ina Widegren CC: BY-SA Flickr

PTSD and Mindfulness: Stop the Time Travel

English: signs and symptoms ptsd
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of articles recently talking about how Mindfulness is helping people with PTSD.  Apparently it is looking very promising.  I am not surprised.

SIDE BAR:  Small rant–can someone tell the media that military people are not the only ones with PTSD?  Survivors of sexual abuse often have it too, and since that is 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, I think we are worthy of mention.  OK..rant complete. Back to the post.

Applied Awareness, a blog I recently started reading asked readers What is Mindfulness?

That post was very timely for me because I had been asking myself the same question, how can I explain what mindfulness is for me?  Is my answer “correct”.  I don’t know.

Here is my disclaimer, I only started learning about Mindfulness mediation a few months ago.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, or even qualified for novice level.  But it has had such an impact on my life that I want to share my experiences, such as they are.

When I started reading about Mindfulness in Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food and God, and in a couple other places…I thought, “Yes! This is very similar to some really helpful things I have learned in therapy.  I want to learn more about this.”

For me, Mindfulness is grounding.  It stops time-travel.  You probably think I’m joking about the time-travel, but I’m not.  With PTSD, triggers can catapult you into the past.  The emotions, feelings and terror is there as if you had literally gone back in time.

Through therapy I have learned to be more aware of the signs of being triggered.  When I start to feel my breath quickening, and my muscles tensing,  I know I have to act quickly.  I have to be Mindful in order to stay in the present moment and not time travel.

I believe it was Jon Kabat Zinn (a master on Mindfulness) that taught me, through his writing, that we are often thinking about the past or the future, and rarely about the present moment.  (We could call this another form of time-travel, couldn’t we?)  It is important to make time in our busy lives to stop and be in the moment we are in.

When I recognize that I am feeling triggered, I focus all my concentration on the present moment: the sounds I hear, for example right now, I hear the clicking of keys on a keyboard…it is a rhythmic comforting sound, otherwise the room is blissfully quiet.   I feel the room around me.  I check in with how I am feeling in my body.  And for me, most helpful is to find something beautiful to focus on.  Right now that would be a picture on my wall of boats sitting idly in the water, waiting.  I love the colors and I love the serenity that the artist captured.  Later, when I am calmer, I try to discern what triggered me and talk about it with my therapist.

But you don’t have to have PTSD to benefit from Mindfulness.  It can bring more joy to everyday life for anyone who tries it.  For example, one day I was feeling tired, stressed and a bit anxious.  This was everyday stuff that anyone might feel.  Then I remembered Mindfulness.  “Be in the moment you are in, Leslie.”

Andreas Kontokanis
Photo credit: Andreas Kontokanis

At that moment I was in a chess class I teach at my kid’s home school co-op.  The room was buzzing with laughter and talking (and you thought chess was a quiet game!).  I looked around at my eighteen students having fun playing chess. I love chess (though I am a self-proclaimed chess klutz).   And I love sharing chess with kids.  I thought, “Wow, I did this.  I brought these kids together and look what a great time they are having.”

Suddenly, I didn’t feel stressed, tired or anxious.  I felt great!  Even now writing about that moment brings back the joy of it.

However you define it, Mindfulness is powerful.  If you want more joy in your life, give it a try.

DID: Waking up in the middle of your life

Photo by --BlackCubeSVK Dušan Ďurajka
Photo by –BlackCubeSVK
Dušan Ďurajka

Do you ever have the sensation of waking up…in the middle of your life?

Tonight (and this has happened to me before,) I have a strange feeling of having been away for a while.  It’s like I just woke up and I feel really refreshed.  Or you could say it is like coming home from a vacation.  I have that sense of returning, and yet everything feels familiar.  Because I have been away and rested, I feel renewed and ready to face the challenges of my life.  But egads, I really need to have a talk with the part of myself that was in charge while I was gone.

I would say to myself (ever so gently)…”Yikes! You haven’t been wearing make-up?  Don’t you realize your blonde eyebrows and eyelashes are basically invisible without it?  And what are these frumpy clothes you have been wearing?

“Why haven’t you talked to (or emailed) ________________ for a while?  That friendship is important.  Ah, Leslie. . .”

I don’t mean to give the impression that this is simply about being critical of myself…I realize almost everyone falls prey to that trap.  What I am trying to illustrate here is how I can FEEL like a different person.  It’s pretty weird sometimes.

But…and I know I told you this before (here), but it is worth repeating…the whole point of Dissociative Identity Disorder is to hide things.  Mostly we hide dark and difficult things from ourselves (or try to), but we hide the whole essence of DID too.  I do NOT go around telling people to call me by a different name (as you have seen in the movies.)  I try to act as normal and nonchalant as possible.  Hopefully, if I weren’t writing about it no one would ever know.

I admit, as much as I try to it reign it in, sometimes DID can cause me some awkward and embarrassing moments.  I’ll tell you about one.  My close friends love to tease me about this–all in good fun, I don’t mind the teasing.

One day I came home from work (in the morning because I work graveyard).  There was a car in my driveway and it was in my spot.  The way I would deal with that situation if it happened now–would be to get out and smile and approach the person and see who it was, make friendly conversation (even if it were a sales rep,) etc.  But that morning I was in a different “space” of my mind.  So. . .

I approached the car.  The gentleman inside rolled down the window and smiled at me.  I glared at him and said, “Who are you and what are you doing in my driveway?”

He looked a little confused, but smiled and said, “What?”

I repeated, more annoyed now, “Who are you and what are you doing in my driveway?”  My voice was as cold as I could make it.

He looked really confused now, but kept smiling and explained that he was the father of my daughter’s friend.  The girls had a sleep over, the previous night (at his house) and now he was bringing them to my house to retrieve something before they went to an early morning play practice together.

Would this be a good time to mention that I had met this man three or four times previously and should have recognized him?  Or that in some part of my mind, I knew that my daughter had stayed the night with a friend and would be coming by in the morning?

But I couldn’t quite connect the dots in mentally, so embarrassed and now really confused, I stammered, “Oh, forgive me I just got off of graveyard shift, I’m really tired.”  I use that excuse to cover up a lot of  DID moments, by the way.  Now you know my secret.

That morning still makes me blush in embarrassment and laugh at myself at the same time.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that I have to be in the right “space” to write about DID.  You can see from my archives how often that happens.  And I can almost guarantee that later in some other space of my mind we, ahem–I–will be questioning the wisdom of this post.  But there you go…moments with DID.

Living with PTSD: Stumbling in the Dark

Ugh, I just have to say…I am so tired of this…so very tired.

Tired of what you ask?  Tired of hurting, what else?

Healing feels like stumbling around in the dark, sometimes you can move along pretty stealthily and fool yourself into thinking you are some kind of ninja, but then you bump into something and hit your shin.  Reflexively, you bend over to grab your wound and while doing so you hit your head.  This throws you off-balance and you end up lying on the ground without enough hands to touch, soothe and comfort all the aching places.

Fumbling around in the dark is a great metaphor for triggers because they often seem to hit you out of no where.   I know some of my triggers and can anticipate them and work through them fairly stealthily.  Therapy has helped with that.  But then there are other triggers. . .

I’m struggling to explain what I am feeling without going into specifics about what hurt me this time.  Let’s see if we can work around this.  A family member did something that hurt me deeply.  The hurt was not intended.  (I wonder would it hurt less if it was?  Maybe so.)

Photo by Gerhard Suster
Photo by Gerhard Suster

That situation may or may not be as it appears to me.  We may or may not work it out.  I may or may not emotionally guillotine this person.  Emotionally guillotine means that I cut him or her out of my heart.  I can do this with a rapidity and a finality that shocks even me.

I do wonder if this is healthy.  (My husband doesn’t think so, and my therapist is out-of-town. . .)  Healthy or not, I have guillotined a lot of people, and it does stop the hurt.  So how can that be a bad thing???   My husband says it’s bad because if I guillotine enough people I will be left alone.  And yet, I don’t think they were really there in the first place…that’s WHY they were guillotined.  So how has anything changed except that I stopped my emotional hemorrhage?  Anyway. . .

The real issue here is the pain of the past that was triggered by this incident.  How does a four-year old child deal with the pain of feeling rejected, abandoned and traumatized?  It breaks my heart to think of it.

I’ll tell you how I dealt with it.  I learned to emotionally guillotine people (it’s amazing I don’t have some sort of attachment disorder!) and I put the rest away in my Haunted Mind to deal with later as an adult.

Now I am facing that emotional time bomb.  An event triggers it, and suddenly I am awash with the unbelievable pain of being a child abused and feeling very alone in a very dark and scary world.  All this while people around me wonder why I am over-reacting to whatever the trigger was.

Somebody please turn on the light.  I want this healing business to be done already. . .like yesterday.


P.S. Please note in my effort to blog regularly, I am now scheduling posts in advance.  So I have had a little time to recover from the situation that hurt  me.  I am feeling better, and yes, I did emotionally guillotine the person that caused the problem.  Here’s hoping I can get back to Ninja mode now…at least emotionally!

Photo attribution is embedded in the picture now.  Just hover over it.   Don’t I feel clever?!