I have written three books and many articles that have been posted about social media, but in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I have decided to write a piece outlining my mental health diagnosis and some of the realities of living with it. This work is not meant to sensationalize my disorder, but rather to bring it more out of the shadows and stereotypification that has been thrust upon it by the media and people’s lack of understanding and to help end stigma.
I live with a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Yes, it’s the same disorder that Sybil and the main character in the movie Split were purported to have. The realities of living with DID are much less glamourous than what is shown on television and the movies. In so many ways, it is much less spectacular. While it is true I have alter egos, they are NOT separate people living in my head, they are in reality different aspects of myself. All humans have different sides to them, they behave differently given different situations and groups they are interacting with. In DID, this difference in behavior is taken a step further.
The child abuse I endured started soon after I was born and continued until I reached the age of fifteen. I know this not only from first-hand reports of people who knew me, and recovered memories, but also from doctor and hospital records. I will not say who perpetrated this abuse, nor will I speak of where it occurred. It is only important to say that it was done by people I loved dearly and should have been able to count on to protect and nurture me. Nor will I go into explicit details of just what these people did to my body, that isn’t helpful or constructive. I will say, however, that I lived every day in fear. Because of this maltreatment, my young mind was unable to comprehend or process what was happening to me.
When adult humans experience something that isn’t traumatic, they are able to sort out the sensations they are receiving from their four senses, and associate them together with the memory of what is going on so they can retrieve it later. However, when an event which is traumatic happens, where the sensations and fear are overwhelming, then human brains have a great trouble not only processing but filing these memories away for future reference. When these memories are not successfully processed, and filed away properly, they lay there dormant and raw, like a ticking bomb, waiting to be triggered to life. This is what happens in PTSD and flashbacks.
Children learn basically the same way as adults, except their minds are like sponges soaking up the sensations and emotions all around them. With non-traumatic events, they process and file away memories much like adults. However, when they are experiencing something traumatic, such as child abuse, they haven’t the ability to understand, much less the ability to process what is going on. Young brains, especially in the first three years of life, are very pliable and able to do remarkable things such as dissociate.
Dissociation is a normal human ability to be somewhere else emotionally and mentally when we are overwhelmed or bored. In the case of road hypnosis, a form of dissociation, we become so bored that our mind wonders away (dissociates) from driving, taking us on a flight of fancy. In the case of trauma, adult minds can also distance themselves from the event. It is a major coping mechanism all of us have.
Children who are severely abused also will use this coping mechanism, with even greater effectiveness. If the abuse they encounter is repeated over-and-over again for many years, dissociation becomes a habit. In some children, those who develop Dissociative Identity Disorder, these flights of dissociation can take on a life of their own. While no one totally understands this process, parts of the child’s memory of these traumatic events becomes encapsulated and take on roles in the life of the original child. These parts are not different people living inside, but splintered off aspects of the original personality.
While that sounds fantastic and fascinating, I can assure you living with the disorder is much less so. I can honestly say that the worse part of living with DID is being a mystery to myself. I do not have the continuous memory of my past and present that other people do. I often find out I’ve done things that I have no memory of doing. I lose time daily, but often I am unaware that it has occurred. I have lost large blocks of time (years), and waking up is extremely disorienting, confusing and uncomfortable. I can say that I have gained a lot of control over my life in the almost three decades of extensive therapy I have endured, but I will never know a life free of some of the chaos that goes along with my disorder as there is no definitive cure.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is not beguiling nor is it pleasant, yet people remain captivated by it. They allow the media to play on the public’s lack of knowledge of the disorder, which the media then uses to sell tickets and advertising slots netting millions of dollars. In effect, they are using you to line their pockets, and they perpetuate myths about the mentally ill that harm people.
Why have I been so vocal on Dissociative Identity Disorder? My purpose is not to gain wealth, which I certainly am not. It is to defeat stigma. Too often people living with mental health issues are made out to be lazy, killers, liars, cheats, and other negative things. We are said to be weak, crazy, and not worthy of help or even of having a good life.
Indeed, many people are terrified to admit to themselves or someone else they are struggling with any kind of mental issues. They fear losing their jobs, mates, friends and social status. Yet, just like physical ailments, most mental health issues are treatable. Most do not require a long commitment to therapy, and there are many, many drugs to help people overcome these difficulties. There is no need to suffer in silence, yet so many do.
In today’s political climate it is important more than ever to speak out and shout against these injustices. I have made up my mind that I will not sit silently by while others like myself suffer in the social isolation brought on by stigma.
That’s why I will remain silent no more!!!