If you have ever wondered what it is like to live with a condition like Dissociative Identity Disorder, than I invite you to read this short story I wrote as a tribute to my therapist who retired in September 2016. One will immediately notice that the timing of the story does not flow, but jumps in time. That is because this is the way people like myself, who live with DID experience life.
Although the main character Amber, finally reaches a point where she has resolved many of her issues in the story, the reality is that if I were to continue to write about her one would notice that she will never be completely symptom free. However, a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder can learn to live a long and enjoyable life despite the disadvantages of living in a mind shared with splintered parts of ourselves.
Enjoy the story, and try to imagine what it is like to live life in the manner described.
A Beautiful Piece of Amber
Shirley J. Davis
Amber had never known inner peace. Her life had always been in utter turmoil and now, at the age of thirty, she’d had enough. As she sat on her couch with a bottle of pills in one hand and a glass of wine in the other she felt grieved. Why hadn’t her old lady been a mother to her? Why had she been used like a whore by her grandfather? Why did God allow her to live past infancy, was it just so she would know pain and disappointment? Looking down at the pill bottle she smiled at the irony. The pills had belonged to her mother who had recently died. How fitting that they should be the instrument of her death. Hadn’t her mother and grandpa programmed her to self-destruct?
Suddenly, Amber’s cell phone rang pulling her out of her thoughts. Briefly she considered not answering, but thought better of it. To not answer may signal for her friend Deb to come check on her. Deb knew Amber wasn’t doing well since her mother’s death, and probably would just do just that.
Sighing deeply, Amber reached over and pushed the on button of her phone. “Hello?” she whispered.
“Amber?” a voice asked.
Amber recognized the voice on the other end of the line. She had recently been sent to a Therapist by her boss. Well, not exactly sent as much as coerced. He had told her he didn’t want her back to work until after she had seen a Psychologist. Amber thought she may have visited the Doctor’s office twice in the past month, but she really couldn’t see how talking to a therapist could help.
“Amber?” the voice asked again. “I received a call from your employer. He told me he was very concerned. He said he found a disturbing note from you?”
The concern in the other woman’s voice caused tears to begin sliding down Amber’s cheeks. She felt self-loathing. Had she written a note? What was in it? If she had written it, when had she done so?
“Amber please speak to me,” stated the Doctor with concern. “Do you need to come in and see me?”
Amber was startled. She hadn’t considered this alternate scenario, one in which she didn’t perish right away, but died after telling someone what her family had done to her. They deserved to be exposed.
“Yes, I do.” Amber whispered.
“I have an opening in twenty minutes. Can you be here by then?” the Doctor asked.
“Yes.” Amber stated in a flat voice. “I’ll be there.” She then pressed the off button, abruptly ending the call.
Doctor Anne Sullivan hung up her phone slowly with concern. Although she had only met Amber twice, she understood that her new client was in deep pain and very depressed. In all her years as a Clinical Psychologist she had never seen anyone as overtly frightened and turned inward as Amber. She reached up and idly played with her necklace as she rather impatiently waited to see if Amber would appear, and considering of next move if she did not. She soon decided that if Amber didn’t appear within the next half hour, she was going to call the authorities.
Amber sat in her car in a state of confusion. She had driven across town to the business building she now sat in front of, but she just couldn’t remember the drive or exactly why she was there. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she decided to go inside to see if she was supposed to be at an appointment. She had missed many important things in her life because she had forgotten that she was supposed to show up. Sighing deeply, she walked slowly into the clinic. She had a vague sensation of talking to someone about being there, but the details of that conversation eluded her.
Doctor Sullivan was more than relieved when her phone buzzed and her receptionist told her Amber had arrived. Going out to the waiting room, she smiled widely and reached out a hand of greeting. She spoke quietly to her new client, “Amber, so good to have you here my dear. Come on back.”
Amber ignored the doctor’s attempt to make physical contact. She didn’t like being touched and, she thought, after she related her story, the therapist wouldn’t want to touch her either. Amber followed Doctor Sullivan to her office. Although it was a small clinic and she had been there twice before she did not remember the way to the Doctor’s office. Indeed, she had not recognized the doctor until she had spoken to her.
Doctor Sullivan signaled for Amber to have a seat then gently closed the door. She had the curious sensation that had she closed the door any harder, her patient would have run like a startled deer in the forest.
The women sat in silence for several moments sizing each other up.
Doctor Sullivan noticed that Amber’s eyes were red and swollen from weeping but her face was expressionless, as if there was no one there. It wasn’t just her eyes, the Doctor suddenly realized, it was her entire demeanor. She looked blank. Speaking softly, she addressed her visitor, “Amber?”
Amber started. The last she remembered she had been sitting on her couch at home with a bottle of pills in her hand. Now across from her sat a very concerned stranger.
The confusion Amber was feeling shown in her face. Doctor Sullivan made a mental note of it. “Amber do you remember speaking to me on the phone about a half an hour ago?” she asked wondering what answer her patient would give her.
Amber sat silently for a moment. “Yes, of course.” She lied. “It’s just that I’m having a rough day. My mother just died.” She had no memory of the conversation she had held with this nice Doctor, or the reason she now sat in the concerned Doctor’s office. Hell, she didn’t even remember the Doctor’s name. Tears of frustration and fear began to run down her face.
“Yes, I know.” Anne said startled. “She died about a year ago.” Doctor Sullivan chose to change the subject, it was evident by the look her client had given her that Amber did not understand nor believe what she had just revealed. “Your employer called me to say he had found the suicide note you left in his desk.” Doctor Sullivan leaned in toward her client to observe the behavior Amber would exhibit with this announcement. She was not surprised by what she saw.
Amber flushed red and felt rage rising in her chest. She didn’t remember writing any damn suicide note! Why would Roger say that? She chose her words carefully. “Suicide note? That’s ridiculous.”
The Doctor sat back. Amber’s face had shown her volumes. It was quite apparent that her client didn’t remember the note. Quietly she contemplated the psychological symptomology Amber was exhibiting. Slowly she retrieved the note from her desk top and handed it to Amber.
Amber didn’t take the note right away. The thought of receiving any kind of physical contact with the doctor, even though through a piece of paper, repulsed her. She didn’t understand why, it was just that way. Finally, she took the note and looked at it. It was her handwriting alright. No one could copy her sloppy cursive. It was atrocious. She carefully laid the piece of paper back on the Therapist’s desk.
As if to read the mind of Amber the Doctor sat forward again and noticed her client physically arching back away from her. She then sat back in her chair and thought for several minutes. What was going on with her new patient? Amnesia of some sort to be sure, she had spoken to her on the phone only a few minutes before, but Amber had lied about remembering their conversation. Then an insight came to her. She had studied this phenomenon before when she was observing a client while in her internship. She had been assigned a woman who had witnessed the horrible deaths of her family when she was a small child, and had suffered repeated sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their killers. That child had done a most remarkable thing, she had splintered her mind to be able to absorb the horrible violence she had seen but couldn’t understand. Could the same thing be going on with this woman?
The quiet contemplation of the Doctor made Amber feel anxious. What weird thoughts about her was the Doctor thinking? Without any conscious thought, she fidgeted in her seat looking toward the door to make sure she could reach it quickly should she need to flee. Satisfied that quick egress was possible she sat and waited on the Therapist.
Anne chose her words cautiously. “Amber do you have problems with your memory? Do you ever find yourself in places you don’t remember going, or being told you’ve said things you don’t remember saying?”
Amber was once again startled. How could the Doctor know? All her life she had encountered such anomalies. “Yes.” She finally responded feeling totally exposed and afraid. “It’s always been that way for me but that’s normal, right?” she stated excitedly. “I mean everyone forgets things.”
The Doctor tried to smile a reassuring smile. “I don’t think we’ve officially met. My name is Dr. Anne Sullivan. I’m a Clinical Psychologist.”
Amber stared hard at Anne. Didn’t the silly woman remember they had met before? Or had they? Suddenly Amber felt a familiar feeling of confusion. She did remember Anne but it was as if she had been dreaming or looking through someone else’s eyes.
Amber awoke at home in her bed. She didn’t remember how she got there or when, but she was relieved to see the familiar surroundings of her apartment. Had her visit to see Doctor Sullivan been a dream? Slowly she got off the bed and padded into her living room. There next to the couch she saw a bottle of pills and a glass half full of wine.
Anne Sullivan greeted Amber in the waiting room as usual but she did not offer her hand as was her custom. Amber appeared to be herself today, although the Doctor had to question that observation.
After following Dr. Sullivan to her office and allowing her close the door, Amber sat on her hands and told herself that she would not forget this time. Almost two months had passed since the night she found herself back in her apartment and realized she had no memory of how she had gotten there. Two months. She sighed audibly. Amber had begun to realize that losing time wasn’t the way everyone lived, and that not everyone heard and felt the presence of others inside them. She had always just assumed that was the way everyone lived. After doing some research on the Internet on memory loss she had discovered that she may have a condition called Dissociative Identity Disorder. Looking back over her life, Amber could see many times where she had lost large blocks of time.
The Doctor sat forward in her chair. It was obvious to her that Amber was lost in her thoughts. She had decided on a diagnosis for her patient the week before. “Welcome back Amber. How are you today? What has been happening?”
Amber jolted at the sound of Anne’s voice but quickly regained her composure. “I’ve been doing some reading on the Internet about memory loss.” Amber blurted out in response. “Most of the time I come here but I don’t remember leaving or how I got home.”
The Doctor showed great concern on her face. Her client had to cross four lanes of traffic to head the correct way on the highway outside her office. The knowledge that Amber had to do so without being conscious of her actions was frightening.
Amber continued seemingly oblivious to Anne’s look of fear. “All my life I’ve had things appear and disappear. I could relate to you endless stories of blank moments where I didn’t remember doing or saying things.” She hesitated and took in a big gulp of air. “Do you think I have Dissociative Identity Disorder?”
Anne Sullivan was startled by the question. She answered quietly, “Yes, I think we can safely say that.” The Doctor then watched in wonder as Amber’s face went blank. She didn’t change into a different personality, but there appeared to be no one sitting with her in her office. Amber had mentally left the room.
Amber became aware that she had been staring at nothing and wondered if she had missed anything Anne had said. She felt the blood rush to her cheeks from embarrassment as she recognized that the Doctor was watching her. After a few moments, she tried to say something, but was only able to whisper a few nonsense words before once again she felt floating away.
Amber once again came to herself back in her home. She began to sob as she realized the reality of her situation. It was NOT normal to float about in nothingness as she had just done. It was NOT normal to awaken miles from where you last remember being. She had the urge to call Dr. Sullivan because she had so many questions that needed answering, but from somewhere deep inside came the fear of being abandoned by her new Therapist. Sighing deeply, she sat on her couch and looked out the window. She had in recent weeks had several memories flood back from her past. Could she trust what she was remembered? Should she? Was she just looking for attention? She was getting a headache from trying to think her situation through, but she knew she didn’t want to be a mystery to herself any longer. Right then she decided that she would work hard with Dr. Anne Sullivan to find a way out of the trap she had dug for herself.
As the months turned into years, Anne felt she and Amber had made a strong bond and great progress. She had watched as her client had gone from coldly relating what had happened to her as a child to beginning to own the feelings she had denied for so long.
Amber became aware that the voices in her mind which she now recognized as those of the other personalities began to quiet. She had begun to love and cherish these inside companions, and had become their mother. At first, she had longed for someone, anyone, to take over that role, even finding herself daydreaming that Anne was her Mom. Losing time had become more and more uncommon. She understood that extreme stress could bring on future bouts of dissociation, but that for the most part she alone controlled her life. It still stung to know that all the horrible memories she had reclaimed by listening to her inner parts were hers. The fact that she had lived through such terrible trauma and lived had gave her a sense of pride and she had grown in self-respect. Not only had she survived overwhelming odds but she had found an ingenious way to cope. By splitting up into alters each holding his/her own memory, her mind had protected her from the horrendous pain and suffering she had experienced as a child. It was the only way she could have remained sane in such an insane situation. Amber felt enormous respect and gratitude for Anne. It was as if somehow Doctor Sullivan like, her namesake Helen Keller’s life teacher, had reached into the darkness of her past and taught her how to experience the world.
Anne watched in awe as the woman who had walked into her office so fragmented began to coalesce into a strong, intelligent and capable human being. Even as the Doctor faced major changes in her own life, she celebrated her achievement of helping Amber to function in the world. Soon Anne would retire from her job as a Clinical Psychologist, and she felt loss that she would no longer see Amber. It was a bit like a mother bird allowing her fledgling to leave the nest. Many times, in the past several years, she had said goodbye to the woman before her, wondering if she would ever see her again. Once her client had indeed disappeared for a long stretch of time, but when Amber returned after her long absence she had changed greatly in her ability to take what Anne gave her and retain it. In their time apart, Amber had lived through hell, but somehow, she had grown from her experience. Anne often thought about her own nearing retirement and pondered, as she had seen Amber do, who she was to become outside of the clinical setting. “Where will I go from here?” she had recently found herself questioning. Her entire identification had been built around her career and the personality of Dr. Anne Sullivan Clinical Psychologist. Now it would be necessary for her learn a new self-image, something she saw at this point as a daunting task. What would she do the first morning she got out of bed and did not have to get ready for work? The thought brought both a chill of apprehension and a smile to her face.
The last day of work for Anne Sullivan had finally come. Before her sat Amber shining in her completeness. She and Amber had struggled together through the past several months leading up to this day, both wondering who they would be at the end of their last hour together. Anne smiled warmly, “This will be our last time together Amber. How do you feel about that?”
Amber returned Anne’s smile. She had found herself asking herself that same question. How did she feel about saying goodbye to therapy and Anne? “I’ve been in therapy half of my life”, she said introspectively. “It has been a part of who I am for over two decades. I’ve learned so much from you! My God, I was so sick when we started, so fragmented. I didn’t know I was in pieces until I came to see you. Did I ever tell you that?”
Anne thought for a moment. Amber had told her many things but she had always assumed that Amber came to see her knowing she had a problem. Now she realized Amber could not have known how unusual her life had been until someone had told her that what she was experiencing was not “normal”.
Amber continued. “I guess, what I am trying to say is, thank you for Anne shining our bright light into my dark world. Like your namesake, you have given understanding to someone who was once blind to the ways of how life was supposed to be. I have been given a voice. I was once in utter darkness, surviving but not really living. Now I am aware of the beauty and the challenges that surround me. In fact, I’m not only aware of them but relishing them.”
Anne felt tears come to her eyes and a sense of humbled pride. She could see before her proof that the years of her work and her labor had not been in vain. “Thank you Amber. Thank you for choosing me and for working so hard. Thank you for your kind words.”
Amber reached into her shirt pocket, and having retrieved her prize put it quietly into Anne’s hand.
The Doctor looked at the small yellow glistening object she held. It was beautiful.
Amber sat forward and spoke gently. “It’s a piece of amber. It was formed thousands of years ago when sap fell from a tree to the earth and fossilized. If you look inside you’ll see an insect encased inside. Amber is quite rare and beautiful.”
Anne looked closely and indeed there was a small insect trapped inside the yellow gem.
Amber continued after allowing the Doctor to examine the object. “I am giving this to you to remind you of our work together. I am like that piece of amber. Through our time together I have come from a tragic ending, such as that insect, to becoming a beautiful and rare gem. Whenever you look at that piece of amber you, will be looking not only at what you have done for me, but at all the people you have helped down through the years.”
Anne understood the symbolism she held in her hand. Through her treatment a lovely human being had emerged from the darkness to give beauty to the world. Yes, this gave new meaning to her career and to her retirement.
She had made a difference.