There are many parts of living with dissociative identity disorder that is difficult. They include not knowing from moment to moment if you have lost time, facing people who are upset because you have no idea what they are talking about and the never-ending fight to stay ahead of depression and anxiety. However, one of the most difficult and sometimes dangerous side-effects of living as a multiple is body image confusion.
I’m going to share with you my experience with this problem and speak about some solutions that may help.
Please Remember I’m Not a Therapist
However, I hope everyone remembers that not all multiple systems have the same problems. Every system is distinct having different aspects of the same issues. I am not a textbook case; there are none. There are as many ways to express multiplicity as there are people who live with it.
My Body Image
In my system, there are many different views on what the body looks. Some alters are six-years-old with very young agile bodies. Then there are some who are teens with raging hormonal bodies. Also, there are the alters who are in their 20s. Since there are tons of alters in my system, each of them has their own body image, including being male and female. The fact is that I (the waking-self) have my own body image which does not fit my 57-year old reality of a healthy 30-year old woman.
Problems with My Self-Image
The biggest problem for me is that these distorted images in body image that are all way off the mark. The reality is different in that my body is 57 going on 58, and has been through a major stroke, breast cancer and becoming a wheelchair user. My body is afflicted with several critical and potentially life-threatening conditions including diabetes type II, high blood pressure, and morbid obesity.
My body weighs 280 pounds, way too much for its 5’4” frame. Diabetes and many other disorders are the result of not owning the body, not feeding or caring for it correctly, and not paying attention when it cries out for help until I must.
Feeling like you are thirty when living in a body that is twice that age is a huge problem. Even after almost three decades of intensive psychotherapy, I feel disconnected with my body. My form is getting older and not doing very well. My legs are swollen, and I have begun to feel the pain of arthritis. My wheelchair limits my movements, but I often forget that I am not able to always do the things a walking person can do.
That may sound strange that I would forget I’m in a wheelchair, but it is true. That is how disconnected I am from what my body experiences. If I’m not careful, I will forget to feed or over feed my body. It’s a constant battle to keep myself from getting hurt and a lot of frustration when I can’t do things that I thought I should be able to do. I feel as though I do not live my body and that it is just an inconvenient thing that just hangs around and gets in my way.
It is easy to see how being so disconnected from one’s body can be. If I don’t acknowledge my body’s age, size or condition my body will die, and I and my system die too.
The Treatment Takes Guts
How on earth can multiples get in contact with our bodies and treat them as parts of us instead of some strange hinderance?
The treatment for this problem is to use a mirror. I know that sounds horrendously scary as we have carefully built our self-images. If you are like me using a mirror makes you feel disgusted and terrified.
However, when I was challenged by my therapist to lay naked on my bed with a mirror and look at myself, I found after the shock has passed that I was not the ugly ogre I had been led to believe.
Why Do I Not Like What I See?
As a child, I heard multiple sources including the people who harmed me, my mother and other children that I was not beautiful. I was called fat, stupid, ugly and worthless. I internalized those messages, and that is why I abandoned my body. I have had the experiences of not being able to answer what colors are my eyes and hair when asked to renew my state identification card. There were several days two years ago that I looked at a mirror and didn’t recognize the body that I was seeing. It was like seeing a stranger staring back at me.
Looking at oneself in the mirror is hard. Taking that glass thing and seeing all the imperfections and scars of the vessel that one lives in hurts. I know I heard the names they called me as a child and I saw the relics of what had happened to me during traumatic events.
Mirror therapy, I guess we’ll call it, is enormously helpful, but excruciating.
Talk to Your Therapist First!
Please, talk to your therapist before you attempt mirror therapy. You’ll need their support to work through the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous emotions that seeing your body can bring to light. Those feelings were already there, looking at yourself as you are though, can be disturbing. Doing so is the first step towards living healthier.
Why I Bring This Up
I wanted to write this to let others out there who are living as I do, disconnected from their bodies, to see these words in black and white before them. Denial of this problem can be and is too often deadly. Obesity and the diseases I have mentioned are only the tips of the iceberg. There is anorexia, bulimia, and many other disorders that are the result of not caring for our bodies.
There is hope. I will keep working on this problem and hope one day to live in my body the way I was meant to from the beginning of my life.
“I know who I am. I am not perfect. I’m not the most beautiful woman in the world. But I’m one of them.” Mary J. Blige