DID – Formerly Multiple Personality Disorder

blogI’ve watched all the movies and tv shows about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. The screen has brought us Sybil, Three Faces of Eve and the United States of Tara. These shows, while introducing this relatively unknown and misunderstood disorder to the public conversation, have turned DID into entertainment.

“DID is a mental disorder characterized by the maintenance of at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. This is accompanied by memory gaps beyond what would be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.Dissociative identity disorder is a complex psychological condition that is likely caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood (usually extreme, repetitive physical, sexual, or emotional abuse). Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism — the person literally shuts off or dissociates himself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with his conscious self.”

I have DID. My friends and family are largely unaware of this because I know how to camouflage myself. Covering up my personality and its quirks is a life long occupation. My experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not a life of obvious changes, in and out of personalities with stark contrasts like Jekyll and Hyde. Its a journey of subtlety and confusion.

 I have spent days driving around in my car unsure of where I was going or where I had been. I lose track of time for hours at a time. My internal dialogue is a smattering of different voices. I am a gathering of fragments of different people, rather than one whole brain. When I work or read a book it is difficult for me to concentrate because of so many conversations going on in my head. My condition has inflection when I am triggered by past events, people, smells, memories or other triggers. I look in the mirror and the image staring back at me doesn’t look like its real.

Often times when I look at photographs of myself I have no memory of the photograph happening. I have some vague understanding that the person in the photo is me but I don’t remember the moment depicted.

My children tease me about my horrible memory but its true – my memory is terrible because I can go someplace or have a conversation and later not remember it at all . Recently I told my daughter we should go to a new restaurant I wanted to take her to and she told me we had already been there.  I have no recollection of the dinner we had there together.

In the movies a person with DID has an intentional and obvious switch in their personalities. Three Faces of Eve shows a head drop each time her personality changes. When Tara’s (United States of Tara) changes personalities she also changes clothes, attitudes and experiences. Each personality has its own life. These examples are vastly different than the slight shift I feel when my personalities change. For me it can be a blankness, a complete whiteout that happens in my brain or it can be a defined shift of emotion. Heavy fear, insignificance, insecurity all characterize some part of my personality.

My personalities don’t have names or dramatic shifts that are obvious to an outside, unpracticed eye. They are all well hidden beneath a thick exterior that is adept at hiding the shifts.

Frankly I am reticent to post this part of my mental health diagnosis because I know it sounds surreal and made up. I worry about judgement from others. However, whats most important to me is that I know my own experiences. I also trust the many psychiatrists and therapists who have worked on my case. I hope my life and writing can bring some light to this misunderstood, mischaracterized and misinterpreted disorder.

The weirdest girl

When I was in junior high I had braces with a medieval contraption called mouth gear that wrapped metal around my head, secured with an elastic band around my neck.  I was short. I had stick straight jet black hair and didn’t look like any other kids in my all white school. I wore hand me downs and goodwill dollar bin clothes. I felt uglier than any child ever on the face of the earth. One day a pretty popular girl told me I looked like a cow when I chewed my gum and I felt her insult to the core.

Junior high is pretty universally accepted as a time of torture for most children.  Our insecurities flared and we tried to camouflage them with wearing identical clothing. The lucky kids had name brands and no acne.

The challenge is that many of us never outgrow junior high.  We still feel like the weirdest, most awkward kid in the room. No matter who we are we feel like we stick out like a lightbulb in black room. We try to hide our insecurities with charisma and wittiness, but fail to believe it ourselves.

As an adult who is educated, talented and not completely unfortunate looking I still feel that way – like everybody is looking at me when I enter a room.

But its time for a change of perspective. We have been gifted with uniqueness, not weirdness. We have been given distinction, not difference. Life has offered us beauty in all forms and we make it ugly by comparing ourselves with each other.

I’m not the weirdest girl in the room anymore. I may be mentally ill, I am still short and my hair still doesn’t look like most other people I know. I wear athletic clothing all the time even though I don’t have the body of an athlete but I’m not weird. I’m blessed and special in God’s eyes and in the eyes of those who love me.  That is something to celebrate and I will celebrate it!

Trauma Treatment

When I arrived at the psych hospital for a workshop the facilitator prescriptively said, “This is the beginning of your 3-5 year journey of trauma treatment”. I said, and I quote, “Listen lady. I’m here for 3-5 days”.  One long hospital stay and four years later, I proved her right. I am still in trauma treatment.

Trauma treatment is a mixed bag of listening to yourself process trauma and listening to what others hear in your experience.  It is to be nakedly honest about your life so you can point at something and be able to say with confidence “this is where it hurts”. While my trauma treatment includes medication mostly it is about ciphering my memories and what I feel about my experiences.  It is to give way to the self conscious and discover the secrets that live beneath it.

I do well cognitively. I can organize a business, be a journalist, pastor or consultant with some sense of confidence  However my confidence breaks when I am asked to reflect emotionally on my life.  I find myself on thin ice when it comes to finding words to describe the toxic memories that captivate my nightmares. To live on the edge of emotion and pain is terrifying .

However, to heal I must be willing to live in this space that holds a foot in the doorway of emotional pain so that light can come in to the darkest of places in my mind.  Trauma treatment is no joke but I continue with the hope that as I allow light in it will shatter the darkness.

Being completely human

I set out to portrait a hope filled journey where I conquering the reality and stigma of mental illness. Several years of writing later, and I have hope that my tomorrows will be better than my yesterdays but I also have conflicting and challenging thoughts about living life with mental illness.

I see a doctor and therapist regularly and take all my dozen or so prescribed meds.  Regular exercise, watching my diet, prayer and journaling are routine parts of my life.  However, it is frustrating that even with following a solid routine of trauma therapy, good health practices and treatment for my mental illness I still find many days where I do not feel well. Days where my emotions or illness seem to row the boat rather than an upbeat conquer-the-world demeanor. I find myself wishing I were less symptomatic of my mental illness and could function throughout the day like a “normal” person.

However isolating my journey through mental illness is, I have to remember that I am no different than anybody else dealing with chronic illness.  Everybody has some part of their life they need to manage with care and kid gloves. Whether it be physical health, emotional health, stress or challenging relationships there is always a piece of us that needs consistent balancing and tweaking to keep it on course.

So, yes, treatment is difficult. Talking about the same triggers and challenges ad nauseam with my therapist and doctor rubs my patience raw. I find myself consistently irritated at the glacial pace of healing, wishing for simple solutions and easy answers. But I am comforted by the fact that my experience of working, praying and living through challenges is just part of the human experience.

Here’s to living with hope, the stuff of potential and future realized dreams. Keep living with hope because I am normal and so are you

A uniquely you holiday

For many people the holidays can be a mirage of joy and peace. The bustle of the season does not shimmer with happiness, instead it just highlights their daily struggle with metal illness. From where they sit while “everyone” else enjoys themselves, they are stuck dealing with the day to day struggle of staying mentally and emotionally balanced. It’s as if their challenges stand as an obstacle to the joy “everyone” else is experiencing.

Having a realistic view of the holidays can combat the longing and jealousy I often feel about the “everybody” elses of the world.  The holidays give me the opportunity to be realistic about my expectations of both myself and others. Being realistic allows room for me to savor the good moments I am lucky enough to enjoy. Here are some tips for adding some realistic boundaries to your holiday season.

First of all, remember that just because the calendar and seasons change our lives actually go on as usual.  There are still bills to be paid, medications to take and illnesses to manage. Life and mental illness doesn’t take a break just because its Christmas.  Setting expectation that the season will lessen or eradicate  our pre-existing challenges is to set yourself up for disappointment.

Secondly, planning ahead can help.  For some, making a list of celebratory events and choosing intentionally which invitations to accept aids in keeping the calendar overcrowded and stress at a minimum.  I like to write gifts and recipients down in my journal so I can remember what I am doing, clearing my mind of worrying or having to remember all the details.  A little bit of planning goes a long way towards allowing the brain to rest and not obsess.

Third, embrace your humanity! You are one person who has a human body and defined amount of hours during the day.  Pushing yourself beyond reasonable healthy limits will only lessen your ability to maintain your mental and emotional health. Think of it as a pie. How much of that pie are you able to give to your family, errands, and celebrations? More importantly how much of that pie are you able to give to yourself to keep your energy reserves up so you can serve and bless your family and friends.

Fourth, enjoy! Be thankful for and relish the moments that are good. Life is a mixed bag of good and bad.  However, mental illness can cloud the reality that there are moments in every day that can be appreciated.  Being thankful for good physical health, the sunrise, a warm home, pets, friends or family can change a downward trajectory to one that is more positive.

Finally, celebrate the season in a way that honors the way you were created.  You are special, even with all your bumps and bruises.  So live the season in ways that honor God, your body and all your unique characteristics.  Celebrate you without comparing your experiences with others. You were created like nobody else in the world, so live like nobody else.