Whether Dissociative Identity disorder is seen as potentially the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, or, if it’s seen like a fairy tale superpowered fantasy, we have a real issue in terms of respecting this disorder and the people who live with it.
I will present my viewpoint with a fictional DID story that I wrote that might help understand my point. Stay tuned.
If you give us a listen and you want to find out more, you can find us over at thebagsystem.com
I have alternate personalities.
That’s so funny!
How do you feel?
What if none of this is real?
What if I’m not real?
I think there exists a problem, not only in how other people perceive Dissociative Identity Disorder, but also, how those who have it, perceive themselves. There seems to be a rift, and both sides of it are adding to the mystifying of a human condition, and this possibly furthers disbelief from those who already discredit the existence of it.
What am I trying to get to? Let’s visit both of these polar opposites, and perhaps, after, we can meet somewhere in the middle.
The following type of statement, for some, can be a reality. The statement is this. “DID is the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’m constantly in distress. Nothing will ever be okay. My alters are a burden I will have to die to escape them.”
So, that may sound like a harsh reality to live. It would indeed feel intense. I can validate that feeling, as I, myself, had felt intense distress at learning that I have alternate identities; a lot of fear. It felt like chaos.
If this mentality persists, there are a few issues there.
One – Is that fully accurate?
Two – Is that what we want the general public to think of our lives with DID? That it’s the most horrific thing that anyone could experience?
Three – Is that the example of a mentality that we want to spread to other systems who have DID? That it’s horrible and hopeless?
I want to clarify first that I’m not saying that the traumatic experiences that lead to the development of DID are not worthy of the weight of extreme seriousness and consideration. What I’m trying to discuss are the symptoms associated with having alters or living with alters; with having DID.
If it’s okay with you, let’s take a bit of a walk.
I’m going out on a brisk but sunny day for a stroll to the local overpass to see the river rapids. The breeze picks up as I set footing on the first brick of the bridge. It feels like a small success to arrive at destination, and there’s an eagerness to set up comfortably somewhere and enjoy the day.
A reckless car suddenly speeds by like it’s on a race track headed for a finish line. It came at me unprepared. The turbulent whirl of chaos pushed me into the river; panicked and fighting for the surface.
It’s strange, but, though I can’t recall ever having had a near-drowning experience, the river and the struggle seemed familiar; like a memory from someone else’s dream.
It’s instinctive, but when someone tries to help me find the surface, I’m too influenced by the high and devastating distress of the moment. Everything is whooshing by and it’s inked in chaos. This is terrifying. I can’t be here in these rapids. I DON’T want this. I REFUSE to accept it.
This had not been like this before. I was finding my walking pace in the breeze… kicking pebbles and feeling my future. This river isn’t my life. I deny it. I am not in the water.
I could have reached out for a hand to help me out, but I’m convinced with such unrelenting certainly that I cannot permit this to be. This is too much to bear.
Time goes in all directions. It doesn’t always feel like it passes me by in the same way. I feel that I have been a lifetime in the rapids and everything good is, either gone; or never was to begin with.
Sometimes, I reach the surface, but the sense of safety is false, because somehow I am still drowning.
I don’t know who is in the water with me. I know nothing about them, and so i fear them. They must be part of this mess. I want nothing to do with them. Do they wish for my turmoil? Are they causing it? Do they inflict this? There is no good in this, nor could there be. I’m struggling… and drowning, forever, in a river of strangers.
I won’t ask for help. I will fight to stay afloat. Once in a while, I reach the surface and I can see clearly around me. Other times, I am below and I see the others above; like watching the real world from afar.
This was not only devastating; it was inescapable and that would be what my future held; Short breaths on the surface where I used to live as I wished. It was ruined.
I, but… then… there’s something; I… I’m not sure. Since crashing into the rapids, I had always reached the surface on my own. I may have given up sooner, but I let myself give in because staying at the tumultuous riverbed and never having to endure anymore seemed like some kind of peace, but I then was whisked like a wave to the surface, where while surrounded by the water I had come to loathe, I found it was holding me up.
For the first time, someone from in the whirl of strangers found the surface too; alongside me. She didn’t seem afraid; like she had known the waters in a more profound way. I tried to back away. I felt seized with fear. Who was this? Were they part of all of this? Did THEY do this to me? My thoughts raced, but were interrupted and then hushed to a more manageable breath, and I could hear past the panic.
Music. A sound. A familiar hum. An old Irish tune of recounting a beautiful girl selling cockles and muscles from a wheelbarrow by the sea… The song felt like… childhood. One of the few things I could recall that I clung to when nothing else went right, was that song. The strangers’ voice was steady, like she knew the tune more than I. How did she know this song? My song?
“I know.” the woman spoke with something of a Mona Lisa hint within her smile.
The words “I know” didn’t mean anything, but her voice, her tone, her expression; they all seemed so soothing,.. also, so eerily familiar.
“What do you want?!” I spat venomous fear at the source of the comforting hum.
“You already know, and you’re okay.”
“What?!” I was in fury. “I’m drowning!” I exclaimed, then, followed a fuddled whimper that was closer to despair than to anger and frustration.
“You’re floating.” Replied the source of the childhood hum. “We’re floating together. You’re okay.”
“Who are you?” I asked in trembling sobs.
“I am the tears you didn’t have to cry because they were shared among us. I am the hum that comforts you to sleep. I am the reminder to take a long, steady breath when you feel fear, like you do now. I am motherly compassion, and I’ve been here all along; with you. Thank you.”
Confusion swept in with the waves and settled among the fear; enveloped in a stinging haze. “What do you mean?” I asked of this stranger. “Why are you thanking me?”
“For letting me be with you on the surface.” Her tearful words melted her Mona Lisa smile, but then, her eyes smiled instead.
That moment changed everything. I thought, I knew what the emotion within the human soul could hold. I didn’t have to reach out for her hand; I could feel her as though we had touched. My confused fear remained, though simultaneously, I felt consumed with her peace, and her soft sadness, as though they were my own…
“What is this?” I asked, with trembling bewilderment.
“You stopped fighting me, so we both floated to the surface. You can feel what I feel, and I, what you feel.”
I was stunned, which overcame the fear that I couldn’t have fathomed letting go of before. “You seem so real. I was afraid of you, as it was like, you were part of the rapids and the rushing chaos. I didn’t know what to think or who to trust, and my only constant was fear. I was always comforted though, by that humming. I didn’t know it was coming from you. You seem so real, but you must be an angel, come to save me, or some kind of vision through a gift from a powerful being.”
The woman swaying on the surface of the river dried her tears, and her smile became more apparent; perhaps, a bit amused. “Is that what you are too?” she hinted the question at me.
My perplexed response, “No. Of course not. I’m just a person. Im only human.”
“As am I; no more, and no less, though, perhaps sharing my part of our whole of us; of you and me. You feel what emotions are mine because we share a soul and a mind. I am not an angel; just a piece of yourself that you forgot, and grew away from, until you could not recall, but I have been here; with you; in flesh, like you. No wings to fly, but when the rapids feel too strong, although we were separated so long ago, you are not alone to find the surface. You never were.”
“I was afraid of you. I hated you,” I began to swell in remorse.
“You thought you had to. The sun shines over these rapids most days. Ive been waiting beneath it, so Thank you, for looking… up. I wish you’d done so sooner.”
*** *** ***
We will call that the end of this analogy/story, but I want to explain myself a bit so that my meaning isn’t lost.
Nothing is all good, or all bad. We get a bit of both in everything.
Part of what might make someone see something as all bad… is perspective. It’s so difficult to see past fear and the unknown. Or also, the world is telling us that DID is a terrible and truly unfortunate thing. It’s the normal and understandable thing to do by listening to those messages.
If we adjust our mindset, and we work with the situation that we are living, we have a chance to rise from the rapids, as a team; working together, rather than against each other in eternal turbulence.
Or, on the other side of the coin, if others see DID like a fantastic, romanticized miracle, then isn’t it perpetuating a mentality that DID is too incredible and fairy-tale-like to be true?
Our systems might include non-human alters, like fairies or sorcerers, but we live in a normal human body, which is what connects us to the rest of the world. I think it’s great to want to embrace something to the point of wanting to feel special for having DID, which I believe is rarely the case for someone to think it, but when it happens, it furthers a rift between our community and the rest of the world who are just trying to understand.
Do we want to present DID like it’s special and cool? Like it’s a regular ride at the park? Kind of like a show? Some onlookers into the condition may see it that way; like there is something beyond human about us.
If we are distanced from the world around us, then what chance to we have of being seen as people struggling with a credible condition? If it’s put on that it’s like we have powers or we are the future of human evolution, then doesn’t that make us sound like science fiction? We deserve our current place in the Diagnostic statistical manual and we deserve for all clinicians to see us as living something valid and real, but what might we be doing to further ourselves from the goal of achieving full acceptance? Or, for others who are not systems, what can they change about the language they use to describe DID?
I don’t believe that those with DID should be silenced. We should be able to tell our truth. Our truth may be an evolving one. It certainly has been one for me. I used to fear within the haze of those rapids, like my story I just told, until one day, I realized that the emotions of sadness and rejection i was feeling belonged to another. I realized how significant and valid they were, and how I simply neglected to see them for their worth.
Now, I can work towards a future in cooperation; a future with hope. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be struggle too. We all have our share of that; some, more than others.
Some of us need more time than others to feel whisked away into the rapids with no light above, but my message, at the very least, is keep an open mind that things might not be quite what you think, until you release enough of that fear… to open your eyes…