Dissociation 101 – An Introduction

Transcript

Excerpt
Melissa gives an overview of her journey to discovering that she has Dissociative Identity Disorder. While there is clear struggle, there is also triumph.

My name is Melissa, and I’m part of The Bag System. We have Dissociative identity disorder. We want to show how we found out that we have DID so that others can find their own journeys towards their own answers. Also, we want to show that it’s not all a tragedy to have DID and that there can be fond, loving, lighthearted moments too.

If you give us a listen, and you want to find out more, you can find us over at thebagsystem.com

*Static Noise*.

I have alternate personalities.

It’s really funny!

But what if none of this is real?

How do you feel?

Small…

Can she just get out of my face?

*Laughter*

What if I’m not real?

*Static Noise*

How do I know that I have dissociative identity disorder? It’s kind of a saga, and probably more than can be fit in this one podcast, but I’m going to give a bit of an overview. 

Keep in mind that while initial reaction was negative and fearful, I grew to consider my Headmates with respect and consideration. This diagnosis was not an easy one to learn. I needed to then “learn” compassion for my Headmates, and “Un-Learn” the stigma’s I had been exposed to. While this episode may express certain confusion and negativity about having alters, this was nearly the start of our journey. What we hope to convey is where our relationship leads. The impression regarding someone with alters has been with an air of tragedy. Is it a tragedy? Does it need to be?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Our main symptoms growing up led to a misdiagnosis of severe ADHD. What essentially was happening… was maladaptive daydreaming. I would lose hours of my day, lost in another world, in my mind, creating scenarios, creating characters, worlds, where I lived my whole childhood and into my adult life. It started with a little shelf at the bottom of the closet in my room where whenever something happened that I wanted to escape, I would go there in my mind. I would slip under the shelf where there were Smurfs, where there was a whole town of Smurfs. And we got to be friends for a long time while having no idea what was going on outside of the world beneath the closet.

In the fifth grade, we were evaluated for autism, but that was because, one of my Headmates showed up in front of the class and behaved, or giggled, like they were a four-year-old girl, while I was 11. So the teachers thought that I was autistic, but really, I just had a younger inner child, or alter. The psychologist that was requested by the school evaluated us and said that I was perfectly normal, but that they might want to check to see if there were problems at home. I’m pretty sure that step was never taken, and that nobody verified to see if there were problems at home.

Over the years, there were voices in my head, inside my head; sometimes saying my name and I would grow startled. I heard it out of the blue where nobody was around me. I wondered if I was alone in my mind, but then I thought, “that’s ridiculous! Why would I not be alone in my head?” I knew of the concept of alternate personalities, and I thought, what if that applies to me? But I always shrugged it off. When interviewed for a mental health diagnosis to explain my symptoms that were growing stronger, like, that I had more self-destructive tendencies… or eating disorder habits, depression, and anxiety, I would recognize the DID questions that were asked by the interviewer. But I said, “Oh, DID. No. I don’t have that.”

Quite some time ago, I began to see, in the mirror; a little girl. I’m sad to say that I hated her. I took out all my discontents, all my rage, all my hurts, all of the filth I felt I was, I gave to her. I have journals about her going back to 2008. I took out a lot of harm on her; talking to her in the mirror, like she was someone else. Talking about her in my journals, like she wasn’t me. If anyone had known that I was thinking of her as someone in the mirror, as somebody, other than myself, as that reflection not being mine? I knew they would think that I was crazy. And that maybe, they would point out that, that girl… was me. I couldn’t handle the idea that anyone would say that the girl in the mirror was me. 

My relationship with this girl, whom I called SB, continued for years. My resentment for her grew. I didn’t talk about her to anyone. I was afraid to. I was afraid for anyone to know. I mostly thought it was a strange, personal quirk, but the more that time went on, the more I dissociated to the point where I lost connection with whether I even existed.

A new trauma occurred in April 2019, which woke up the post-traumatic stress from our childhood, which then sent us into an increasing spiral of one dissociative episode after another.

In September 2019, I experienced something of a cognitive mind-fire. It was where I was going from fact to fact, breaking each one apart and finding out how they were a fact, how they made sense, being fascinated by them and moving on to yet another fact. It was, at first… fascinating, but the more that it went on, the more intense it became, and the more I couldn’t slow down. I needed to know everything. I picked things apart until finally, I couldn’t pick apart one piece of information to the end of that thought, before jumping to the next. It was like I was going over a lifetime of learned information in a new form of evaluation.

Example: I always knew about what a bunch was and what bunches were in the basics, but then, I craved to learn “How many flowers are in a bunch? At least 13. But, what amount of one singular bunch added to another bunch which constitutes bunches? 2. So, there would have to be a minimum of 23 flowers for it to be considered bunches of flowers.

The days went from reflecting on previously learned information and re-analyzing it, to then, thirsting and obsessing about furthering my knowledge of those concepts.

I had to learn what caused light; what color combinations created what color combinations. I had to learn about perception, about atoms and electrons. Which colors absorb everything, and which ones reflect everything. About the lengths of each ray of light, and what each of those lengths meant as to what color they would produce. I had to know everything. And I felt there was no point in even existing if I couldn’t know… all of it. I grew depressed, but the fixation was unrelenting. 

It was a little bit eerie because this was so unlike me. I was never stupid, but I was never that interested in science, in physics, in mathematics, in linguistics, in learning what an inductive inference was and how it was a paradox. I didn’t care, but I didn’t absorb it either. I didn’t grasp it. But suddenly I was grasping everything that I had never been able to absorb before and spending my days consumed with learning and researching and finding out how to deduct a fact from a fact. 

I knew something was different. I knew this wasn’t me. I couldn’t express myself the way that I always had. It was like I was relearning communication, which was something that I was always very good at; though now, at a complete loss…

My friends were saying, “I miss the old Melissa. No one talks like this unless they’re writing their doctoral dissertation.”

Another friend says, “I miss how you use it to be. Go back to the old Melissa. I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Go take your effing IQ test.”

I was afraid that if I said, I kinda think I’m smarter, that I would be perceived as unbalanced and manic or having some kind of psychotic break. But honestly, it wasn’t that I was suddenly experiencing a high IQ. It was that my cognitive capacity to absorb and understand and bring in new information was increased compared to what my personal baseline level had been before.

So, it wasn’t that I was Einstein, and it wasn’t that I perceived that I was the smartest person in the world. It was that I thought there was something severely different. And when I would tell anyone, they absolutely assumed I was manic. There was no other way but for it to be mania and for the increase in intellectual capacity to be nothing but a perception of my mind.

What I later realized was that I was being passively influenced by a very smart alternate identity that I now know as John Q; a mix of his name, John, after my grandfather, and of the name that I had given him before I knew what his name was, which was IQ.

This passive influence ceased overnight, which was quite unlike what mania would have been. And at the time, I didn’t know that it was a passive influence from an alter. I thought it was ginseng. I thought I taken too much ginseng, which really Ginseng may have its benefits, but it also has its limitations.

In October 2019, I gave the closing speech to Tourette Canada’s conference 2019 in Winnipeg Manitoba. Well, it ended with a standing ovation to which I had worked toward for a year; working on the words that I would present; working on how I would make a difference with what I had to say. But then, after the conference, I reviewed the video to edit it in order to put it online. Something in me… shifted. Suddenly, I wasn’t looking at myself in a video giving a conference speech. I was confused, or someone was confused, because the girl in the video, as we would say, was not me.

That girl could not be me. She was so different. She had such an ability, her mannerisms in the video, her voice, the way that she looked, her skin, her eyes, they were not me.

I met with my psychiatrist a few days later. I explained to him, “I never went to Winnipeg. I didn’t go there. I don’t know who went to Winnipeg. That girl was so weird. I had to have stayed here.” So, this was someone who certainly didn’t identify with who Melissa was, or is.

After Winnipeg, there was a plan to go see my friends in New Jersey. I was on the bus, a long bus ride to New Jersey through New York City. So, I’m trapped in my mind in a traumatic loop about much of the way that I had been treated in the past. I had started off feeling angry… and feeling the injustice. But then, as the loop continued to go around and around, eventually there was no longer anger; there was pride. There was such absolute happiness that the unrelenting, wide smile on my face grew painful.

I had gotten a few hours further down the road and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop smiling. I started to realize that the thoughts I was having weren’t normal to be thinking. Things like that it was amazing to be awful, that it was amazing how I was really good at deserving terrible things. And by the time I got to New Jersey, as I was nearly bouncing off the walls and couldn’t stand still, my friends were confused, and they thought that I was joking about the things I was saying. They thought, it had to be some kind of logical explanation; that it was sarcasm. 

It seemed to hit them in the gut when they realized that when I was saying, or someone that I was sensing within me, who was feeling opposite things to me, opposite to what I felt or thought, that both things were true, that both my thoughts and their thoughts and my feelings and their feelings were true. It was absolutely shocking because these things that I was saying or that one of us was saying, and I was a bystander to we’re absolutely heart-wrenching. 

I called it self-esteem as to how I was feeling about being the best at being the best at what nobody else would want to be the best at. The best at being the worst and most undeserving and worthless. These were the opposite of my post-traumatic thoughts. While before, I felt distress; I now felt joy.

Internally, I was equally frightened. The only way that I could express my feelings and my thoughts was by writing them down to express that something was very wrong. I explained that the joyful tears about disturbing things were real and that I meant them, but that I also didn’t know what was happening.

Now, through communication with my system, I have learned that the alter that was out in New Jersey identifies their name as an exclamation Mark.

The next day, the symptoms had tapered down, and I was a lot calmer. It seemed like whatever had happened the evening before was just gone. But then, we go to the movie theatre and we watch a meaningful movie that is so seemingly significant, more-so than I’ve ever experienced in my life. This movie, I felt moved by in ways that were not in my capacity before; kind of like I was experiencing sight and emotion for the first time… and infatuated with it. This movie, I thought was so beautiful and so meaningful and absolutely opposite of anything that I could ever be. I wished I could be good like that, but that I couldn’t.

I went home early from my trip to New Jersey because I was frightened. I knew that I was not in control of the things that were happening, the things that I was saying and the things that I was feeling, or how I was expressing them. I thought that maybe I was having a psychotic break. Maybe I had neurological damage from my eating disorder, from when I had stopped eating and drinking water. When I got to the hospital, this change in me was obvious, and I was put on a medical hold. 

An orderly at the hospital recognized the signs of dissociation and told me that he felt that I was dissociating. I now know, that the alter from the movie theatre is 17 years old, and her name is Maggie.

A psychologist gives me an evaluation. They evaluate me for bipolar, also for depression. But in that same evaluation, based on something that I had said about a girl in the mirror, there was a suggestion that she was a possible alter. After I read the evaluation, I fell upon those words, “a possible alter named SB”, and I, I shuttered at the insinuation… and panicked. I thought it wasn’t, or it couldn’t be true; that it was a mistake. I had to fix it. I had to explain to my therapist and to my psychiatrist that I had misspoken and mis-explained. I needed them to understand that the suggestion of an alter was absolutely untrue. 

I had made a list of the reasons to which I did not have dissociative identity disorder. I was quite aware of what the word alter meant. So, I made a list saying that I never intended to make it sound like SB was an alter. “SB is in the mirror. She is not in me,” I would explain.

I also listed that when I said, “We,” in terms of speaking about myself, “We need to do this. We have one mouth. We have one body.” I would just state, “I have team spirit.” I explained that it was probably something to do with OCD, because I did in fact have OCD. Like, that if I said the phrase wrong, if I said “I have one mouth,” but then have to correct it and say, “We have one mouth” because that’s correct. It must have been some form of OCD related to grammar. 

While I was preparing the notes, I suddenly heard a kind of a flash of a sentence go through my mind exclaiming, “he’s going to know you’re lying!” I was shaken, but I stopped and thought, it must be the mania. I must be so manic that I thought I heard something or that I had some kind of hallucination. I thought it had to be the mania.

So, I go on to tell my therapist anyway; The list. And he pretty much accepted it. I don’t think he really figured out that it could be anything but mania.

However, my psychiatrist’s reaction, when I sat down with him was, “It’s not mania. You’re dissociating.” 

“Uh, what? Uh. Sure. I mean, I suppose that I dissociate?” I was kind of wondering what his deal was because he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.

Dissociating was getting spacey in your head and wondering if you existed, but this was my behavior. This was the way that I was thinking and speaking and expressing myself; the way that I would never have done so otherwise. How could that be dissociation? I was so puzzled.

I knew exactly what dissociative identity disorder was, but I simply didn’t put the pieces together. A few months later, after I was still thinking it was mania, because although he said, “You’re dissociating,” it flew right over my head, because that meaning was lost if it wasn’t further explained.

So, there was one day, I was blowing bubbles in DBT therapy, and I was like, okay, we’re blowing bubbles. That’s fun…and stuff. Which really… not to me, but I was sorta… okay, so, we’re just blowing soap bubbles, and looking at them float… and I’m feeling a little sad about the bubbles falling on the ground and dying. But then, I start bouncing in glee, and the soap water sloshed and fell to the floor. I could hear myself in this giggling glee, like a young child. I thought, I am the weirdest manic in the world. What kind of mania does that? So, I walk away… and I sit down, then I try to forget, because I was so embarrassed at how my mania was presenting.

I met again with my psychiatrist. I needed to know what was going on. He explained one more time that it wasn’t mania. Because once again, I was talking about how I was manic. He says “You’re dissociating,” and I give him a kind of a look like, are you kidding me? But then he pulls out the DSM in saying that, according to the DSM, it’s not mania; It’s mania-like. That wasn’t enough for me. I needed to know, “What was this?” 

So, I said, “I need to see my file.” 

My file was pulled up and he listed some of my diagnostics, which at the time, Borderline Personality Disorder was still on the list, despite only having two traits; one of them being a confusion of identity.

My psychiatrist comes up to a note in my file that he had a theory that I had alternate personalities. I got up from my seat and I slammed my hand on the desk. I said, “No! That’s not what she is! That’s not what any of them are!” And I remember collapsing my body to the desk and just giving up. 

And then, what I can tell you now, I forgot for two days, was that somebody else got up from that desk, and a little girl that had once blown bubbles in DBT got up and started running around the chair while yelling, “I’m running around the chair!” And then on the other side of the chair, she goes “Wheeee!” and plops down. 

I grow quiet. He asks, How do you feel? 

A very sullen and drawn-out reply was, “Smaaaallllllll.” I thought I just didn’t understand my own metaphor. 

A series of switches continue, and I’m so confused about what’s going on that I space out. When the doctor grounded me by repeating my name and telling me to look at him instead of blankly into space, I’m then thinking “I’m the weirdest manic ever.” And I leave the room, having forgotten all the switches and no longer remembering most of the conversation. I was thinking, what does mania-like disassociation mean? So, I Google it. And honestly, for days, I forgot that he told me that he thought that I had alternate personalities.

I told myself that I had made it all up. The more I thought about it, the more I festered, and the more I dissociated. Eventually, just sitting in my bed, staring out into the open, I kind of…. disappeared. Then began the weirdest evening and the weirdest night that I can barely even remember. I came in and out of brief awareness.

Morning came around and I was still sitting in my bed, and I realized, an entire night went by and I found messages that I had apparently sent to my therapist, to my friends. I found records of audio conversations that I had supposedly had, and of asking my friends if we had ever had that conversation to begin with.

“Jamie, did we talk just now?” 

“Yes.”

“Oh…”

There was even a message where I wrote something like, “I was going to ask it we spoke, but I can see I already asked? And you said, yes?”

I later made a joke to a friend, saying “I’m dissociating into a bag of Skittles, taste the rainbow.”

The day after remembering what my psychiatrist said about alters, I set up a call with my brother and my sister-in-law, Chriss and Jess, and I wanted to tell them what I had freshly remembered, where I was told that I might have alternate personalities, and I was deeply upset. 

I told my brother how I was so scared that I would go away in my head where an alter would take over and I would never come back. My sister-in-law replied, “We will love whoever is there until you come back.”

“No. Don’t talk to them. I hate them!” I hung up in heightened emotion, still rising, then I sat down… and somehow, just switched. No more distress; just joyful as we bounced to the room, going, Wheeeeeeee! Then happily typed to my sister-in-law, “I’m the best smile in this bag of Skittles.”

I realized something about the girl in the mirror; that she was the happy little girl that was giggling in front of my 5th-grade class that led us to an evaluation of Autism. She was the bouncing glee in DBT session, blowing bubbles. She was the saving grace that ran around the chair in front of the psychiatrist as she was going “wheeeeee!” She was bursting with a child’s joy on a playground dropping seeds as a child.

She wasn’t mania. She was a genuine part of me that had feelings, perspective, and age, and she was just a little girl. 

I couldn’t believe that I had treated her the way that I had. I then thought, maybe, since I can’t possibly call her SB anymore, maybe I could call her Skittle until I know her name. 

She then became very happy about that. She shrieked about it; literally, out loud. And whenever I would have a tic from my Tourette syndrome, she would imitate my tics and emphatically, joyfully, laugh.

I still hear conversations from my Headmates. I hear them talking to each other; not to me, not usually, but to each other. Although, once, I remember waking up and feeling like I was interrupting a conversation; A woman and a child were talking. A woman and child were talking and they had stopped talking because I woke up and they seemed to realize it. I lay there and hear a small, young voice, say, “Hi. I’m Dot.”

I got so scared. I literally jumped out of my bed, but I was later so remorseful, because, honestly, if she had felt like she could introduce herself to me like that, that she was able to talk to me after I had made up with Skittle… it was an honor. I’ve been trying to express to her ever since how fond and grateful I am that she told me her name with such light in her voice… and such trust that she could tell me her name, and later, even her age.

Sometimes, I still hear the others talking. Sometimes they tell jokes like a woman’s voice telling a joke, then, a man’s voice will laugh. 

I remember them saying the other day… and I usually forget what they say, but I wrote it down. I don’t know if they were talking about me, but someone reflected the words “That was when she was younger, though. I miss when she was 10.” I don’t know if they were talking about me, or someone else.

I’ve since gotten an official diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder.

I told my baby brother, my youngest brother, Jason, about the DID. And I was so… well, I was scared. I thought that I, well, I didn’t know if I could actually tell him. I worried, “What if he thinks that this is really awful, or if he doesn’t even believe me?” I said to him, “Had I told you that they thought I had bipolar?” 

He replied, “No. I didn’t know that. But that makes a lot of sense.”

I hesitated, but informed him, “Well, no. Apparently, it’s not bipolar.”

Baby brother then sounded confused. “No?”

“No. Apparently, I have dissociative identity disorder. Apparently, I have alternate personalities.”

I was near tears, but I was able to tell him about this little girl that I used to see in the mirror and that I hated… I then talked about her in a very fond, very light, very happy, impressed tone about how… she was such a joyful, excited soul; about how she had accepted me, and about how she had forgiven me after I sought my repentance; after I begged her to forgive me and after she got a new name; Skittle.

What came as a surprise was that my baby brother exclaimed, “Hi Skittle!” 

Her reaction was to shriek and to say, “Wow, I love you! You’re the best big brother in the world!”

Even though he’s my little brother, she asked him if he could be her big brother… and he said, “Yes.”

Light up the reviews!