I can’t do another week talking about my divorce so I thought I would talk about a coping method most people don’t know much about or don’t have accurate information about. Here’s the state of the union in my head:
The United States of Amy is how I like to think of all my different personalities (more accurately “multiples”). Not everyone is truly united. Some are destructive. Others try to lead. And others still try to either improve things or hide from them. Yes, I have dissociative identity disorder or DID (used to be called Multiple Personalities). It doesn’t really work the way they portray it in Sybil and other movies. Another thing I feel passionately about is the fact that people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of abuse and not the perpetrators. Another misnomer from the movies. And something no Hollywood exec will tell you…it’s genius!
That’s right, I’m saying it’s a good thing…but only while the trauma that is causing it to happen is going on. After we are safe and free from our abusers (or whatever severe trauma caused our mind to split) we no longer need the coping ability but it, our brain, doesn’t know that. This is where struggles come in.
First, let’s chat about why it is so amazing! The human mind can do so much that it is truly impressive. If you find yourself in a traumatic situation your mind may choose to parse certain things off. Assign them to a certain section or “part” of your mind. For example. When I was being abused as a child it was made very clear to me that if I ever told anyone I would be killed. So my brain took a portion of itself and said, “Only you know about the abuse. Don’t tell the others and don’t even let them know you exist.” And that’s exactly what my mind did. That one part alone knew what to do to avoid additional pain or abuse while with my captors. But when I was home or at school, I had no idea that anything bad had happened to me.
I will say that there were signs, I wasn’t just a happy go lucky kid. I was very quiet. I’m the only 2nd grader I know from my year to flunk almost everything. I honestly should have been held back but in the 1980’s we weren’t as focused on our kids as we are now. So my copious signs that I was being abused went unseen.
The most common example we hear of is in a PTSD situation where a soldier who has returned home from war drops to the ground at the sound of a car backfiring. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you have PTSD you also have DID but it’s a similar concept and there certainly is overlap. The soldier’s brain has realized how to stay alive and so without asking permission, protects her from perceived danger.
Some people can have hundreds of “alters” (also called multiples) while others may only ever need a couple. I had well over 100 when I started therapy. But with the help of my therapist (whom I call Eliza for the sake of the blog) I have integrated many of those parts back into my mind. This means they know about each other and are no longer living in a sort of loop or time capsule. You see, the part that knew I was being abused and wasn’t supposed to say anything thought that it was the same year all the time. She thought she was in Washington State long after I had moved. And also believed that I was still in danger. Can you imagine spending over 40 years just trapped and reliving trauma over and over with no hope of an end in sight? This, in my opinion, is why suicidal ideation is so common in people with DID.
My therapist’s job then is to identify each part and help it to learn that it is part of a whole. To learn that it is not stuck in that place or time anymore. That it is safe now. Eliza is particularly skilled with this. I had one part whose job was to punish me physically (cutting) when she perceived that I had done something bad. This was bad according to the people who injured me. Not actual bad behavior. It could be that someone was mad at me or that I had thought about talking about my abuse.
Eliza had some difficulty at first getting this part to agree to stop hurting me. So she got creative. She told the part she was giving it a promotion of sorts. She said that that parts new job was to be a tattle tale (this was a young part—ya, they have different ages) the part was intrigued and eventually agreed that rather than punish me herself she would tell on me to Eliza by calling her and “tattling on me” I have had very few times where I have actually injured myself since we got her to change her routine.
Now, yes, we still need to help her integrate into the rest of my mind so she isn’t a solo act anymore, but this was a big help towards making me safer.
Some parts have traditional names, some are identified by their function, and others have still other ways of identifying each “personality”. I am intentionally not listing my method because I don’t want to activate any of them as I’m writing this.
So remember the next time you watch a movie like SPLIT, actors like James McAvoy may have done a lot of research on DID (and he did) but they are still choosing to portray us in a negative, scary, even violent light. And that is a lie. It perpetuates the stereotype the people with mental health disorders should be feared rather than fostered.
When a part is successfully processed back into your mind and is no longer split this is called integration. I have integrated a LOT of personalities but I still have a ways to go. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer them. Even though I have DID I am not a total expert on it.
This concludes the State Of The Union of the US of Amy. I hope it was helpful to you! Meet me in the comments section with questions and comments. If I know that answer I will be happy to share it. Thanks for reading!!