Monday, April 30, 2012

With Love, From Me, To You

      Most of us go about day to day focusing on tangible success without much thought to how we are faring beyond a physical level.  The emotions we feel and how we interact with each other is so important and so drastically overlooked.  In therapy I become more and more aware of the emotional body as comparable to a starving dog, a cowering living being fed the occasional scrap with the capacity to be so much more.  And while that's to be expected in a patient with DID as they have usually experienced strong neglect, I think most people today go about quietly and confused with their own inner emotional starvation not knowing what to do about it.

     One of the emotions I learned to block growing up was loneliness- it didn't mesh with the program I was set up with.  According to it I was supposed to stay away from people so loneliness was counterproductive.  Now that we are trying to break the programming we are a bit confused that we should want to be around people or interact and how we should go about doing that.

     Finding a support system, is, of course, invaluable, especially if you have lost a safe support system from your family.  I systematically identify this need and hunt down a solution- I NEED to talk- until someone surprisingly offers to listen- the full package, no strings attached.  Suddenly it's personal and I don't want to talk.  Not running from your support system is apparently the next step after you've found it.

     Friendship can be tricky.  We've agreed not to tell about DID until we know and trust a person very well, but alters switch in and out with everyone, whether we trust them or not.  Most friendships have been broken or distanced suddenly with no explanation, until we've learned to expect everyone to up and walk out at some point without saying a word.  With integrating memories that is being explained somewhat as stories of unknown fights with friends or different alters who broke things off start to emerge.  Finding someone who you can be close to without knowing you have multiple personalities is difficult, just as difficult as finding someone who can handle sticking with you once they know you have multiple personalities.  On the up side it's the perfect litmus test.  If you find someone who will stick with you through all that, they're a keeper. 

     It also applies to dating with DID.  Dating, as I have mentioned before on this blog, is a conundrum with multiple personalities.  Obviously.  The ingrained 'don't get near people' rule seems to apply to all alters- in a weird way that is kind of a good thing here, because I've got alters all over the spectrum in that area, and rules we set for ourselves don't seem to work.   I've wondered if dating an understanding transgender wouldn't be the perfect solution to make everyone happy and content, but even then I doubt it.

     I have also started to recognize a universal pattern, that we seek out people we are comfortable with, usually those we have something in common with.  When we no longer have that thing in common we leave.  Sort of a sad little happenstance in life, that people just drift apart.  If you're trying to change what you have in common with them, especially a bad habit or negative pattern, it can be imperative that you leave.  Similar to addiction, when you are trying to break out of dysfunction, it is difficult to be around people who are dysfunctional.  That doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't love them or necessarily break off from them.  It can mean limit contact to what you are safe with.

     The thing is we love everybody, we are most content when those around us are able to share in it, and dissonance with anyone is painful.  I miss people that I've had to leave.  We are learning the important distinction between keeping in touch with people and expecting them to be able and willing to be our support system.  I have found that everybody is lovable with wonderful things about them, even the ones who hurt others and themselves.  It's an ironic discovery considering one of the main core beliefs programmed into some of my alters was that I am unlovable.  It's not true for me, or any of my alters, or anybody else in the world.

     I think allowing myself to hold onto the good in people and knowing I have the power to limit my contact with the bad in them has made me less bitter.  It hurts less than completely cutting myself off.  Allowing myself to love is the most natural and freeing thing in the world.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Littles Books

I can remember loving books since I was about two.  My mom would pull out a huge bottom drawer by her bed full of children's books and set me in front of it, while she left to do chores around the house.  I browsed through them loving the pictures and the act of turning the pages, and later would pretend to read, something I wanted.

For a while in college I worked in the library.  Learning instructions was difficult but I loved cataloging and putting away books.  Being surrounded by bookshelves has always been comforting to me.  Once while shelving books in the children's section, I recognized a book from when I was little.  Something shifted in my head and things were fuzzy for awhile, and then I blinked to find myself sitting on the floor staring up at the head librarian.  She looked incredulous.  I looked down at a children's book open in my lap, and at the floor around me scattered with children's books.  After a guilty moment I hastily said "I came down here and these were all out of order, I'm trying to organize them."  "Uh huh" she said, thoroughly unconvinced, and walked away still looking a bit dazed.  I scolded myself that I needed to pay better attention on the job, a message I was always telling myself in nearly every area of my life.

It is one of my goals to collect books for my younger alters that they like.  I still prepare myself with a little story whenever I buy one or check one out, 'For my niece' or 'For a little girl I know'.  But so far no one has questioned me buying coloring books or little toys.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Expressing Life in Mental Illness

Angel in the Dark

     I entered a piece in a local collection accepting submissions from those with and around mental health.  Thanks to advocates mental health is now a community not just diseases, imbalances, disorders, or conditions people must bear completely on their own.  I am glad and proud to be a part of this community, and wanted to participate.  I meant to write something for it too, but in the short time I had could not come up with something that felt right.  The theme was about expressing life.  I tried to come up with something optimistic and triumphant, but it felt a bit hollow.  I have seen places and people that only allow happy stories of overcoming trials in the spirit of encouragement.  Depressing stories are banned, as implicitly are those who have not overcome.  I guess I assumed (erroneously I hope) that expressing life was meant to include only encouragement and happiness, to show that people dealing with mental illness could persevere.  I identified "life" with Easter, spring, hope, renewal.  I tried to write about mental illness from that angle.  I couldn't. 

     My experience with DID has certainly had many positive things about it.  I love my alters.  I love my life with them, I love that I have the opportunity to bring new awareness to DID, child abuse, and mental health.  But that is using bad experiences as a tool turned into something good.  DID results from trauma and make no mistake about it, it sucks.  Losing time, always being tired and confused, being out of control of my body, lost and broken friendships, wading through red tape for official recognition and help, that sucks.  That is part of my life.  I am not going to paint it over with daffodils and claim that any kind of mental disorder is a fun little obstacle course that can always be overcome.  I believe that any problem can be overcome with the right amount of time and the proper tools, but that is not today for everyone.  Some people can't, haven't, or didn't overcome, and that's OK.

     Life includes everything, the good and the bad.  With mental illness, there is usually lots of bad.  But that is only one aspect of life.  That doesn't mean that under the bad isn't vibrant life and many different wonderful experiences, the same as anyone else. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Rule of Abuse in Dissociative Identity Disorder

 Some Background on DID:
     Dissociative Identity Disorder starts as a way to cope with being helpless, with being unable to change a traumatic situation that occurs repetitively or over a long period of time, typically at a young age.  In persons with DID, the mind has created a way to try and change their reality inside because they could not change unbearable realities on the outside.   Dissociation that has reached it's most severe form as a system of multiple personalities is a form of protection.  Each personality comes out to handle a job that is overwhelming or harmful for the core or "main" personality.  Each personality has their specific job to do, and they only come out to do that job.  This is an efficient solution to cope with a really bad situation as long as the system lasts.  Once an alter system develops it continues indefinitely without anyone the wiser until a significant life change, or additional high stress may cause the system to break down.  When this happens alters are still present, but no longer come out for one specific function or share and block knowledge making their presence unnoticeable.  After a system collapse the presence of alters can become very noticeable as they are no longer able to regulate who comes out for what.  In the core personality of the person who has no knowledge of alters, this often presents as memory loss, extreme confusion, pieces of their life that just don't fit or make sense, reports of them acting out of character, losing control of their body and thoughts, "out of body" experiences.  They may experience headaches, dizziness, and temporary loss of senses such as vision.

 How the Cycle of Abuse Is Present in DID

     -An Inability to React
     Although a protective mechanism from one or many traumatic situations, outside of those situations and later in life, DID can also be seen as a severe inability to react.  This is especially true during the time period between a Multiple System collapse and recovery- whether that recovery be integration or simply awareness and open communication between alters.  In Dissociative Identity Disorder, the ability to react is stifled.  Instead of recognizing a problem, considering their options and taking action to deal with it, a person with DID will either automatically dissociate to numb themselves from any awareness or feeling, or switch alters.  With a switch happens at the first indication of a problem, the core personality is often never even aware that there was a problem to begin with.  If the alter that switched out deals with it, it is possible the core personality will never be aware the problem ever existed.

     -The Connection to Abuse
     Because these coping techniques, dissociation and switching, have been developed out of an inability to change unbearable situations, the core personalities' ability to problem solve is never developed.  Because persons with DID usually come from an abusive background, their being afraid and unable to solve problems is key to remaining part of an abusive cycle.  Cruel, violent, and manipulative people do not encourage their victims to think or pay attention.  They certainly do not encourage them to assess, research, or network their way into a fulfilling life.  DID is the extreme of dissociation, but it also seems to encompass the extreme of an abusive mentality.  People with DID that have may not at one time been "allowed" to respond to problems or fend for themselves are often now not capable of doing so.  Their lives often seem catastrophic because numerous tiny problems have snowballed out of control simply because of their low ability to recognize and respond to problematic situations.  

     -Abuse Encourages the Impediments of DID
     If they are still in the same environment as when the DID developed, sadly the ability of a DID patient to react and respond will probably not be encouraged.  More likely it will be suppressed and thwarted for the purpose of keeping them under the control of someone else.  This is an excessive and dangerous method of control, because it completely stumps a persons' ability to care for and protect themselves- from emotional abuse, from physical violence, for proper nourishment, hygiene, and a number of problems that an inability to react and respond can lead to, from a misunderstanding with a grocery clerk to a collision on the freeway.  The person or persons encouraging this impediment cannot and usually will not even attempt to protect these people who cannot protect themselves.  It is a selfish motive with seriously negative effects on their victim.  

     -Disease and the Link to Abuse in DID
      Disease deserves it's own paragraph writing about the connection of abuse to DID.  So many people with DID come with a ridiculously long list of ailments and diseases rarely seen in a person living in a region with modern medical care.  The extreme level of dissociation in DID can make it extremely difficult to be aware of the body, notice discomfort, or consistently stay with a routine of treatment.  Most DID patients come from an abusive background that caused the long term trauma resulting in DID.  If they grew up with severe neglect, it may not occur to them to seek medical treatment for anything from a burn to a broken leg.  They may not think they are worth helping, or that nothing short of immediate death is worth mentioning to anyone.  This is a continuation of the denial they grew up around.  If they were victims of physical or sexual abuse, the person has likely learned to minimize life threatening situations, and ignores disease just as they were trained to ignore assault.  
     Many alters of DID patients are conditioned to keep secrets.  They may hide medical conditions, or be unable to speak about them or ask for help.  By their nature alternate personalities hide information from other alters, especially the core personality.  Combined with alters "switching" in and out, it is very difficult for a person with DID to notice if something is wrong, make an appointment, keep the appointment, and be able to stay with a treatment program.  Also due to frequent switching and dissociation, it may be difficult for persons with DID to maintain even the most basic hygiene, nourishment, and first aide.  Added to all that is the fact that nearly every System of alters has at least one alter who is self destructive, or destructive of the body.  Self inflicted punishment and mutilation are extremely common.  The overall health picture of someone with DID is one of general neglect, frequent illness and injury, and extreme difficulty getting and maintaining medical care.

     -Communication is Cut
     In every cycle of abuse there is the rule of silence- don't talk about it, don't ask questions, don't tell anyone, don't speak up.  Nowhere is this more true than in Dissociative Identity Disorder.  A core personality who has suffered any degree of mistreatment usually cannot talk about it because their memory of it has been delegated to a different part of the brain- to another personality.  Some alters have complete or partial inability to see or speak, preventing them from observing or telling others what they know.  This includes other people but it may include other alters in their system as well.  Some alters were created as a vault for fear, anger, or knowledge.  They have been specifically designed by the brain to keep what they know and feel locked away from everyone else.  With severe trauma being inflicted on a child, -in this case usually by someone they depend on- there is always a spoken or unspoken message not to talk about it.  A child may at first try to seek help or stop it, but they are always very inherently aware of how vulnerable they are.  Since in these cases there is no help to be had, alternate personalities develop to help the child survive.  

     -In DID, the Rule of Silence is Literally Binding
     Unless they learn differently later in life and recognize the pattern and become aware of what they are doing and the effect it has and make a conscious effort to change, people taught an abusive cycle will take the rule of silence to their graves.  In the case of people with DID, the rules of silence always accompanies a severe inability to function, and unless they can overcome the silence, this too will never change.