Saturday, December 7, 2013

That Looming Shadow

     Dun, dun dun dun DUUUUUUUN!  And there it goes.  My alters have been quiet for weeks, and I always have mixed reactions from being relieved to being on edge when they go silent like that.  I try to tell myself it's just because I'm doing soooo good, that they don't need to pop up anymore with their problems, we're healing, we're getting better, wahoo!  Which is partly true, I am making progress and so crises happen less often and everything, including alter life, is more manageable.  Or because we're partially integrated, which is also partly true with some.  But when they don't respond to my checking in, or trying to give them a nudge it feels . . . ominous.  Like when you're talking to someone and they go silent and their eyes go wide and they're not looking at you but at something behind you . . . something really big behind you. . . .  For the most part, I ignore the unease that this causes and take advantage of me time getting as much done as I can.  Occasionally I'll have a few moments of doubt; "They're quiet.  Too quiet."  But I just shake it off.   And then one day turn around and there is that big secret, that big memory, that big realization that was just too much to handle before.  "Oh.  OH."  And damn if it doesn't suddenly all make sense.  It's bittersweet, really.  I am making progress.  I'm still making progress.  But it is not as free and easy as I was hoping.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trauma, Laughter, and Happiness

     During hard times in life it can be difficult to find someone who will listen or stay in a close relationship with you because most people don't like to be around a "downer".  Since trauma is outside the box of every day experiences that most people can relate to, it often makes them uncomfortable.   Some people try to understand, some people get angry, and many people just ignore it the best they can.  In general, people prefer to be around happy people.  The ones who get angry at hearing about trauma or at the person dealing with the after-effects of trauma are usually angry with at them for not being happy enough.  The ones who ignore it all can't deal with them not being happy enough.  Obviously, we would all prefer to BE happy ourselves.

     For me carrying around my trauma has been like having a giant boulder strapped to my back.  It goes with me wherever I go.  Now, clearly, I want the boulder gone.  I get very cross when people insist that I have chosen to pick up and carry the boulder.  Or when they tell me that I can just "choose" to "let go" and put the boulder down.  I do not believe trauma is something you can just "let go" without coming to terms with it, and that takes as long as it takes, it is a different time frame for everyone.  There is no "wrong" time frame to heal.  Real happiness is not a front to make other people comfortable, and a forced fake happiness is one of the worst miseries of all.  That is not the kind of happiness I am talking about in the rest of this post.  Laughter and happiness as the real thing can be used both to help get through trauma and to serve as a sign of recovery from trauma.  

     Laughter, oddly enough, can at times pair nicely with deep, dark, trauma.  It is such a paradox to the darkest layers of our psych that it balances it out, and helps to balance us out.  Humans are surprisingly resilient and one of our remarkable comebacks is the ability to laugh during and after our darkest points in life.  Some of the comedians and actors who play humorous roles that I admire most have surprisingly sad or difficult pasts; Ellen DeGeneres first saw the power of humor in her childhood helping her mother after a divorce.  After living through sexual abuse in her teens and enduring the world's recoil after becoming the most prominent openly gay public figure, Ellen is now one of the most well known (and now, well loved) people in the world who is famous for making people laugh every day.  Kelsey Grammer is known most for his role in the comedy show "Cheers" and "Frasier", but he used acting to help him cope with the violent individual murders of his father and sister, and the tragic deaths of his two half brothers in a diving accident.  Alan Alda spent years struggling to come to terms with his mothers' mental illness, but starred as a doctor in MASH, a comedy dealing with some very serious issues surrounding war.  His condition to take the part was that every episode have a scene in the operating room, so the show would not be a comedy that belittled or ignored the consequences of war.  Danny Kaye's mother died just before he became a teenager, right as he started to establish himself as a comedian with his peers.  Just a few years later he dropped out of school to start his life in show business and comedy.  All the comedians that I love I discover have dealt with very grim subjects in the past, and use their comedic relief to ponder serious subjects.  Perhaps that is why I am drawn to them.  Perhaps trauma and comedy are not irreconcilable after all.

    Oftentimes in dealing with trauma -most often- laughter is not possible, or at all appropriate.  And when laughter is appropriate it can surprising, irreverent, hysterical, giddy, daring, or deliberately pushy.  I think genuine laughter after trauma is the first real heartbeat of a life that is starting to live again.  Even though laughter can be a tool to help through trauma, I don't think true complete happiness can be reached until the trauma has been resolved and the brain has come to terms with it and made peace with it.  As I progress in therapy, memory work, and integration, laughter comes easier  The reality of memories that I'm able to increasingly deal with are more dark and heavy, but I can go work through them and come out feeling lighter and more whole.  More than I have ever been in my life.  Free to be happy.  Joy as a state of being isn't something I have, but I can see it on the horizon.  I keep brushing past it, catching a glimpse now and then.  And in between my dark moments and sometimes even during them I can laugh, and be happy.

     Trauma has the ability to strip us to the bone of who we are as human beings.  This happens not only during the trauma itself, however drawn out that may be, but during the long aftermath.  It is easy to think that the aftermath is a permanent state, and that there will be no room for happiness again.  As it turns out, down at that state of being stripped to our core, we are not our trauma.  In our natural state we are light and happy, and laughter comes very easily.

"God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites,
so that you will have two wings to fly – not one."

Sunday, August 11, 2013


     I've been considering what I should write here, or if I should write here, because I like what I'm doing and I want to continue this blog.  It's a tool to help others, and myself (selves) by sharing humanity and honesty.  I believe this is one of the best ways to bring healing, not only to a mental condition caused by abuse but to a majority of the problems in the world.  So I've decided the best topic to write about today is that I don't want to write.  I don't want to share.  I am at some point of integrating with alters, I really couldn't say how far.  The more I learn about them, the more I start to integrate with them and our focus becomes less on the trials of living with many people in one body and turns to what caused it all in the first place.  The magnitude of it all makes me want to hide under a rock.  Everything is less distant, less objective.  More real, more personal.  Having different alters knowledge and memory come together like one giant puzzle is a constant shock, like living inside a thunder clap.  It reverberates down to your bones and leaves you reeling.  There's not much you can say living in a thunder clap, after it has shaken your defenses away.  Everything is far too vulnerable.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Applying for Disability Under Mental Illness

     Disability and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I'm trying to figure out how much I want to share about this here, since it is a very sensitive and personal topic.  I think the only way to do that is to bluntly admit that I've been hiding for awhile.  There are plenty of things I don't want to talk about, and plenty that my alters aren't allowing me to talk about.  But because it's a topic that's personal, vulnerable, and lonely in it's little unspoken corner, I'm going to talk about what I can because I want this blog to be a resource for others who have or are going through something similar.

     Being on disability somehow took the phrase "I have multiple personalities" from a radical shock value statement, and opened it up to all the vulnerabilities of officially having a disabling mental disorder.  I was just recently born into the official disability system with "Severe Anxiety Disorder", "Agoraphobia", and "Dissociative Identity Disorder" stamped on my forehead.  I am still settling, internally and externally.  Being officially disabled only brings home more acutely how limited I am in every day life, and I have incredible frustration as it sinks in that this is a long term problem.  

     As undesirable as it may be to be labeled "Disabled", it is a title you really have to fight for when your disability is not clearly obvious.  Even with all the shock and adjustment, I know how fortunate I am to have made it this far.   But I didn't want it.  I still don't want it.  It took a while to convince me to even apply.  I still struggle to admit to myself that I need help, that there are things other people can do that I can't right now.  Gaining disability is a long process.  Rather than give a detailed account I thought I might share some impressions of mine.

-The first time I applied, it got turned down. I learned later that this is pretty routine.

-Finding a lawyer
I learned, quickly, to cast a wide net.  I looked up all the lawyers I could find within a reasonable radius and sent a mass email selecting the few who responded by how prompt and respectful they were.  

-Finding a psychologist
The information I needed about qualifications for someone who could officially diagnose DID were generally not available online.  I talked to at least 50 people in the mental field in my state in one week.  I spent at least 2 days sitting at the computer with a phone and notepad, doing nothing but looking up names, sending calls, receiving calls, sending out mass emails, and scribbling down names.  I had thought initially that I could just go to a local therapist and they would hand me a written test they pulled from their psych bag or something.  Then someone finally told me that I needed a psychologist for that.  Then I learned it has to be a psychologist qualified to give tests- it is not a small thing.  And finally I learned, that for my condition I would want (and I did want!) someone who specialized or had experience dealing with the condition I was testing for, in this case DID.  I found 3 people in the state who met that qualification.  The one I found who could take me on short notice, a Saturday no less, was 4 hours away, for a test that lasted 4 hours.

-After being at first infuriated with the whole "System" and everyone in it, I gained a strong respect for the professionals I worked with.  They were efficient and underpaid.  I suspect winning my case was a combination of divine intervention, dumb luck, and skilled professionals who probably took me in mostly out of pity with some intrigue into my situation.

-For the first year after my appeal for a hearing, my alters sabotaged my ability to focus or do any preparation for my case.  A month before the hearing it hit me how desperately I did actually need this.  I was, fortunately, able to talk with them a bit so that they told me some of what was going on, and they backed off enough that I was able to scramble through my preparation and hearing.  But it was not easy.  The hardest part of the whole thing, was getting past the amnesia, walls, and blocks in my head that would not allow me to remember or focus on what I needed to.

-The hearing- It is stressful.  Sooo stressful.  But the anticipation of the hearing was more stressful than the actual event.

Finding lawyers, psychologists, and mucking through red tape.
  • Be picky.  As with any professional, don't just go to the nearest one. Go shopping.  You are the client, and you want the best you can get.  Learn everything you can about them, don't be afraid to ask questions, or to move on to someone else if you are not comfortable.
  • Cast a wide net.  See how big your options first, then narrow it down.
  • Be respectful, but also determined.  No one's going to hand anything to you.  People will at times be rude, ignorant, and condescending.  Expect it, and don't let it stop you.
  • Be prepared.  You don't want anyone to waste your time, you shouldn't waste theirs.  Know your facts, have your paperwork done in advance.
  • Accept help.  You can't do it all yourself.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Defining Yourself

    I recently had my 27th birthday, and it has me musing about age.  Not just the "time flies" and "I'm mortal" stuff that has hit me since turning 25, but realizing that I don't really fit into any proper age category.  People squint at me when they first see me trying to figure out what I am.  Am I somebody's teenager?   Somebody's middle aged mother?  I used to think they looked that extra second with wide eyes was because I had acne or wore strange clothes.  Then my skin and my wardrobe calmed down and people still gawked, so I just decided to do whatever I want, people seem to look regardless.  Maybe it's because I'm tall.  Maybe now it's because I have a streak of purple in my hair next to the natural white streak coming in and favor granny cardigans and sometimes men's clothes.  Maybe its because with alter influences my demeanor ranges from unbearably cute to downright scary.

     College kids easily strike up conversations and I get the impression they think I surely go to their campus and they've just missed me somehow.  Teenage girls critically eye me up and down and try to initiate some haughty stare down, then tuck tail and run when I meet it with my stern "Too old to care or be intimidated" gaze and they realize their horrible mistake.  Some young men look utterly perplexed, alternately standing up straight as I approach and then slouching in relief when my granny alter is out -I'm not sure what the difference is here, except the "granny" attitude does seem to come through and they do seem to respond to her as a kind granny.  I often find it easier to strike up conversations with people 2 or 3 times my age, simply because I seem to have more in common with them, and yet, easily turn around and relate to teenagers or toddlers.

  I've been irked by the people cooing over me that I'm "too young and beautiful to waste away hiding", as if I should be wild and carefree going to parties, laughing big laughs with sparkling white teeth, flipping long locks of lustrous hair behind my shoulder, and being around people my own age sucking the marrow out of our youth.  "Live it up" they say.  Harrumph.  As if being solitary, or serious is a waste of life and old ugly people should be shut away.  As if after years of quiet insecurity trying to "measure up" in appearance I should now become a frivolous puppet to complete the transformation and fulfill other peoples' ideal of happiness.  I have always been solemn.  I have always made friends with whom I choose, of all ages.  I have always believed that happiness is to be found inside yourself not by partying or backpacking across Europe, although if that's what you want to do, and you already know about the precious happiness inside you more power to you.  At the same time, if I wanted to marry a pig farmer, have ten kids and never leave the county, well, that could be just as perfect.  And if, ahem, I am content spending my beauty and youth single, with great amounts of solitude broken by quiet intervals of friendships with all types and ages of people (those old ugly ones are some of my favorites, by the way), well that is my own sweet business, isn't it?

     After these conversations I always feel that I am batting away other people's definitions of me like a giant pesky cobweb that I have stepped in.  It clings in annoying barely there wisps around you that you think you've gotten rid of only to continually find strands of it sticking to your clothes and face and hair.  It is the definition of what they want, what they think you should be according to what they are vs. what they wanted to be.  That's my theory anyway.  I'm still batting at that one strand stuck in my caw.  I'm not wasting away damn it. 


Thursday, May 2, 2013

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Magical Thinking

     Magical thinking is the belief that ones' actions can change events logically unrelated to it.  It is commonly seen in children after a great loss or tragedy, but adults have perhaps a more complex or at least less discussed version.  In her book The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion refuses to give away her dead husbands' shoes because he will need them when he gets back.  It is almost as if by giving away his shoes, she would be ensuring that he cannot come back, accepting and sealing his death.  After Heath Ledgers' death, his girlfriend Michelle Williams' described her grief in her own "year of magical thinking" in an interview with ABC Nightline; "In a strange way I miss that year because all those possibilities that existed then are gone. It didn’t seem unlikely to   me that he could walk through a door or appear behind a bush. It was a year of magical thinking. And in a way I’m sad to be moving further and further away from that."

     Since being diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, life has been full of this kind of magical thinking. When dissociation or amnesia start to lift, a new reality starts to emerge slowly, layer by layer, as if coming out of the fog.  The mind only reveals what it can handle as it heals.  For me magical thinking has been necessary in the transition between amnesia and dissociation to and awareness and integration.  It wraps the mind in sort of a cocoon, one that's thinner than total amnesia but allows the mind to slowly accustom to having less and less shielding from awareness until it can handle having none at all.

     Life is full of irrational hopes- not things I admit to anyone else.  Because it is embarrassing to put them out there where every one's analytical brain can see their shy shameful nature and my analytical brain is forced to admit that the chances of their fulfillment are unlikely.  But I hold onto them tightly and quietly anyway because I need them.  I paint a fairy tale life- which is not unattainable for me, but not without dealing with some very harsh and gruesome things first.  I cut out the harsh and gruesome.  In my fairy tale world, everything is automatically perfect, and I never acknowledge that bad things exist when I'm there.  I escape to it whenever I need a mental break.  The perfect love story, the perfect life, safety and happiness.  Poof.  There you go.  I have it all planned out.  That in itself is not so bad, the part I am embarrassed to admit is that I actually believe this fairy tale world will show up and save me some day soon, automatically and with no effort, even though rationally I know it is not possible.  That I will not share with my therapist or detail here, because I'm afraid it will show how far off the deep end I really am.  I have started to be able to let go of this a bit so far in integration, and like Michelle Williams in her grieving process I am sad to see it go.  Even though I am starting to believe less and less that it is real, that it will just happen, I still hang onto it because it was a beautiful dream and I miss how it made me feel when I was there.

     There is even a point of integration when I recognize that I am holding on to illusions to ward off trauma, I recognize them as such and hold on to them anyway because of the comfort they bring.  I become transfixed with inane ordinary things- a stranger's Facebook page, a reclusive T.V. show, the front news page, some random subject for me to research and show fascination with.  Total distraction.  I was raped, I was programmed.  My dad threatened to kill me.  Wow, what a pretty scarf!  Does that come in green?  What is the fabric count?  What do I care about fabric count, fashion, or scarfs?  You know what, I'll look it up anyway.  When I'm so exhausted my eye is twitching, and alters are scurrying around in my head and knotting my muscles with tension from things we need to but don't want to deal with, I'm frantically looking up my cousin's friend's dog's name at four a.m.  because IT'S IMPORTANT!                   

     Life is also full of irrational beliefs.  My therapist spent months trying to convince me that my current living situation was unstable; "You are not safe there."  "Yes, I am."  No amount of fact checking could convince me otherwise.  In fact, I tended to black out a bit whenever those facts came up and I automatically was drawn to feelings of security and safety exactly where I was.  Some of that is due to alters that deliberately caused switching, amnesia, and blackouts because their job was to guard their secrets- guard from reality, which I would need to make safer life choices.  For me alter sabotage was intertwined with the need to make a safe transition into full awareness.  Like a little girl snuggling up on the train tracks with her blanket and the train whistle blowing in the distance.  I did not see the truth because I could not afford to, mentally, emotionally, or financially.

     As often happens in DID patients, my inner needs came into strong conflict with my outer ones, and my alters' priorities clashed in complete opposition.  Survival vs. Silence.  (I should point out that my alters, and most peoples' alters in general who sabotage or mutilate usually do so for what is, from their perspective, a very good reason.  Especially if they have been programmed, which by definition alters one's perception of reality.  They have been taught a lie and are reacting the best they can within that.)  Finally hearing that train whistle was a huge shock.  Another layer fell away and solidified, so when I looked back at the picture of my life it was now completely different than anything I had seen before, and now there was no reaching back to see it as I once had.  It's sad, but I think maybe I can handle it now, in gradual bits.  I think we are strong enough to be aware now.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Story of My Friendship with a Clerk

     One thing I do with great regularity every week is go grocery shopping.  I know most people do, but for me, it is an essential yet soothing ritual.  I go into a little trance walking the aisles and examining food, putting food in my basket fulfills my "gatherer" DNA and makes me feel that all is right with the world.  Because of many food allergies, I can't make many things from a box or preserved to last a long time, or eat out, so there is no backup if I run out of food.  It must be bought every week.  As a result I have become very connected to the whole process of shopping, cooking, and eating.  OK I'm obsessed.  Because of this I meet and chat with the store clerks on a regular basis, and if we don't know each other by name, we do know where the other is from, their hobbies, favorite foods, etc..  I LOVE food and many great conversations are started by asking what exactly I plan to do with that kale or eggplant.

     One such clerk worked at our local Safeway.   I may have learned her name, but I don't remember it.  I'll call her Karen.  Karen looked to be a lovely middle aged woman with long dark hair.  She had children that she liked to make healthy smoothies for.  I know this because she told me during a conversation about the fruit smoothies I was making at home, during which she told me that collard greens are excellent to add to them.  She shared her "insider" knowledge on produce discounts and deals, which, in my world, is like, BIG.  She remembered me every time I came by, to the point where we made eye contact and brightened until we got close enough for a conversation.  Perhaps I brightened the most; I loved being noticed and remembered, and anyone enthusiastic about food conversations earned my long lasting loyalty.

     After perhaps half a year of knowing Karen, I made a quick grocery run to her store with my sister.  The reason my sister came with me was because I was out of it.  I was losing focus, had a headache, and could feel myself losing control.  The only reason we went at all was because I was nearly out of food, but we both knew it had to be fast.  My sister was there in case I needed help collecting items or running my card.  At the counter our clerk was Karen, but by this time I didn't know it was Karen.

     One of my male alters was in front.  He stands tall in my 5'9 build and tends to look just about as intimidating as any older teen or young man, with a bit of scowl and defiance.  He wears my mens' black farmers coat with his fists jammed in the pockets and his shoulders somehow hunched while at the same time thrown back and taking up as much space as possible.  He wasn't rude, exactly.  But he stared at Karen with a blank expression and, no doubt, a scowl.  I remember peering out from behind him with the edges of my blurry vision gone black, wondering, or perhaps jointly wondering with him, "Who is this person and why is she talking to me as if she knows me?"  I dimly noted Karens' faltering smile, her conversation turning confused and dropping off as this person stared at her with no recognition or response.  Perhaps she looked down and hurriedly stuffed my groceries into bags, I don't know.  I don't know what he did- perhaps he nodded and smiled to the weird stranger, perhaps he made some noncommittal noise, or perhaps he just gathered his things and walked out.

      It wasn't until later when I was fully back with clear thoughts and full, bright vision that I remembered some fragment of what happened.  I was puzzled for awhile and then it hit me -"Hey!  I know that woman!  Wasn't that Karen?!  We talk about food and stuff."  I felt a bit sad that I hadn't recognized her but shrugged it off and forgot about it.  There was nothing I could do now.

     Some time later I saw Karen just after I entered the store in the frozen veggies aisle.  She stood next to a cart as she restocked the shelves.  I brightened, as usual, and walked towards her with a smile forming on my face and thinking of some way to greet her.  She caught sight of me and in a second emotions flew across her face: recognition, surprise, and hurt.  She jerked to face away from me and turned her face down, burying herself in busywork with the cart.  My smile faded, I slowed and stopped.  She obviously did not want to be bothered.  And why not?  Last time she'd seen me I'd treated her like a low level lackey.  I remembered now, I connected the dots as to why she was hurt, and that our budding friendship was no longer there.

     I had hurt her, I couldn't think of a way to explain myself.  Walk up to her and say, "I'm really sorry about last time, you see I have multiple personalities and I didn't know it was you"?  Make some lame excuse about, um, me being a jerk?  I didn't think of her as just a person to bag my groceries, I liked her and admired her.  Whether or not I had been in control I had hurt her feelings.  I walked past her looking at the floor.  From then on I was careful not to check out at her counter.  I have never been one to think of things as set in stone, particularly relationships with people, but all I knew to do with her was respect her as I could by giving her a wide berth.

     I'm sad that we're not friends anymore, and sad that it is a fairly regular occurrence for me when I do make friends.  I do make a point now, when I can, of making eye contact and conversation with acquaintances to send the message "I remember you!  I know you!" to maybe hold us over when I don't.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


     It's challenging, isn't it?  For everyone, I imagine.  And yet communication is one of the most fascinating aspects of life; interaction, observing expression, a light in the eyes, a pull of the mouth, body language, words- how we string them together and let them spill out of our mouths.

   Expression is a wonderful new freedom for me, one that I am gradually growing into.  I always knew how to explain and articulate well, but never to express from the heart.  To say what is REALLY going on.  One aspect in some individuals with DID who have been severely abused or programmed is what is called "cement mouth".  An occasional physical inability to speak.  One of my alters is mute, but silence on certain subjects has been the rule for all.  For some, the rule "don't speak" is very literal, and so writing or drawing is an acceptable way to get around it.  Because of this in our house we have created a 'safe zone' of messaging via computer, so that we can still discuss things that are problematic or stressful.  It is a designated area where anyone in the house can feel free to bring up any problem without fear of retaliation or judgment, where everyone will listen and think before writing a reply, and everyone will work towards a solution benefiting everybody.

     With all communication I have used a 'cheat sheet' I found on a DID support site.  Even the most basic steps like "listen," "pay attention to your feelings," "be honest," "be respectful," are new steps to me.  As basic as they are they don't seem to be commonly used.  Communication is vital to a multiple system, but invaluable outside of it also.  The biggest block I have seen to effective communication inside and outside of a multiple system is fear.  In fact working with my multiple system has provided a good model for insight into the rest of the world: 

     No one feels free to speak freely if they do not feel safe.  One does not feel safe sometimes from misconceptions, but more commonly from an unconscious awareness of danger or limitations one is living under.  Effective communication must always go hand in hand with an awareness of self and the environment, the responsibility (ability to react) to create and maintain boundaries, and the safety that comes as a result from having them.

     Effective communication is always based on equality.  No one in a power based relationship can communicate openly because the power balance is lopsided, and therefore one holds fear over the other.  To attempt to communicate openly in this situation would challenge the power balance and either push it to become equal or break apart.  Power relationships always require silence to last, and the one with the lesser power to choose between denial or misery.
     Communication in relationships of equality needs to be constant.  Unlike power relationships with established rules, relationships with equal members takes effort from all members.  Without continual communication, equal relationships will either fall apart or slide into a power based one.

     Since this is Martin Luther King day here in the U.S., this post is sort of my shout out to free speech, liberty, social justice, etc.  Communication is huge part of that, both changing power based relationships into equal ones, from a personal and national level, to allowing full expression and fulfillment inside them.  And sort of like the saying "Freedom is not free," good communication takes WORK, and guts.  It can give you freedoms, but it requires you to step up.