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.


Janet Hasson said...

This post struck so deep a chord with me that I had to go away and give it a few days to settle before I could comment. Yes, I can totally relate. I have my own magical reality, where the entire future manages to happily arrange itself, practically under the title "Happily Ever After" within a month or two. It used to be that I felt like it had to all be settled into perfection within a week, and then it stretched to a month, and now it's gone to a month or two, maybe three. I can exist in my life as it is for a few months, and then a few months and then a few months more precisely because I have that magical thinking giving me the out that I won't have to live with these problems and fears and issues for years and years. You're so right, that the brain only can handle what it can handle. Thanks so much for posting again, and reminding me that I'm not all that strange, just a human being adapting to a really strange life.

annette said...

Thank you for sharing with me also! It was very hard for me to admit to myself that my "happily ever after" was not going to show up at the door any minute, no matter how long I had been believing that. On the upside, now I can look at my happily ever after and acknowledge the hard stuff in my life at the same time. I think happily ever after is still real, maybe it's more possible now because I can see more of what I actually have to do to get there. I was so afraid it would disappear in the face of reality, I am very relieved that so far it hasn't.

Megs said...

Amazing find and perfect timing. I am at exactly the same stage. Fearful to lose my safety nets yet feel stronger to continue and allow all the rest of the bad memories reveal themselves. Thank you! All my alters are Disney characters. I wonder who I'll be when I'm happy... Me! ;-)

anliz said...

That is such nice feedback, thank you. I'm glad this post/blog was useful to you. I think when you're happy, you'll still be all of you, perhaps more unified, sort of like a collaborative team throwing a party under the same roof ;)