A Letter M. Night Shyamalan, About the Dangerous Stereotypes in His New Film 'Split'

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Dear Mr. Shyamalan,

We wish to inform you of the harm that will be done when your film, “Split,” is released on January 20, 2017.

We write to you about those around the world who live as plural: that is, many people sharing one body.

In the media, plurality is only ever portrayed as a mental illness: “multiple personality disorder;” now called dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Plurality and DID have always been sensationalized and were first brought into public discourse through film.

The “Three Faces of Eve” was released in 1957 and introduced “multiple personalities” as a strange and pitiable condition.

In 1976, “Sybil” was released. It was a film adaptation of a fictionalized account “based on true story;” a distortion of truth for which we are continually subjected to stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

Pop culture has had an unhealthy obsession with us ever since.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, other fictionalized accounts “based on true stories” pulled us into scandals and moral panics that destroyed families, careers, lives and the credibility of all things related to plurality.

We became objects of unwelcome fascination and were said to have psychic powers.

We could fry kitchen appliances and change our bodies “with our minds.”

No “true story” has ever been told.

“Split” represents yet another gross parody of us based on fear, ignorance and sensationalism, only much worse. The harmful bigotry perpetuated by your horror film will inspire a new wave of revulsion and hatred against plurals and plurality.

It is a well-known fact that persons with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of crime than commit them. Your film is yet another in a long tradition of portraying us as dangerous and unpredictable villains.

It makes us targets and encourages violence against us.

Lawmakers call us “insane.”

Doctors dismiss us as delusional for believing in ourselves.

Academics ridicule our very existence when they teach of it as “controversial” to new generations of practitioners.

Laypeople objectify us with their pity while whispering to each other:

“Well, you’ve seen that movie haven’t you?”

Fictional portrayals have real-world consequences.

Those of us with DID already face barriers to care and often insurmountable life challenges and violence from society’s prejudice against neurominorities.

Those of us without DID, for whom plurality is not a disorder, live in fear of ever being discovered, psychiatrically labeled and blackmailed into treatment.

Plurality in and of itself is not a disorder.

It exists both apart from and as a part of a disorder.

It is a way of being, living and relating to this world.

This is not a radical concept.

In fact, the criteria for DID in DSM-5 allow for the existence of non-disordered plurality beyond the purview of psychiatry.

In addition, many studies over the years estimate that anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the general population meet the full criteria for DID.

This makes it at least as common as schizophrenia (1 percent) to more common than bipolar disorder (2 percent).

One to 3 percent translates into roughly three to more than nine million people in the United States alone.

However, those of us meeting the criteria for DID and receiving treatment are the only plurals who can be documented.

The number of plurals living without DID may never be known.

Thus we remain invisible and afraid. Such is the life of a target.

As long as films like “Split” continue to be made and distributed, tens of millions across the world will suffer for it. Any hope for the visibility and dignity of the plural community diminishes with each ticket sold.

Now you know.

Kind Regards,

L & G, et al. for ΝΥX

S for NVFG

C & S for NS

AG&

R & T.A.M. for AC

J & J for OF

JH of TCS

FS&

M&

P.L.S.

K. et al. of K.M.

TSS&

F&

I&

JB

References:

What Are Dissociative Disorders?

Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults, Third Revision

Astraea’s Web

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Image via “Split” Facebook page.

 

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How the New M. Night Shyamalan Movie Hurts People With Dissociative Identity Disorder

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What if someone made a movie about you – only you were the villain? Not a brilliant, super-villain who is kind of cool, but someone horrifyingly bizarre and dangerous. That’s what M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie “Split” is doing to me and everyone with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Whatever happens with the movie — fame or flop — the ads and trailers are already driving home the message that everyone needs to fear people with DID.

What all this means for those of us with dissociative identity disorder is getting hit with a cultural tidal wave of suspicion, intolerance and abandonment that starts now and lasts long after this movie makes its money and leaves town. Once again, people with deep psychological wounds get mis-cast as the perpetrators instead of, more realistically, victims of violence. Along the way, it lowers the odds of us having friends, finding love, working at terrific jobs and getting care. At the same time it ups the odds of abandonment, rejection and someone protecting themselves against us with misguided force. In fact, while people with DID are organized differently inside (instead of one identity, we have several “alter” identities) we’re no more likely to hurt people than anyone else. Our alters are there to protect us and to help us function in spite of our emotional wounds.

This movie makes people with DID the next in a long line of cultural scapegoats. Audiences will sit through it, shivering delightfully in the dark and be reassured once again that all the evil in the world can be blamed on “the crazies.” Pass the popcorn.

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Image via the “Split” Facebook page.

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10 Things I Wish People Understood About Living With Dissociative Identity Disorder

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Not long ago I was doing pizza and movie night with some friends when that thing I hate happened. A character in the movie, wild-eyed and demented, was revealed to have… dissociative identity disorder! (cue the creepy music)

Some of my friends shuttered, some laughed, others scoffed. They didn’t know someone with dissociative identity disorder, or DID, was sitting right there on the couch, slice of pizza halfway to my mouth. I wanted to tell them DID isn’t like that. I wanted to explain it’s really just another way of being human. It’s our way of managing life and not a joke or a threat to them. In the end, I realized my friends didn’t know enough about DID for me to even begin the conversation.

Here’s a list of what I wish everyone knew so we could really talk.

1. We’re not all ax-murderers like you see on TV. We were overwhelmed by pain and suffering when we were children. It changed us and now our minds work differently than yours. But just like you, we want to have a good life.

2. We have different identities/alters inside one body. They are different ages, have different feelings, ideas, talents and agendas. We work very hard to maintain a functional system that gets us through the day.

3. Switching between identities/alters isn’t very dramatic. Most of the time the switches are internal, seamless and invisible. And, unless you’re our therapist or a really close friend, they’re none of your business. We’re handling things the best we can.

4. When we lose time, it’s really lost. We’re not faking. If anything, we’re pretending we know more about what happened than we really do.

5. If a teenaged identity/alter takes over, they’re not an adult pretending to be a teenager. They’re a real teenager. Demanding they think, act or decide like an adult isn’t going to work. Relate to them based on their age and unique personality.

6. The adult out front isn’t the real us. They are the identity/alter who’s best at getting along in the world. The real us is all of us together.

7. If you’re dealing with us in a crisis and kid identities/alters come out, don’t ignore them and try to force an adult identity/alter out instead. If we could get an adult out front to run things, we would. Help the kids feel safe and our system will stabilize.

8. When the system feels threatened, protector identities/alters can come out. They may be angry, cold or determined to escape. Please don’t take this personally — we’re just overwhelmed. The best way to help is to back off and let us get safe.

9. We already know DID is “controversial.” You don’t need to remind us some people think it doesn’t exist — which sounds a lot like we shouldn’t exist — which sounds a lot like what we heard from our abusers. Not good.

10. There’s nothing wrong with the way I am. We’re different in some ways and like you in lots of others. We share the same world and want the same good things you want. We’re not “crazy” or weird — just a little complicated.

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Dear Person With Dissociative Identity Disorder: You Are Beautiful

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We are people made of people. We are like fractals. We are many within one. We open like a thousand books, write upon a thousand pages, dream a thousand dreams, within one. We glimpse the world with many eyes, infant and aged, woman and water. We speak to the sky, the soil and every living thing with that within us which was kept original.

When we sing, we can harmonize with ourselves unaided. We are as magical and contradictory as the music of a deaf composer, “Beethoven’s 9th.” When we paint, we are our own blended colors and clashing contrasts. Within us, we are our own opportunity to create, over time as all relationships unfold, loving families that are more or less accepting of one another. We carry our homes on our back, our many hearts within one body, like thousands of treasures.

When we write poetry, we use all the tabs, italics, pronouns and fonts to express our many perspectives. When we cry, we are the rain pouring, the fire raging, the ocean surging and the tall grass waving gracefully in the eye of the storm, all at once. When we feel these many things simultaneously, we are Picasso’s “Guernica.” When we dissolve, we are a Jason Pollock or a Vincent Van Gogh. When our smallest selves speak their voices, it is a Mark Rothko sunrise. When we reflect, we see Frida Kahlo, or simply the mandala within a kaleidoscope, creating an infinite number of designs with an ever shifting array of visible pieces and a mirror.

We are not the flower that opens in the winter snow. We are the oasis blooming in the desert, suddenly and with such tremendous vigor and diversity you would think it had been there for hundreds of years. It has, and the desert has taught those living things to grow quickly, spread widely and then to retract for months and years until water returns. Our leaves shelter lizards and wave to birds. Our vines crawl over rocks, which harbor sweet cool liquid calling out not only to us, but to cattle and gazelles, mice and people. We are dazzling in our response to the life source in an inhospitable land.

We are the rolling cracks in a mountain that has lived for 400 million years. We are the dust and sand of the mountain, as it blows away into infinity, trickles down rivers and streams and shatters under earthquake pressures. We have known annihilation, as keenly as we know the other side of annihilation: creation, rebirth and the formation of something from the nothing that was left behind.

We are survivors with dissociate identity disorder. We are beautiful.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Want You to Know About Dissociative Identity Disorder

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To some extent, everyone has different “selves.” We have a self we show at work, a self for home and another for when we’re around friends. But what if you really had other people sharing your body and mind?

You may have heard of Jekyll and Hyde or “Sybil,” but today I want you to forget everything you’ve seen in the media about multiple personalities. I want to talk about what it’s really like to live with dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Mild dissociation is actually an everyday experience for most people. For example, when you drive down a familiar route and don’t remember the specifics of one particular journey. The dissociative spectrum ranges from this kind of normal dissociation to the severe dissociative amnesia experienced in dissociative identity disorder.

Imagine not remembering any of your childhood, not remembering huge chunks of your adolescence and having no memories of the key milestones people usually take for granted. This happened to me. 

Since moving away from my family home at 18, I’ve found myself in numerous embarrassing and even dangerous situations with no idea how I got there. When I lived alone, I would find that hours passed in what felt like seconds, and suddenly I was in a different room, wearing different clothes or even away from my home. I’ve found myself drunk with no memory of even buying alcohol. I’ve found self-harm wounds I did not inflict upon myself. I’ve been told I behaved in a manner that’s extremely unlike me and said things I don’t remember saying. I’ve even found on a number of occasions I’ve overdosed with no memory of taking the pills. This can be the reality of someone who lives with DID. Notes are found in different handwriting styles, scribbling appears on your university essays and you find yourself slowly losing more and more time.

DID can develop as a result of chronic childhood trauma — my mind couldn’t cope and split into different parts to deal with it. One part could endure horrible abuse at night time so my main personality (sometimes referred to as “the host“) could happily go to school the next day not remembering the events of the night before. It becomes a coping mechanism — numerous selves formed without my knowledge to hold different memories and to play different roles in life. Each time something traumatic happens, another split or even several splits can occur.

DID is an amazing way the mind protects us from the awful reality of childhood trauma. Every time you lose time, your mind is switching back to one of the other selves previously formed, who are known as alters. Alters are complete personalities — they have their own name, age, likes, dislikes etc, which can be very different from the host. Personally, my alters range from a baby to a 72-year-old woman. Alters may speak differently or have different mannerisms to the host, may be different gender to the host and may even suffer from different physical and mental conditions.

There’s not enough awareness of this complex trauma disorder and often people are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia (because they hear voices, which, in the case of DID is alters talking) or borderline personality disorder. In my own experience, even psychiatrists have said they don’t believe in the disorder and have accused me of lying about my experiences for attention. This is dangerous. It makes it even harder for people struggling with DID to come forward about their experiences.

There are charities out there that are trying to raise awareness and provide much needed training. One such charity is the UK-based Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors and the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

The media often portray multiple personalities as something to be feared, creating dangerous and evil characters. The reality is like living in a shared house, trying to come to mutual decisions and finding through therapy the jigsaw pieces of memories can be put back together slowly. It can be scary at times, but ultimately these personalities were created to protect the individual from memories of horrific abuse which a child’s mind would not have been able to process.

In short, despite the struggles we still go through on a daily basis, dissociative identity disorder has saved my life.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Friends Don’t Acknowledge the Pain of Depression

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Recently, I’ve been trying to be more open about my struggles with depression, particularly about what happened to me last year when a particularly bad bout of depression made life at school a living nightmare and forced me to leave my college home of three years. The hardest thing about opening up has been people’s hesitancy to, well, acknowledge I went through a hard time. It may sound petty and attention-seeking, but it’s painful to finally open up to people and have them, well, not really do anything. It makes one question: Do I matter? Is my pain real? Is what I’m going through not hard enough to actually count as a legitimate struggle?

Back when I was still at school, the typical response I got to telling close friends I was in a bad place was one of grief and sympathy: “I’m so sorry to hear! I hope things get better! I will pray for you!” But the person would never really ask me about it again. The dirty secret was swept back under the rug in spite of my attempts to be honest about what was going on. Although I had always been one to invite people to meals, to ask about what was going on in their lives, to listen and offer sympathy, to try and follow up, to write notes of encouragement…I found little of that returned, even in my darkest hours. The feeling of being let down by friends added even more pain to what I was already feeling.

Today, thanks to time, treatment, perseverance and my family’s support, I am doing immensely better and I’m starting to build a new life again, but the ghosts of those past hurts still come back to haunt me. For example, when I announced to school friends that I was leaving college due to my ongoing struggle, I only received a few replies acknowledging my choice. I still look back on this from time to time and feel a mixture of heartbreak, betrayal and rage unwittingly boil up within me. Did they not care I had to give up my life because of this awful pain I never asked for? Then when friends contacted me out of the blue after months of silence, they never addressed why I had left. I would write back pleasant replies, part of me sorely missing their companionship, but also another part of me wondering what took them so long to say something.

Tonight, as that bitter taste of disappointment, hurt and anger once again lingers in my mouth, I want so much to move past this old wound, but it hit too close to the heart. I wish I had answers to help deal with this hurt that’s unfortunately not uncommon, but I don’t. I guess some just don’t know what to do with other people’s pain, particularly if they can’t relate to it. People feel uncomfortable not knowing what to do with others’ hurt, so they just say or do nothing. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget to check up on others. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of that though, especially when you are in the darkest time of your life.

For those who have survived tough times and are on the path to recovery or are recovered, know you are a survivor. It’s sometimes easy to let distance from pain persuade us that maybe what happened wasn’t so bad after all. Or skeptical people make us downplay our courage. But you stood through the raging storm and didn’t call it quits. You took the first frightening step to reach out for help. You pulled yourself through the much and mire of bad habits, harmful thought patterns and old wounds to pick up the pieces, rebuild and reclaim your life, all while grieving the opportunities you lost. You are a warrior, no matter what anybody says (or stays silent about).

If you’re hurting and no one seems to be listening, I hope you read this and know you are not alone. There are many people out there who would love to listen, and whose heart would break for your pain. You are valuable even if people don’t acknowledge it. If you are feeling pain, it is legitimate and it is awful that you are suffering, even if people don’t say so.

If you know someone who might be hurting or have a friend who reached out to you recently and told you things weren’t going great, please consider reaching out. Just a “How are things?” or “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.” Maybe invite them to hang out. If they open up, you don’t have to have answers, just listen and be willing to say “That must be hard” or “I’m really sorry.” You don’t have to make their happiness your responsibility or anything, just let them know you care.

There are a lot of lonely people out there. Let’s show them someone cares.

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