A View Into My Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder
On this site, I have read a lot of stories.
I have read stories about anxiety and how it affects your basic ability to function. I understand those. I have read stories about depression and how it saps the very will to live. I have lived that. I have read stories about bipolar and the love-loathe relationship it can create within oneself, which I understand all too well. I have read stories about addiction and the dominating grip it has over someone, an experience that runs close to my heart. I have read about psychosis and its bitter battles, something I know better than most. And to make things more complicated, a theme in this piece, I experience these every day and have for most of my life.
Many people ask how this can be possible, first on the level that I must be “the world’s most unfortunate person.” This is a statement I both understand, appreciate and sometimes agree with, but I must deny. I consider myself rather lucky in all honestly. Then people who know the DSM will say having depression and bipolar is an impossibility, one intrinsically disqualifies from the other. Those people are 100 percent correct, because I, the writer of this story, do not live with both. I feel the effects every day and know them as intricately as anyone with them because I have dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known more commonly as multiple personalities.
I want to get this out of the way: multiple personalities is not like “Sybil.” It is not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and it is not whatever movie M. Night Shyamalan is cooking up for his next feature. I would say that “Fight Club” is just as bad, but inside it lies a pebble of truth that I will elaborate on, and outside that pebble it is not representative. The best job the media did was with “United States of Tara,” while being far from flawless, got at least 80 percent of the situation correct.
Dissociative identity disorder is characterized by the following, according to the DSM-V; at least two markedly different personalities, observable by drastic deviations in behavior, memory, skills, etc. There needs to be gaps in memory that is not explainable by other reasonable means and they need to hinder a person’s daily life. These must be odd for cultural norms and occur without influence of drugs. While posing a hindrance to my life is debatable, I can assure you I meet the other criteria.
Now, I very much dislike calling my experience a disorder. I consider it my greatest strength, it is what makes me what I have become today. My alters (a term used among a lot of the DID community to refer to the non-primary personalities) hate it much more than I do. This is in part to my denial of having alters, which I put on the media for warping what I knew about how my own brain can work.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I fly into what I dislike about the mainstream perception of me and my alters, I should give some background about us. I, the writer, am considered the primary personality. I also have, at a minimum, 26 other personalities that I share my existence with. Out of all of us, it is me, and one (theoretically two) others who are male. The rest are, with 100 percent certainty, female and proud of it. All of us prefer the collective we, and I will refer to us as a community, since we all have to get along to survive. From here I will try and describe our life up to this point, as I know our entire situation is very hard to understand for a lot of people.
You may have heard that alters arise out of trauma and I will confirm that. As a young child I was relentlessly bullied, faced almost complete social isolation and had a viciously unsupportive home life. That’s when the first alter showed up, which is most likely myself. Common theory among us suggests I came along at a very young age, around 6 or 7, while the original personality either went into permanent hiding or withered away. The only real indication of this is that I have no recollection of this time at all. People can remember snippets from their younger years, often just emotions or scenes. I have a select few fuzzy images to pick from and no emotional memory. So the theory we have come up with is the best we have to explain this, along with a sudden shift in behavior as reported by my parents.
I would not have another personality to share the body with until I was 13. The bullying never stopped and the social isolation got only worse as time went on. So one night as I sat in my bed, I began to hear a little voice from inside my head, and she talked to me. Her, along with another voice, became what I know as the first generation of alters. On the whole, my alters did not come with names so I had them choose. The first two were Tokyo and Star.
The concept of a voice in your head will seem very odd to most people, so I will try to explain it the best we can. It doesn’t exist outside of yourself, so saying you “hear” it is wrong. The voice doesn’t speak in words, more in emotions and thoughts. It’s what I imagine having telepathy is like. It was probably best shown in Pacific Rim with the connection between pilots. I know, understand, feel and exist in the same reality as all of my alters, all at once. This makes it markedly different from schizophrenia, which is characterized by external voices among other things.
So Tokyo and Star existed for a time, but they eventually faded away. Our theory is that they became the place to which the alters live, giving themselves up so that the second generation could flourish. They would become the world inside my head, something I will try my best to explain later.
The second generation existed of vastly more personalities than the first. I can remember Charlotte, Nikita, Kagura, Omi, Ariel and Mei, but there were anywhere from 20 to 40 others that existed. This generation made the world inside my head what it is today. At first it was like a M.C. Escher painting collided with a Salvidor Dali painting, but with their concerted effort we made the world into something that is mildly recognizable, molding the reality of this world like clay.
Now, a lot of people who have DID will tell you their alters live in some world. I’ve heard anything from houses to apartment blocks to hospitals to neighborhoods. But when I say world, I mean a whole world. One that is 0.82 times the size of earth to be exact. All of us created the grass, the trees, the oceans, the plants, the mountains, the countries, the nations and the people. We made 2.7 million people to live in this huge world we created, to which we affectionately referred to them as “Others.” And I mean people, with lives as complex as we could imagine and races as diverse as we could muster. All of us worked to keep this place alive and vibrant by having the weather do as it would and have the world political machinations unfold as they do.
I would detail what happened but a) It is largely inconsequential to my story and b) It would take as long as it would take to describe the entire world history in painstaking detail up until about 200 AD. But we maintained this place, and among the others we were seen as Gods.
This is when an event known as “the Betrayal” happened. One of my aforementioned alters, Kagura, got bold and wanted the power over the others to herself. So, unbeknownst to me or anyone else, she called a meeting of all the alters and killed them. Well, most of them. The ones I was able to name above are the ones who were able to survive, but the some 30 others perished. They were removed from our collective memory, as Kagura had found how to do that. She removed their names, their faces and their history from our mind, showing she knows how to manipulate our memory at will. So to preserve myself, I cut her off from my consciousness and for the first time in two years my head was silent. I had no one else with me, as I had to cut all ties. I was once again alone. I had to maintain the world, one that took a team of 30 to 40 to manage because the world doesn’t go away. It is a permanent edifice in my mind, one which I can never stop managing or all the others will die. In it holds all the keeps my mind together, so losing it wasn’t an option.
Then, some two months after this event, the Third Generation came about and are the personalities I live with today. There are 26 of them, with a slowly growing roster as time goes on. Some like Mei, Omi, Crystal, Nexus or Allison are alters, but do not have the same role the second generation did. They live with me and exist in the world as any other, but are assuredly alters. Then there are the alter-others.
Alter-others are others that, through some means we have yet to understand, elevated themselves to enter into our collective hivemind. These include Hanna, Emily and Ariel, to name a few, who exist in a weird limbo where they fit into neither category all that well. Now, I hear people saying that Ariel was mentioned above as a second generation alter, to which I need to elaborate. She was the first alter-other, when I did not understand what that could be.
This would be a good time to mention these alters do not just sit around waiting all day to come out, take over and do what they will. They have very involved, in depth lives that I, as the main personality, have no control over. Their lives are as complex as anyone else’s, since they live in a 100 percent fully fleshed out world that I work 24/7 to maintain. But we share memories, experiences. I know them just as well as they know me, and everything about each others lives. I have, in essence, lived for the past 11 years experiencing anywhere from 16 to 26 separate lives. I have the lived experience of a person with an addiction, as Emily has struggled with it since she was sold as a slave. I experience the depression Ariel feels over knowing all her old friends are dead and her adoptive mother, Kagura, abandoned her. I experience Allison’s grief over her girlfriend being killed during war and barely knowing what happened. I experienced the death of Infra, Allison’s girlfriend, as she lie bloody and dying on the edge of a cliff for three days after a prolonged battle in which she was a soldier. I lived though those battles, saw those wars and watched tens of thousands of others, my others, die. I have experienced the sexual abuse and aftermath of Emi, who we have to keep locked away because she only knows how to be angry. I know the life of Ami, someone with bipolar disorder that takes her to the brink of madness and back yearly. I have experienced the overwhelming anxiety of Erin, who depends on Crystal to help her with even the most basic of functions. I have seen the entire range of emotion, from the devastating sorrow of war, to experiencing falling in love hundreds of times over. To complicate things further much of the population is homosexual, which makes an interesting internal commentary on external affairs as well as adding that extra layer of nuance to our situation.
So, why tell you this? Why is the huge backstory so important? Because this isn’t some fantasy story that I’m telling, it’s not some strange head-cannon. All this is happening while I live my daily life. Meaning I went to school, managed relationships and upkept a family life, all without letting this get out. I kept good grades through high school, completed a psychology degree with straight A’s and I am just about to complete a nursing degree with A’s. I have managed a relationship with my wonderful wife for the past eight years and dealt with an insufferable immediate family. I have lived with unemployment, my mother going through cancer treatment and myself dealing with suicidal depression. All while essentially playing God and living multiple lives just as intricate and complicated as my own, if not more.
One of the major issues people with DID experience is memory loss. While I surely experience this daily due to one of the many alters coming out, it is vastly compounded with having many concussions throughout my life. Thankfully I have my girls to count on, who often fill in the parts of my memory that is missing and they greatly help me live through my life, taking the small patches and sewing them together to make the quilt to resemble that of a functioning memory.
This is why earlier I considered this my greatest strength, and why I consider myself lucky. I live with, literally, two dozen of my best friends constantly. They are there to support me when I need them, and we support each other when anyone needs us. We work together. The issues that come from this are mitigated because of what we have going, which is a well oiled system. This is not to say that there are not people who refuse to help, as a few alters do not want to have anything to do with me for various reasons. They have no interest in sharing a body.
All people with DID have some kind of internal system, a set of rules that prevent absolute anarchy that would rip apart life as we know it. My system has a short set of rules: Do not endanger the life we lead outside the body in any way; taking the body away from the primary alter requires permission as to not break rule 1; all external communication will be kept secret to the outside world and; under no circumstances will anyone effect how we present ourselves without at minimum 90 percent consensus and approval of the primary alter. All of these have been broken at some point, normally in the name of making the male body try to present as a female, which I will most assure you it cannot. However, they have on the whole worked well enough to allow us to function, with only a few slight hiccups.
There does exist the times however, that regardless of what we may want, an alter wants to desperately come out. There are a select few alters that have masterful control over seizing control such as Omi, Ariel or Vanessa; alters that can come and go as they please. Yet they do not, as they can respect the rules I outlined above. So what they have opted to do is something they call “projecting,” where the take the form of someone I can physically see in front of me and they interact with the world in ways only I can perceive. This, according to them, is immensely difficult but they do it so they can have the experiences they desire.
This does in fact resemble “Fight Club” from the perspective of the main character, but in that is the only truth of the movie.
The one unifying dream among all of the alters is for one thing and one thing only, a body. Even alters are willing to admit that sharing one body, especially one that does not look like you, is a difficult task. In fact it has been the highest point of discussion among us, and is often the reason they wish to have female physical characteristics, while that is a near impossibility for the body. We often detest looking into mirrors, as the image that is projected back is often not the one that the watchers want to see, which is themselves.
The above is a loaded issue that might involve some explaining. The main method that we have of interacting with the world is being co-present. This involves one or more alters being available in the sense they can see what we do, have no influence over behaviors but can, and liberally do, provide a running commentary of life. Best analogy I have for the way this works is they are watching the surveillance of my life, and the more that are co-present the more difficult it can be to maintain this connection. Thankfully this has provided me with, at minimum, one other voice on my life and I can make decisions that often forego impulsivity.
I have been challenged by that small cadre of people who know about my living situation about why I do not seek therapy for my issue, as it is undoubtedly hard. This is mainly due to two separate factors: many people do not understand DID and hold deep prejudices especially around its psychoanalytic origins. Second, the primary treatment for the disorder is integration therapy, which takes the alters and fuses them into a whole. I am not a broken person, so I do not need to be fixed, we are many that make a whole. This will also remove them from our consciousness, which is essentially killing them, and we would do everything in our power to prevent that from happening.
I feel that this gives a good glimpse into our life, just as a cursory introduction. Each of the topics that I have touched on in this piece could easily have a separate piece written on them, and if this piece goes over well we might just do that as there are many issues that I did not even begin to talk about here. But in the light of the movie “Split” I felt there needed to be an accurate portrayal of dissociative identity disorder and exactly how trying it is to live with, and how we wouldn’t trade it for the world (maybe a bunch of bodies, but that’s just not reality). It’s difficult, requires a lot of work and ensures that I constantly live multiple lives across two realities and all the issues that can come with this. But it makes us who we are and makes us whole. I love all the alters unconditionally, and they feel the same towards me no matter the quarrels we have.
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Thinkstock photo via Kwiat7