Parenting as Someone With Dissociative Identity Disorder
I am blessed to have two amazing children, ages 6 and 12. My spouse and I adopted both of my children at birth through open adoption (when the birth parents choose who they want to adopt their baby). Both of my children are happy, healthy and smart kids. My life wouldn’t be worth living if I didn’t have them in it.
Neither of my children know their mom has dissociative identity disorder (DID). The older child does know that I sometimes gets depressed, and that some bad stuff happened to me when I was a child, which is why I am so protective of her.
If you have seen the television show “United States of Tara,” my life is nothing like that. My parts do not freely and recklessly interact with my children and there is a reason for that. That show makes me cringe from a parenting perspective, though I know other people with DID disagree with me about it.
I think every person with DID has what we would call a “system of parts”(or some might call them alters or alternate personalities), and every person with DID has a very different system at varying levels of recovery, functioning, and beliefs about the world and how they fit into it. This writing is only about me and my parenting beliefs and choices.
I have been diagnosed with this disorder for 28 years, and I have made incredible progress in creating a system that is less chaotic and more cooperative than when I was first diagnosed.
My system is less chaotic in that I do not switch to another part without any control or knowledge of what is happening. Usually, I switch under extreme stress/triggers, or when I’m in therapy to work on trauma my parts have experienced. I can control which parts of myself are out with my children through the internal cooperation we have with each other in our system.
I also have co-consciousness, which means I am aware of what is happening when another part is “out.” I may not have control over what the part is saying or doing, but I do know what is happening. Not everyone with DID is lucky enough to have this ability, and I didn’t when I was first diagnosed.
My system is cooperative in that everyone in it knows there are certain rules in place when it comes to the outside children. For starters, we don’t let our outside children see any of the many inside children that live in this body. I knew this would be confusing to my children, so I made this rule early on.
As someone who was terribly abused as a child, it is extremely important to give my children the stable and loving life I never had. And every part inside of me agrees with this goal.
I don’t want to give you the idea that my life is a bed of roses and has no affect on my children. My level of functioning fluctuates, especially more so over the last three years. I was out of therapy for many years until a series of traumatic events happened to me, which unfortunately destabilized my DID quite a bit.
I experienced a major depressive episode about a year and a half ago and as a result, I spent the better part of 17 months in my bed unless I absolutely had to be at an appointment or one of the functions for my kids. My kids noticed this change and we talked about it, giving them limited and age appropriate detail. We also had the ability to have both of the kids in therapy to deal with any anxiety or other feelings they had about it.
My children have experienced me leaving for weeks at a time when my DID, PTSD and depression became too severe and I went to a treatment facility. This caused them a lot of anxiety as they worried whether I was going to go away again because I had to do it several times over the last three years.
My children aren’t aware that I have suicidal thoughts on a very frequent basis. My system of parts who often argue that suicide is the best way out of the pain we experience, will not make a suicide attempt when they are reminded how much this would hurt our outside children.
There was a time over the past three years when the intensity of my pain and psychological distress was so great that I did self-harm by cutting into my arm in hidden places. My oldest child accidentally caught a glimpse of a scar on my arm that had the initials of someone who hurt me. I lied about it and told her it was a scar from something else and she never brought it up again. Then, my system made the rule that we would never self-harm again in that way. So far, we haven’t.
I go to therapy three times a week to work on the trauma I experienced as a child. Some days I feel the feelings I dissociated from as a child. They are awful, so sometimes the best thing for me to do after therapy is to go to bed to take care of myself.
Some days my PTSD gets triggered so severely I can’t function. This can cause younger parts of myself to be “out” in the body. This is when my spouse and I have to work together closely as a team.
Noises are a major trigger for me when my PTSD is activated. Having two young children doesn’t equal a quiet household. My spouse is really good at trying to shield me from their noise when this happens. Fortunately, my PTSD doesn’t happen to this degree often.
I do have other parts who interact with the children. These parts of me are adults, and who most people wouldn’t detect as different and would just chock it up to me being in a different mood.
Sadly, I have parts of me who don’t claim any relationship or interest in the kids. They stay far away from the kids and usually don’t pay much attention to what is going on with them. By far away, I mean they don’t come out for anything that has to do with the children.
In some ways, my children are better off because they have me as a parent. They get a super caring parent who understands things from many different perspectives. They also get someone who will fight for them like nobody’s business and teaches them to fight for other, less fortunate people in this world. My children have a strong sense of justice.
I do realize one day I will have to decide whether to tell them my story, and this huge piece of my life as someone with DID. I imagine when they get older I will tell them my story, but it will be super hard for them because they will learn some horrible things about people they love and would never dream of as being capable of such horrendous things. That is a challenge for another day.
Parenting is by far the hardest job in the world. I didn’t get to pick my parents, and they caused me great harm. My children didn’t get to choose us as parents, and I hope they will always feel grateful for the love and kindness we have given them as parents.
I believe loving your children unconditionally, all the time, is the best recipe for happy, healthy kids, despite what other issues are part of the picture.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Nastia11