The Question I Want to Ask With My Dissociative Identity Disorder
To my knowledge, I have always made a joke of my forgetfulness. Where some may see it as a flaw, I have always made it fun — and I have worked every day to accommodate it. The little girl who always carried a notebook is now the adult who, you guessed it, always carries a notebook. I live on to-do lists because if it doesn’t get written down, it doesn’t get done. Coworkers and friends have marveled at what they see as my incredible memory — “Candace never forgets a thing!” I’ve heard them say in awe. They just don’t get the joke.
I’ve made so many excuses over the years for my forgetfulness that often causes me to experience abnormal behavior changes. It was easy — and mental health professionals made it even easier. When I first started seeing a therapist at 12 years old, my poor memory and “strange” behavior was explained away as being a result of the fact I’d been sexually assaulted by my father and one of my sisters on a daily basis for nine years. I was treated as if it was a given that I’d be a little bit “odd.” I was labeled as having depression, anxiety and PTSD, and that was that. A few years later, I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. A few years after that I was told I had borderline personality disorder. In my mid-twenties, my diagnosis became schizophrenia, and I found myself in a mental hospital for a week. It’s important for me to note that each of these diagnoses came after one 50-minute discussion with me — and sometimes therapists came out with their diagnosis after only 10 or 15 minutes. The nearly two months of group therapy that followed my hospital stay were filled with mental health professionals telling me I was lying, and that my description of my life experience wasn’t real. They’d made their diagnosis and if I didn’t fit in that box, I couldn’t exist.
Fast forward a couple more years to my late twenties: I have read the text conversation with my at that time fiancé and it can only be described as me having a complete and utter breakdown. I had been crying uncontrollably at my desk and decided to go to the restroom to cry in there. I can vaguely recall seeing myself in the bathroom mirror as I walked past to the stall, a blurry figment, and then I was washing my hands. I look up in the mirror and I’m a different person. Suddenly, that person I knew was me in the mirror when I walked into the bathroom was foreign and this was also me — but without recognition. It felt like I’d never seen “me” before, but this was clearly me. This is what I would describe as my first moment of “conscious shifting” — there are different words for the experience, this is just what I use — which for me means experiencing a shift and being conscious of it, not necessarily that I am conscious when I shift, and definitely not that I made a conscious decision to shift (as I have never done this to my knowledge).
Over the past year and a half, I have gained a deeper understanding of myself than I have in all the years of therapy prior. I recall telling another therapist that I felt “fragmented,” that my childhood and adolescent experiences had left me “broken into pieces,” and I was very directly told “that doesn’t exist.” Immediately following that fateful bathroom experience, I jumped online in a panic to find a therapist as I hadn’t been seeing one for about six months at that point. I am so thankful to have found the man I work with now. He didn’t just diagnose me after one conversation. Moreover, he had me take actual clinical tests. I still struggle with the answer to all those pieces: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). For anyone who isn’t aware of the name change that occurred in the mid-90s, it used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. The version of myself who started with this therapist was eager to learn and eager to work on building links and bridges among everything going on in my head — others are not. I am not. My therapist will say something about my past that, to me, he simply can’t know. I didn’t tell him — she did. It begs the question… What else am I not remembering?
This is a question I have asked every single therapist I have ever worked with over the past 18 years. What am I not remembering? I know my first memory of sexual abuse was when I was three years old, but I have no memory of what actually happened. With each “major shift,” as I have come to call them, I lose huge amounts of memory. At this point, trying to remember my teen years is like remembering a memory of a memory of someone else’s memory. Trying to remember my childhood? With the exception of one or two experiences, it’s too many layers away. What else happened that wasn’t deemed important enough by some overlord in my brain to put on a mental sticky note for the next version to read? What else happened that was so much, so unbearable, that it got locked away with a secret facet in my mind? What else am I not remembering?
This question has gone from a serious, but infrequent calling to a constant, blaring, daily scream in my mind. I recognize now that in my mid-twenties the shifting became more frequent and more drastic. I had left a stable, safe environment that had anchored me mentally and have since been stuck in a perpetual list of unstable, unsafe environments — and my brain responded by becoming unstable and, on two occasions that I’m aware of, very unsafe. The internal jokes about my forgetfulness became less funny. Sometimes it’s as insignificant as having no memory of having seen a specific movie. More than once it’s been waking up and not knowing the person sleeping next to me — the person I had been in a relationship with for years. This first happened a few weeks before my hospital stay. How do you tell your fiancé that you have no memory of your three-year relationship with them? What else am I not remembering?
Over the past few weeks, I have wished there was something more impactful than a journal, but I don’t know what that is. Journals and Facebook Memories have taught me that writing experiences down isn’t enough — just reading about my life doesn’t make it real and doesn’t bring those memories back, but I have to try. At the beginning of my most recent relationship, I wrote many love letters. He kept them all and when I first forgot our relationship, he asked that I read them because he thought it might help. I said no at the time because even then I knew it wouldn’t, but I did end up reading them. With every note, the reality set in deeper and deeper that the woman who wrote them no longer consciously exists. Whether looking at the love notes or reading old journals, it is the most indescribably unsettling thing knowing my hand wrote these words and I have no memory of them. I have no memory of the experiences, I have no memory of the feelings, I have no memory of the love, I have no memory of writing them — as real as they all are, they are fiction to me. What else am I not remembering?
I have cried for the woman who may wake up one day to find that her fiancé of five years isn’t there next to her simply because I wasn’t in love with him. I have cried for every version of myself that has come and gone, and in every instance I have cried for myself. At the end of every day and the start of every morning, I am left with the question that I want so badly to ask and am more terrified than ever to know the answer to: if my mind can do this — if it can separate to survive, shelter me from my past, enable me to move forward, empower me to protect others, if it can forget the love of my life — what else am I not remembering?