The Mighty Logo

Why I Am Afraid to Speak About Dissociative Identity Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Most of my friends know me to be a fairly open person. I have a lot of challenges in my life, especially with physical and mental illness. It can look a bit strange sometimes; I often have to cancel plans last minute and nobody likes to have to watch someone they care about in pain. It is a well-known fact that people fear what they don’t understand, so for me, I hope being open about it will help end the stigma.

I write a lot about living with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). I even reference my mental health problems sometimes, mostly depression and anxiety. Yet there is one disorder I rarely mention.

I have dissociative identity disorder (DID).

DID is probably the most complicated of my disorders to explain. Those who are getting to know me often comment on how well I explain things; several have read my blogs about fibromyalgia, but why don’t I write about DID? Why don’t I tell people about this condition that affects every moment of my life?

I guess the fact I am writing this probably tells you that I have decided to try. However, first, I thought I should tell you why it’s so difficult to talk about.

It’s not just the complexity of the disorder. It’s not just the fact that it’s hard for neurotypical people to understand. It’s also not because I’m ashamed of my personalities; they are all great and treasured parts of myself.

The reason it is so hard to talk about dissociative identity disorder is because of its root cause: severe and prolonged trauma originating in early childhood. This is thought to be the most common cause of DID – I am personally unaware of any other causes – and it is certainly true of me.

I grew up in a Christian family. As a child, I reached out several times to get help, but nobody believed me and I was told it was just teenage rebellion, which apparently everyone goes through; that’s not what it was. Since nobody would believe me, I gave up on reaching out for help and focused on surviving instead.

The problem with speaking out about DID is that I have to admit to how bad things were. Sure, I can avoid specific details, but people are still going to wonder. People who knew me as a child may be shocked or horrified; I suspect many will continue not to believe me. I fear a backlash. I fear being subjected to it all again.

I don’t want to cause trouble. I have no desire for revenge. I forgive those who hurt me. I am working to build bridges where possible, though sadly in some cases I had to put distance between us to protect myself when they refused to stop. The people who hurt me were all people I loved and still love to this day; just some of them I have to love from a distance.

To acknowledge I developed dissociative identity disorder requires acknowledging that I went through something extremely traumatic as a child; not just once, but repeatedly. Some of the traumas I am all too familiar with, others are still buried and manifest as triggers I can’t explain. Parts of myself are too traumatized to function while other parts of me survive by avoiding the memories of what happened to me.

There are people who don’t like it when I talk about having DID because it distorts their rose-tinted view of what my childhood was like. A lot of people have tried to pass off my mental health problems as ongoing effects of secondary school bullying or something that happened at university (where I actually had a lot of support). Nobody wants to face the facts.

My youngest known personality is 5 years old. The first trauma I can remember and place in time happened when I was 7 years old. This is not something that happened when I was older; this is something that began with severe and prolonged trauma in my childhood.

I am not interested in outing those who hurt me. I am not after revenge. I pray those people will change, do better and find happiness. In some cases, I pray bridges may be built to move past it and in other cases I pray for distance to keep me safe. I forgive the people who did these things to me, but forgiveness doesn’t always mend what was broken.

My mind was broken.

The only way to survive my past was for my mind to break itself up. That’s how I ended up with these different parts — personalities, alters or whatever you want to call them. They are all unique, all formed to survive something, to endure or escape. Each part of me was formed to protect me in some way; each part developed in its own way. They are all different and they are all parts of me.

I also fear the stigma. The media seems to be demonizing DID at the moment. There are lots of films where the bad guys have DID, but there don’t tend to be good guys with it. Some films even name DID as the motive for the bad guy’s actions; this shows a gross misunderstanding of the disorder, which is unfortunately passed on to the general public. Movies and TV shows are not reliable sources to find out about a condition, and neither is gossip, but these are the main sources of public understanding and ultimately perpetuating the stigma.

I face stigma on a daily basis. I am accused of faking things by people who don’t understand it. I am accused of being dangerous by people who haven’t bothered to get to know me. I have a mental health disorder, but it is not who I am. I am a living, breathing, human being. My illness is a part of me, but it does not define me.

I am still afraid to speak openly about dissociative identity disorder, but from now on, I am going to try.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

Originally published: April 13, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home