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5 Most Commonly Asked Questions About My Husband’s Dissociative Identity Disorder

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I started writing publicly about the experience of loving someone with dissociative identity disorder (DID) a couple of years ago. I have found it to be quite therapeutic, the blank screen a space for the memories to spill onto, escaping from the crowded spaces where they otherwise take up residence in my mind and in my heart.

Entering our 28th year of marriage together, and the eighth year since my husband’s DID diagnosis, there are many things about our relationship that remain a mystery to even me, let alone friends, family and other folks who are familiar with our story. There are, however, a few things I have come to understand; one of those things is that people have some common questions about the disorder and what it’s like to live with someone who has it.

Here are five of the most commonly asked questions:

1. How do you know it’s real? Maybe people who say they have DID are just making it all up.

Living with someone who has DID is so chaotic and full of turmoil that I can’t imagine what anyone could possibly be aiming to gain by making it up. If it is all just an act, then those who claim to have DID have some super acting talent they’re wasting…

2. How do you know when someone with DID is going to switch?

There are certain topics, words, settings, sounds and even smells that can trigger a switch. For my husband, it is most obvious though when he is switching back to himself as the host — his shoulders sag, his head lolls forward and his eyelids close slowly but only for a second. When he opens his eyes, he will often give his head a bit of a shake and depending on which alter had just been present, he might cough, burp or try to spit out a bad taste from his mouth that has been left behind.

3. How many alters do people with DID have? How can you tell there’s an alter present?

The composition of a DID system is unique to each individual person. My husband has over 20 alters and there may be more that haven’t yet identified themselves. Though I can’t always name who is present, many have very distinct identifying features. Some are left handed. Some speak in accents. There are alters who cook well and some… well, not so well. There are alters with musical talent, mechanical talent, artists. Some are ultra conservative, and some who like to experiment, and others who are ambivalent. There are some who are manic and some who are depressed. There’s at least one super angry dude and then there are the girls, easily identifiable by their clothes, hair and makeup.

4. Maybe alters are actually demons?

I do not believe mental illness is demonic possession. It is unfortunate that popular culture and movies like Split portray DID as something dangerous to be afraid of.

5. Can someone with DID parent?

I can’t speak for others but, in our situation, we parent our 11 children together. We each have our own strengths and parenting challenges which I presume is the way it is in most families, whether or not there’s a parent with DID.

For each of the questions above, there are dozens more. I encourage you to ask those questions, continue to read The Mighty, and share what you learn with others, not just about dissociative identity disorder but about mental health overall. Share your own stories, strengths, resiliency, and humanness. Together, we can #endthestigma.

Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash

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