I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in my early twenties. I was in my Senior year of college when I suddenly started having significant psychiatric problems I hadn’t experienced before. Even though my life was actually going very well in the world, my internal experience was crumbling as I had my first Major Depressive episode, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation seemingly coming from nowhere.
I didn’t know what was happening, so I quietly went to the campus mental health center, where the psychiatrist gave me a bottle of Xanax to help me deal with whatever was happening.
It completely consumed my life rather quickly. The pills helped a little, but I was seriously suicidal for unknown reasons.
By some miracle, I had the wherewithal to find a therapist off campus. And then a psychiatrist, and quite quickly, I ended up inpatient at the local psychiatric facility for about six months.
During my time in the hospital, I was trying really hard to understand what was happening to me. I was a mystery to my treatment team, too, as I had so much going for me, why was I doing so poorly?
I started having outrageous transference with my therapist. I felt as though I couldn’t live without her. I would start to get better and approach discharge, and then my therapist would go out of town and I would find myself plotting to kill myself at the hospital. I never had feelings like this about anyone before.
I can remember sitting in a chair thinking in my head that I didn’t understand what was happening. And then I realized there were voices in my head commenting on things or expressing their despair about the therapist. I had always had these voices commenting in my head, but I realized for the first time it was like they were different people with different thoughts. I knew I was going crazy.
I started feeling like I wasn’t in control of my thoughts or behaviors sometimes. I tried to speak about it some to my primary treatment team members, but they didn’t take it too seriously as they knew I was not psychotic.
Back then, I didn’t have the words to properly express my experience of what I now know to be Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
When I finally discharged from the hospital, I had a crazy sexually abusive relationship with a counselor from the hospital, and then abruptly decided to get a job at another psychiatric hospital as I was suddenly interested in helping people (and ignored the fact that another part of me had already accepted a job offer from a big corporation).
While I was working at the hospital, I was still trying to figure out me, and would read every patient history, study the DSM, talk to clinicians, sit in on clinical meetings. During my research, I discovered a therapist who specialized in dissociative disorders and trauma therapy.
While still seeing my old therapist back in my college town, I decided to go see the therapist who specialized in dissociation and trauma, and asked her to help me figure out if I had DID.
In case you are wondering, my therapist who I adored and my psychiatrist did not believe in DID.
It is still common today, you have the believers and nonbelievers in the mental health community. It sucks for those of us afflicted.
But I knew I had these strange forces acting within me that I could not explain. I didn’t know anyone with DID back then, so I was really just doing research and grasping at straws to understand what was happening.
It is a blur, but my consultation with the dissociative disorder psychologist led me to a fairly quick diagnosis of DID, and I transferred to her to help me with therapy.
It was a balancing act. I would be in terrible shape during my therapy sessions talking about childhood trauma, and she would also see me as a high functioning successful person at the local hospital when she would come in to see her patients.
What I have found for myself is that if I am around someone who knows I have DID, my parts are more likely to show themselves. My parts found a safe place for them to be “out” and to express their feelings and traumas with the psychologist.
It was a lot. Coming to terms with the truth about my childhood, and learning about all these parts of me.
I managed for a few years to work at the hospital and do intensive outpatient therapy three times a week. Then, the train started coming off the track, and I began a journey of hospital-hopping and instability for the next decade. Sadly, I was so dissociative during this period that I have very little memory of it, so it saddens me to know I lost an entire decade of my life to this illness.
Quite honestly, this was in the 1990s, when there were treatment centers that specialized in DID, but in retrospect, they did not know what they were doing in their attempts to help people with DID. Still, they were important because they were places that understood who we were and what was happening to us, which is not an understanding we could find anywhere else in the world.
As my life was in chaos, and I wasn’t making any progress in therapy, I had a shift in my internal world out of anger toward one of my therapists at the time. This part of me who had enrolled in graduate school to get an MSW had decided that she had enough of the mental health system and the craziness going on in our life.
After ten years of chaos and suicide attempts and more hospitalizations than I can count, with a simple, but determined decision, this part was able to put away the chaos of our lives (the endless number of parts), and we were suddenly living with only 5 parts.
This was manageable.
We had 5 parts who cooperated with one another and didn’t even need therapy or hospitals. The depression, anxiety, and suicidality was suddenly completely gone. We still were not able to sleep without medication, but found doctors to prescribe it for us. Other than that, no mental health care was required.
Our only symptom that we worked to hide every day was our amnesia. We couldn’t remember things that were current (and past important life events), like our neighbor’s first name, or how long it had been since we last spoke to our boss, but we were otherwise doing well.
I don’t want to make light of the amnesia we dealt with during this period as it created enormous anxiety in us everyday that we would be found out that we had a mental illness. But, we knew the skilled clinicians couldn’t help us with this problem, so we did what we do best, we hid our truth.
We lasted about 12-13 years in this fully-functioning (except for the amnesia) period of our life where we were successful in multiple careers, got married, adopted children, bought homes and lived what looked like a “normal” life.
Then my dad got sick with cancer. My family required me to come home to take care of him. It was an extremely messy situation that ended with his death (I am leaving out a tremendous amount of trauma that came with this experience).
While he was dying, voices started showing up again.
About 2 weeks after his death when I returned home, I started experiencing PTSD symptoms. Within weeks of that starting, I went to see a therapist to try to prevent myself from getting really sick again. The therapist had no idea I had DID as it wasn’t something I told people, as I certainly didn’t want to ruin the successful and public career I had at the time.
The therapist was a grief specialist, and was actually really good. Since she didn’t know about my trauma background, she didn’t know that her sitting down beside me on a couch in a therapy session would send me into a mute dissociative state.
It was the first time something like this had happened in over a decade. And the therapist recognized it as something significant, and would only work with me if I went to see a DID specialist and got cleared to see her. I reluctantly agreed, having a sense it was a bad idea for me.
Sure enough, I went to see the therapist in early 2015, and my system of parts exploded open with more parts than I even had before. I struggled mightily to hold onto my life and my career.
By 2017, I wasn’t able to work, and was in and out of hospitals with rageful suicidal ideation, debilitating amnesia, depression, anxiety attacks, and off the charts PTSD. My life was splintered into a zillion pieces again.
Now, it is 2019, and I have been working hard the past 3 years with a therapist who understands severe trauma. I am fortunate to have a therapist who takes clients that other therapists throw away.
I am coming to terms with the abuse I endured. I have just barely made it a full year without being in the hospital. I am still suicidal off and on rather frequently, but manage to get through these times a little better. Working on accepting my truth causes a lot of switching between parts on a daily basis, which in turn means I can’t remember easy things that I should remember.
My brain feels like a jumbled mess just about every day. It is frustrating. I accept my diagnosis and don’t hate or even dislike my parts. I accept my childhood abuse as true, but still, I am mentally incapacitated with amnesia and confusion.
I have come to wonder whether healing is actually possible. Maybe it is for some folks, but not for me? I don’t say that in a derogatory way, but maybe the truth is my mind is just too damaged?
These are the questions I am facing these days. It saddens me to think I might not be able to recover my mind the way it was intended to work.
The wreckage from my childhood may be a permanent part of my life. It doesn’t seem fair, but I for one should know life is not fair. 😔