Is healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder possible?

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. 😔

When my Dissociation makes me feel lost

It has been a long time since I have written anything. I have been doing some better, but struggling more than ever with feeling lost.

There are moments when I forget about my Dissociative Disorder, and then I am talking to a good friend about his son and I can’t remember his son’s name.

These moments of amnesia make me afraid to pose as normal to the world. I have thought about trying to go back to work, then I feel this inner flooding of anxiety.

I ask inside to my other parts what we are so afraid of about going back to work. Apparently, they just don’t think we can do it.

It is possibly true. I know I may seem like I am ok sometimes, but then I look back on my day and realize I only accomplished 1-2 things. On an intense day, I might have struggled to get a 3rd thing done.

I am not sure why I can’t get more done in a day, except for this damn amnesia and feeling confused and lost so much.

I have been trying my best to be present for my children as they both have issues going on and need me. Some moments I am good about that, other days I feel inner parts distance themselves from the children and contemplate suicide.

The therapy is a struggle lately. My child parts are so hurt and don’t understand why we are seeing the T less often. Our insurance would rather pay for hospitalization than outpatient care. Brilliant business people.

The therapist wants us to trust her, but the younger parts feel like she doesn’t care about us. The T struggles with this because she says she doesn’t understand what she can do to show parts she cares about them.

Then, the parts reveal that because she is not abusing us, she doesn’t care about us.

She says she is never going to abuse us, so she is never going to care about us?

Then there are older parts who say we should just stop going to therapy. This doesn’t go far because the Little’s surface and put us in a Little hurt state of mind.

Anyway, like I said, I am feeling lost. Don’t know what to do about much. Contemplating giving up my career and going to work for a low paying job or no job at all. Can’t seem to make any decision about that or anything else.

Lost. That is me.

Hiding from my truth

I was getting too close to acknowledging the intense pain of my childhood abuse. It was coming for me. I got really scared.

As someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, I managed to dissociate it from my awareness, and eventually switch to an Identity that doesn’t experience abuse and lives in the here and now.

My system is mad that this Identity went to therapy this week and basically “wasted” the session by talking about mostly nothing.

Our experience seems normal on the outside. We are taking care of the kids and participating in life to some degree.

Our memory is still severely impaired. My son asked me my neighbor’s name, who I know well, and I couldn’t remember it. So, so frustrating.

I don’t know how long we can hold out in this safer position. I feel sadness and suicide creeping around nearby tonight.

I read an article about Designer Kate Spade’s suicide at age 55, and found myself jealous. She left a note to her 13 year old daughter telling the daughter it wasn’t her fault. My children have always kept me from doing it.

I have a mostly good life, yet I selfishly want to end it. What is wrong with me besides the obvious?

My journey has changed

Some of you may have noticed that I have been missing in action for the past month or so.

I was really not doing well and needed intensive inpatient help with managing the symptoms of my DID and PTSD, particularly the level of suicidality I was experiencing.

I decided to go inpatient and it lasted longer than I expected. If I wouldn’t have really pushed to get out, I still easily met the criteria of someone who needed to be inpatient. But alas, I always feel terribly restless and triggered when I am inpatient, so a month was as much as I could do.

I am now happily home with my family and working to transition back into my real life. Still figuring this out and hope to share it with you as I uncover the new path of my journey.

I experienced incredible levels of amnesia and confusion while inpatient, but I was still able to gain some important insights into a new direction for my life.

I plan to share these new plans with you as I unpack myself back into the real world and my real life.

For now, I can say I realize I do have a life to live while doing this work, and I don’t have to “fix” my life before I can start living it.

I am also happy to say I am not currently feeling suicidal, which is remarkable because that is my typical normal. I know better than to get overly excited about this as I know it can change on a dime, but I do feel a sliver of hope that it is currently absent.

Speaking of hope, I did manage to gain some hope despite the incredible amnesia, confusion, transference, and uncomfortableness I experienced staying in this inpatient unit. Nothing like being locked up and power taken from you as a survivor that is seemingly required for inpatient treatment.

I am feeling well today and I am looking forward to sharing my new journey with you, and my experience during my inpatient stay.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support I received from you all.

With love and hope to you all,

Kathy

Lost and alone

I have been quiet lately, feeding off my mom’s voice in my head that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. So, I am breaking the rules.

Lost would probably best describe how I have felt most of the time lately. I can’t remember things, much more so than usual. My sense of “time” is completely off. Can’t tell you if it has been one week or 2 months since things have happened.

I am living day-by-day, not knowing if I will make it through the day.

I plan for my future and my demise all in the same hour.

I am suffering from wicked thoughts of suicide that are in my brain but don’t feel like my thoughts. It’s confusing.

I try not to act on any of the suicidal plans, yet at times I find myself getting up to go do whatever is my demise of the hour. Most times I catch myself when I am getting up and am able to stop myself. Sometimes I haven’t been completely lucky with that strategy.

Some days I feel morbidly depressed. I have resorted back to hiding in my bedroom as much as possible. I spend countless hours staring out the window, and suddenly I have an extreme depressive feeling, which follows with a graphic idea of killing myself.

I don’t know where these graphic suicidal ideas are coming from as I am much more practical than to think of these ways if I was suicidal.

I imagine there is extreme anger and pain behind the graphic ideas about my demise.

As I said, it gets so confusing. I think parts of me are “leaking” into me in a way that I cannot distinguish me from them. As such, their thoughts seem to make perfect sense to me.

Yes, I should stab myself with a butcher knife and lie down in my bed to bleed to death over night.

That is so not me, but yet it is me.

I would never do that to my children, but in my head it feels as though I will.

The world is so lonely for me right now. I am fortunate to have a spouse, therapist, and friend who know about some of this and are trying to get me help.

But, I worry no help exists.

In my life in the mental health system, there have been times when I know if I just went and worked on “x” I would stabilize or feel better. Honestly, I have no idea what x is for me this time.

Lost, pushing through each day hoping to gain some clarity the next day. It doesn’t come.

I am wasting my life, lost, never feeling grounded to this earth and my life.

The clock ticks, and ticks, and ticks. My dilemma stays the same. My fragility about my life continues.

I must have some hope hiding in me somewhere, but it is well hidden. The confusion in my mind keeps it from coming to surface. It is amazing to see the mind work so intensely against itself.

I plan for the future. I plan my demise. I don’t know how this will play out. I hope for the best, whatever that turns out to be.

DID is NOT a party

Lacking a consistent voice makes me confusing to those outside and inside of me.

At night, I often write things, whether a blog article, letter to someone, or a quick text. Sometimes I shop on Amazon while others are sleeping in my house. The difference for me is when I wake up in the morning it is a gradual unfolding of what I did the night before.

I see e-mails from Amazon alerting me to a purchase I don’t remember, and often don’t need.

I sometimes get an emergency call from my therapist before I have even awoken asking me if I am alright. That usually means some part of me has been texting or emailing her.

I almost never remember blog posts that have been written under our Mistaken Survival blog. I read them over and over, each time feeling like the first time I have read it, even though it was authored by this shared mind of mine.

I have learned to shrug and stay quiet in response to other people’s reactions to something I have done that wasn’t me. I kind of freeze because I know it was me, but it also wasn’t me. What’s the protocol for that scenario?

The mind is so adaptive. It is amazing I get through the days, but somehow I do.

It feels a lot like being lost, then found, then lost, then confused, then found, and on and on.

Unfortunately, this makes for a really spotty memory. And though I get by with the adaptive skills of my brain, it leaves me empty on the days I have the capacity to think about how little I remember about my life.

I read earlier today someone writing about how they don’t think of Dissociative Identity Disorder as a disorder at all. They see it more of a blessing and an alternative way of living.

Though I try my best to respect other’s differing opinions, it pisses me off to hear someone who has this disorder glorify it and act like it is a positive.

Here is the one true thing most people believe about DID (though not all parts inside of me agree with this opinion): if you have DID, it helped you survive as a young child when your life was so traumatic and overwhelming that your mind would not have survived otherwise.

If you truly have DID, it means there is major distress going on in your life. You can’t get the diagnosis if you are not impaired in some way.

Though I love all parts of me, even those I disagree with or can’t understand, there is nothing wonderful or great about the way we live.

I wouldn’t wish this chaos and confusion and missing life on my worst enemy. It sucks. It is not fun.

Some people describe elaborate parts who have hobbies and like to play like children. Those parts for me are hurt and damaged, and they are not having fun. They are mostly terrified every minute of their experiences.

Carrying around trauma on a daily basis and trying to survive is not fun. My life is extremely difficult, and profoundly sad due to the lack of connection I feel to the world and those in it.

This is no party. For me, it is a serious ordeal of surviving a life of torment and confusion.

I’ll let you have your opinion, and do my best to be respectful, but I can’t make that promise on a bad day.

Lack of mental health resources increases risk of suicide in those with Dissociative Identity Disorder

It’s frustrating to see the public service messages and articles discussing how we need to get people who are having suicidal ideation into treatment centers to prevent them from killing themselves.

Though I appreciate the sentiment of the anti-suicide campaigns, the reality is people who have a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) do not receive the same access of care afforded to every other mental health diagnosis in the DSM V.

DID is the most stigmatized diagnosis within the mental health community.

Interestingly, DID is considered to be amongst the highest risk for suicide. Some estimates say that at least 70% of people with DID have attempted suicide.

With those staggering numbers, one would think the mental health community and the suicide prevention community would be working to improve access to mental health care for those with DID. Nope.

In the 1990s, there were more therapists, psychiatric hospitals, and day treatment programs available to those with a DID diagnosis. The False Memory Foundation (largely supported by those accused of child abuse) succeeded in its goal to end treatment resources for those suffering from DID. This result protects child abusers.

Today, it is extremely difficult to find an experienced outpatient therapist who is willing to treat DID, so many of the highest risk people either have no mental health therapy, or are working with a therapist who doesn’t understand the complexity of treating DID.

Most people who suffer from DID reach points of crisis where they need extra support and hospitalization.

The extra support could look like a day treatment program that understands trauma and dissociation, but after all my research in the United States, I am aware of only 3 programs serving this population (I am not sure that one is still operating) that accept insurance as payment. Since day treatment programs are designed to be community based, it is not very helpful to the majority of people suffering from DID who don’t live in those communities.

Without trained therapists and lack of day treatment programs to provide extra support, the person with DID is more likely to end up in a serious suicidal crisis with an extreme lack of resources available to them.

In a best-case scenario, the person with DID has private mental health insurance or Medicare, both of which offer psychiatric hospital coverage.

Here’s the problems people with DID run into when they are in need of intensive crisis intervention:

1. Although trauma hospital programs have become more common today, these hospital programs will not treat people with DID. They flat out say “we are not set up to treat DID.”

Huh?

I imagine when I hear programs disclose that information, it likely means one of these things:

-we don’t want someone with DID because it will be disruptive to our program, which is completely unfounded.

– we don’t believe these people really have DID, so we don’t want to work with them. People often like to believe this is a rare disorder, it is not.

-since people with DID have a higher risk of suicide, we don’t want to risk our liability by accepting them into our program.

2. There are only six hospital programs that accept insurance that have proficiency in treating DID. I will name them here with no endorsement of them since they are of varying quality:

-University Behavioral Health in Texas

-Sheppard Pratt in Maryland

-River Oaks in Louisiana

– Del Amo in California

– Forest View in Michigan

-Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW) in D.C.

Now, this may seem like a lot if you believe the disorder is rare, which it isn’t, and if you don’t take into account that people with DID are likely to have limited emotional and financial resources to travel to these destinations if their insurance actually covers the place.

In addition, these hospital programs more often than not have a waiting list to get in, which doesn’t work for the patient who is truly in a suicidal crisis.

California has created a few really nice DID programs that offer cutting-edge therapies for people with DID. Only problem, these programs are only available to those who can self-pay, typically $40-50k a month. Unfortunately, the symptoms of DID are not likely to coincide with being wealthy enough to afford such places.

3. You might be asking why doesn’t a person with DID just go to their local community mental health hospital? This is another huge topic, but I will do my best to sum it up.

Your typical community-based hospital doesn’t believe in the diagnosis of DID, so when you enter that system you are likely to get a diagnosis of schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar. When you receive those diagnoses, it means the mental health system is largely going to solve your crisis through intense medication therapy. There is no medication that treats DID, so getting blasted with medications does more harm than good.

Also, it is important to understand that people with DID have been highly traumatized in their lives, or they wouldn’t have the diagnosis to begin with. By asking a person to enter a community-based mental health program, you are guaranteeing that they will be re-traumatized by the way they will be treated and the lack of understanding of what is happening with them.

Sadly, we recently witnessed the prevalence of sexual abuse in our world through the “me too” campaign.

People with DID are not born with this condition. It is a result of being subjected to severe trauma in early childhood, typically severe sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

I wonder, where are the crusaders for this population of victims?

Where is Oprah Winfrey, Brene Brown, Angelina Jolie, Demi Lovato, or any other person of influence who could make a difference in the suffering of those with DID?

I don’t even understand why the for profit hospitals aren’t all over trying to serve this underserved population simply to make money.

Somewhere in mental health history it was decided that the DID population is invisible, expendable, and just don’t matter.

The irony, those of us with DID come from families where the message that we don’t matter was drilled into our heads. Sadly, our current mental health system only reinforces that belief.

My final thought, would the suicide statistics be as high for those with DID if we had adequate resources for those suffering with this disorder?

Does it matter to you?