Most people receive a dissociation – and in particular, a dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis while in crisis. This is because, while we are masters at hiding our condition, an overload of stress finally exhausts our reserves and we are bouncing around mentally to the point of ceasing to function smoothly. Usually this bottoming out can happen many different times in a person’s lifetime before they accept the diagnosis. Such was my case. From a young age, I would go into crisis, get stabilized with intensive interventions, coupled with a variety of not always helpful self medicating or coping behaviors and then hobble on in life, all the while keeping my issues as secret as I could. As a child, teen and young woman, this was done with the assistance of parents and mental health professionals who simply did not know any better, so unfamiliar was the world with this disorder.
After living through a wide variety of mental illness diagnosis’ and treatments, substance abuse addiction and recovery and therapy, my last major crisis was not going to get better without proper acknowledgement and treatment for my dissociative condition. Almost by process of elimination, I had sought treatment for everything else, and yet I was dissociating, self harming and terribly fragmented. The tricky thing about dissociating is that it is often secret even to the sufferer. It takes someone knowledgeable to re-introduce us to ourselves and to teach us how to recognize what is happening and how to set up internal communication so that we can work with our different fragmented parts. Thanks to a good therapist who referred me to an intensive out patient program that specialized in trauma and dissociation, I finally found myself in a place to begin such work. That was two years ago.
To be fair, I had been diagnosed with the disorder in 1985 (it was called multiple personality disorder, MPD, back then) but I was not in an emotional or mature enough state to accept it. It would take another 28 years for me to come to terms with the diagnosis; life simply proved it correct too many times for me to reject anymore. So two years ago I began healing my DID condition. It’s been a circuitous route and by no means is it over. But the good news is that today, I find myself in a position to leave behind intensive therapy and begin living life managing my DID harmoniously and lovingly. That is what healing looks like to me. It doesn’t mean I do not dissociate or have parts, it means I live life well, as I am.
I realized I am leaving behind crisis mode when I saw that I am no longer just “putting out fires” with therapy and I am looking outside of myself for things such as work and friendships, two areas of life that had devolved to nothing. I am cutting back on the intensive therapy and am now able to shine a light on previously unknown and intolerable subject matter. The biggest change that I attribute to healing is that I am choosing to reject shame. This is an ongoing process. Significantly, I am letting go of my shame around having DID , and sharing it with others in appropriate settings.
Interestingly, I made this drawing which I titled “Shame” early in my breakdown two years ago. And I was majorly grappling with shame then. Of course there was the shame all survivors carry , but I was also majorly shame filled for having DID. Although I finally accepted the diagnosis, I still felt I would always have to keep it secret. When I started this blog, I could not yet bring myself to state that I had DID, even though this is a blog about my recovery from mental illness. I wrote in my “About” page that I had a “dissociative disorder”, to water it down. Today, I changed it to reflect the truth.
I am practicing presenting and advocating for myself safely and compassionately these days. I still have a long road of recovery ahead of me but it is not filled with crisis and self negation anymore. Yes, I still struggle with medication compliance at times and I still need to keep my issues private from most of the public world , but I am not gripped with the fear of discovery as I used to be. While I do not relish many people knowing the particulars of my mental health struggles, it is outweighed in this blog venue by my desire to be of help to others who are living with such a disorder as me. I guess a sign of recovering is my not caring what intolerant or scandalous people may think of me when I simply live my life as I am. I am choosing to stand up for myself , quietly, in the face of potential disapproval. That is a huge recovery triumph for me.