It’s here again, the month of May. Another month on the calendar for some, but for the millions upon millions of us living with mental illness this month is something special. May being Mental Health Awareness Month is a beacon of hope and a time for us to focus our efforts on spreading information regarding our lives with mental illness.
Growing up on Chicago’s south side was scattered and a bit chaotic. From the outside we were a typical religious family. Loving and nurturing parents with supportive caring relatives, but like every other house in the neighborhood, the heavy doors hid our secrets well. Jesus saved and had a purpose for my mother, according to her. By extension ‘he’ also had a plan for my life. I was told this each and every week. Whether I was being forced to pray and read my bible, having a bible verse beat into me – spare the rod, spoil the child. Remember? — Or needing my demons exorcised. It became clear to me that knowledge was indeed, power. My geographical location made it easy to find my weapon(s) of choice and we began to arm ourselves well, at the tender age of five.
On the corner of our street was a Chicago Public Library. What did you think I meant? No, that is not my story and I can thank one of my parts in particular for that level of protection, which is an entirely different discussion for another day. I digress; books quickly became one of our favorite places in the world to be. One librarian at our newly discovered home in particular stands out. I can remember everything about her even before therapy she’s taken permanent residence in my mind. Her full beautiful face, kind somber demeanor and perfect complexion are things that I, to this day have dreams about; even her sweet smelling perfume is engraved into my senses. I could go on and on about her understated elegance and kindness, but she gave me the greatest life-saving gift anyone ever had. She gave us real factual information and a safe haven. She did not think me “crazy” or dangerous and I could never thank her enough for these gifts.
Blacking out all the time, I mean this in the literal sense. My childhood memories exist, but are shattered and scattered about, as is the case with all of my memories. They’re distant and dissociated in large part. My parents did not cause my deepest seeded illness, but they were contributing factors and adding to the chaos. While I am aware of the varied ingredients slapped together to create the perfect-storm of my life the simple fact is this did not need to happen, nor can I now blame a child for these happenings. One of the greatest things our therapist has taught me and many of my parts.
“I thought you’d be safe. You’re her granddaughter.” One of the phrases I heard in a recent conversation. My mother and I have a tempestuous relationship, but having been in therapy for several years at this point things have begun to shift. While good and beneficial to me, this has not created harmony with relatives and people at large. You see now, I know. I have my answers to a lifetime of “black outs”, inconsistencies and mind numbing chaos. This comes at a steep fee to some of the various relatives and people in my life. As I said, now, I know. I have been living with Dissociative Identity Disorder-DID.
Filled with turmoil and what I can now define as discomfort, OCD and anxieties, I (myself) hadn’t spoken to her in years, but geographically we’re quite close, my mother and I. Through my years in therapy, my parts have been speaking with our psychologist and things have been getting better, much better. I have an understanding of many things that I’ve missed throughout my life. So instead of my parts protecting me and keeping me surviving, the logic of my protecting them has been consuming my thoughts. We work together, they have for the better part of my life, but now I’m added into this harmonious — albeit quite argumentative at times–system and it helps.
We want to live well, but through this I’ve now started speaking to people. Which has caused some issues, but these things were not my choice and once you begin to utilize your ‘god given’ voice, generally speaking, people tend not to like that. I’m thirty years old now. I deal in logic; it’s how my thought processes work and so I believe it is me who should be protecting some of my parts, many are very young but despite their numerical age they do not have the minds of typical children. What I’ve come to know is they kept me, each other and even others alive and got us real help, this took far too long and there are multiple (bah dum tss) failings within the mental health field but now I will help them to survive, heal and thrive.
I never knew I was dissociating before my diagnosis. As you may know at this point, I fully expected to be told I had an inoperable brain tumor and had X amount of time left to live. This obviously never happened, but it’s what I expected nonetheless. I quit attempting to find help for myself. Continuing on the same course and expecting a different result is by definition insanity after all and so I could no longer continue on with this level of insanity I was contributing to my life, at the time. Simply put, I gave up, but living with DID is funny that way. While I, myself, had concluded it no longer mattered some of my parts disagreed.
Before therapy and still today at times I have said, “I don’t remember that, but I believe you.” This sentence has been muttered to damn near every single individual I have ever interacted with. While it still occurs today, it is far less frequent and only continuing to get better…Through talk therapy. You’ll have a devil of a time trying to find another who is more an advocate of the benefits of talk therapy. With dissociative disorders we’ve come to find this is the best thing you can do for yourself. Truly.
Is it difficult? You bet your ass it is, but not having a definitive was much worse. Waking up in another ICU, unknown place, city, state and yes, country, was indeed more difficult. At this point in therapy I am actually speaking openly with my therapist. This took years of course, but that is an unfortunate icky sticky truth of my life with DID; and for many others with this contradictory disorder. It takes far too long to get any sort of assistance, let alone an answer from the psych field. Why? Well, we’re working on that but largely we’ve found it is a lack of helpful information. Which is why we are continuing our “Living with DID Talks.” Something that has become vastly important to my system as a whole; trauma in childhood caused the DID, but I was well into my 20’s and had seen over 100 doctors by the time we found real help. This is deplorable to me and I find it unacceptable, so we are doing every bit we can to make changes within the psych fields short comings.
I am not a monster. My parts are not monsters. Some can be fiercely protective of me, each other and as I said, other people as well. That is what my system is like. As with anything, all people are different, we have varied life experiences or traumas, and despite some similarities we do in fact contrast in many ways. Walking into a doctor’s office, hospital or counseling center and saying, “Hey, I have dissociative identity disorder” does not work. In some specific instances, sure it can anything is possible, but from the experiences of the 100’s of systems we’ve spoken to at this point, it is ill-advised. I can walk into any facility and say I’ve broken my arm or “think concussion have I.” They’re not likely to argue, but immediately begin x-rays, CT’s or any number of tests to confirm and assist me. Why then is it so different for mental illnesses?
This comes back to blind faith. They seem to believe the minimal information they’re told by colleagues or what they themselves have read in some random article. My way of thinking is if I desire to learn something I will seek many differing types of information, including those with real world experiences, but people with DID who speak openly about the ups downs and in-betweens of that particular brand of chaos are few and difficult to find. Recovery is individualized and with DID this can cause many contradictions within the field. This is no one’s fault, truly it isn’t, but I put the burden of beginning those individual journeys on the shoulders of those within the field that are trained to see the problems and assist in the recovery process.
First and foremost we, those of us living with mental illness, must speak and reach out for assistance. I’ve been told in my adult life, “how could I have helped if I wasn’t told?” While that is true, to a point, it is not likely your child will come up to you and say, “Hey your mother tried to drown me.” Especially, for a child like me who dissociates, in my mind, it was a punishment to go visit “grandma.” What we knew of punishment was you did not complain about it or things would be far worse.
Yes. As a child a few of my parts had in fact spoken up about certain things and spoiler alert, they paid for it and were not believed. This seemed to create a shift within my system, from some of the information and memories I have now — through the work in therapy – in those instances more of my parts fully became who they are today. The strong, independent, children they had to be. My main point is blind faith and inconsistency can kill. I’ve said this many times now and frankly, it’s unlikely I’ll ever stop. Inconsistency can kill and it nearly killed me multiple times.
So, what of life now? Well, I can say that while we do struggle we want to live. The individual struggles and traumas that were thrust upon me in those tender developmental years, while in the past, are present in my life even now at thirty, but that’s where therapy comes in and hopefully mental health medication can assist with this. The trauma put upon me created we, but while to me, there isn’t anything special about that it did cause me to at very least, survive. That being said, without insurance things prove difficult but that’s logistics; I, myself, have faith in me, my parts, and the people in my life who do help and one particular person who — for nearly twenty years — has been our constant sounding board. Together we are stronger and together we will continue to heal and change both me and those who should be able to help others living with dissociative disorders.
Today’s post was written by the amazing Erika from theweinme.com and (disclaimer) all pictures in the post were supplied/are owned by Erika.
If you’d like to read more about Erika’s story, check her out on Twitter.