I had given up on therapy when I met T. My two long term therapists crossed boundaries by having dual relationships with me, and one of them lost her license to practice after the Board of Health and Human Services read her emails. These experiences damaged me more than I can explain. As I mentioned before, therapy is the only effective treatment for DID, and many parts saw it as dangerous. Years had passed since these women crossed my boundaries, but I was unable to tolerate therapists for more than a few months at a time, and I was constantly leaving treatment.
In March of 2017, something happened to make me call the local community health center for a counselor. One day I was playing with my 7 month old daughter on the floor, and I heard the voices again. I saw flashes of scary images in my head. They felt very intrusive. I immediately panicked because I had convinced myself that I didn’t have DID. I wanted to be a “normal” mom, and I figured the previous therapists who diagnosed me were mistaken. My rationale was that both of those therapists were terrible, and because they weren’t good therapists, their diagnosis was irrelevant. Now that I was a mother, the fear of my dissociative disorder was turning to terror. I knew I needed help, so I called the CHC. Their behavioural health secretary was busy and put me on hold for five minutes. I anxiously sat in my daughter’s bedroom on the floor and stared out the window at the trees while thinking I should hang up. But I was desperate to see somebody for my daughter’s sake, so I waited. The secretary finally gave me an appointment in a few weeks with T. In hindsight, I’m glad I took that first step and didn’t give up.
I think I met T at the end of March 2017. I disclosed to her early in treatment that I had childhood trauma and my parents had abused me. She offered to refer me to a colleague who had more experience with trauma and was trained in EMDR, but I declined because I liked T. I explained to her that when I was 15, a therapist tried to do EMDR with me, and I had a bad seizure. I was scared to try it again. I don’t remember much about the first year of therapy with T because I was extremely dissociative and in that post partum phase that moms experience. I was breastfeeding, so I still felt like my body wasn’t mine. I think the hormones from breastfeeding kept me in a safe emotional bubble for a while. A year went by, and T was a consistent support every week. She was calm when I gathered the courage to tell her about my intrusive thoughts, and she never made me feel judged.
The one year mark seems to be an important point in therapy. After the bad experiences, I was unable to stay in treatment for longer than that. It seems to be the average time it takes us to start trusting a counselor. Usually when this happens, some of us start to feel an attachment to them (I say some parts because others resist therapy for various reasons), but this attachment causes us to fear abandonment and rejection. The abandonment fears in certain parts, especially the younger ones, were worsened by the therapist who lost her license because she suddenly left us when we were struggling. I knew that treating someone with my trauma background and serious issues wasn’t easy, and I knew I needed someone smart and confident. I told T the therapists in the past didn’t even do the basics. They damaged me in so many ways and at best were unhelpful or judgmental. I was relieved when I found T because she had empathy, consistency, and good boundaries. She also asked thoughtful questions that guided me in the right direction.
I feel bad that T saw me for almost two years before I told her that I’d been previously diagnosed with a dissociative disorder. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of DID that I was scared to tell her. But it wasn’t like I was trying to keep anything from her, I honestly didn’t think I had DID. It’s not very common, and my denial was powerful. As we started to trust her more, we started writing in a journal. I was finally letting the other parts be heard again, but soon they were writing down terrifying memories. I somehow had the courage to share pieces of my journal with T. We liked that she didn’t react when we told her about sad or scary memories. We read people’s facial expressions and eyes really well, so we usually know how someone is reacting to what we say. T never reacted. I think this made us feel like she could handle it, and we told her more and more. The parts that had been silent for years were desperately trying to tell their stories, but it became overwhelming for me and other parts when they flooded us. There was chaos in my head, but I was afraid to tell T.
Unfortunately the journal writing made us decompensate, and a few teen parts became chronically suicidal. I went to partial hospitalization, which is basically an adult day program, for two weeks to try and stabilize. Towards the end of my time there, one of the counselors noticed that I had parts. She spoke through me to them, and I could instantly feel their relief, “Yes! Yes, we are here!” The next day I was stressed and switching a lot, and a male counselor triggered a suicidal teen part. I don’t know why he didn’t know basic trauma informed care, but it’s important that people don’t ask a trauma victim to look them in the eye. Eye contact can feel threatening and overwhelming. This teen part kept saying she wanted to die, and the male counselor asked the psychiatrist to Section 12 me. This means I was going to be brought involuntarily to the ER to be screened for inpatient hospitalization. We all panicked inside because being locked up triggers us. We begged him to change his mind, but he said it was too late. That’s when one of us ran. We just bolted out of his office, and the nurse tried to grab us as we ran by. We ran down the long hallways to the stairs and out the fire exit to the parking lot. I had been using a cane because I had broken my ankle and dislocated it months before. I still had a limp, but not at that moment. They ran until they saw the security guards. There were two, and they were looking for me in the parking lot. We acted calm as we walked by them, and then we dashed to the car. By the time security realized it was me, I was in my car and waving to them as I left the parking lot. One of my teen parts is a wise ass (well, actually more than one).
I couldn’t believe what had happened, it was like a bad dream, and I had no control over my actions. I had seen it unfold but couldn’t stop any of it. Stairs always took me a while to walk down with my ankle injury, but they flew down them with no hindrance. Some parts wanted to drive to New York because we were near the highway, but a more sensible part luckily convinced us to find T since her office was in the same town. When we got there, we went into the empty waiting room and sat on the floor in the corner. We were scared the police were looking for us. After about an hour (which felt like 10 minutes), T walked into the waiting room and was puzzled when she saw me. I think a younger part was out, maybe a young teen. T sat on the floor with us for about half an hour as we told her what happened. We begged her to stop this somehow, but she couldn’t. She didn’t tell anyone where I was, and she let me call my wife. She convinced us to go to the ER instead of running. She even offered to go with me, but I said no thanks. I ended up talking my way out of the screening at the ER, and I went home that night. It was a horrible ordeal, but it did two things: 1) It made even more parts trust her, and to a greater extent, and 2) It made me realize I might actually have DID. I started reading the book Coping With Trauma Related Dissociation. A therapist I only saw for a few months had recommended it, but I’d been unable to read it for years.
The book was enlightening. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to read it, but I needed the courage and safety to do so. After I read it, I also read the treatment book. It was scary how much these books sounded like me. I told T, and I let her borrow them. She started to see that I might have a dissociative disorder. I think that my behaviours on the day I was sectioned were definitely a factor in her decision, but if you read those books, you’ll see why she and two other therapists diagnosed me with DID. Unfortunately I’m a textbook case, which is not something I was happy to find out. I thought people with DID were more noticeable, but the book said that only about 4- 5% of cases display the dramatic and flamboyant switching as seen in the movies. Most people are scared and ashamed of their switching and try to hide it like I always had, but clearly extreme stress will make it harder for me to control.
I asked T if she wanted to still work with me, because I knew my case was difficult. She said yes, as long as I found it helpful. I called an expert who helped write the ISSTD treatment guidelines for DID, and she said if my therapist was willing to get consultation or at least read the treatment book, then I didn’t necessarily need to find a specialist. I told T about my conversation with this woman, and I also told her that this expert couldn’t see me because she was retiring in a few years and not taking new patients since it was long term treatment. T still seemed to be comfortable working with me. I started doing the exercises in the coping book and letting her read my responses. It was helpful to explain to T what I experienced internally, and the exercises also helped me reflect. It was scary, but we were finally able to allow more parts to communicate with T, which was the key to healing. Meanwhile, T took all of this in stride and never made me feel judged or broken.