Obviously being many instead of one can really complicate life. Although I kind of hate jokes about “multiple personalities” because they’re hurtful, I need to have a sense of humor or it can be overwhelming. I think part of breaking the stigma around DID is explaining what it’s like to live with it. This is just a quick overview because there is too much to explain in one post.
Daily life isn’t easy to explain because it varies. We’re usually working together to take care of our daughter and keep the house clean, as a single mom there’s always lots to do. When we have free time, we prefer to be active. Sometimes it’s easy to go into public and socialize, but other days it’s really hard. It can be like that with anyone, but for me it’s usually influenced by which parts are around at the time. A common symptom of DID is that a part will say something out loud, and I will have no control over it. I’ll hear myself saying something but won’t be able to stop it. This has caused some issues in the past because they have opinions that I don’t have, so that can be confusing for people. And I hear them speak to me internally all the time. They randomly comment on things I do, and sometimes I even hear them talking or arguing with each other. Most people with DID have a lot of internal conflicts between parts because they have different ideas of how to keep us safe or cope. Occasionally I’ll hear the kids talk, I like it when they comment on something in the outside world. When I was swimming, a 7 year old part said, “I see rainbows!” At first I was confused, but then I saw she was right- there were subtle rainbow effects in my goggles with the light coming through the water. It made me smile.
The other parts can also take control of my body. Sometimes I can see it happening, and other times I don’t recall anything. They don’t always see it like it’s my body, which is called dissociative trance logic. It’s bizarre and scary when I don’t know why I’m doing something. They’ve jumped into huge moshpits in sandals, and I had no choice. The nurses in the ER were amused with my story when they asked how I got cuts and a staph infection in my foot. Now they are better about not engaging in risky behaviors because I’m a mom. I’m grateful that we can all cooperate on things like that. We have common goals, like keeping my daughter safe and working to feel better. We also all follow the same moral and ethical rules, and all of us take this very seriously. I think this is because we experienced people do very evil things, and we don’t want to be like them ever, not even a little bit. We also agree on relationships, and we are always loyal to the person we enter into a relationship with. I think this is because it’s important for us to follow the rule that we treat others as we wish to be treated. We’d never want to inflict emotional harm on another person, especially not intentionally. And as you may notice, sometimes I refer to myself as “we” or “us.” Sometimes I still have shame when I use plural pronouns, and I only use them occasionally around people who know me well. I will use these pronouns when many of us agree on something or it affects more than one part.
Despite the fact that I’ve been able to increase cooperation and communication among parts, we still have internal conflicts. And they definitely still want to be out in the world. Sometimes two or more parts are out at once, and that’s called blending. I’ll be running on the treadmill and a younger part of me will want to start sprinting. I’ll say no, you have to conserve energy- but he’s already running as fast as he can. Eventually he gets bored with this and disappears, leaving me tired and messing up my pace. It can work to my advantage though. If I’m sick or tired and I find that swimming is difficult, another part takes over who loves swimming. They honestly do most of it, but I enjoy it too. They swim faster than me, so if I’m able to be out when they’re swimming, I get a nice speed boost. It’s a weird feeling to move that fast through the water and not be totally sure how you’re even doing it. I swim so fast that people often comment on it. My life has a lot of moments like that. I just accept them now.
Our therapist, we call her T, taught us to move when we are spacey or feeling overwhelmed with flashbacks that slow us down and paralyze us. Movement also helps empower us because of all the times we were frozen in fear, pain, or physically restrained in some way. Because of the trauma, parts are stuck in action defenses like fight, flight, or freeze. There is also flag and faint. Flag is a gradual slowing down to the point where I can’t talk, move or think, and faint is the obvious collapse when the final circuit breaker goes off. I’ve learned over the years that an incredibly bad memory will cause a circuit breaker in my mind to trigger either an activated state (seizure, flashback, etc.) or slowed state (paralysis, numbness, and unresponsive). This makes sense because the treatment book says patients with DID swing between hyper (activation) and hypoarousal (slowing down) of the nervous system. Some dissociative parts are activated in fight or flight mode and are therefore stuck in hyperarousal. They don’t actually fight, but they get tense and scared as if they need to be ready. Other parts want to run, and I often feel the sudden urge to run away from situations. If I don’t listen to them, panic ensues inside. I’ve learned to be compassionate with them, and I hear them out. This makes it easier for me to deal with stress. The parts stuck in hypoarousal are spacey, depressed, frozen, numb, or unable to move or walk. The parts that have the most extreme difficulties are stuck in trauma time and don’t come out in daily life very often, so luckily those issues don’t happen to me as much anymore. But therapy can cause them because we work on difficult topics. Sometimes I need hours to ground and contain after therapy. It’s exhausting.
So what is it like living with many parts that behave, think, feel, and perceive things differently? It’s confusing, complicated, and scary. But it can also be amazing, surprising, and fun. I’m often a walking contradiction, a paradox to say the least. Conflict among parts is also common because they often want different things. They have different opinions, likes and dislikes, interests, skills, and hobbies. A few examples are reading, swimming, running, drawing, guitar, dancing, singing, rapping, poetry, painting, writing, all kinds of music, drumming, movies, comic books, video games, sharks and other sea creatures, scuba diving, traveling, food, vegetarian cooking, art, museums, ancient Egypt, archaeology, psychology, theology, counseling, philosophy, epidemiology, microbiology, constitutional law, LGBT issues and human rights, political activism, computer repair, coding, web design, bug testing video games, animal rescue and protection, marine biology, environmental issues, virology and immunology, astronomy, political science, cars, martial arts, flying planes, animation, skiing, white water rafting, sailing, kayaking, rowing, watching and playing pretty much every sport, archery, hiking, live music, festivals, etc. That’s not even half of it. And to make it more complicated, different parts will agree on some similar interests but not the details. An example is superheroes, a lot of us like them, but we all like different ones. Another example is food- most of us like eating, but we all have different favourites. Deciding what to eat can be interesting. Sometimes we have a hard time agreeing what to spend our free time on, which can be stressful. We have a lot of creativity and ideas, but we only have so much free time. It’s also difficult when some parts like being outgoing or don’t mind being around a lot of people, while others prefer to be alone or in small groups. Some even have a hard time with loud noises and bright lights. We have ways to deal with this and still do the things we love. I’ll explain more about that another time. It’s actually kind of painful to feel pulled in so many different directions. It’s hard to describe. We try to make as many compromises as we can. But some things they know I won’t compromise on. An example is that we don’t date men. Some of them want to, and I feel bad, but it’s not a good idea. It makes many of us miserable, and they’ve learned to accept that. It’s also frustrating for us because we all wanted to have different careers. Some had lofty goals like becoming a virologist and curing HIV. Others wanted to be a constitutional lawyer, a veterinarian, or a pilot. The list goes on, but obviously we got a graduate degree in psychology. They all want to go back to college to study their interests, and if it didn’t cost a lot of money, I’d be ok with that.
The most important thing we want you to know is that we’re not dangerous. Our mind has split into parts in order to survive severe trauma, but none of the parts of our mind has ever hurt anyone. People who know me well know this to be true. As I have mentioned before, we have protector parts. One of their jobs is to protect children and animals. Then after that they protect anyone else who is innocent. We live by this code because what we saw and lived though was incredibly evil, and we don’t know how to make sense of this world or our existence if we’re not kind and help others. As I mentioned before, we all live by the rule that we treat others as we wish to be treated. For as long as I can remember, I’ve just wanted people to show kindness to animals and each other. I’ve been trying to rescue and save animals since I was a kid. I guess I often try to save people too. It makes sense why. People with DID are not violent. If anything we’re strong, resilient, and compassionate. I can’t say there has never been anyone with DID who has hurt someone, there have been claims that a few serial killers have had “multiple personalities,” but sometimes people try to use that defense to avoid prison. And if it is true, it’s not common among the DID population. We are not serial killers or dangerous, despite what movies and other media portray. We are people in pain who lived through severe trauma. And we are people struggling with a mental illness that’s never talked about unless it’s the topic of jokes or Hollywood drama. This makes a painful situation even more painful because it creates isolation in a world where no one understands. I’ve heard voices in my head since I can remember, but I’ve always felt alone.