This is complicated, and a bit delicate. DID used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder so you can guess what the major qualifying symptom is, yes there is more than just me in here. I share my head and body with several others, however I don’t tend to talk about them, not to family or friends or strangers, and the reason is simple; I ask you, if you had room mates and you went talking about them to anyone without their permission, essentially gossiping behind their backs, would it make for a pleasant home environment? Or would it cause a whole lot of tension and bad feeling? Would they trust you? Let’s face it when you share a tight space with someone else you want to make things as easy and smooth for everyone as possible. They prefer I don’t talk about them, so I don’t. They didn’t want any part of my therapy either, though I had to talk about them there as that was part of the process, so I talked to them first, we had a sort of weekly conference call to make sure we all knew and approved of what was going to happen in therapy that week. As they don’t want me talking about them I won’t, however I thought that considering this is a blog about living with a dissociative disorder, and considering that my disorder is DID, it would be strange indeed if I didn’t have at least one post on life with alters. Out of consideration of them I shall keep things general.
What I understand from my former therapist is it’s not just the general public who struggle to grasp the concept of multiple personalities. Personally I don’t know what’s so difficult, your mind created you why can’t it create others? If your brain is capable of compartmentalising different memories and information and so forth, why can’t it compartmentalise personalities too? Which is precisely what it does do. Language is a difficult thing, don’t talk to me about ‘my other parts’, don’t ask me whats its like when I’m being my alter, don’t suggest that they are different sides of me. It isn’t about me, it’s about us. We are different, separate, we were created from the same brain yes, but we are separate. I don’t know what the others think about, what they feel unless they tell me. I don’t know what their memories are either, which of course leads us to the main point. In my previous post endure vs suffer I talked about that nuclear bomb that we boxed off? Well in the case of DID it’s more several boxes rather than just one. These boxes are buried in separate places and hold different things, they are guarded in different ways and all have different levels of radiation leaking from them. Around each of these boxes, an alter was created.
I imagine the head of someone without DID (a ‘single’ to use a common term) is like a large open plan studio flat. Lots of space, only one occupant, a few cupboards and boxes (which may contain unpleasant memories and experiences that the person doesn’t want to face) but mostly very open. In contrast, a person with DID( a ‘plural’) will have more of a boarding house, with rooms for each alter and in each room there are locked cupboards and boxes. Some plurals may have a common room, some rooms may be linked by doors, windows or just phones, whereas some rooms may be completely shut off and their existence only known because of the noise through the walls. It’s crowded, it’s noisy, and it’s very complex.
Everyone’s experience is different but from talking to other people with DID I understand that alters tend to have certain “jobs”, they hold a specific memory or aspect or emotion from a memory, and their entire personality has evolved from that point and for that purpose.
They may be a snapshot in time – forever the child from that memory in that moment unable to grow up and always in pain. That child will have their own feelings and way of understanding what is happening, they might be aware of what’s going on in the real world or they might be unaware of any time passing at all. Many people with child alters tend to find themselves acting the parent, they have to look after that child, they might buy toys for the child, watch kids films, have a special area or room set up with a den where the child can go and be themselves safely.
They might be what you would have been if the bomb hadn’t been boxed off – broken, angry, confused, scared, illogical and maybe borderline insane. Just think, we lived our lives with everything buried, we only had to cope with the leakage – who protected them? Whilst they held those boxes so we could live, who helped them? Some might have issues of abandonment and loss.
In my personal experience there are 2 main types of alters – external and internal. External are the ones who you lose time to, the ones who might want their share of life, the ones who jump out to protect you when you’re threatened and who, whether unintentionally or not, can cause one hell of a lot of trouble with family, friends, employers, teachers, whoever. The bottom line to always remember is they are not you. The alters I share this body with are not me – they have their own mannerisms, tastes, styles, attitudes, some things we have in common some things we don’t. And anyone who thinks it’s just me putting on a show consider this – one of them can drink like a fish whereas I have almost zero alcohol tolerance, and I’ve heard reports of people who have genuine allergies that don’t affect the alters – the brain is a complex thing. External alters can certainly cause a lot of trouble, but they are sometimes the easiest ones to compromise with and help when needed. If it’s a child who’s upset they can come out and have some time in a safe place, and if they choose (which mine never did) they can take active roles in therapy, even have therapy themselves.
Internal alters are another matter entirely, they’re the ones who give you a migraine screaming when they get overwhelmed, the ones who deafen you with shouting and talking when they need attention or want you to get away from a certain place or person and the ones who are hardest to help because what can you offer someone you can’t touch, see or physically interact with? How do you counsel them on issues you yourself are trying to resolve?
The only way to live as a plural is with communication. This can be difficult if alters are angry and hostile towards you, but it has to be done somehow. A head-ups has to be given before going to places that might cause distress, party’s, shopping centres etc. You constantly have to be aware of each others needs and compromise is a skill to be mastered quickly. One of the hardest things I find about being ‘plural’ is the lack of privacy. I go nowhere alone, I do nothing in private, I am eternally watched and often have a running commentary on my day. One of the scariest prospects of integrating, which is the closest thing to a cure and means merging with all the alters so I am a single like everyone else, is being alone. I mean seriously, what do you people do when you’re alone?! Who do you talk to? Do you talk to yourselves because honestly that sounds crazy! What do you do with all that internal space?! It’s a scary prospect and I can’t understand how on earth I would cope being alone. Contradictory? Yes, but I’m allowed to be.