When you’re talking to someone with any mental health problem the language you use can mean everything. Whether you are a friend, relative, employer or health professional. the language you use when discussing a persons condition and their needs can say a lot more than you intend it to. You may think you are being understanding and open-minded, but you can easily come across as the opposite. I know this condition can be very difficult to understand, especially the concept of being ‘plural’, but please don’t tell me that it isn’t possible just because that hasn’t happened with you. It’s like saying to someone with asthma they can’t possibly have trouble breathing when they have 2 lungs like everyone else. I will happily try to explain my condition to anyone who has a genuine interest or concern, I won’t go into the personal stuff such as causes and triggers perhaps but I’m glad to discuss the day-to-day aspects if it helps spread awareness. This can be difficult to do however when the person I’m talking to is using words and terms that twist what I’m trying to say or make assumptions and conclusions based in misinformation and ignorance. So here’s some things I’ve heard countless times by many different people from teachers to friends to welfare officers to doctors/therapists, some of whom where just being ignorant idiots, but some of whom where genuinely wanting to help but unable to understand.
“When you’re the ‘other person’, how do you feel?”
A classic from the health professionals, the ‘other person’ refers to an alter of course, and the answer to this question is simple – I don’t. I am not the alter, I do not know what the alter feels. Asking me this question you might as well be asking me to explain my sister’s emotions and thoughts, and since I’m not her I can’t do that. I can give you an interpretation of her actions and what she’s said to me, but that would only be my opinion not what she’s feeling. If you want to know what she feels, ask her. If you want to know what my alter feels, ask them. I understand how to someone with no experience of living with alters the lines can seem blurred but in asking me this question you are inadvertently saying you don’t see us as separate people, thereby implying you don’t believe me. You can understand how this can put a strain on the conversation, not understanding is one thing and we can talk about that, but if you don’t believe me then why are we having this conversation? As a health professional I come to for help, I shouldn’t first have to prove myself (or ourselves).
“Your alter said some unkind things – why didn’t you tell me you think that?”
This is one that I’ve heard off a few friends and partners alike. What I’ve found is that people are willing to believe you as their friend (or tell you they believe you to avoid a confrontation), until it directly affects them and then all belief goes out the window and the blame lands squarely on you. It’s a similar situation to the one above; you’re asking me to account for someone else but I didn’t say anything to you, I didn’t think anything, I wasn’t me. People think this is an excuse, and until you realise myself and the alters are different people who think individual thoughts and have individual emotions an excuse is what it will sound like. You will never understand me if you compare my mind to yours, although I know that’s the first reference that anyone makes when trying to relate to someone else. Alters don’t say things that you think, they’re not a mask or a character to assume when it suits, they are separate people within us and we must live with them as best we can.
“Snap out of it”
Oh OK… I think everyone with a mental health problem has heard this and I doubt anyone has found it anything other than blood boiling. I mean really?? Snap out of it? I must have misplaced my magic wand a long time ago because this has never been an option. I can try to hide it, I can slap a smile of my face and do an Oscar-winning performance of normality if that will make YOU feel better, but why should I? I can never ‘snap out of it’. It will always be there, and since hiding it has proved in the past to make it worse I’d rather not. You can snap out of worrying or dwelling on trivial things in life, like what such-a-body is saying at work or weightless paranoid suspicions of your partner cheating on you, you can’t snap out of mental illness. Whether its depression, anorexia, schizophrenia or DID, we can’t snap out-of-the-way our minds work and function. Can you?
“You don’t act like any thing’s wrong”
Dissociation is a survival mechanism, it blocks out what’s wrong and keeps you going like a robot until the leakage of emotions and thoughts gets too much and floods out like an avalanche. So unless it’s a flood day, of course I don’t act like any thing’s wrong. I may not even be aware that anything is wrong, but that flood is imminent, and how long I’ve appeared normal can indicate how bad the flood is. The month I spend crying a little everyday and having an angry rant every day and having mood swings and essentially acting like some thing’s wrong, is probably the month I was healthier and my condition more improved than those months where everything was “fine” and I was going through the routine as a robot not showing anything.
“There’s plenty of people who’ve been through worse and they don’t dissociate”
Firstly you don’t know what I’ve been through so how can you possibly compare me to anyone else? Secondly that’s like saying to someone who’s developed cancer after never smoking that they shouldn’t have it because someone who smoked all their adult life hasn’t got it. It makes no sense, it has no relevance and it certainly doesn’t help. Our bodies react to diet, environment and atmospheric changes in different ways. Some people will go a foreign country and be ill for a long time due to the change in diet or climate, whereas another person will adapt to that change seamlessly. Our minds work in a similar way, we all change and adapt and react in different ways. 1 million people could go through the same type of trauma and not one of them will react the same. A certain percentage of them may develop the same/similar conditions such as PTSD but again, that condition will not manifest in the same way for all of them. Some of that 1 million will not develop any condition at all, but be shaken up for a few days and make a full recovery. Why? There must be lots of reasons to do mental faculties and hormone balance and DNA, but I doubt if anyone can give a direct and concise answer.
“We’ve all felt like that/had days like that, you’ve just gotta get on with it”
I refer you back to the snap out of it comment. Are you implying by this that what I basically have is the mental version of man flu? I often try to describe mental health problems as an exaggeration of ‘normal’ mental functions, balances gone out of control, small issues and experiences magnified. I don’t know if that is medically accurate but I find it a good way of explaining to someone in a way they can relate to. That does not mean what I experience is the same what you experience. I’ve said before that everyone dissociates and it is a normal and necessary mental function, but what makes it a disorder is that the majority of people don’t experience it on the debilitating level that I do. And it is indeed debilitating. And to make another point, “just getting on with it” is what has gotten me into countless messes in the past. I can’t reconnect my broken wires AND just get on with it. Either you want me to work towards good health by reconnecting and integrating or you want me to get on with things, you can’t have both believe me I have tried. Saying something like this is completely invalidating and makes me feel that my problems don’t matter, just get in the way and should be pushed aside which, as I’ve said, is what got me into this mess in the first place. Instead of trying to fit me into your sphere or experiences try to understand what it’s like in mine.
“So will you forget you were here?!”
This is my personal favourite, I had this off a job centre disability interviewer a few years back and I was so close to laughing it hurt! No, I will not forget this conversation as I am having this conversation, I won’t forget I was here because I am the one who is here. this goes back to the whole understand the difference between me and my alters thing. It works both ways. I know what I’ve said and who I said it to. The only time that recalling personal information and recent events becomes a problem is when I’m zoned out, at those times I’m in danger of forgetting my name and need someone with me or I’ll get lost. However once the fog lifts and I’m grounded again, all information will come back to me quite easily. If you were talking to me whilst I was zoned out I may not remember the conversation but that’s because I wasn’t focussed on it in the first place, it’s like talking to drunk person; the info never makes it passed the short-term memory. If I am focussed and grounded when I’m talking to you then I will remember that conversation with all the same clarity as anyone else. I have DID not dementia or amnesia.