Time heals all wounds. But what is time? I’ve read philosophy articles and evolution articles that describe time as a human invention, that before we came with a need to track and record our days here the universe was oblivious to time passing, and everything that occurred over the billions of years relatively happened in a single moment. It’s an interesting perspective, and could fuel many hours of discussion without reaching any conclusions. All history is happening at once, and yet time heals wounds; life is short, and yet for the young time stretches out before them.
For people with a dissociative disorder, particularly DID, the meaning of time is very important, and discussions of what time is take on a very real dimension.
My primary coping strategy is my routine. I wake up at the same time, leave the house at the same time, take the same route to the same place. My appointments are fixed, my meal times are predictable, all my plans are made in advance. Time plays a major part in my life, I know where I will be at 4pm on Wednesday or 11am on Friday. I know who I will be likely to see and speak to. The benefits, and therefore the reasons I have this routine are simple; I needed to find a way to cope with time loss.
Time loss is arguably the most debilitating aspect of DID. You are at home at 10am, you blink or ‘drift off’ and it’s 3pm and you’re in a town centre somewhere. It’s frightening, confusing and at times quite frankly dangerous. People will tell you the things you’ve done and said during those missing hours, but to you it is simply missed time. The confusion and chaos this caused me in my adolescence was extreme. Of course these are the times my alters take for themselves, either triggered by something upsetting or else I was simply feeling weak and they strong. I have no memory of their activities, as explained in a previous post I am not them, we are like flatmates, sharing space but very separate individuals. It is the hardest thing for other people to understand. Feeling detached, numb, robotic or paranoid other people can understand and relate to on some level. Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed at some point in their lives? Who hasn’t experienced a bad shock and gone into a trance like state or autopilot as a temporary way of coping? But losing time? It isn’t really something you can compare with any normal experience It is the essence of abnormal, and yet it is my life, and the lives of many others who have DID.
As I said, my primary coping strategy is my routine, if I suddenly find myself at 2pm on a Tuesday when a moment ago it was 8.30am, I have got to carry on with my day, I cannot afford to fall apart as I have done on previous occasions in my adolescence. I am an adult now, I have children, I must cope and function in this world or I stand to lose everything. So at 2pm on Tuesday I know my children are in school and I have 90minutes until I need to collect them. Now there are 3 things I must immediately do – 1. check my phone for text messages and phone calls 2. check in with my partner 3. check my purse and online banking.
Checking my phone gives me an idea of any conversations “I” have had, so if anyone says they spoke to me I can at least pretend to know what they’re talking about. This doesn’t help with any face to face conversations of course but it’s something.
My bank is an important record to check as spent money can give a clear idea of where I’ve been and what has happened. Bus tickets and receipts in my purse can also paint a vivid picture. Finances need to be watched closely as someone else might spend my water bill money if I’m not careful with the budget.
Once I’m sure everything is as it should be and nothing drastic has happened I can simply slot myself back into the day, continuing to follow the routine wherever I happen to be. The overall result is a relatively seamless transition, but without that routine and tight schedule I would be lost and easily become disoriented and “zone out” after a time loss experience.
All this must seem very strange and hard to follow to anyone who doesn’t live their lives with “shared time”, but to anyone who does live with this and is perhaps struggling to cope and function independently due to the time loss I can only recommend this strategy – a well controlled routine with all appointments and meetings, all shopping trips and errands, written in a diary and kept with you at all times. Anytime you ‘come back’ and are unsure what’s happened you can prevent a distressing situation by picking up your routine and finishing your day as planned. Later, safe at home, you can figure out what you missed.
This is the life we must live, it is complex, it is difficult, it is shared but it does not have to be completely debilitating. A job might be difficult to keep but that doesn’t mean life cannot be lived. After all, a fair share of time belongs to you too.