Saturday, 2 February 2013

I'm Sorry - I Have HOW Many Personalities??

Welcome to 'Alters 1 Thru 6'!

Ah yes, a somewhat curious title for a blog you may say? I could have gone with "Society Thinks I'm Crazy" or "Have You Seen The United States of Tara? Yeah, I'm Sorta Like That...But Kinda Not Really" but then I figured the aim of a blog is to NOT make your audience fall asleep halfway through reading the title!


Ok, for those of you who know what The United States of Tara is about, then yes, you are correct, I have multiple personalities - six to be exact. Or, as it is now known - Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as clearly 'Multiple Personality Disorder' was, what, too vague? Let's get more obscure and call it something so that we now have to explain what dissociating is as WELL as answering the barrage of questions that inevitably follow, as opposed to simply letting the name 'Multiple  Personality Disorder' speak for it itself.

I was diagnosed with DID in 2008 - not a very common, nor easy to diagnose mental illness. When I first went to see a psychiatrist (an AMAZING man) I was at sub-rock bottom (yes - below rock bottom) in such a very very dark place, one I didn't think I would ever be released from. I had seen a variety of doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors, social workers and psychiatrists to no avail and had already been diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder. Also, by this stage, I'd had several suicide attempts, many drug and alcohol binges, dealings with the police and uncontrollable blackouts. Never any violence towards another person though. Ever.

I had been seeing one of the above professionals who was great, but alas, not able to give me the help I so desperately needed. She suggested I see a psychiatrist and pointed me towards the Yellow Pages. So, one afternoon my mum sat down with the telephone directory and one after the other, called several psychiatrists in Melbourne, telling each receptionist what I had been diagnosed with. 

None of the doctors would see me - either saying they had no vacancies for some time or that they weren't taking on any more patients. Frustrated, my mum dialled yet another number and was again told the same thing. She pleaded with the receptionist for some help and the lady told her that because Borderline Personality Disorder was such an unstable mental illness and the patients were unable to be easily helped and were quite often violent, hardly any psychiatrists would treat a person who had already been diagnosed with it. Therefore, she suggested for mum say to the next receptionist that I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and not to mention Borderline.

Well, mum did just that and lo and behold, I was subsequently booked in to see a psych in the city the following week. Upon visiting this doctor who listened earnestly to my story, she promptly put me on different meds and referred me to a colleague, a psychiatrist who she believed would be able to help me. Clearly, she recognised something in my behaviour because the doc she sent me to ended up saving my life.

So, as I sat there in yet another doctor's office, I was expecting the same routine with this new psych - I tell him my story, he looks at me pitifully before announcing that he could not/would not be able to help me. Well, I got the surprise of my life when he listened intently to what had been happening to me, from my sexually abusive father to my subsequent drugs and alcohol problems and suicide attempts, looked me in the eyes and quietly stated "I believe you have multiple personalities and I also believe I can help you".

After hearing so many comments like "Oh my God, Shelley, your tale is so sad. I'm so sorry but I am not qualified enough to give you the help you need...but please I'd like to hear more of your story" I was shocked to hear that finally, I would have a chance to pull myself out of the darkness with the help of this new doctor.

Of course, ten seconds after this thought, what he had just said to me hit me like a ton of bricks,

"I'm sorry - I have WHAT? HOW many personalities??!!"

Once it was explained to me why he thought I had this strange (and slightly scary) illness, it actually made sense to me and later, surprisingly, to my friends and (some) of my family. I heard "Oh, that explains some things" quite a bit. Of course, it is not something I tell everybody about - although I am more open now than I was, clearly, as you will see...

So without further ado - allow me to supply the following answers to many of the questions I am often asked about my DID:

  • I have six personalities (a.k.a. alters).
  • Apparently, I am similar to the character Tara in The United States of Tara but - according to my best mates - without the costume changes! Of course, the show is for entertainment purposes - everybody's case of DID is different.
  • No, I am not like Sally Field's character in the film Sybil. She had more than 13 personalities and was a rather extreme case - again, the film is made for entertainment, so clearly some artistic licence is taken.
  • My alters are (in no particular order) :
    • Little Shell - girl, about 5 years old, quiet, loves to draw
    • Greg - boy, about 10-12 years old, precocious & mischievous - lots of fun (but he's a bugger on eBay!)
    • Steven - (Steven-with-a-P as he likes to introduce himself!), male, early twenties, organised, gay (yes, homosexual)
    • Amy - female, about 28 years old, refers to herself as my bodyguard, has been prone to alcoholism, drugs & suicide attempts (thinks she's protecting me - us - from the world), she's gay as well
    • Hope - female, about 25-28 years old, is sad much of the time. Also prone to similar  problems to Amy - but more out of desperation as opposed to protection
    • Me - female, thirties...and a mixture of everything above!
  • I describe DID as imagining each of your emotions such as happiness, sadness, despair, anger, vulnerability etc has it's own personality...except that I have one personality split into several.
  • No, I didn't name my alters - they did. At first I was diagnosed with having three personalities, but as I worked more with my fantastic psych, the others came out to say hello (no pun intended Steven and Amy!)
  • No, I couldn't initially tell who each of them were, again that came with more intense therapy. The doc would kind of hypnotise me, not deeply, but just enough to let me 'switch' and allow my alters to speak in a safe environment.
  • No, I cannot switch alters at will. Some people can with their DID but I cannot - though sometimes I wish I could! Certain triggers can cause me to switch  - varying from tiredness  (I have fibromyalgia as well which causes fatigue so I have to be careful of my energy levels) to stress to heightened emotions, whether they be hyperactivity or the opposite.
  • Yes, I hear voices and it can be quite noisy in my head - at least I'm never alone!
  • No, I am not psychotic and I have never been violent towards other people (apparently it's not in my genetic makeup!)
  • My DID was borne from childhood trauma - I was sexually abused by my father for roughly 20 years. According to my psychiatrist, my personality split and I dissociated as a way of coping with the trauma of the abuse.
  • No, I didn't realise when I was younger what my father was doing was wrong. I certainly didn't like it but he told me that this was how father's showed their daughters they loved them. It wasn't till I was older that I learned that indeed, this was NOT how fathers showed their love!
  • Yes, he is currently in jail for his crimes.
  • Yes, I helped put him there.
  • Yes, I feel relieved that my secret is now out in the open and that he is paying for what he did to myself and to others. A part of me still feels shame for what happened, like there was something wrong with me, or that somehow I could have stopped it. Of course, I'm not sure HOW a five-year-old could have stopped a fully-grown man from doing horrible things to her then and consequently, for the next 20 years, especially when that man is her father. I didn't know any different - I never asked my friends if their father 'loved' them like mine did. Besides, I was told (threatened) to keep it a secret and I was TERRIFIED of the man!
  • No, I never thought I would be writing about my DID or my abuse on the Wide World Web! But I'm hoping that somebody may read this one day and realise something about themselves or another person who perhaps could use some help. Please feel free to comment or ask questions. I will try to answer them as best I can.
I'm no longer afraid or ashamed of my illness - in fact, it is often used as a joke (by myself and others) to lighten a tense situation or just to make somebody laugh. I am who I am (who I am, who I am, who I am!) and I'm lucky and grateful that I have some of the best friends a person like me could ask for. It didn't come easy and it's been a long and very hard road (and still is), but I can now see a future where before there was nothing but darkness. I know my friends will be there for me and I for them.

"Love me, love ALL my personalities!"