Conquering Each Day with Dissociative Identity Disorder
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. DID is an extremely complex psychological disorder characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities that repeatedly take control over my behavior. I like to refer to these identities as my “parts.”
I think the hardest obstacle I have to overcome in my day-to-day life is constantly being pulled in different directions with every decision. It can be very chaotic for me. It’s like having a committee inside my head letting me know how they would handle things if they were “fronting,” or in control. In some ways, my biggest challenge is also one of my greatest strengths—the ability to see everything from multiple perspectives.
One of my favorite descriptions of dissociation is by Bessel van der Kolk: “Dissociation is simultaneously knowing and not knowing.” There are so many things I know and do not know because of my DID. That simple awareness has helped me put different interventions in place to guide me through the challenges of my symptoms and manage the shame that is so heavily associated with DID. Here are some of the interventions that have worked for me.
Having DID can be very disorienting and makes it difficult to maintain daily structures. Even if I don’t have a busy day, I sometimes set my timer to go off each hour that I’m awake. This is in case one of my parts comes out unannounced and throws me off what I had planned to do. The timer will prompt me to get back on track. The timer also helps me to keep my schedule on course and to be on time for meetings or appointments.
Write Sticky Notes
One of the symptoms of DID is hearing voices inside your head; speaking to one another, arguing and commenting on your day-to-day tasks. This can get overwhelmingly loud. One way my parts can express themselves to me is through writing sticky notes. You’d be surprised at how many notes I’ve found stashed throughout my apartment from my parts. It can be a creative way to communicate with each other or remind one another of upcoming events or meetings. And most importantly, to get all the voices onto paper rather than just in my head.
Listen to Binaural Beats
If things get too loud inside of my head, I get a screaming headache which affects every single other aspect of my functioning. I searched and searched for anything that would help me during these times and was unbelievably elated when I found binaural beats. For me, they work every single time. Binaural beats provoke our brain to go into a specific brainwave (delta, theta, alpha, beta or gamma) by simply playing tones into each ear with headphones.
I have found that if there is anything that will send me into a downward spiral—it’s shame. For me, shame comes in many forms: a yucky stomachache; a sideways, downward glance in a social situation; a refusal to excel in life for fear of not being good enough; or feeling uncomfortable in my own body. Mental illness brings its own laundry list of shame to the table, and I have found comfort in turning to science and facts. I recommend three books* that helped me in ways that probably saved my life.
1. Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine
2.The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
3. Intensive Psychotherapy for Persistent Dissociative Processes: The Fear of Feeling Real by Richard A. Chefetz
Having compassion for your own experience is no different than having compassion for your best friend going through a turbulent divorce. Instead of criticizing yourself for your shortcomings, why not confront those failings with kindness and understanding? We may have been fed a script that says we need to be perfect growing up—but now, as an adult, we need to embrace imperfection. For me, self-compassion is giving myself an extra 15 minutes to indulge in social media on a particularly difficult day because I know my brain needs to zone out when things become overwhelming. Sticking with self-compassion is allowing myself to enjoy those 15 minutes of mindlessness rather than being self-critical.
Keep a “Denial Book”
When I was first diagnosed with DID, I combatted daily feelings of denial. And back then my denial manifested as suicidality. Once I realized that, I knew I needed an intervention put in place. I went through all of my old journals and therapy documents and organized them in a binder. My “Denial Book” helps me when I begin to deny my diagnosis or the abuse I experienced in childhood. I have artwork, letters from doctors and therapists stating my diagnosis, testing results, journal entries from my teen years that scream DID, and journal entries from my childhood that prove I was abused. I even printed off the Dissociative Experiences Scale, completed it and put it in the back of the book.
In my experience, sharing a mind and body with several unique identities due to severe, ongoing trauma in childhood almost certainly ensures a chaotic life. However, I’ve found that we have the power to safely guide ourselves through life by implementing interventions throughout the day and by redirecting ourselves away from shame and focusing on small accomplishments.
These tips are best implemented under the guidance of a knowledgeable and dedicated therapist to help you along the way. Mental illness does not have to hold us back from reaching our goals and experiencing the life we’ve dreamt about since childhood. I believe in you. You are worth it. You are worthy of self-love and self-compassion. We all are.
Jane is the mother of two exuberantly bright little boys, a lover of science and the brain, an author and mental health advocate, and a forever student. Jane, self-proclaimed Human Information Sponge, stars in A&E’s Many Sides of Jane which premieres January 22, 2019. She hopes to bring about social change by educating the public on the science behind childhood abuse and its effects on the growing brain, and by normalizing her stigmatized disorder—Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Note: Jane’s story is being featured in a six-week series, “The Many Sides of Jane,” on A&E starting on January 22. Check out NAMI's discussion guide.
*The recommended readings are solely from Jane and have not been reviewed by NAMI.
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