Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Accepting without knowing

Or, "How Fantasy Novels Improved My Life"

I've thought in the past that reading lots of fantasy novels smoothed the path when I realized that fundamentalist Christianity didn't really work for me, as a religion that I practiced. By the time I realized my beliefs weren't strictly Christian, I had been reading fantasy for years, and the message, over and over, is that "God" is not the same thing as religion. Some of the authors were/are devoutly religious, in the traditional sense. Some weren't. But the notion that you will find that holiness regardless of whether or not you're in a relgious institution, and that following that, rather than stated rules, is the right thing to do... that was everywhere.

So I connected to God through nature, through music, through the moon, for years before I realized that this was probably not Christianity (perhaps someday I'll tell the story of how I realized, when reading the Bible for a Western Civ class in college, that I definitely wasn't a follower of Christ).

What does this have to do with DID?

Well, fantasy novels also taught me that my mind is limitless. That if I can imagine something, somewhere, in some world, it can happen. So it didn't seem odd to make places in my head for different... people, I guess. I made space inside me for the people I felt, so they could get away from things they didn't want to experience. I kept all my vulnerabilities safe, far away at the other end of the universe; what interacted with people, day-to-day, was a shell, something that might get injured, but couldn't get hurt.

And I could meet the needs of my parts without thinking it was strange. I can remember dealing with the part of me that wanted nothing more than to spend the day curled up somewhere dark and filled with cushions, sleeping all the time. This wasn't a practical notion, obviously, since my single escape strategy was to do well in school and get away to college. Going to school, and being successful, was the only viable option. So I made a space in my head for the part that wanted to sleep, and the rest of me went to school. It was around then that I also realized I could think several unrelated things at the same time--memorize different strings of numbers and facts simultaneously; write two different things, one with each hand, at the same time; that kind of thing. I figured it was just about being smart enough. Maybe that's all it was.

Fantasy novels also taught me about "shielding." There are parts of me that are intensely shielded--one part is in the middle of a vast moor, surrounded by stone walls that are probably 20 or 30 feet tall, with no way of getting in or out. Others create shielding around specific places--my bedroom in high school was one of those places. In my head, I made that room invisible, impermeable, and took it as far away from the rest of the apartment as I could. It kind of worked, but, well, not as well as I might have hoped. But the belief in those shields gave me the strength to stick it out, those last four years at home.

Many of my parts believe fervently in magic, or the supernatural; whether it's pathways where, if we just keep our eyes open, we'll be transported to a magical land, or picking up a magical talisman from the street, or reading other people's thoughts, or doing tricks to be safer, or just praying to some kind of higher power when there's an obstacle that would be one thing too many....

But either my basic nature, or my early training, also left me with deep spiritual beliefs. I do believe in a power that is outside of me, knows more, is stronger, created the universe. You know, the reason that rainbows occur, or that bread smells good, or that butterflies are colorful. But fantasy novels, with their references to imperfect gods, gods who can't control everything in the world, gods who can make mistakes... those gave me the ability to maintain my faith, even when things that shouldn't have happened were happening. Because I can believe (well, I can conceive of the notion) that people aren't perfect; that they will do things that they shouldn't do. And I can believe that, even though it's painful, and even though it doesn't, in fact, all work to a greater plan, there is still something/someone out there who is concerned, and doing their best. And I've had enough little moments when that force came through in ways that seemed solely for my benefit, when I'd been stretched to my limits and needed something to get just a little less bad.

Fairy tales come somewhere in this, as well. The metaphors that come most strongly to me, as I'm going through this healing process, are from fairy tales: spells to keep girls from sleeping; girls who are apparently rescued, but then have to re-enter the woods and save themselves; ogres with no hearts in their bodies; monsters who speak only in riddles... powerful stories, intertwined with the fantasy novels.

There really isn't an end to this post, but I'm tired of writing, so I'll stop.

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I talked to my mother yesterday. We generally talk on Sundays. I talked just like we always do, chatting about this and that, with me seeming to be open, but just not mentioning what's going on in my life. Because, of course, this is the kind of thing I just don't mention with my family.

I know it's the wise thing to do, because even if there are moments of empathy, my family is not the sort to talk about the things that happened. Or else it's just that... it wasn't worth it to go there. I don't trust my family; I don't trust them to be safe if they know about things that actually matter to me; I don't trust them not to react with anger and denial if I bring up childhood stuff. Plus, my capacity to forget the bad things is one of the ways that I was able to be "good" growing up, and that really hasn't changed.

But a part of me wonders about this.

About 10 years ago, my next-older sister talked to me a little bit about being diagnosed with multiple personalities. At the time, I was skeptical. In interacting with her, I took her at her word, but it seemed a bit dodgy. Now, well, perhaps it makes sense. She's never mentioned it again.

Going on 5 years ago, my younger sister asked me if I thought I'd been sexually abused. Her timing was horrible: I was walking out the door on my way to my first class of the semester, our youngest brother (who is even less able to keep a secret than she is) was in the next room, and it just wasn't a good time to talk. I suggested we talk about it later, but we never did.

And so, when I interact with my family, I act like everything is normal, fine, all right, nothing bad. Even when things are falling apart all around me.

Part of me is baffled by this, that I can talk to my mother as though nothing were wrong. It's what I've always done. It's just strange, sometimes. My (ex)stepfather came into her apartment while we were on the phone; he said hi (via my mother) and I said hi back.

How is it that I'm able to talk to my mother, just a couple of days after particular memories surfaced, and I am so awkward with him? I've lived with memories about him for years. But with my mother... the memories were so present last week. They had faded by the weekend, but I remember they were there. Parts of me are still remembering, or so I assume from the sick feeling in my stomach, and my reluctance to go to bed and try to sleep.

And part of me really wonders about my sisters. My next-older sister is so close with both of them--they live near each other, they see each other every day; she calls him dad, for heaven's sake. As though nothing happened. As though his influence on us was all for the good. And of course my younger sister does, since he is her father. I doubt that either of them talks about anything that personal with our mother, even though they're often hanging out with her, too. And, somehow, maybe because I do the same thing, I can kind of understand why they are so close with her. Perhaps it's because of my relationship with my own father (mostly nonexistent) that I have so much trouble understanding their relationship with him. And perhaps it's because I'm still so much in the middle of my own healing process that I have trouble understanding how they can act as though nothing happened. Because even though I know he's changed, even though I know neither he nor my mother has the power to continue doing the things that happened when we were little... even though I know they might not choose to do those things even if we were little... it's still hard to understand our relationship.

Or maybe it's just that I never much had a relationship with my stepfather, separate from the bad things. At least, not that I really remember. And not after I was old enough to remember.

Part of my mind is still focused on trying to figure out whether things "really" happened. I know that between the four of us girls, we have virtually all of the symptoms of being sexual abuse survivors. (To my knowledge, none of us currently shoplifts or sets fires, but that's about the only one we don't have.) I know this. I know that the brain is more likely to take the effort to block out bad things than good ones. I know this. And I know that silence is a natural response.

And there's so much arguing inside of me. I know that there was physical abuse. It was constant. I know there was emotional abuse, which was also constant, and which still goes on to a lesser degree. But there's the part of me that looks to how much worse things could have been, and that insists that because there were worse things that could have happened, I should be able to overcome things that seem mild by comparison. I think a part of it is simply that I have trouble grappling with the enormity of what did happen; I have so much trouble acknowledging that people I love, who were supposed to love me, who said they loved me... could do things that, on the face of them, seem so unloving.

And since I'm not able to be completely sure, because I'm unwilling to give up the possibility that I can be loved by my family, I act as though nothing is wrong. And the volume of the lies increases, because to talk about why I'm not making progress with my dissertation requires talking about how I've spent the last year falling apart. And to talk about why I've spent the last year falling apart requires admitting that bad things happened... and that my family are the ones who caused those bad things to happen.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006


Memory is a strange thing. I had a whole set of memories come in on Wednesday night. Things that, when I consider it, I'd suspected and discarded before. It was sharp, intense, incredibly painful.

They lingered on Thursday, but my internal censors stopped me from talking about them in therapy, mostly because too much time had passed, the denial had gotten a firmer hold, and... I just couldn't talk.

Now, four days later, it's like the memories are completely unreal. I can kind of remember them, but I no longer believe them. They couldn't possibly be true.

I can kind of remember the argument in my head, Wednesday night and Thursday day. The different parts arguing about whether or not it was real. One side stacking up all of the reasons to believe, the other side saying, "It's not true, it's not real, you'd have remembered all along if it had really happened, the people you know wouldn't do that."

And it's the second side that seems to have won.

Maybe my inability to do the things I need to do would be easier to bear if I could at least hold on to the reality of there being a reason I'm like this. If I could just consistently believe that things happened, and that they were bad; that they were bad enough that the only way for me to survive was to completely split off the parts that were coping with the bad stuff from the parts that coped with getting through the day.

Rationally, I can see what's happening. I can't cope with the memories, even though they are in the past. I can't cope with the reality of what it's done to me, because it's something I've spent my whole life pretending didn't happen; pretending everything was normal; accepting that when people I trusted said I shouldn't be upset that I shouldn't be upset.

In a distant, separated from myself way, it's kind of fascinating to watch the denial slowly block out what I remembered. And my approach to the memories is distant, and separated. I can line up all the reasons to believe, and they are good ones. I can hear the voices of different parts of me, lining up with their stories...

But none of it can conquer the spreading unmemory. It is like a fog, slowly re-obscuring things that were briefly visible.

If I were able to cope with my life, if I were able to do the simple, day-to-day things, then I would be able to truly convince myself that nothing ever happened. And yet, I can't cope with life. My body rebels against eating, I panic when I start to clean the house.

I'm furious, but I'm not sure of the target of my anger. Is it myself, for not just doing the things that should seem possible, except that once I start, I just can't do them? Is it my family, for the things they did that made me who I am today (and not in a good way)? Is it the person who cuts in line at the grocery store?

I don't let the anger out, so it roils in my gut, along with the panic, along with the sadness, along with the regrets and the fears. I have so little understanding of safe ways to express anger; I am unwilling to worry people or upset them or make a mess, so I don't scream. And who would I scream at?

I am caught between my inability to allow myself to remember and the fact that the unmemory keeps me from being able to heal.

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It's hard to remember that I don't actually disappear when I'm not in front of people. It's a struggle I've had all my life, this expectation that people just forget I exist when I'm not right there with them.

My analytical part says, "Well, that makes sense, because, from available evidence, during your formative years, people did forget you were there. Important people. People whose job it should have been to always make it clear that they remembered you, and you were important. Your parents seemed to forget your existence. Like forgetting to pick you up after you'd been away; like not writing letters to you or having you for a visit."

I try to explain to people, when I express surprise that they should remember my existence, that it's not that I think they don't like me, just that I kind of... disappear when they're not thinking about me. Like I'm not real, or something.

It's harder, I think, because of the DID. Because there are parts of me that even I forget exist when they're not out. And if I can forget parts of me, then how much further a step is it to believe that all of me can be easily forgotten?

I feel especially invisible lately. Kind of in a grey fog, but the moments of clarity are worse, so I retreat again, just to avoid the reality of... not life, since if I could make it through the thorny maze to where my actual life is, it would be good. I think to avoid the reality of what it takes to get from the grey fog to real life.

I need to do something, but for the life of me, I can't seem to figure that out. And I feel like, if I could figure out what to do, and how to do it, everything would be manageable, but since I can't even figure out where to start, it's all incredibly impossible.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I've been struggling with the part of myself that is incredibly invested in denial. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, this part will insist that nothing happened, and that nothing is wrong in the present moment, either. It works externally, coordinating the one lie that I have been able to tell successfully: that I'm doing just fine.

Internally, it's even louder and more vehement. It makes me doubt that anything bad happened, or if things happened that I remember, it insists that they weren't as bad as it seems like they were, that it's just my interpretation, and nothing was so hard about it. And it also blanks out my memory of things, so that I have to keep working through the internal doubt and denial, every time the effects of childhood stuff start to make my life difficult in the present.

It's a single-minded, and not very strategic part, when it comes down to it. These are the arguments it uses: "You'd remember if anything bad happened, and you don't remember any of your childhood, so nothing bad happened." "Look at your sisters and brothers. They're doing just fine, and they'd have problems if anything bad had happened." (This is a particularly stupid piece of evidence, given my siblings!) "Someone outside of the family would have noticed and intervened if anything bad had happened." (Well, in a perfect world, yes, but that's not a realistic statement.)

But that last part got me thinking. And it's amazing to me how, in the general way with people, they are willing to believe someone so readily if that person says, "Oh, I'm fine. My parents are great. Everything is wonderful with me."

But often, I feel like people in the world are really resistant to hearing that something bad happened. Or else it's just that those are the people I'm most inclined to listen to, because I'm so afraid that it's all lies and that I'm making things up, or blowing things out of proportion.

Because, of course, that was how I was raised, to believe that my perceptions didn't matter and that nothing bad was really happening, and that if I thought it was bad, it was because I was being too sensitive.

You know, like when my family (all of them white) keep using the n-word in reference to me, or telling racist jokes, or say I only got into college and only got scholarships because I'm black, my problem is that I'm too sensitive and can't take a joke.

Or when I'd get hit or punched, and then immediately told, "That didn't hurt. Stop crying."

But I think about the outside people, like teachers and neighbors. I can only think of one time when someone intervened, and my memory is incredibly vague--someone at one of our schools called children's services, who came and investigated, but things were left the same afterwards. Because my parents aren't stupid, and were entirely able to act as though they were perfectly good parents, and it was whichever of us kids who was making something up.

Thinking about it, though, all those years--there are eight kids in my family, spread over 20 years, so that's a LONG time with kids in the school system. Only one teacher noticed something was up?

And I admit that I'm especially infuriated, in a general, not-related-to-me sense, about the fact that the mandated reporter trainings I've had about child abuse NEVER MENTION that not all abused children misbehave, and that, in fact, the kids who are terrified of making mistakes or doing absolutely anything wrong at all... they also might have things going on.

I guess it's the years of being utterly surrounded by people who seemed trained to think nothing was going on that makes it so hard for me to understand that most of the people I know in my adult life are willing to believe that bad things happened back when I was a kid. And it makes me angry on behalf of the kid parts, who even though they did their best to hide things, should not have been even one tenth as successful as they were, because they just weren't that good at hiding things... except no one chose to look for the signs.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Book Recommendation

Getting Through The Day, by Nancy J. Napier.

I have been finding this an immensely helpful book. Much of the literature on abuse is either way too triggering, and talks about things that make me anxious or give me flashbacks, or is focused on the broader aspects of long-term healing. I had been really wanting something simple and direct about how to make it through the day and feel like I was making some progress. This is that book.

It works especially well for me because the author doesn't take a really bossy approach. She suggests exercises, and says why she believes they will work, but also says that (within the bounds of healthy choices) I should do what works for me. She's gentle and spiritual without getting too "woo-woo" for me to be able to feel like it's worth reading (how is it that someone can offer excellent advice, but if it's too woo-woo, I find myself intensely resistant?).

She also has sections in every chapter that talk about how people with multiple personalities may be affected differently, or how they can adjust exercises to work better in that context.

All in all, it's a really useful book (I admit I'm only halfway through, but it's been a very good experience going through and reading it, and I can already see ways that it's being useful for me).

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Another Introduction

Hey hey, ho ho, the guilt and shame have GOT TO GO!!

I'm the Hip Chyck. I guess I'm just one of the parts, and that's probably okay, but I think everyone would be happier if I were the one in charge all the time, because I'm just more fun to be. And I am happier most of the time.

Okay, so maybe I'm not good at things like really listening to how people feel, or having many of my own feelings, but still, they should let me out more often. I can make friends, and I can get us out of this depressed, over-thinking rut we're in.

I guess some of the other parts are embarrassed by some of the things I do, but I don't think I need to be ashamed of my body, and it's not like I do anything that's really inappropriate. And I like to dance and eat fire and march in protests and do fun activist stuff. When I was in charge more often, our life was better, because we had more friends and we did more fun stuff.

Plus, I have good ideas and I can make them happen. It's annoying that it's been so hard to get the other parts to do things lately, because I know they want the things that I would make happen, especially making friends.

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Introducing the Kids

The inside kids want to introduce themselves, or some of them do, so I'll let them talk in this post.

I am the mean one. I got a name now and it's Mean Mandy. Mandy is for Amanda, and amanda means that you have to love them, so that's what I chose because I want people to love me. I don't feel mean right now, because I like my name and I like to have a name and it makes me happy. But I can also be a big mean monster, or I can make messes and I can stomp around. Now I can stomp and growl GRRRRR!! I'm Mean Mandy the Monster and GRRR you go away. But I really don't want people to go away, I just want them to love me. I am a mean monster GRRRRRR so that other parts can feel safe, because it makes me MAD MAD MAD when someone makes them feel yucky or sad. I can even take care of the grown ups because they feel sad too so sometimes, even if they don't want me to, I take care of them and I make them say GRRRR!! YOU GO AWAY!!! Because no one should hurt people. Sometimes I just want to make a mess and be bad to get the angry feelings out.

I am the good one. I don't know if I like having a name, but it's mine, and I kind of want a name of my own, but I know it's bad and it might get me in trouble, so I think I'll also pay attention when someone says the other names, too. I am good and nice and I don't like to be bad and I don't do bad things. My name is Michelle. I am eight years old and I like to go to school. I want to have a big doll, but it costs too much, so maybe I'll get it some other time.

I am the Teller and I tell things inside and outside. I can talk and tell things. And I can show things if I can't talk. I could draw pictures and stuff like that. Sometimes the others don't like me 'cause I'm a tattletale they say and I say things they don't think I should. And sometimes I tell people about what someone is thinking, even when that part is scared to talk or doesn't know how. And I can tell about the other kid parts, even if they don't want to talk. I talk to the inside grown ups, too, and let them know why the kids are feeling bad.

There is the Baby. The baby is little and it can't talk much and it cries a lot and sometimes it just gets blank and like a rock or a stick or a brick. The baby gets scared sometimes when people try to pick it up and then it's a rock so it can't get hurt. Sometimes the baby gets ANGRY and then it screams but it doesn't make noise when it screams because making noise means it gets hurt.

Then there is Yucky. That one is sad and confused cause it doesn't know WHY it was yucky or how people could see it was yucky when it was just a little baby. That part wishes it could be pretty and good so people would love it, but it doesn't believe people who just SAY they love it because lots of people do that and then they do things to hurt it, or they do things that make it feel yucky and say that those things aren't really yucky but are because they love it. Yucky gets lots of yucky feelings and things hurt or feel yucky. That's all.

And there is the scared one. She hides in the corner or in the closet or sometimes on the ceiling and sometimes she watches things happening. She is afraid and she doesn't like people to know where she is unless she is SURE they are nice safe people who won't be mean. The scared one can be little tiny. Sometimes she can help the rest of us to disappear so no one can hear us or see us even if we're in the same room. She does magic tricks and she keeps us safe by making us disappear and then we're okay. So we can hide.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

So, about me

The whole purpose of this blog is to come to terms with being DID. I commented in my journal the other day that if one of my big issues is denial of having been abused as a kid, then this diagnosis is like a very meta dialogue.

I say, "It didn't happen."
My brain says (by having parts, in big letters): DID
And I then added that this makes my partner's line: DID-SO. Which is funny, because she is often the one who has to face the parts of me who really, really don't want to believe that anything really happened, not something bad enough for there to be parts inside of me.

Over the past day or two, I've been following the advice in the books I've been reading about coping with DID, and getting to know my parts. A lot of them I already knew, because even though I wasn't willing to admit they were parts, I'm often co-conscious (meaning, I often am at least somewhat aware while they're active, although I often can't change what they're doing).

And for a few weeks, I'd go and ask parts that kept pushing to come out, "What's your name?" or "How old are you?" The part would invariably respond with "I'm not allowed to have any name but Julia; I'm not allowed to be any age but yours."

After therapy this week, I decided that one of the things I need to do in order to stop being quite so stuck at a stage of being crazy (in the sense of fragmented, fragile, cracked, which is the first definition in our big dictionary), I needed to create a sense of safety. And to create a sense of safety, I had to get to know my parts. And this requires breaking one of the big rules: not allowing the parts to admit they exist.

So I've been getting to know the parts. I'd think I was making it all up, except... well, one part of me is saying that I definitely AM making it up, and another is explaining why the diagnosis makes sense, and there are several kids in the background jumping and skipping and shouting with joy, "I have a NAME!! Of my OWN!!! Hello, what's your name? MY name, all my very OWN name is...." I think it's the kids who are convincing me. (The kids are good at convincing me of things, which is probably why I own as many toys as I do.)

In theory, I'll let this be a place where my various parts can write for themselves. I don't know if that will happen, but right now we're getting at least some things past the internal censors, so there's a chance it could work.

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