I know, even before I complete the first sentence, that I am going to offend some people so, I guess, this is my apologetic introduction. I am going to write, admittedly, about a subject I know very little about and it's from that perspective that, I believe, a lot of other people share my confusion. Maybe some of the responses will go some way in clearing that up - maybe not. In any event, here goes...
A few weeks ago a fellow colleague and I were invited to a meeting to discuss an upcoming event. Neither of us knew the other members personally and I had never met any beforehand. All I knew was we were a group of women with two common causes: we were all sex abuse survivors and wanted to do something about it. The only true expectation I brought with me however, was the assumption that all who attended were well enough within themselves to be able to push a group out and onto the national stage and capable of creating an easier environment for those who might like to follow. Aside from that, I had no idea what the format would be, who would lead the discussions, what the protocol was or even if there was one. I did note that three psychotherapists were attending which, initially caused a little anxiety - I was worried some of my own issues would surface and I'd need to see one of them on a more private basis.
A lot of things happened in the two nights we stayed together but one specifically stood out: Dis-associative Identity Disorder (DID) and the fact that one therapist had brought along quite a few of her own personal clients. They were also this Group's board and/or Trustee members. Now in here, lies two problems, for me anyhow. One being that these women may not have been well enough to deal with the issues we needed to address (some proved that point) and the other was, just where those boundaries are between a therapist and client. The latter is another issue I will discuss later. For now, I would like to talk about DID.
Now, immediately, I have an issue with this. I hate the word: Disorder. To me, it implies something being out of order, broken, or not where it should be. A lot of people diagnosed with DID would probably feel the same. Labels are, after all, a rather crude short-cut into a persona. So I initially went on the defence about this but only on that one shallow level - bloody labels. However, if I were to push the envelope a little further, I would also have to agree that if something was 'out of order,' identified as such, then it would automatically assume "it" could be put back into order, fixed, if you like. On that basis, maybe DID is a temporary state and ought to be treated as such.
So what would someone make of these women, for example, being in that "temporary state" for several years? Is this a reflection of the therapy they're having or...god forbid...an excuse to remain unwell? I know, it's a harsh accusation but one, if you will, I will work through - who knows where this will end up?
So okay, they've been diagnosed, if you will, with DID. They have no qualms about addressing their multiple personalities as such, in public, in full view, and with the expectation that those, like me, accept this as completely normal. And that is where I stood out. I did not accept it as "normal".
To me, there is a disassociating and then there is this DID. The first one is removing one's self from a situation that is dangerous, even if those situations are flashbacks, memories, nightmares - talking in third person about events that were traumatic, in my view, is not only disassociation but a vital survival tool. It enables some sex abuse survivors, for example, to be able to give evidence without completely falling to pieces in the process. It's hard to be a good witness in an example like that - having to keep your head on your shoulders while the inside of you crumbles in despair. So yes, disassociating is vital. It stops the brain from overloading but you don't have to have been sexually abused to do this - we all do it. Days when you've found yourself at work and have no real idea of whether those traffic lights you drove through were really green or even tapping (unconsciously) to background music. But it doesn't mean you have a "disorder." It just means your brain constantly siphons incoming data and thank goodness it does - no one could survive the complete influx of information available. It's impossible.
However DID is different. It takes this disassociation one step further - it "identifies" those times when you're not conscious and names them. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. What I think is a little dangerous is when those identities are not only named but are given a completely independent status. For example, when someone acts out, maybe even gets abusive, that behaviour is simply blamed on another "identity." It wasn't Mary Jane, just her outer ego, if you will. Wouldn't life be grand if we could all blame someone/something else for what we did? That's my point. I don't think that's right.
Like I said, I don't know terribly much about the intricate nature of this so-called "disorder" but even from a linguistic point of view - how can you "identify" with something you have "disassociated" from? If you have removed yourself (disassociated) then how on earth can you even identify it let alone give it a name, a personality, and shit loads of responsibility? Isn't that just using something/someone else as an excuse?
One of the members of this group stood to introduce herself and ...her kids. I was stunned. There were no kids. Not that I could see. Not of the physical kind anyhow. "I am referring to my kids inside," she explained, pointing to her chest. I scanned the room looking for the other person who looked even mildly confused but there either wasn't any or I didn't look hard enough. I bit my tongue. Later that evening, one of those "kids" asked for permission to go to sleep. The therapist assured her she could. Aside from the rather unnerving nature of that, I was constantly confused as to who I was addressing at any given time - her or any one of the several "kids" she had. It seemed to me that any time someone disagreed with her, another personality would pop up and confront the issue before the "real" her returned to apologise for the "naughty inner child."
Oh please! This surely is an insult to those who have DID - those who have absolutely no recollection of what they've done, like there has been a 100% takeover of that person's being and they, for one, remain the most confused out of everyone. Isn't that really what disassociation means - not knowing? What's to stop anyone who behaves badly, even dangerously, just shrugging their shoulders and blaming some other identity? Isn't it about accepting every part of all those personalities as YOURS and learning ways in which you can live, peacefully, with them all? I mean, what would people say to a child rapist that said" "Oh yeah, sorry about that. That's Geoff, my other personality. He does that sort of shit to kids. I don't though." Would we really be tip-toeing so much around this issue, this label, is it were paedophiles who wore it?
I am no clearer on this topic than when I started. However, a friend recently suggested he had "Intermittent Explosive Disorder." WTF? Isn't that just being pissed off albeit intermittently? Do we really need a disorder for everything?