Category: Dissociative survivors’ experiences

The quest for diagnosis

How do you go about getting a diagnosis for dissociative identity disorder? One client describes her long struggle for treatment on the NHS and the path to the Clinic for Dissociative Survivors.

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Divorcing old habits

What do you do when the worst thing you think could happen to you does happen? Do you fall back into old habits, ways of coping that you’ve worked so hard to reform? Or do you work the problem? … In this searingly honest and vulnerable piece, Carolyn Spring talks about how she coped with a double loss of attachment figures and how what she had feared the most actually became a springboard towards new growth.

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Making a Life Worth Living

It was the last week in May 2014. I had packed up all my belongings in my flat, got my affairs in order, and decided that I needed ‘to be dead’. I didn’t want anyone else to have to clear my flat, so I took some stuff to the tip, packed my remaining belongings into labelled boxes, and wrote detailed instructions.

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Can we heal?

‘Can we heal?’ she asked, quivering with the significance of what she was saying, as if her very life depended on it. ‘Can we really heal?’I could well understood the agony in her eyes. I lived for many years overwhelmed by trauma, the symptoms of unhealed suffering. And if recovery is impossible, then why are we even trying?

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Alters assemble: using Marvel’s Avengers to understand dissociative identity disorder

There’s no denying it: everyone likes a superhero. From the Greek gods to the current comic book heroes, the human race appears to be endlessly fascinated by the notion of power and ability that exceeds our natural levels of physical prowess and mental dexterity … And here, Xanthe Wells talks about how Avengers Assemble became a metaphor for her of dissociative identity disorder.

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Recovery is my best revenge

Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?

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Suicide – to be or not to be

I could cope with it no longer. Every part of me—eyelids, throat, bowels—everything was clenched tight in a ball of furious unbearability. This feeling—such a feeling!—loomed up over me like some prehistoric sea-monster, ready to snap me up and devour me, ready to pilfer my bones and pick apart my brain. This feeling was too much.

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Feeling labelled and judged

When I was an in-patient in a locked rehab unit, a secure facility with an airlock as standard, the local taxi firm would not collect people from the unit. They judged without any real information. Ignorance, I guess, led people to hold a view that was without foundation and based upon stigma.

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Ten things I have learned about child sexual abuse

Understanding the dynamics around child sexual abuse, who the perpetrators are, how they achieve their ends, the impacts of abuse on us—all of this knowledge, this ‘psycho-education’ has aided my recovery. And so these are ten of the many things that I have learned about child sexual abuse, some of the insights that have begun to heal my shame.

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Help – a four-letter word?

Although I am fiercely independent and repeatedly declare that I don’t need anyone to help, lately it seems that some parts of me don’t agree. Their cries for help come mainly at night. I can hear them inside, begging for someone to help them, and it’s relentless.

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The cost of benefits

Being on benefits wasn’t a choice I’d made and certainly not something I did willingly. From before the age of fourteen I’d always had a job, pausing only for maternity leave. But when my dissociated trauma burst onto the scene three years ago it became a massive achievement simply to stay alive.

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Symptom or experience?

When I first started to see visions, I believed that they were monsters. More than that, I believed that I was a monster. Aged seven, I was sure that buried deep inside me was a monster that only revealed itself when I glanced towards a mirror. By wearing a ‘little-girl-suit’ and walking amongst the real humans I felt like a fraud.

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My experience of dissociative identity disorder: crisis care

I had no idea where I was, except—rather obviously—that I was on a beach. It was raining and I was soaking wet. My legs were drenched up to the knees, indicating that perhaps I’d been in the sea. It was dark and late and freezing cold. I put my hands in my pockets and felt sea-shells. The policewoman told me where I was but it didn’t make any sense.

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I need a mother

Of all the things that are painful; of all the abuses of my body, my mind, my emotions; of all the effects I live with in my attempts to ‘be fine’ and seem normal: this one, this wound of ‘un-motheredness’ is one of the most difficult.

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Damage limitation: covering up a life out of control

Tears were streaming down my face as I tried to explain to the teacher – this angry, spiteful, menacing teacher – that I hadn’t stolen anything. It wasn’t me. I didn’t know why she was accusing me, but she was, and here I was – in trouble, again, and not understanding why.

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Family fortunes: care, court, and all those crap Christmases

It has been hard to accept that there was no justice for me. My father was killed 8 years ago, so that robbed me of the possibility that he might ever apologise to me for what he had done. It’s unlikely that he would ever have done so anyway, but now there is no chance. Such have been my family fortunes.

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My experience of living with DID: the NHS

I have been a victim both of childhood abuse and abuses within the mental health system of the NHS. As someone said to me recently, the fact that I was abused as a child is appalling, but to be reabused again as an adult by the people who were supposed to be caring for me is equally unacceptable.

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At war with my body

I was born 35 years ago. With this body. This body that is a little too short and a little too plump. This body that sags in all the wrong places and looks the age it is, not the age I feel. This body that has produced two healthy children and enabled me to watch them grow. This body has been with me my entire life.

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My experience of living with DID: denial

Denial and dissociation are two sides of the same coin. In employing dissociation, we are employing denial: “This isn’t happening” or “This isn’t happening to me.” We create alter personalities to whom it happened, so that it didn’t happen to me.

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It’s not the ‘X-Factor’, it’s the ‘A’-Factor

My smoke alarm was going off in the swimming pool even when there was no real risk. There was risk and danger when I was a child, and that has affected my brain’s ability in the here-and-now to assess when there really is danger and when I really need an adrenaline rush so that I can escape or protect myself. This is what is happening when I am triggered: I am responding to a danger that is not really here now.

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Wanting to tell the world

I spent the whole of my childhood having to play the game and say that these things weren’t happening. They were and they hurt. The world should have known then, and the world should know now. But it still doesn’t.

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It’s a pain: the physical impact of trauma

Physical symptoms are a big part of life for me with DID. Yes, I have ‘multiple personalities’, the “two or more distinct identities that recurrently take control of the body” and I’m not for one moment denying the significance of that or the impact it has on my day-to-day life. But I would say that physical symptoms such as chronic, unexplained pain, headaches and nausea have been and still remain far more distressing and life-impacting for me than the presence of parts.

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Feeling listless

All the signs were there that I did in fact have feelings, but initially I could not link these physical events with having an emotion, and I certainly could not put a name to them. Frequently my counsellor would gently remind me to notice what was happening in my body.

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What I want people to say

The work of therapy can bring up strong feelings inside us of wanting to be cared for, wanting to be rescued, and wanting all the trauma and all our ‘parts’ to go away. It can be a very confusing time. As a dissociative survivor, I realised that there are things that I want people to say to me, and then there are things that would be more helpful for them to say to enable me in the long-term to recover. 

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Not a victim

No matter how logically illogical it apparently is, I know I choose to listen to barbed words and vindictive self-beliefs about me: I am a subhuman being. I wrap the heavy chainmail-blanket of blame tightly around me. That is my fall-back position.

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DID and me

It is not about diagnostic labels. It is not so much about dissociation, parts, losing time – although all of those add to the constant sickening sense of being different. For me it is about being me. The reality of everyday living with myself. ME.

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The paradox of shame?

I feel ‘shame’ that I have emotions, while desperately seeking out those very emotions. Feeling shame for not owning them. Feeling shame for feeling them. Paradox.

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Boys don’t cry

I’ve just had my heart broken and I’m struggling to accept it; or accept it again, I should say. I haven’t attempted many relationships in my life and this one ended some time ago. But when I realised I still loved her, or parts of me did, I attempted a reunion. But she’s moved on and unfortunately for me, loss still equals death.

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Powerlessness

Powerlessness is such a core experience for victims of abuse that often we don’t even notice that it’s there. It is played out in the way that we interact with people and the world – it’s the shadow cast by the sun, rather than the sunlight itself.

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Therapy room push-pull

You ask me how I feel … I feel panic, nothingness, panic, more nothingness. Laced into the panic is sadness, guilt, doubt, paranoia, then dreadful nothingness. And worst of all, shame. Always here, I feel the shame.

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A life worth living

I knew a lot about pain, but I didn’t know very much at all about pleasure. I asked myself: what do I like doing? For weeks I couldn’t answer that question, not with anything tangible or concrete.

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The body remembers

I hate my body. It was there, always there, during the abuse. My mind went away but my body could not. My mind could forget. We parcelled up little chunks of our mind, bit by bit, and sent them off into dim little rooms where they could be forgotten and not heard.

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