There are many things that I—a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder—find difficult. Some of the complications are as a direct result of my condition whilst others are a direct result of my past and my own self-image. Living life with a label is not easy. Nor is it easy to live with the pressures that stem from society—a society that at times seems to view people who have endured a period of mental instability and illness in a different way.If you look at my arms, for instance, they are littered with the scars of pain. At one point, I did self-harm on a daily basis. It was how I survived. Today, although my scars are faded, there are times when people’s gaze is fixated upon them. They give an awkward inquisitive frown and sometimes ask those questions that I wish they would never ask. The strangest question I ever had was, ‘Have you been in a fight with a cat?’ The usual is, ‘Oh! Did you do that yourself?’I am not sure what people want me to say in those circumstances but, over the years, I have learnt that honesty is the best approach. Yes, occasionally it leaves others slightly shocked but I am in all truth no longer ashamed of the scars—they just reflect a period of my life. Yet I find it hard knowing that I am judged, often by those who have no idea what it is like to be in the kind of intolerable pain that leads to self-harm.

When those scars were created, I truly believed I couldn’t live with the knowledge I had been abused, with the pain of the flashbacks and memories and the over-riding sense of guilt which plagued every waking moment. Today I have learnt to apportion the blame for that abuse firmly at the hands of my abusers and I now understand that it wasn’t my fault. Having learnt coping mechanisms to deal with the flashbacks, I am becoming better equipped to control how they impact my life. All of this has enabled me to totally change my outlook upon life: previously I wanted to self-destruct but today I want to seize life and all the opportunities that lie before me.

The same awkwardness can happen when I lose time. Personally, I get frustrated with myself and it is something I really hate doing. Worse than losing time is the general lack of understanding or patience that follows—I cannot help the fact I lose time or say the same thing repeatedly. Losing time is beyond my control but it also puts me and my alters beyond the norm—and as such, we are open to criticism and judgement.

Being open and honest with people about losing time has led to some having a greater understanding, but this is a two way process and I have found some people can accept the fact I have DID, whilst others find it too baffling. Even those close to me find it frustrating on occasion, especially when I repeat myself for the fifth time. It is not easy for them to hide their exasperation. When I lose time close family and friends often notice me struggling and will usually give me a brief summary of recent events, in the hope that I can rejoin a conversation or activity. To the people around me I look perplexed, confused and at times frightened; like a rabbit trapped in the headlights of a car. To someone with no knowledge of DID these signs may not be recognised or would not be attributed to a loss of time, but to more commonly known conditions.

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. In reality these units house vulnerable people often recovering from trauma-related incidents and other mental health conditions, yet the damage inflicted by inaccurate TV portrayals or sensationalist headlines of these units is vast. Such inaccurate reporting led to the taxi drivers’ decision to decline our custom, causing me and many others to feel trapped in the unit. The patients somehow became pariahs just because we needed help and lived in this unit. As an informal patient at the unit, I regularly attended a local community group. If a new person asked me where I lived, I would just say the street name and not the place. I would tolerate the comments of sympathy at having ‘those people’ as my neighbours. They meant me, of course, but I never told them I was one of the patients. I regret now not being brave enough to face them, to let them say their piece and then reply, ‘You mean me. I am my neighbour.’

Yet, sadly, medical people judged me too. Some still do. On more than one occasion, I was asked to undergo a breath test. I had not been drinking. In fact, I had been on an Alpha course, which they had given me permission to attend. But it often overran and so they assumed I must have been drinking or doing something I shouldn’t. It irritated me to be treated in such a demeaning way: undergoing breath tests, drugs tests, searches…All I had done was attend a local group, yet I knew complying with my jailers was the only answer. I say jailers because they held the keys to the air lock and they dictated when, or if, I could go out—even though I was a voluntary patient.

I am sure that I am not alone in feeling judged or labelled. We are, after all, a society fixated on labels and psychiatry is full of them. We do not seem to treat causes, just a set of symptoms. We treat people as objects rather than human beings with feelings and emotions: can this be right? Recently I spoke about this with a psychologist, as we discussed how I felt labelled by the mental health system. I recounted how in hospital I had expressed my frustration at not being allowed to get a hot drink when I wanted one. This had been deemed as trouble making and my subsequent actions as attention seeking. I was relieved that the psychologist seemed to understand why I had done what I had during my time in hospital. His response allowed me for first time not to feel judged by the medical profession. Instead my frustrations were validated. If a patient acts out in a psychiatric unit, staff see them as aggressive or troublesome rather than someone who is distressed and trying to demonstrate their feelings and frustrations. Looking back I can see that if they had offered to help me understand and explore why I had reacted that way, instead of labelling me, judging me and drugging me, it would have been far more beneficial to me, my alters and to the team.

Today, although I am no longer a patient, I still find at times that I feel judged. It may be the case that I am over-sensitive and that my past colours my interpretations, so it is good for me to keep this in mind. But I know that many people, even those who have heard about DID, struggle to understand what it is like being me, this person with many parts. That struggle to comprehend DID so often expresses itself as judgement.

Yes, it is chaotic at times and, yes, some days are better than others. Life for me and my alters is never easy but I am not asking people to give me special treatment. Everyone has heartaches or weaknesses that leave them vulnerable to judgement; I just wish people would treat us as they would want to be treated. Recently a neighbour and friend who has known me for just over a year invited me over for coffee and the issue of my having DID arose. They had noticed that I use pluralistic terms, for example ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, and this baffled them. So did the fact I would seem to lose track of conversations or forget things frequently. The opportunity to talk in a non-threatening situation about these issues presented an opening to tell them about DID and what that meant, and this led to an honest discussion about it. My neighbour and friend didn’t judge me. Instead she asked me questions, allowing us both a chance to understand each other’s perspectives. My advice for anyone who like my friend has questions about DID is to be as open and honest as you can be, try not to be judgemental but treat the person with DID as you yourself would want to be treated. I know that I am grateful for the conversation I had with my friend, as it has allowed me to feel more comfortable around her and I can appreciate her honesty at feeling perplexed about my DID initially. Her reactions demonstrate that not everyone is going to treat me negatively just because I have DID or have spent time in a psychiatric facility. My hope now is that other people’s attitudes change too.

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