Have you ever had the experience of driving down a familiar road and your mind wanders off and all of a sudden you’ve arrived at your destination with no memory of the journey at all? If your answer to this question is ‘Yes’ (don’t worry about the precise percentage of time) then please read on. If your answer is ‘No’, may I suggest that you go along to your local library where you will be able to find information on a whole range of interesting things to do in your local area, as you probably won’t understand this article at all.This is the story of a very significant journey in my dissociative life. On a good day that journey may be filled with insightful breakthroughs and rich opportunities for deep healing. On a bad day we may simply hope that the journey takes us just as far as the end of our sentence …The journey began in a very special sort of car: a deep metallic blue Fiat Multipla. This car, affectionately known as ‘The Big Blue Frog’, had immense significance. Firstly it was a car with which I could strongly identify: a squashed-up, short, overweight, bug-eyed, thrown-together, embarrassment of a car. A most peculiar car. A car which just didn’t look quite right. For if ever there was a car with DID, the Fiat Multipla is it. Plenty of room inside for the Core and at least 5 alters, two of whom can sit in the front alongside the driver, perfect for settling those internal bickering parts who just won’t shut up when you are desperately trying to concentrate. But more of that later …Before you start to think of me as somebody with shockingly low self-esteem, let me reassure you that my Multipla was in fact my most precious trophy. I never took an exam that I didn’t get a grade ‘A’ in. I never had an interview for a job that I didn’t get. But all that ‘achievement’ stuff means very little to me, to the extent that I didn’t even attend my own graduation. What I really wanted in life was to be normal. I aspired to mediocrity. I longed for a shake-n-vac mum to replace my own flake-n-crack one. Sadly I couldn’t find a university course in ‘Normal Studies’ which was what I really needed to know about. To this day I gaze longingly at the ‘Learning for Life’ room at work, wishing I could go inside with all the ‘challenging’ kids and find out once and for all what the hell is going on …However there was a very happy ending to my far-from-normal University experience: I met my husband Jack, who comes from Planet Nice Family. It was great, and we did normal things. I became a teacher, he a university lecturer. We moved to deepest, darkest West Wales, which was your ideal Quintessential Safe Place. It was perfect – miles away from anyone remotely scary, clean sea air, crime-free and oh-so-gloriously boring. It was like living in Teletubby land, largely because I, along with most of the inhabitants of rural Ceredigion at that time, was prescribed Seroxat for my insomnia. And there was free therapy available on the NHS too – just imagine that! It was as if we were all in on this big secret. We all took the Happy Drugs and wandered around aimlessly, smiling benignly at each other and revelling in the fact that there really was nothing at all to do.And then it happened. Something went right, and I became pregnant. Just like all the other women. I was like everyone else. Was I dreaming? Did I deserve this? Really? And it didn’t go wrong. It was January 2000. A new millennium. A brand new baby boy. A new family. A new hope.

I’ve always known a good thing when I’ve seen it. I shed my past like a snake sheds its skin, and I didn’t look back. Naturally I was secretly petrified that I might somehow infect my offspring with my own badness. Whilst I had a very clear picture of how not to bring up young children, I really didn’t have a clue about how to go about being a real life Mama. So, my key to success: watch and learn. With that unique single-mindedness that blesses us all, I set about transforming myself into a fully functional mother. I hung out in all the right places – Breastfeeding Support Group, Post-Natal Group, Toddler Group, Singing-Time Group. I was loving it. I even enrolled on a Sure Start Parenting course: I was the only parent who hadn’t been referred by Social Services. Forget Oxbridge degrees! – Sure Start was easily the most useful course I have ever been on in my entire life. I was on a roll, and so 18 months after Mark I had Noah, and I became the proud owner of a double-buggy.

The pinnacle of my success was my 12-week scan for baby number 3. I had lost one in the middle, and so the sight of that heartbeat was, for me, heart-stopping. I’d made it. I was to be a mother-of-three. I, with a little help from Jack, had created a robust, healthy, noisy, chaotic, normal and (dare I say it)happy family of my own. 6 months later, to the absolute delight of her older brothers, little Anna would be born. But first there was important business to attend to. We’d need a bigger car. There’d be five of us, so perhaps a six-seater? Jack and I have never been very good at taking ourselves seriously, so it made sense to get a ridiculous car – a Muppet Van, as Jack called it: a Fiat Multipla.

And so the Big Blue Frog became the sixth member of our family. We stuck a ‘CYM’ sticker on the back and headed off to Brittany that summer. When Jack’s tolerance of life in La-La-Land finally ran out, I very reluctantly agreed to move to. And so we upped and went to the North West, taking the Frog with us, where it soon became known as the Welsh Wagon.

I would love to be able to continue with this joyous celebration of my glory days, but alas, on 15 February 2010, my past suddenly and dramatically caught up with me, and my entire world shattered. Within a matter of weeks I had simply frozen. Frozen to the extent that I could watch my adorable 4-year-old daughter fall over and feel nothing. Frozen to the extent that Mark’s homework seemed unimportant, Noah’s parents’ evening seemed irrelevant, and it really didn’t matter if we ate pasta and pesto for four days straight. Frozen to the extent that I began to lose my sense of judgement and allowed my 10-year-old to cycle down a main road into the city centre alone.

What was happening to me? Why was I suddenly attracted to sharp things? Why did I get such strong urges to run away? Why was I losing so much weight? Why did I feel that I wasn’t me anymore? Why was I starting to do unthinkable things that put myself in so much danger?

I looked in the mirror and barely recognised myself. But I did recognise something. Before my very eyes it was happening: I was flaking and cracking, and I was past caring.

The Blue Frog became a sort of Trauma Truck, catapulting me around from one crisis to the next, from one Safeguarding Meeting to another, from a Church Investigation to yet another Police Interview. We even took off together for days at a time, me and the Frog, my head spinning with the new language I was having to learn – LADOs and Strategy Meetings and ISVAs, CAF Forms and Multi-Agency Support Teams.

The Big Freeze continued, both inside and outside, on the pavements and on the streets. One of the grown-ups insisted on referring me to the local Women’s Counselling and Therapy Centre. Each time I saw the grown-ups, I shrank. I was 12, sometimes 4, and utterly defenceless. I zoned out, the cotton wool clouds descended, I wore them like a blanket, and (disastrously) I let it all happen.

In the May I received a letter inviting me to go for an assessment at the therapy centre. The grown-ups said it would be good for me, but secretly I knew I was alright. After all, I had super-human powers. So I told the psychologist exactly that. I also told her in mind-blowing detail the story of this woman called Cathy and the extraordinary events of the previous four months. I told her that we were fine, as we really were amazingly resilient. “Yes”, she replied. “Resilient, but brittle. Very, very brittle.”

Four torturous months later, one of the two heroes of this story came into my life: a Liverpudlian called Sheila. She sat robustly on a sofa in her office, surrounded by paints and paper, sand-trays and action figures. I was deeply suspicious and decided there and then that there was no way I was ever going to be reduced to having anything whatsoever to do with all that paraphernalia. I didn’t tell her that though: she was far too scary. She smiled and told me cheerfully that I had 7 out of 10 clinically significant behaviours. She showed me a kind of bar graph which had a very tall column which went off the top of the page. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s dissociation,” she replied. Despite having been in and out of psychologists’ rooms since the age of 12, I had never even heard of it.

I came to view Sheila as a sort of midwife. She looked just like a midwife, one of the older sort with rough skin, muscular forearms and over 30 years’ experience of dealing with desperate people who suspect, maybe even wish, that they are going to die. You may initially think, “Oh shit, she’s never going to let me have an epidural!”, but deep down you know you are in very safe hands, and that with her around it will probably all be ok in the end.

Like a midwife, Sheila set about helping me through labour. She didn’t sit and nod. To my surprise she was very didactic. She taught me all about dissociation. When a psychologist diagnosed me with DID, she smiled and carried on as calmly and consistently as before. Like a midwife she seemed to be unflappable without being indifferent. Like a midwife she told me I could when I said and really believed that I couldn’t. And like a midwife I wished more than anything in the world that she could just do it for me.

As you can probably see, I am convinced that my therapist really is the best therapist in the world. But she’s not perfect. She can be belligerent and heavy-handed, clumsy and insensitive, and some of my parts find her terrifying at times. And there is one particular issue that we cannot agree on: she feels very strongly that bringing DID people together is dangerous – too many attachment issues, and it will all end in tears. And, being Sheila, she has voiced that opinion in no uncertain terms.

As we all know too well, people can justify all sorts of things to themselves, especially if they are skilled at avoiding situations which could demand that they justify their actions to anyone else. Avoidance is one of my strengths, even if I say so myself, and so I continue to meet up with dissociative friends against Sheila’s wishes. I am able to do this because I have decided that Sheila is too sane to understand why. If only she had the gift of DID she would realise what an immense relief it is, for example, to spend time having serious conversations with others who have at the very centre of their lives a therapist. She would be able to experience the intoxicating delight of releasing serotonin with people as imaginative and creative as ourselves. And yes, even she would be unable to resist. Perhaps, if she were as naturally lucky as me, she would discover a friend whose attachment issues actually strengthen the bond of genuine friendship and learn that peer support is invaluable for those tricky moments of dysregulation between therapy sessions.

But more about that in a moment. On the Monday morning of half-term week I set off for my therapy session in the Welsh Wagon, feeling quite upbeat. I wasn’t dreading anything specific that day, which made a nice change. In fact I had two things to look forward to: my mega-mad mate Fiona was coming to see me after therapy, and the following day I was going to load up the Wagon and head off to Wales with my children. I even managed to rise above the sinking feeling that fills my stomach as I approached the ‘5 minutes to go’ crossroads. Dammit, I was in a good mood.

So I arrive in front of the Therapy Centre (there’s no going back now) and I’m turning right into the side road where I park. And then screech … crash … I turn straight into a car coming extremely fast round a blind corner in the opposite direction. I get out of the car and my first thought is, “I’m going to be late for therapy”.

So I’m on my way to the front door of Sheila’s den when to my great surprise the driver of the other car approaches me. Oh yes, I just crashed the car. Into another car. Her car. “I’m so sorry. It was all my fault,” I say. “And I’m going to be late for therapy.” Not a line endorsed by insurance companies. Fortunately the woman had a better grip on the situation than me, and so I just did what she said. I followed her instruction to move my car out of the way of the long queue of other traffic. It looked a bit ropey, but it seemed fine, so I made an instant decision that the accident wouldn’t actually affect anything, and I would continue with my plans as if the accident never happened. So I approach the Therapy Centre door, when to my horror I realise that I am crying. Silently (obviously). “I can’t cry,” I tell myselves firmly, “I’m going to therapy!”

In 15 months of therapy with Sheila I have cried exactly four tears. I cannot express how bitterly I resent each one and how much the memory haunts me. I climbed the stairs to her office, trying to compose myself suitably. I entered the room as she announced, “I’m not sure that really was your fault, Cathy.” This incensed me, although naturally I didn’t show it. Of course it was my bloody fault. I was turning right. I am a Roman Catholic. I belong to a union. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. What more evidence could you ask for? Why was she trying to muddy the waters? Anyway it never even happened, remember?!

A thought passes through my mind: “If I speak, I will either cry or shout, neither of which are in any way appropriate to this situation, so I will just sit here and become invisible.” Then she suggests that I go and take a photograph of the road because it would help my case. Bloody Scousers, they can never resist a fight. Look, it never happened anyway. This is getting silly. I close my eyes to make her go away. I am tempted to sink deeper, but am interrupted most unreasonably by Sheila’s favourite catch-phrase: “Notice that I’m here.”

I can’t bear to think about this scene any more, so if it’s ok with you, I’ll just banish it from conscious awareness. Eventually I left the building and went to sit in the crushed Wagon, taking care not to notice any damage. “Right,” I thought, “I’ve got a day to get on with. Fiona’s coming. Fantastic.” I started the car, and was driving down the hill when it became apparent that the steering wheel was a law unto itself, and the car was entirely out of control. So I braked and managed to bump it to the roadside where I put the emergency lights on. There was a flaw in my plan now. To my frustration I was unable to pretend that the accident hadn’t happened.

What to do? I know, a nice trance. Which was then thwarted by a man knocking most inconsiderately on my window asking if I was ok. No. Not at all ok. He advised me to phone the RAC, which I did. That really confused things. They said they don’t do cars that have just been damaged in an accident, but if I could show that the damage was nothing to do with a very recent collision, they could help. What the …? Were the RAC now advising me to dissociate, to pretend the accident never happened? This was all too much. I rang my husband, who arranged for my insurance company to send out a pick-up to remove the car to a garage. All I had to do, he said slowly and clearly, was wait in the car. For up to two hours.

The time phrase jolted me and I remembered – Fiona! I rang her and cried a bit. Weakness is fine outside the therapy room, just not in it. She said she would come straight to my car, positioned directly outside the Therapy Centre. She laughed. What was so funny? And then I began to see the humorous side of the situation. I had managed to crash my car outside my therapist’s office and was about to be rescued by the one person she most disapproves of! Ten minutes later a second knock on my window.

She appeared exactly like a Fairy Godmother, beaming and clutching chocolates and Diet Coke. I climbed out of the car and was so overcome with relief that I forgot all about my northern hardiness and threw myself at her. It was a perfect moment in a far-from-perfect day. I linked arms with her and didn’t ever want to let go. Ok, ok, attachment issues … but she was great. We sat in the Frog drinking Diet Coke and, once I let go of her arm, she began to sort out plans. You know – what was happening to my three children for the rest of the day, stuff like that. And we waited and waited, but nobody came. Which was fine, except that I needed a wee after all that Diet Coke.

Being a teacher I have a real talent for convincing myself that I don’t need a wee when I do. I can usually hold it back for several hours at a time, but on that particular occasion I was desperate. I am also fairly shameless about weeing in places other than a toilet, so I had a quick glance up and down the street, but could find nowhere at all to wee without running the risk of being arrested, which was the very last thing I needed. I couldn’t leave the car in case the RAC came, so there was only one thing for it: the Therapy Centre. Fiona and I looked at each other and began to laugh hysterically as the only available solution to the wee problem presented itself.

And so it came to pass that Fiona actually ended up in the same building as Sheila. It was fine because Maria opened the door and we were pretty fast. But not fast enough, as it turned out, for as we left the Centre, I saw the Big Blue Frog being driven away down the street bound to a breakdown vehicle. “It’s going to Wigan with my exercise books,” I yelled, and we both pegged it down the hill screaming in a very girly fashion.

Sadly, that is my last memory of the Multipla. A few days later I received a call from the aptly-named ‘Total Loss Department’ who said that it was a write-off. I was in the park at the time with my daughter. It seemed so brutal. “It’s just a car,” I told myself as once again I fought back the tears, but it was so much more than that to me. It was my trophy, my proof that I had escaped, that I’d made it out, that I’d survived and had come back fighting.

Then we had the hassle of replacing it. I tried to persuade Jack that we should get another Multipla, preferably the same colour, so I could pretend … but it didn’t work. So we downsized to a Citroen that guzzles less fuel. And bravely we face the future together. You never know, maybe one of these days I’ll end up playing in the sand with action figures …