Today I find myself in a beautiful room in ‘The Chimney House’, a gentrified old-industrial building, exquisitely decorated, tastefully restored. I am sitting at a long wooden table alongside about twelve others frantically tapping on their laptops, surrounded by scrappy bits of paper and mobile phones in ‘silent’ mode. There are candles burning peacefully and vases of wild flowers, many of which are suspiciously weed-like, and lovely cups of redbush tea with subtly-flavoured expensive biscuits.Why are we here on this, the first temperate Sunday of Spring? We are here because we have spent thirty pounds on being here. We are here because we are weak-willed, lily-livered time-wasters. We are here because we have paid through the nose to be locked up together for the day in a pretty room with no internet access. We are writers on an ‘Urban Retreat’! Think of the inverse of an internet café and you’ll get the picture.I hope you’re not feeling too disappointed in me. If you are, may I gently point out that I at least have a genuine excuse for such wasteful self-indulgence. No matter how much ground I cover, no matter how much significant progress I make, I always seem to arrive at a point where I am brutally reminded of my lowly status as a psychiatric patient. This normally coincides with a visit to see Dr Ifan the Ponytail Man, but for the moment it would appear that our umbilical-cord connection has finally been severed, as my care has been passed over to the scary “You’ll have to be prepared to work much harder than this” Senior Consultant Dr Marauden, who will be managing my imminent new career as Couch Potato. And that career will be taking off anytime soon, maybe even in June. But first I have to attend not one but two ‘Business Meetings’ (yes, really, that’s what they’re called) where contracts will be drawn up and signed, appropriate and inappropriate behaviours agreed upon, and I will submit myself fully to the psychoanalytical invasion of my mind, and to the ultimate destruction of my Fortress.

With all that action to look forward to you might imagine that I have been feeling rather optimistic recently. Not so. It all started in the staffroom at work the first day back after the Christmas holidays. I was merrily chatting away to my colleagues, gamely pretending to be devastated by the dreary January return to work, when I heard Gill Grant, Deputy Head and official Le Roux Manager, casually mention that she was going to retire this Summer. People all around clamoured to say how much she would be missed and what would we do without her, blah blah. Fighting down the rising nausea, all I was capable of saying was a desperate, internal, “Not here, not now!” to my younger parts who immediately began to panic noisily. With a sinking feeling in my stomach I dreaded what I knew would be the consequences of their overhearing this conversation. I prepared myself for a hard time.

Thankfully the following week brought a semi-welcome distraction in the form of an OFSTED inspection. My ultra-efficient eighteen year-old part stepped in to save us, delaying the inevitable “Who next?” discussions. The fallout from the more-than-a-little disappointing Inspection kept us unhappily occupied until half term when I met with Meera, my Care-Co-ordinator, and offloaded my ‘concerns’ (aka terror) about the impending loss of Gill. I will be discharged from Meera immediately when my ‘Tertiary Care’ with Dr Marauden begins, so she was keen to help resolve the work issue as soon as possible. She suggested that I approach Gill and ask if she could meet with us and whoever would be taking over her Le Roux-Manager role to make plans for a ‘smooth transition’.

Well, there was never going to be a good time to confront this. Gill and I had muddled through together for almost three years, and although the relationship was far from perfect, most of my parts had eventually come to trust her and to feel safe knowing that she was around. Despite its potentially lethal “good-cop/bad-cop” combo, it had worked well enough, largely because above all else Gill is strong. Strong enough to rein in the wildly mischievous, rebellious nature of my 12 year-old part with just a look; strong enough to step firmly into the blazing fury-trail of said part when triggered; and yet gentle enough to reassure my 4 year-old part that the police car was gone now. All that whilst maintaining a fairly healthy respect for me as a competent and, at times, talented teacher. Not an easy act to follow then.

So, bracing myself for a trip to the dreaded Senior Management Team corridor, I began to consider the likely possibilities, and was distinctly uninspired. As I expected, Gill said it would have to be somebody on the SMT, so I kissed goodbye to my fantasies that maybe Georgia or Will or one of my other mates could do it – and to all the fun we could have had in the process. Still with more Heads in this school than your average DID client, there would be plenty more to choose from. Gill had three suggestions: firstly the Headteacher; secondly Mrs Maloney, Assistant Head in charge of Teaching and Learning; and thirdly, the most obvious person, Mr Huntley, Deputy Head in Charge of Pastoral Care. I immediately ruled out the Head, as I needed him to be perfect and to stay onthat pedestal as part of the overall Game Plan. I knew instantly that it couldn’t be Mrs Maloney as everything she had ever said made me laugh out loud, and that would be disrespectful and inappropriate. That left Mr Huntley. Gill looked at me expectantly. I asked if I could think about it.

Mr Huntley is the perfect man for the job, I told myself. He gets it: trauma, abuse, all that stuff that makes kids tricky. He wouldn’t be fazed by my parts – he was familiar with all those sorts of dysfunctional behaviour. Indeed it is part of his job to oversee courses in Affect Regulation and Anger Management. He’s gentle, approachable, funny even, and my younger parts quite like him. So why the hesitation, why the uneasy feeling deep in my stomach? “Trust your guts,” Sheila, my therapist, used to say, and there I was, three years on, listening to them. So I decided to contact her to seek the hard-nosed, no-nonsense advice she so loved to give.

Naturally Sheila sussed it out early into the fifty minutes: “She’d run rings round him, Cathy, and you know it,” was her straightforward response.

I have never felt so enraged by being saddled with these blasted ‘parts’. FFS! Why the hell couldn’t I just conform for once and take the sensible, straightforward, grateful route through life instead of having to make ludicrous decisions on behalf of that bloody invisible rabble I drag around with me? Arrrggghhhhh! Sheila asked if there was anybody else I could think of. Could she read my mind or what? You see, there was another possibility, but I just couldn’t face it, so guess what? I’d kind of shoved it out of sight, you know, done that thing we do. It was almost unbearable.

Gill’s replacement as Deputy Headteacher was an internal candidate who has been Assistant Headteacher with specific responsibility for ‘Progress Management’. He sits in his office playing with lots of data, and holds teachers to ransom if their students aren’t hitting their targets. He’s an ex-PE teacher, about the same age as me, with a voice that can be loud and eyes that can be menacing. He’s direct and not afraid to tackle miscreants who don’t bother turning up to do Break Duty, including me when I forget. Unsurprisingly I avoid him at all costs, but somehow he seems to position himself directly behind me when we have to listen to guest speakers on INSET days, and he’s nearly always in my group when we are divided into non-Departmental teams. Whilst I don’t much like this, it never really bothers me because he’s uncomplicated, fitting as he does neatly into the ‘them’ category. When he got Gill’s job I’d been relieved on the quiet: better the Devil you know.

Carl Jenkins isn’t a people-person, which is why Gill hadn’t suggested him as a possible replacement in the first place. He would be the last person you would want to manage ‘sensitive’ staff issues, or anything much that isn’t on a spreadsheet. But he’s strong, and I wouldn’t mess with him, so when Sheila asked if my 12 year-old part was afraid of him, I nodded reluctantly. “Good!” she said, brightly. I protested that he was all Bad Cop and no Good Cop, but she insisted that this would come with time. For now strength was what really mattered.

When the information about my DID was first circulated around the SMT three years ago, Carl had been the only one to mention it. He’d approached me during Dismissal Duty and thanked me for it, saying that he’d found it useful and would act on its suggestions. This memory, combined with Sheila’s inimitable seal of approval, made the course of action clear, so I ignored the vehement outrage of my dearest part and went to see Gill. She was taken aback. “Are you sure?” she asked. “He’s not very insightful or intuitive. He’s really not very … well, you know … good when people get upset.” I pointed out to her that since I would rather die than cry in any workplace situation, tears were extremely unlikely and I explained the strength agenda. She asked once again if I was sure he was the right person for the job before agreeing to ask him. I knew he wouldn’t say no.

A date was set up for a joint meeting between the three of us. The thought of this filled me with sickening anxiety and shame. To comfort myself I tried to focus on how he might be feeling. And then I had what seemed like a good idea at the time. Carl Jenkins is a man who likes to follow procedures and to run around making sure everybody else follows them too, so I decided to write him a manual about how to manage the different ‘parts’ and the ‘unusual behaviours’ that occur in the school setting. I even went as far as noting down the specific thoughts and feelings associated with each part, in a bid to get him to fully understand. In my enthusiasm I fired off my e-mail, copying in Gill and my Head of Faculty. Then I spent three whole days convincing myself that I was about to lose my job.

I’d really gone and done it now. I’d let the cat out of the bag – how could I have been so stupid as to tell them what my different parts are thinking when they appear? Now they’d be in no doubt whatsoever as to exactly how crazy I am: they had the hard evidence right there in front of their eyes. I was counting the hours until the meeting would be over so that I could lay low and be perfect in every way so as to avoid giving them reason to get rid of me.

The night before the meeting I over-medicated myself slightly (I know, I know) so that I’d be feeling nice and relaxed in the morning. Yeah, right. When I stepped into Gill’s office I was repeating a favourite mantra – “Don’t switch, don’t twitch” – and praying that my scarlet shame wouldn’t show on my face. Composed, that’s what I must be, composed. And no staring straight ahead either: I must, must, must make eye contact and be personable.

I saw that they both had my manual in front of them, and, in an attempt to lighten the mood, turned to Gill and asked, “Recognise anyone?”

She smiled and nodded. Then Carl said that he thought he did. Whenever there’s a Parents’ Evening, the ‘Information Desk’, manned by the Headteacher and other important people like Carl, is temporarily placed at the end of my corridor, meaning that when I leave at the end, I have to walk right past them. He said that they often wondered why I always looked so shifty and like I’d been up to no good. So I told him it was for the simple reason that he was there.

“So, Cathy,” he said, looking at the manual. “I don’t get it. You want us to be there, but you don’t want us to be there.”

“No,” I replied. “No offense, but I absolutely never want you to be there. I just need you to be there sometimes, to be safe.”

I can see now that I maybe wasn’t helping myself at this point. They were both curious about the extent to which I’m aware of what’s happening when I ‘switch’, so I used my train metaphor to explain it. I said that when I switch to being 12, it’s as if I get on board a train which is heading in a really bad direction. At first, as the train pulls away slowly I can see everybody on the platform, behaving normally, getting on with their lives, and they can see me clearly too, and they smile and wave. But as the train leaves the station, the people become more and more blurred, and they seem to be staring at me, looking worried. I really want to get off the train, but I can’t: it’s going too fast, and gaining speed. And then suddenly I’m all alone in the carriage, miles away from the rest of the world, being taken somewhere I don’t want to go. I know that I absolutely must get off, but it’s out of my control. I can’t until …

I can’t until somebody else leaps onto the train. It may feel a bit drastic, and they may worry about the £200 fine if it’s a false alarm, but somebody has to have the bottle to actually pull the emergency stop-cord. Then the train comes to a halt, and I’m safe again.

It’s not a nice thing to do for either of us. In all likelihood I will leap a few feet into the air and feel a sharp jolt and be a bit jittery and even winded. You might feel terrible for frightening me, or worried that you’ve made things worse. But the fact of the matter is, I’ll get over it. I’ll need time to calm down and recover from the shock, but I’ll be safe again and usually ready to teach within an hour or two.

I looked Carl in the eye and told him that that’s why I’d asked him to be my link person: because I think he’s got the bottle to do it, just like Gill.

The rest of the meeting went fine then, although I felt all closed-in and traumatised for most of the following week. I hate feeling so exposed, but I suppose it’s worth it – after all, I’ve got three children to feed. I’ve included a copy of my manual (opposite) just so you’re all fully aware of exactly how crazy I am. And I promise I’ll tell you about the Group Mindfulness Therapy next time.