Today we’ll send over 300 billion emails and 19 billion text messages. The average person will speak 17,520 words to 7.4 other individuals. And these words, thousands upon thousands of them, are the invisible threads of contact, uniting us to one another. But not me. I exist as a phantom. I ache to be connected, to be able to express what life is like for me. Me, as a dissociative we. But I don’t have the words to become connected, I don’t have the words to become real. Words fail me.I struggle every day to convey what it’s like to be dissociative, and I can’t, so I feel disconnected from you. We speak different languages. How can I make you understand if I have no words? How can I be connected to you when your words don’t mesh with mine? You make sense of my life through the matrix of your own experiences. You use words as metaphors, as similes, as adjectives, as concepts. But words fail me, because I slip through the cracks between your experience and mine.I use words like ‘not me’ to describe how I experience the various parts of my personality. I use the word ‘male’ to describe an aspect of myself that doesn’t sit comfortably in my concept of femaleness and womanhood. If I say that a part is a ‘part of me’, inside I feel commotion, upset, distress: it suggests the concept of ‘less than’, ‘not people’, ‘not real’, ‘not valued’. They are ‘just parts’. These parts of me live with the experience of not-me that is so tortuous and difficult to endure, so when we’re told, ‘They aren’t real, they’re just parts of your personality’, it feels that the true message is, ‘You’re lying. You’re exaggerating. You’re just imagining it. You’re crazy. We don’t believe what you say happened to you. You’re not suffering. Go away. You’re pathetic.’
But on the other hand I know that the parts make up the whole. These ‘parts’ feel that they are not me. So what do those words suggest? That they are actual people, separate human beings to myself, unique individuals? Years ago my first therapist used to treat them as separate to me. She would refuse to tell me what they had said, insisting that they were her clients too and they deserved her full confidentiality. She encouraged secrets between my parts (a re-enactment of childhood dynamics). She fostered the idea that integration was tantamount to death, saying she didn’t want anything to happen to them and that she would miss them if they left. The whole thing messed me up. On the one hand, these parts were here because I had disowned their memories, their experiences, their reality, and I knew I needed to connect in to them in order to be free; but on the other, even my therapist was claiming that they were separate human beings all squished together like sardines into one single body. How can I explain that it’s not what it’s like, that ‘separate people’ is a metaphor, and a poor one, and that just because I feel them as ‘not-me’ doesn’t mean that I feel them as separate individuals? Words fail me.
It feels illogical to accept that these alters are parts of me, that they are all different expressions and manifestations of dissociated parts of my personality. Because they don’t feel like me. It seems perverse and false to accept their memories as my own when I have no memory of the events they describe. It feels like a lie when I say that they aren’t really separate people, because sometimes the separateness feels as massive as a glacier. When I accept that they are not-me, I’m confused as to why I experience them at all (‘I don’t have DID!’) When I accept that they are parts of me that don’t feel like me, I am overwhelmed with the unbearability of all that they feel and experience and know. I need to keep them at bay, outside of myself, but deep down I know too that they are me. They just don’t feel like me. Words fail me.
If you can understand what I’m saying only in populist terms, that I have ‘multiple personalities’, then how tempting is it for me to go along with your words, and elaborate my parts so that you’ll grasp a little of what I experience? I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If I say that they are separate people, sometimes you seem to understand that better, even though I know that it’s not entirely true. But if I say that they are ‘just parts of me’ then sometimes it feels that you shrug it off and say, ‘We all feel like that sometimes.’ Yes, your words explain that sometimes you feel ‘like a little kid again’, but for me when that happens there is no ‘again’. There’s no recognition of that little kid ever being me. I don’t know who this little kid is that I feel that I am. You say that you felt ‘beside yourself with worry’, but when I’m like that, I feel literally beside myself. I feel that I have taken two steps to the left and I’m watching from within this part of me that isn’t me, who’s anxious and stressed and hyper and stuck. I’m watching the terror melt their insides, and I can only watch, and I have no words, and I don’t know what they’re going to do or what words will come out of their mouth. I am indeed beside myself, but impotently so. Is that what you mean with your words?
I look at myself and see that I am a woman in her mid-thirties, but I don’t feel it. You say that everyone feels like that sometimes. But do they feel, as I do, that I have the body of a 9-year-old boy? Really feel it? I know with my logical mind that it was a survival mechanism to dissociate, to separate off from the girl who was being abused. I know logically, with stale words, that my male parts were not born, that they didn’t grow up, that they don’t have a male body. I know at some level that my mind imagined what it would be like to be male, to be not-female, and it pushed the dangerous aspects of my character onto this imagined boy-me. But are my words implying then that these parts of me are just imagined? Words fail me.
I am starting to refute the logic that because they don’t feel like me, therefore they aren’t me. I see that words fail to explain my dilemma. I am beginning to accept, a little, that dissociation is about missing links: disconnection from myself, from my emotions, from my needs, desires and wants. It’s about disowning and avoiding things that are too painful, too difficult, and too dangerous. It’s like avoiding people in the here and now: we separate ourselves from them, not associating with them by creating space. And this is what I did in my mind as a child with the parts of me and the experiences that were too painful to remember. I disconnected from it.
It’s logical to feel that my parts aren’t me. If I lie on my arm long enough, it becomes numb and feels disconnected. The sensory signals are blocked, and when I go to move it, it doesn’t feel like my arm any more. I can see that it’s connected to my body, but I can’t feel it. So is it really such a leap to accept that I cut off from the pain of abuse, neglect, abandonment and betrayal and now those parts of me don’t feel like me? That my brain disconnected from the self that had to endure it? All my life, my self has felt numb and disconnected. Now, little by little, I am reconnecting, and the pins and needles of emotion are beginning to be felt. But without the words to describe what I’m experiencing, I feel cut off from people around me. The vagueness and ambiguity that disconnects me and segregates me is daunting and lonely. But so is living in a world where I am never truly me, where the me that I experience is fluid and dynamic, neither entirely just ‘part’ of me, nor entirely another ‘person’. The various forms of ‘me’ that I experience are children and males, teenagers and abusers, all different ages, with different names, different characteristics. I am fighting to find the words to link the threads between them, to discover the whole of me, the true me, every facet of who I am. I am hoping that in the process I will find the words to free me.