When Reality Hits

For as long as I’ve spent in therapy (thousands of hours at this point), I can count on my fingers the number of difficult sessions I’ve had.

It’s not that my sessions don’t involve difficult topics. While most of my early therapy experiences focused on tackling surface issues unrelated to trauma, the last nearly three years have been all about my trauma. Even then, I found myself able to detach from emotions a lot of the time.

Just a week before this latest session, I told my therapist about an incident from my teenage years. I was triggered a few days prior when the dog had split her nail and bled on the carpet. It almost instantaneously led to a flashback from when I was stabbed in the abdomen and left the same marks. When it happened, I was lost in all the same emotions. I felt like it was happening all over again. But when I told my therapist about it, I was void of emotion. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel anything.

I thought I could do the same thing in our next session. Don’t cry. Don’t feel. Just get it all over with. Instead I cried, and I felt more than I ever wanted to feel. I was unprepared for that.

My therapist was concerned. And I knew it wasn’t just her concern. It was the treatment team’s concern. And as much I tried to deny it, it was my concern, too. My symptoms were getting worse. Not only in the last week, but in the last few months. I had been getting increasingly lethargic. No matter how well I sleep, I’m exhausted. Some days, I can barely climb the stairs without feeling like my heart is going to explode. My legs and feet swell, the right side worse than the left. Some days, it feels like I’m dragging 100-pound weights on each leg. Just moving around puts my heart into overdrive. Several times I found myself leaving group because of chest pains.

It was other things, too. Signs of heart failure. I knew it all too well. I watched my father go through it. I didn’t want to watch myself go through it.

I couldn’t avoid it any longer. If you don’t make an appointment with your cardiologist by tomorrow morning, you cannot return to program. An ultimatum with no option for negotiation. A crisis I could no longer avoid.

This session was different. My therapist wasn’t softening reality at all. She wasn’t letting me get away with avoiding the pertinent shit in my life. Not this time.

You know what, yes, you likely do have heart failure. Not going to the doctor isn’t going to change that. She was right. But there’s a difference to me, in suspecting something to be true and then actually having it confirmed. The latter is unchangeable. At least with not knowing for sure, there is just enough room for a small possibility of change, a small chance of it not being true.

Yes, you’re going to be sick for the rest of your life. And I will never understand how that feels, how you feel. It’s frustrating. It makes me angry, for many reasons. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel normal, to not be sick, for just one day. But my mother knows that. She’s not suffering. She’s living longer than I will likely live, more healthy than I have ever been and will ever be. Where is the fairness in that? I lost the genetic lottery big time.

But it can be treated. Yes. Just like my emphysema is treated. Treated, but not cured. Another diagnosis to be added to the list. Another health issue I didn’t need in my 30s. Another illness I don’t deserve.

Is it just about not wanting the diagnosis, or is it more than that? Is it another indirect way to be suicidal? It’s like she knows me. The same reasons why I still smoke with emphysema. It kills me faster, and no one really sees it as a slow suicide; they just see it as being stupid. The longer my heart goes untreated, the sooner I’ll die. Why prolong a life that’s destined to be minimal?

I didn’t tell her that, of course. I told her it was just about the diagnosis. I thought that would put a stop to the difficult conversation, but she just shifted to something even more difficult: the purpose of my life.

You may very well never be able to work again. You may not be able to get through all the schooling you want to. She was direct, in a way she had never been before. We’ve always thrown around the idea that I could eventually start working again, that my heart condition would get better and I could be normal again. But that didn’t seem like a realistic option anymore, at least not in the sense that I wanted to be normal. As far as school goes, I missed the deadline for my doctorate application because I was inpatient when the application was due. So any plans I had for getting my doctorate next year went out the window. And maybe that was meant to be, since I can barely get through the last few courses I have for my masters. Not for lack of knowledge, but for lack of energy.

But maybe you were meant for something different. Maybe you can’t be a therapist, or go into research. But maybe you can help others in a different way. She read the letter I wrote to the hospital. Another example of my never-ending drive to correct wrongs. I told her about the director’s response, how they were going to look into how they can change. See, think about the people you’ve helped just by doing this. You may likely cause this hospital system to change their ways.

I knew she was right, but it still didn’t seem like enough. I needed more. Maybe you can start an organization. I told her I already did. I told her what my dream was for PAFPAC, what I wanted to do when I first started it. But then my health (mental and physical) took a turn and I haven’t had the energy to make it what I wanted it to be. You’re still helping people.

But not as many as I wanted. I admitted to her that my life goal was an impossible one, and that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I wanted to stop mothers from abusing their children; I wanted to prevent people from hurting. And I know, logically, that will never happen.

You can still affect change. You’ve already started. Your actions help people. Your writing helps people. You give a voice to those who can’t speak. You’re going to have really bad days. That’s inevitable. But some days, some days are going to be okay. And it’s those days that you can really be you.

The dreams I had when I first ran away are now gone. My hopes of being a professional, of living a long life, of helping the world, are just not possible. The universe has given me this life of constant struggles. It has taken away too much from me. I’m just not sure if what I am left with is enough for me.

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The Good Family

I want my daddy to come back to life so I can tell him I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did to be bad, but maybe he will forgive me.

I want to go back home to my mommy so I can tell her I’m sorry. I don’t know why I was always so evil, but maybe she can just love me.

I wrote those words one month ago and could not bring myself to post them. How could I miss people that caused me so much pain? How could I still want love from the people who broke me? Maybe they weren’t that bad after all. Maybe they were good enough and that’s why I still miss them. I want everything to be my fault. I don’t want to let go of the wish that I had a good family.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that they were bad people. It doesn’t make sense that they were good people. I’m forever trying to rationalize a situation that was never rational.

My brother wasn’t hurt as badly. My mother loved him. He was allowed to have friends. He could eat most of the time. He had so many good things. But I didn’t get any of that. If our mother was really a bad person, then she wouldn’t have treated my brother so nicely. He would have been tortured, too, but he wasn’t. So then maybe I was the problem. Maybe my mother was a really great mother, and I was just too bad of a child.

Part of me doesn’t want to see what that really was. That I wasn’t a bad child at all, and my brother was no more deserving than I was of good things. That my mother treated my brother that way because it was all a part of her game. That she used him to make me feel like I was the bad one. That my brother and I were both pawns in my mother’s sociopathic game — my brother the apath, and I the empath. It worked out perfectly.

My parents could have kept me at home, but they chose to send me to school. They could have kept me starving, but they always ended up feeding me. They could have let me bleed, but they took me to get stitches. They could have ended my life, but they chose to let me live. Bad people wouldn’t make those choices. Good people would.

Part of me doesn’t want to see the other side of all of that. That I went to private school because it fed their need to feel superior, not because I deserved an education. That I should have never been starving, because a child never deserves to go without food. That I would have never needed stitches had they not made me bleed. That letting me live only to continue to hurt me wasn’t really letting me live at all.

I don’t want to accept that reality. I want to live in my fantasy world, where my family was good and I was the bad one. Where I was the reason that everything happened the way it did. Where I was the cause of all of their problems. Where if I had just been good, if I had just been a better child, my parents wouldn’t have had to do what they did. 

That was the world they created for me. That’s what I was made to believe as a child, and I carried those beliefs right into my adulthood.

I still want that good family. I still want to believe that I can in some way erase everything that happened and make it all better.Maybe if I just apologize, if they can just see how sorry I am, they will love me and we can be a family again.

But my family doesn’t even want me. They never came after me. No one tried to make sure I was okay. They went on as if I never existed at all. I became a topic of conversation to be avoided, a topic worse than politics or religion. I offended them by escaping, just like I had offended them for existing.

If they really loved me, if they really cared, they would have looked for me. As much as I live in fear of them, I also long for their love and care. I want my mother to love me. I want to be the good child. I want the good family that children are supposed to have.

Sometimes I fantasize about my mother finding me. I imagine her knocking on my front door. I open it, and she’s standing there. She reaches out to hug me, and I start to cry. But she doesn’t really hug me, she stabs me in the heart. 

In that moment, I’m not sad or angry. As I stand there bleeding, I am happy. Because I know my mother cared enough to come and kill me. She loved me enough to end my pain.

And all I ever needed was her love and care.

The ongoing battle: Why I deny my DID and why I know that I have it

I’d like to think that, as I am now six months into my official dissociative identity disorder diagnosis, I wouldn’t still be struggling with accepting that I have DID. But the truth is that I still have doubts. Some mornings I wake up in complete denial. I try to rationalize my denial my pointing out the differences between myself and others with DID I’ve come across, even though I know full well that the dissociative spectrum is so diverse that no one’s DID is the same as another person’s. Yet I still try to convince myself that this all just a misunderstanding.

Reasons I use to tell myself I don’t have DID (note that I am not saying any of this is true for all people with DID – these are my irrational rationalizations):

Medication: I am not taking any psychotropic medications, and I haven’t since September. Every person I’ve ever come across with DID (and mental illness in general) takes at LEAST one psychotropic medication. I tell myself that since I am functioning without medication, I must not be ill at all.

Functioning: I function decently well. I’ve held jobs (and excelled at them), I’ve always been one of the highest achievers in my class (from elementary school through college), and I am able to live independently without assistance from anyone. I know many others with DID are not that fortunate. They are unable to hold jobs, unable to focus or stay present long enough to manage an education, and many are in supportive living.

No inner world: In my reading and through my participation in DID support groups, I’ve come across so many people speak of an inner world that they can actually picture inside of their minds – filled with different rooms and places for alters to go. I don’t have that. I find it difficult to imagine having that.

Trauma: This is difficult for to me admit, as I would tell a client to never compare his or her pain to another person’s. Yet I find myself regularly comparing my trauma to other people’s traumas, insisting that my experiences are minor in comparison to what other people have gone through. I tell myself I don’t have DID because what I went through just wasn’t that bad.

Lack of alter involvement: I realize in typing this out that it is one big oxymoron, because admitting that my alters exist actually supports my DID diagnosis. Many of my DID friends have actively participating alters: alters that use the computer and social media as themselves, alters that perform certain life tasks, etc. None of my alters use the computer (that I know of). None of them have their own accounts. As far as I’ve realized, I’m the one putting the work into daily tasks, not any of my alters.

Memory: Although I don’t remember everything, I do have memories of quite a few traumatic experiences I have endured. I tell myself that if I really had DID, I would have dissociated during these events and blocked them out from my memory. Why didn’t I dissociate all of the time?

Reasons I use to counteract my denial:

Medication: Funny how I use this both as a tool for denial and a tool for acceptance. The fact that psychotropic medications don’t affect me actually supports a dissociative diagnosis. DID cannot be treated with medication. The symptoms that may coincide, such as depression and anxiety, can be treated with medication, but DID itself must be treated through therapy. It explains why anti-depressants never helped me, and why even the strongest anti-psychotics never stopped the voices in my head.

Outsiders have met my insiders: When I told a good friend about my DID, there was no sense of shock or surprise. In fact, my friend had suspected something long before I even realized it. When I asked why he never said anything to me, he said it didn’t matter to him – it was just who I was. I even found out he had met one of my younger parts. My therapist has also met several of my parts, even before they were comfortable enough to come out to me.

Recognizing differences: Two weeks ago, I had a disagreement with a coworker. We were discussing an issue with boxes that needed to be shipped out, and I insisted that I didn’t pack and label the boxes. I couldn’t recognize my own handwriting. As I stood there vehemently denying that these boxes were mine, my coworker reminded me that I was the only one who knew how to do it, and no one else would have written those labels out. He was right. It could have only been me. But that was not my handwriting. Someone else had taken over for me, and it wasn’t the first time. Over the years, I have come across many notes that were not in my usual handwriting, but I knew that they must have been written by me. These differences are never subtle, either.

Ending up with things I don’t remember buying (or liking): I’ve been known to carry around a pink and white polka dot bookbag. My therapist commented on it once, and I mentioned how I hated the color pink. And then she asked me why I had a pink bag. Truthfully, I don’t even remember buying it. I don’t remember buying a lot of things I end up with.

The voices in my head: I can’t ignore it. Hearing voices is not normal. Yet I’ve heard them for years. Sometimes I can understand what they are saying, and sometimes I can’t. Medication doesn’t make them go away because they are parts of me. They are not auditory hallucinations. They are my alters.

Memories: There are entire chunks of my life missing from my memory. Sometimes I can’t remember what I did last week or what happened in therapy. These are clear indications of dissociation. When I am present, my memory is exceptional. There is no other reason for my memory to be that shitty, even with the drugs and alcohol I’ve taken in the past.

Trauma: This is another dual-purpose tool for both denial and acceptance. I know through my research and involvement with other survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse that the incidence of DID seems to be much higher with survivors of this type of abuse, so inevitably my risk is higher. I also endured physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse by both of my parents, increasing my risk factor for developing DID even more. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I had a traumatic childhood and early adulthood. Saying that my life was fine won’t change the fact that it really wasn’t.

As I sat in therapy last week and insisted that I never went through any trauma, my therapist reminded me that that just wasn’t the truth. She told me that if I continued to deny my experiences, I was also denying everything that my parts went through, all of the trauma they endured. It’s not just about me; it’s about them, too. I realized that I was doing the same thing to my parts that other people had done to me: denying the reality of my/our experiences.

Sure, I wish I didn’t have DID. No one wants DID and all of the shit it comes with. But for every reason I come up with to support my denial, there are even more reasons that support my diagnosis. I can try to maintain my dissonance, but that will never work in the long run. Maybe one day I won’t have to fight myself anymore on this issue. We’ve done enough fighting already.