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.
For a long time, I’ve been wanting to address something with the hospital I was admitted to several times in the year before I ran away.
I was admitted to the voluntary psychiatric unit three times, and each time, the hospital provided my mother with information and direct access to me. I felt extremely frustrated about it, but didn’t have the strength or the energy to fight back at that time.
I know it’s too late for me, but I’ve continually thought about how this needs to change, how victims of abuse and domestic violence need extra protection, how they need to feel safe in a place where they should be able to feel safe.
I finally sat down last night and wrote what was on my mind for awhile now. I sent it in an email to the hospital.
I didn’t expect an answer back. I was sitting on the couch an hour ago, and heard my phone ring. It was a number from my old town. My immediate reaction was one of fear; I wanted to deny the call, fearing it was someone from my family. I wasn’t even thinking about the letter I had just sent.
Hesitantly, I answered the phone. It was the director of patient services. He wanted to let me know that he received my letter and was taking it seriously. He is launching an investigation into my particular experience and forwarding the matter to the board. He will be contacting me again, and wanted me to know that I was heard.
I couldn’t believe it. I can only hope something comes from this. Even if nothing happens, I know that I was able to speak, and for a brief moment, I was heard.
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Crystalie. I was a patient at * many times throughout my life. I am writing today to share my experience with several of my last hospitalizations there, in hopes that changes will be made to protect future patients.
In November 2014, December 2014, and February 2015, I was a patient in your voluntary psychiatric unit at *. The first stay, I was sent by my doctor after I revealed abuse that was going on that contributed to my suicidal thoughts. My doctor thought it best to send me to the hospital to keep me safe — not only from myself, but from my abuser. Despite multiple attempts by my abuser, the doctor refused to give out any of my information about where I was. Somehow, my abuser contacted * and had it confirmed not only that I was admitted to the hospital, but what unit and floor I was on. This allowed my abuser to contact me countless times via phone throughout my stay. My abuser also requested information via the MHAs and was provided updates about my care. I never gave approval for this person to receive any information about me. This person was not listed as an emergency contact. This person had no right to any of my information, yet she was given all of the information she needed to keep me under her watch.
I was discharged a few weeks later, back to the home of my abuser, who believed that I informed people of what she had done. I had indeed informed the treatment team, including my social worker, about the abuse that happened, but because I was an adult, not much could be done. I found myself in an unsafe situation at home, so I checked myself into the hospital just a couple weeks later to keep myself safe from her. I wasn’t suicidal as much as I needed somewhere to hide and be safe. As I waited in the emergency room for a bed to be open, I saw my abuser walking down the ER hall, right towards me. The front desk had confirmed I was there, and told her what room I could be found in. Once again, I had not revealed any of this information to her. She found me, most likely by chance, because * was the hospital most local to me at that time. She was not listed as my emergency contact. I did not okay anyone to visit me or to contact me. At this point, the hospital had it on record from my prior stay that this person was abusive. Yet she was allowed to have access to me once again. I was too afraid to tell the aide to ask my abuser to leave, for fear of what my abuser would then do to me. There was no safe way to go about it. I suffered once again, and received retributive punishment after I was discharged back into my abuser’s home.
There are multiple points where the system failed me. The system allowed a known abuser to contact me, to physically find me in a place that should have protected me, should have been a safe spot for me. My health information is supposed to be private; that information should include my general status as a patient, and should not be disclosed to anyone without my approval. It’s a violation of HIPAA. I realize it’s difficult to monitor who comes in to visit. But there needs to be some procedures in place to keep victims safe. I am not the only one. And while it’s too late to change what happened to me, it’s not too late for other victims of abuse and domestic violence. Victims of abuse rarely confront their abusers in public because of the fear. I know that was why I was unable to tell hospital staff once my abuser was there. What if there was a safe way to go about this?
My abuser was my mother. I think that’s what made it so easy for the hospital to share my information. Most people don’t expect family members to be abusive. But the truth is, they are. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, partners — no one is immune. I know for me, it was difficult to tell people that I was in hiding from my mother; I had faced a lot of disbelief when I did. I know, in speaking to other victims of similar abuse, that there was a similar hesitance. But that fear and difficulty doesn’t mean we don’t deserve privacy and protection. I need to know that the hospital has changed how it shares information. I need to know that there’s a way victims of violence can protect themselves from their abusers while in medical settings. I couldn’t fight the wrongs that were done to me back then; I wasn’t safe enough to do so. I realize it’s late for me now, but I need to take a stand for others. What can we do to keep this from happening again?
Please contact me. I have provided my phone number and e-mail address.
Thank you for your time.
She jumped off the edge of the boat into the deep blue ocean. She didn’t tell anyone that she didn’t know how to swim. She took her chances. She couldn’t stay on the boat any longer, knowing that the boat was soon going to sink and they would all sink with it. The others refused to acknowledge that the boat sinking. So she left them there to drown. She couldn’t save them. She chose to go her own way, risking life or death as opposed to just the latter.
As she dove in, she found herself falling deeper and deeper into the sea. Overwhelmed, floating into a complete unknown. She opened her eyes and looked around her. She saw hundreds of fish swimming about. All the beautiful colors surrounding her. Majestic sea creatures, existing in harmony. The pink and white coral on the sea floor. The glistening sand beneath her feet. It was peaceful. It was safe. So many things she had never seen before, so many new things to explore. She walked across the sand, a stable ground, experiencing happiness for the first time in her life, experiencing freedom.
But she got so lost in the wonder that she didn’t realize she was drowning. She didn’t realize there were sharks circling her. She tried to get away, but she fell deeper into the sea, into a black abyss. There were no more beautiful colors. No more glistening sand. No support beneath her feet. Just darkness, and a shark swimming above her, waiting to attack.
She tried to swim back up out of the darkness. She tried to get away. But she had never swam before. She didn’t know what she was doing. She tried so hard to escape the shark, but it was relentless. It could smell her fear. It could see her, but she could no longer see it.
She moved her legs as hard as she could. She tried to push her feet but there was nothing to support her. She waved her hands about, hoping someone would see and save her. But no one was there. She was swimming alone, with no idea of what to do next. Powerless against the shark. Powerless within the water.
But she kept fighting. She knew she had to. She kicked and screamed her way out of the dark abyss. The shark was still following her, but she could see better now. She felt the sand beneath her feet again. She saw the colors of the new world, a world that was hidden from her for so long. She was finally learning to swim. All by herself.
Somehow, she managed to make it to the surface. She could see the sun breaking through. A beautiful sight. A new hope. Shadows of promise. She tried so hard to reach it, but she was tired. Tired of running from the shark. Tired of trying to swim when she was never taught how to. This new world had been too much for her.
She continued to look at the sun as it was breaking through the water’s surface. But she was sinking. She lost all her power. She lost her way. She sunk back into the darkness of the ocean, wondering if the shark will ever give up its hunt, wondering if she’d ever get to see the sun again.
[This piece is a writing activity I completed in therapy — the prompt was to create a story inspired by the image].
I can’t talk about anything.
I can’t write about anything.
Everything is trapped. My words, my thoughts, my emotions. In the prison cell that she created. And I don’t know how to get any of it out. It’s suffocating me.
I’m still afraid. Afraid of her. Afraid of the truth that I will never be free.
She speaks inside my head. She reads my words. She is everywhere, even when she’s not.
I went to a session today on self-compassion.
It was actually my idea. It was supposed to be an orientation group for new people, but no one was going and the other groups were getting full. So the lead therapist asked what group topic people wanted to cover instead, and for some reason, I blurted out self-compassion.
I say “for some reason” because I’ve been avoiding self-compassion groups when they’ve been offered. I hate self-compassion. I understand it on an intellectual level, but in practice it feels like one of the hardest things in the world, something I’d rather not (and don’t) bother with.
I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps it was the pain medication kicking in. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to learn how to be compassionate towards myself as I’m learning once again how to navigate the world on crutches. Or maybe another part of me knew it was needed. Regardless of the reason, I said it, and everyone was in agreement.
It was a good group. We each picked out a random card from some kind of motivational collection and shared it with the group. I happened to pick the card with the quote:
“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
She follows me.
A monster with eyes all around.
She sees everything.
She is everywhere.
I try to hide, but she finds me.
She follows me.
No choice to make. No chance to flee.
I beg her please, just don’t hurt me.
But she doesn’t listen.She breaks me.
She follows me.
Attaching to me
Like a leech attaching to skin.
Feeding off my blood
Sucking out the last bit of my soul.
She follows me.
Into my body now.
She is a part of me.
Tearing me up from the inside.
Never stopping, never letting go.
She follows me.
I cannot stop her.
I cannot stop the pain.
I let it be.
Hoping one day she will let me free.
She follows me.
Too weak to fight.
I try to run.
Run for my life.
Now I am free.
But she still follows me.
She infiltrates my dreams
and turns them into nightmares.
She lives on every day
Inside of me, my body and my mind.
She follows me.
Inside my head
Her voice yelling at me
Telling me everything wrong
Telling me to pay for my sins.
She follows me.
She reads my words,
watches my life.
She won’t leave me alone.
She won’t let me be free.
She follows me.
Like a storm cloud
raining on my life.
I can’t see the light.
She blocks it from me.
She follows me.
I will never be safe.
No matter where I am.
She is there.
Breaking me, killing me.
She follows me.
And I cannot escape.
I am strong.
My strength has gotten me through life, and allowed me to continue beating impossible odds.
My strength allowed me to get through my childhood, broken but still alive.
My strength got me to get out of bed every morning, even when I knew the day would inevitably bring me pain.
My strength carried me through to the day I finally escaped — the day that I needed all of the strength in the world to bring me to freedom.
Strength helped me walk away, run away, far away.
And my strength helps me still today, as I continue to choose to live rather than to die.
I’m not sure where my strength came from. Is it something inside me? Is it in my heart or in my head? Or does it flow through my body like a life force within me? I don’t know where it came from, or even where it is right now. But I know it’s there, helping me fight, helping me stand up when it is so much easier to just lay down and concede.
I share this strength with others every day. I share my story with the world; the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. Because my strength isn’t always so easy to see. But they can see it, sometimes more than I can see it myself. When I feel weak, I am reminded of the strength it took for me to get away. Incredible strength, that not everyone has, but I have it. I always had it. And now my strength gives others hope that they can be strong, too — that they can survive even when it seems impossible.
I used to hate the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because I believed my experiences showed weakness, not strength. I was standing, breathing, bleeding, but I was dead inside. That wasn’t strength. Strong people don’t feel the way I felt for so long. Strong people don’t feel at all.
But I was strong. My experiences may have knocked me down, but they did not kill me. They made me come back to life stronger than ever, with a will to live and the ability to share that will with the world, to change lives for the better.
My strength gives me hope, even when everything seems hopeless.
Strength is not about winning the battle. It’s about fighting, even when the odds are against you.
I wrote this in group today. I’m not even sure where it came from. I stared at the paper for a while before I even started to write, completely at a loss for words.
What specific attribute, quality, or skill distinguishes you from everyone else? How did you come to develop it? What positive things has it brought to your life? How are you able to share it with others?
What distinguishes me? Nothing. My thoughts automatically went to thinking that I was less than human. Unworthy. How could an unworthy person have anything special about them?
After 10 minutes or so, I started to think of things other people told me about me. I recalled many people speaking of my strength. Oddly, in those moments, I never saw myself as strong. I’d nod my head in agreement, yet inside my head, I was discrediting everything they were saying. I struggle with accepting positive things because I became so accustomed to hearing the negative that positive seems like a foreign concept to me.
I wrote down I am strong. Then it was like something clicked in me. I kept on writing without even thinking of what was coming out on paper. And I ended up with this.
Even after it was done, part of me wanted to rip it up. It doesn’t make any sense. No one will understand this. It’s horrible. I hesitated sharing it with the group because I believed the same thoughts I was having in my head were thoughts that they were going to have as well. Part of me was ashamed.
But I tried to stop the judgments. I took a breath and read it out loud. Even as my voice trembled and my legs and hands shook from anxiety, I read it through until the end. There was something different about reading the words out loud. I wanted to cry, but I held it in. This was my truth, spoken out loud. I made myself vulnerable. I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to share.
But I did, and that alone is an example of strength.
Yesterday, Grief Diaries: Through the Eyes of DID was published.
I was fortunate enough to be able to share part of my story, as I was one of the contributing writers for this book.
I had a lot of mixed emotions about being a part of this book. I actually changed my mind a few times before finally deciding to go through with it.
I still carry a lot of shame and guilt for what happened to me. I still believe, in some ways, that my childhood was my fault. I thought, if anyone reads this, they are going to think I was a horrible child. They are going to believe I am a horrible person. How bad a child I must have been for my own mother to treat me like that. How weak of a woman I must have been for allowing the abuse to keep happening. How crazy I am with this diagnosis.
It’s not like I haven’t spoken about it all before. I’ve been vocal about my trauma in social media. I write publicly about my disorder on my professional blog, under my real name. I write about everything on here, under not-so-anonymous anonymity. But this was something different. This was my life, attached to my real name, printed in a book, available across the world for anyone to read.
And then there was the issue of protecting the people who hurt me. I felt bad for labeling my abusers. I could have just said someone abused me. I didn’t have to name names. But who was that helping? Who was that protecting? It wasn’t helping me. It wasn’t protecting me. It was helping and protecting my mother. It was helping and protecting my father. And I didn’t owe them help or protection. I didn’t owe them anything.
I’ve held so much anger against the people who failed to protect me from my mother, and here I was doing that same exact thing — protecting her. The woman who stole my childhood. The woman who took away my innocence. The woman who broke me again and again. It’s bad enough to be abused, but to be abused by your own mother, the one person who is supposed to nurture, love, and care for you — that is a whole other level of pain. It’s a pain I want people to know about, because I want them to realize that it can happen to anyone. I want people to know that mothers can hurt their children, just like anyone else can.
So I did it. I admitted my mother abused me.
My biological mother was my main abuser. I call her my biological mother because it’s difficult to call her mother sometimes. I acknowledge that she gave birth to me, but her motherly qualities stopped there. For simplicity, I will refer to her as my mother, but I’d like to believe that real mothers don’t abuse their own children.
But that was not my only struggle in writing for this book.
In collaborating with the other writers who also had DID, I realized that I am just not at that level of acceptance yet. The other writers were so okay with announcing how many parts they had. They knew all their parts’ names and what purpose they had in the system.
And then there was me. How many parts do I have? Too many to count right now. What are their names? I don’t know. I know a few. But not all of them have names. I don’t keep a tally. I don’t keep an attendance sheet. Just the other night, I was kept awake by a voice inside that kept saying Sadie wants to color and all I could think was who the FUCK is Sadie? Because I just don’t know. I don’t know my parts. I don’t know me. I am a failure here, among all of these perfectly organized and knowledgeable people with DID.
I’m not going to lie. Seeing what others wrote made me feel like shit. I thought maybe I shouldn’t be writing for this book, because my DID is as chaotic as my life is, and that’s not the image that anyone else was portraying.
But then I remembered that I’m not supposed to be perfect, and my DID sure as hell doesn’t have to be perfect, either.
So I wrote my reality. I wrote of my shame in having more parts than I cared to admit. I admitted I didn’t know everything that was going on, inside and outside my head. I told of my struggles with drugs and alcohol, my suicide attempts, my fears about turning into an abuser. I wrote about how afraid I was of losing control and of losing my life. I opened myself up in a way I hadn’t before.
And now it’s all out there. The life I hid for so long. The parts of my life that I am still hiding. The denial. The failure. The fear. The struggle.
I don’t want to hide anymore. I shouldn’t have to.
You know me as Kyra Jack, but I’m also Crystalie.
I have DID.
I am a human being.
Dear younger parts and me,
I know things seem really scary right now. It’s okay to feel scared. I’m scared, too. You had to be scared in the past, because there were a lot of scary things and scary people. But you are safe now. We are safe. You don’t have to be scared anymore.
I know that mommy made you believe that you were sick. She told you that parts of you made you bad. I know she made that part of you hurt really bad. I know she made your heart hurt, too. I’m so sorry she hurt your body, and your heart. Little girls shouldn’t have to hurt like that.
I know you wanted so badly to be a boy. You thought that it would make everything better. You believed that it would stop mommy from hurting you, that you wouldn’t be sick anymore, that mommy would love you like she loved R. I’m so sorry you felt that way. But it was never your fault. You were never sick there. You were never bad just because you were a girl. Mommy was wrong. So wrong. There was nothing you could have ever done to make mommy love you. She was the sick one. She was bad. Not you. It was never you. You were always perfect. You still are.
I know you’re still so scared of mommy hurting you. You still try to protect yourself from her hurt. I’m so sorry you don’t feel safe. Little girls deserve to feel safe and loved and respected. Mommy shouldn’t have stolen that from you. You deserved all the love and respect and safety in universe. I wish I could have given it all to you then, but I can give you them now.
I know that mommy made you think that your body was not your own. She controlled your body and your mind. You had no other choice. I’m sorry she made you believe that lie. But you have choices now. Your body is yours. These are your toes, your feet, your legs, your arms, your fingers, and your eyes. This is your hair, your nose, and your mouth. And this is your vagina. It belongs to you. It’s part of your body, just like all of your other parts that make you, you.
It isn’t sick or bad. It doesn’t deserve to be hurt. It deserves to be taken care of, just like you. In order to take care of it, we need to go to the doctor. Just like the doctor that takes care of our lungs, and another doctor takes care of our feet, we need a doctor to take care of our vagina. It’s not bad or wrong to go to the doctor. All of those things that mommy said, they were wrong. She was wrong. She was just trying to scare you, and make you feel bad. I’m sorry she lied to you. You are not — and never were — dirty or bad. The doctor knows that, too. The doctor just wants to help us, and make sure we are healthy and strong. The doctor won’t hurt us. She won’t make you feel like mommy did. I promise.
I know you are afraid. You’re just a little girl. Mommy made you do things that children should never have to do, or see, or know. I’m sorry she did that to you. But you don’t have to do grown-up things anymore. You don’t have to hurt anymore. You don’t have to be scared or ashamed. Mommy isn’t here, and you can be you now. A beautiful, kind, loving, healthy, wonderful GOOD little girl. Mommy can’t take that away from you. She tried, but she didn’t know how brave and strong and courageous you were. She didn’t know the amazing little girl you grew up to be.
You can be that little girl now. I can take care of the big girl things, like going to the doctor. I will keep us healthy and safe. I will make sure that we are okay. I promise.
Thank you for being so strong. It’s my turn now.