Monday, 29 November 2010

A difficult clinical psychology session

I haven’t been feeling very inspired to blog lately. I think I have been in ‘function mode’. When in function mode I don’t tend to think or feel much for the main part, as I’ve talked about before; so it’s hard to even focus myself to write this much. When in function mode I’d rather spend my evenings watching TV, browsing the internet for Christmas ideas or pottering around the house than blogging about my feelings or thinking about, talking about, reading about or researching DID. Sometimes the latter are all I can do.

The last psychology session I went to was really difficult. I think I had been in function mode because I’d been having a difficult few weeks with my dad visiting and a few other stressful things going on. Normally if I’m in function mode I will try to come out of it before the session by reminding myself what we talked about the last time and by reading over things I’ve written in my diary etc. Sometimes that’s not enough to get me out of ‘function’ though. I guess I didn’t do enough to prepare myself for the session. My psychologist (T), launched in right where we had left off the last week when I had been altogether a different person: full of insight and reflections. Now I was jolted back to earth with a huge thud as suddenly I was being asked to talk about alters. I looked at the page of my own writing that she had handed me. It was a list I had made of all the parts I knew of. I had made the list a few months previously one day while having a moment of clarity and had given it to her along with a lot of pictures and other bits of writing that various parts had done and thought she’d be interested in. She was interested in the list and wanted me to place each person around a circular table (the ‘round table’ is a piece of work we have been doing for about a year: slow progress!). As I looked at my writing, it was familiar but I couldn’t relate to so much of what had been written on it. I remembered the piece of paper, I knew it was me that had written it but now it seemed as if it had been someone else. She was asking me questions about the list and I was answering them as though I was trying to remember what the person who had written it had told me about it; not as though I was the person. I felt more in the dark about DID and my alters than she.

I quickly noticed myself becoming very anxious. I felt my heart hammering in my chest. I wanted to run from the room and out of the building and jump in my car and drive away. I felt my head spinning. I felt awkward and exposed and I felt inside, the dreaded whirlwind commence as the internal voices started to wake up again. Those voices are quieter in function mode. Function mode is easy. Having several people inside who are all fighting for their say is not. I wanted to go back to my blissful ignorance. Someone was really upset, shouting at T (inside my head) to stop talking to me; to stop asking me questions. It felt like they had been woken from a sleep and were angry about their forced presence. They wanted to tear up the paper and throw it away. Another part was scared. I shifted about in my seat, pulling at the sleeves of my jumper and biting my lip. T asked me if some of my parts were active inside me at the moment. I felt relieved when she asked this; she is perceptive. It was a relief to be understood. I nodded. I tried to take deep breaths and internally reassure the parts that were upset. This seemed to help.

She asked if it was OK to continue with the ‘exercise’. I nodded but I was scared. I didn’t want to let my fears stop me. After all, one of the reasons I am in therapy is to help figure out the puzzle of Me. I need to conquer the fears that hold me back. Well maybe not ‘conquer’ but ‘tolerate’ anyway. We continued; T had asked me if I’d rather her read the information from my writings and me place each person around the table as we went through the list of alters or if I’d like to do the reading and her mark them on the table. I said I didn’t mind, so she gave the job of reading out the title and description of each alter while she marked them at the table according to where I thought they should go. I soon regretted taking on this task as it was very hard to read out what I had written. One moment I couldn’t connect with the writings; the next I felt my chest would explode at the emotions the descriptions were bringing up. My guess is that the alters that were being described were stirring as I read about them and some did not like to be highlighted so explicitly. I felt my anxiety levels soaring again. I was scared; I excused myself and went to the toilet.

When I came back I asked if we could swap over, with me marking on the table and T reading. She said she was about to ask if I wanted to do that and understood it could be difficult to read the descriptions aloud. I felt relieved again. It feels so good to be understood. Something I have never really felt in my life.

We made it through the task....just about. I felt so unable to decide who went where on the table when I was struggling to relate to some of the people on the table as being real people. T seemed happy with what we had achieved anyway. I felt...well a whole load of things at the one time... frustrated though. I always find myself getting frustrated and agitated when we work on this project. I had other things going on too though and this was distracting me...

You see, two of the most obvious alters to me are two child alters, who I have talked about with you in previous blogs. Little C is about 5 years old and the angry child part (who has a nickname but for now let’s call them ‘angry child part’) is maybe a little older. Anyway, they both want to ‘come out’ in the session. They usually come out when I’m at home. My husband is used to seeing these ones in control at home, but they now want to meet T. I have had serious ambivalence about whether this is a good idea or not but have come to feel that I can trust T and should not need to be afraid of her seeing me with another alter in control. So I had communicated with Little C and angry child and agreed that they could come out in the session. I think they had been looking forward to this, but when it came to it in the session, I was too scared and my instinct to hold everything in and control them took over. I couldn’t let them out completely, although they put up a good fight. Well, I think they did come out but I didn’t allow them to speak. T said at the end of the session that it seemed another part had been there but not speaking.

Unfortunately my struggles with my alters to not come out/come out meant a long period of time being spent with me in an internal fight which made me ‘go weird’ and which I’m sure was very confusing for T. She didn’t really seem to know what to do. I found myself dissociating in time as well, as in I sort of half felt as if I was still there but half as if I was a child and terrible things were happening to me. This is a horrible, horrible thing to experience, especially in the middle of a therapy session. I wanted to disappear and curl into a ball and cry but I was sitting in a chair with someone watching me. I wish T could keep a blanket for occasions like that and allow me to put it over myself so that I can be invisible. I know that sounds stupid but it would help me (or that child) so much. If I was at home I’d hide under a duvet and hug a teddy or suck my thumb.

It’s hard to know what can help me at times like this. T didn’t seem to know what to do. I heard her saying that she didn’t know if talking to me helps or not, or something like that. I don’t know really what I can tell her. I don’t know myself. I guess it’s good that she is patient with me. I guess when I dissociate in this scary way waiting for it to pass is all we can do. When it happens I am fighting myself for it not to happen. I am trying to calm myself and stop my body from panicking and I’m trying to stop my mind from shutting down. Maybe it would be easier if I just let it happen. I guess this is what I would do if I was at home; I’d just shut down. I’d curl up and let my mind drift away and I’d probably just wake up later. Or if I couldn’t do that, I’d self harm. The thing is, I can’t really mentally shut down in the middle of my session because I’m not alone and I need to be mentally there; never mind the time wasting aspect of it. And I don’t think it would go down too well if I just whipped a blade out of my handbag and cut my arm, although sometimes that’s all I can think of doing at the time.

So eventually I was back to myself and the panic had passed and I felt calmer although by no means OK. I felt like a shell of myself. I was sitting staring at the floor, kind of mentally popping in then zoning out while T talked about our next appointment. I remember her asking me if I wanted a drink of water and I was so thirsty that I was grateful for it. I remember her telling me to get my diary out and to write down the next date. I felt shattered. I felt like I had fallen into a dark hole and no one in the world would ever be able to find me. I felt like my chest was going to break and a tidal wave of pain would gush out and drown the entire world. But I sat still and my chest didn’t break and I got myself up and I think I said goodbye. I don’t know how normal I appeared but I got out the door and back to my car (just about because I couldn’t remember how to open the door release button on the main door out of the psychology department and had a bit of a fight and panic with it, even though it’s the same door I’ve been going out for two years). I managed to get my car out of the car park but I had to pull over and put my head down for a while. I couldn’t get myself back into reality. I felt like I kept disappearing. I was popping in and out of my life. I managed to ring my husband; I needed to pick him up but I didn’t know where he was and I couldn’t focus on the instructions he was giving me. I zoned out again and then I heard him saying: “Are you still there?”

I drove through the city, feeling like at any second I might drive straight into a wall without realising or through a red light or into a car. I was scared. I tried to focus myself; focus on the road. I made it to my husband and asked if he could drive. He seemed to realise pretty quickly that something was up. He said: “Are you OK?” I shook my head. He said: “Do you just need to zone out for a while?” I felt so relieved. I let my head flop down and my brain do what it wanted and soon we were home and I was in my pyjamas and hiding under my duvet.

The next few days were very difficult. A bad session can have a huge impact on my life. Dissociating like that reduces my ability to function drastically. After writing this I feel it will help me not to go to the next session as that person who can’t relate to any of this. But then again, the session isn’t for another two days. Can I maintain this level of awareness and do a good job at work?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Don't we all want to be accepted?

On Monday I woke up feeling more like a more reasonable and straight forward person. I decided to directly ask my friends for reassurance and then wondered why I hadnt done this earlier instead of worrying all weekend. So simple! Incidently, they are still my friends and weren't freaked out or annoyed or anything.

People with D.I.D generally want to be accepted and worry about being abandoned by others. D.I.D is not something I have told many people about. It is probably a big concern for most people with D.I.D that others will think they are making it up and looking for attention or wotnot.

Actually, this is something I have struggled with myself. I have an alter who doesn’t believe in any of the rest of us but thinks they just made it all up and are just really sick in the head for doing something like that.

It’s easy for me to see that it is real because I am well tuned in to much of what is happening now, but when that other alter is out, it is separate from us, all is quiet in their head, there are no other voices, everything is simple and clear and there is nothing at all the matter with Candycan.

They then think about all the hours of NHS money that has gone into trying to help me and feel REALLY guilty. So if I can have my doubts (I say 'I' because I do know that the parts are all me at the end of the day: I just don’t experience them as one person) then I understand how others can too, but reading about people who don’t believe D.I.D exists and believe it is just made up, throws me into a lot of turmoil.

I also understand that because people generally only see one aspect of me that it would come as quite a surprise if I told them there is all this other stuff that goes on that they don’t know about.

Sometimes I am so separate from things myself that it even shocks me to think that I am able to go to work and do my job well and have a chat and a laugh with my colleagues when I might have been up until 4am the night before feeling like I want to die and hurting myself.

I find it a fascinating disorder (if you're going to be crazy, you may as well have something interesting lol) and although sometimes I go through extremely difficult times with it, I am also learning more by the month about the condition and realising how complex the mechanics of it are, yet the mechanics, once you understand them are actually really logical.

If there's anything you would like to know please ask me.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


That last post was another part of the thing I wrote for my friend to explain about DID. I sent it to her a week ago and I asked her at the end to please let me know that she's not freaked out by it because I would be worried that she won't want to be my friend after reading it. I haven't heard back from her since so either she is freaked out or she hasn't read it yet. The latter wouldn't be so bad because it is long but at the same time, I can't help feeling hurt because to me it says 'not interested'. So either she's not interested or she's freaked out and doesn't want to be my friend anymore. I know that might not be rational thinking but that's just how I feel at the moment. I asked specifically for reassurance because I know how sensitive I am.

I'm feeling pretty lonely at the moment (yes, even with all my friends in my head). My other friend (I don't have many friends) who is probably the person who would actually mainly qualify as a friend (i.e. the only one of my friends I see routinely), I haven't seen properly in months. I know it's partly been my fault because I was quite depressed for a while and didn't really want to see anyone, but it seems my efforts to get together are never successful anymore. She always has something else more important to do. She has got a new boyfriend now and I guess her time is filled with him. But I saw pictures of her on facebook with another girl who I am friends with too (although we don't meet up much). It wouldn't have hurt for her to invite me to join them would it? She makes a feeble effort to meet up every now and then but it always seems to be that she's trying to slot me into a last minute cancellation in her schedule. I don't feel very valued.

We were supposed to be spending the evening together yesterday and I cancelled my other plans to do so, then she texted me yesterday morning to say she remembered she had a craft class to go to and could we just get a coffee before. I felt pissed off by this. I texted back and asked her to check her schedule and let me know some dates where she'll be definitely free over the next few weeks so that we can catch up properly but I didn't hear back.

I probably sound like an old moan but I am just feeling alone and uncared for.


Changes from one alter to another is called ‘switching’. For me, switching can happen really quickly; if something upsetting happens, I may start switching very rapidly. There may be several parts present and they might come out for a few seconds at a time, so quickly it might be missed (usually when this is happening I might just appear to be in a state of anxiety/unrest). There may be more than one alter present at one time.

Switching might happen less rapidly where one part comes out for a while e.g. an angry part might come out for the day, or if I have a big work event to do, the function part will take over. Another example might be if I were to sit down with paints and paper; this could easily provoke a switch to a child part seeing as it’s something children tend to enjoy doing.

Switching can also happen for me in longer phases, as in I will notice usually a more dominant part for a few weeks. So for several weeks I might have absolutely no emotions about anything; life feels really easy; I go to work, do everything I should, come home, watch TV etc etc but not really be engaged in life. This is function mode. I call it that because to me it is a non person, as it doesn’t have emotion, but I feel a bit guilty that I’ve learnt to think of it that way as for me this is the easiest alter to live as and probably the most useful.

In function mode nothing is bad and nothing is great. NB I have to activelytry to switch myself out of this mode in order to go to my therapy sessions otherwise I would sit in silence and not be able to relate to any questions about ‘feelings’ or ‘parts’. I have spent years of my life at a time in this mode and that is probably part of the reason I am missing a lot of memories; it’s almost like a robot version of me was present for those years of my life.

Another part might then take over for several weeks at a time such as an angry part (life is VERY difficult in this case) or a depressed part (very difficult to work as this part) etc.

It is usual for other alters to make appearances no matter which part is being dominant in any phase. E.g I may be in function mode but a child alter might still come out for an hour or so.

Stressful situations can cause me to switch but I might switch as well if a situation is more suited to one alter e.g. watching fireworks at Halloween caused me to switch to a child alter, who then got very upset when the loud ones went off so an older, motherly alter also ‘came out’ to comfort the child alter resulting in two alters being present at the one time (plus me as an observer). Complicated!

I don’t know what triggers the more long term switches to take place. I could be happily in function mode for weeks and then wake up one morning suddenly ‘feeling’ and I’ll realise something is different.

I'm still learning about all of this myself, but if you have any questions or comments, I would be happy to hear them.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

About alters

The last few posts and this one as well, are parts of a letter I wrote to a friend who recently found out I have DID. I haven't told anyone apart from my husband and one close friend, but I was out with my one close friend and another friend who didn't know about it. Out of the blue she just announced that she finds multiple personality disorder fascinating and would love to meet someone with it. My friend didn't know where to look while I tried to explain that it's often not as dramatic as the media portrays it and that you might not know if you did meet someone with it. I didn't really do a good job of explaining it and was getting all a fluster and ended up telling her I have it. She was, of course, surprised but seemingly very interested and asked loads of questions, which I tried to answer but didn't do very well at!

So I got to thinking that I would send her some information on DID and then it kind of became an essay on DID from my perspective. So, I thought I'd put it in my blog too... for your benefit I've put it into bitesized chunks (my friend did not have the same pleasure).

This time, I am going to share some reflections on 'alters' and some of what I know about alters in my life....

I know I have parts that take control. Some people with DID, don't know that they have alters as there can be a separatedness of memories between the various parts. I am often aware of what 'parts' are in control as usually when a part takes over; I am still there inside me but in more of an observer role.

So I feel I am looking out through my eyes but it's not me that is controlling my body. For instance, recently I was having a conversation with someone I met at work. I could hear the conversation as though it was in the background but I wasn't connected with it at all. That was because a different part of me was out then. That was an alter I tend to call 'function'.

Recently I found myself going downstairs during the night. Again, I was aware of myself and what I was doing, but in more of an observatory role. I found myself jumping about the kitchen and doing silly whirls like a child and I thought: "that's odd!".

Sometimes, it would seem, I am not conscious of parts that take over. I struggle to believe this to be true but the evidence speaks for itself when I can't remember having done things that I can see I have done.

My ‘alters’ can be present without taking control of my person. I may be talking as a normal person but feel the presence of another alter with me and hear them commenting. I can also communicate with them if they are present as well. They are not always in my consciousness though.

The more I am becoming aware of my alters, the more I am learning to cope with them. It's almost like a family relationship. You get to know each person and learn what they like and dislike and you may find different people have different roles.

I didn't used to know anyone was there and just felt there was a lot of confusing stuff about me that made me just 'crazy' without explanation. Finding out that there is an explanation for everything and that there are other people like me was a huge revelation (a process of realisation) and in some ways is a huge relief as well (especially because D.I.D is treatable).

Now I am becoming more aware and am also better able to use my parts for my own benefit (you can ask me about this if you want examples). I really hated having alters and hated that I wasn't in control of myself all the time. I am learning now to be more compassionate as I realise that some of the alters I have been so hard on have actually gone through a lot to save me the pain of having to deal with things. Sometimes though it's still a real pain in the bum, especially if alters get into conflict with one another and start fighting in my head or when they cause problems in my everyday life.

Even so, at least now I know enough to be able to realise that if I wake up one day and am finding doing the simplest tasks extremely difficult and feeling like there's a whirlwind in my brain, it's because something is going on internally. I can then either just take it easy and warn David to be careful around me, or I can try to communicate with my parts in order to find out what the problem is or just to give some reassurance. Before I knew about D.I.D I might have just gotten extremely frustrated with myself or I might have tried to find a reason why I was feeling bad and then create issues that actually weren't the real problem. I don't know if that makes sense.

People with D.I.D can think of themselves in the plural. It is normal for me to refer to myself as ‘we’ when I am communicating with my alters. Obviously, I tend to use the ‘I’ with other people as it saves confusion but I tend to find it easier to explain things using ‘we’ because to me, my parts are different people, each with their own viewpoints and preferences.

Some people have names for their various alters. Some of my alters have nicknames but generally they all want to be 'Candycan' lol. I am still learning about who is who inside my head and I don't know for sure how many alters I have but there are several.

It's not likely my friends will meet many of my alters (there are a few that they probably have seen but are so subtle actually that you may not even notice much of a difference in me) but you may notice flashes of an alter if you're really observant (unfortunately the angry one and a child part can sometimes pop out) but I try really hard to control them.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

How does dissociation affect you?

I mentioned in my last post that there are different kinds of dissociation. This got me thinking about ways in which dissociation affects me.

D.I.D can affect memory, both in the short term and long term e.g. I have limited memories of my childhood; also sometimes I find evidence that I have done things I don't remember doing. Some people also seem to have memories that don't belong to them. Sometimes I get disturbing images that flash into my mind but they don't seem to be a memory. At times I may get confused about whether I remember something happening or just dreamed it. This can make every day life quite complicated and I have trouble remembering what I have and haven't done at times. I try to keep extensive lists and records at work of tasks I have done, conversations, requests etc otherwise I get into difficulties.

Dissociation can affect my consciousness; so I might suddenly realise a few hours have gone by without me knowing where they went: this doesn't happen to me much at the moment but if I was very depressed this would be more likely to happen for longer periods of time. Having said that, it may be that time lapses could happen without a person noticing the loss of time, if you know what I mean?

Have you ever been on the bus or driving your car and arrived at your destination without being able to remember a big chunk of the journey? That’s a type of dissociation that happens to most people, but for some this happens more often and in inconvenient situations. Sometimes I may just zone out as if I am in a day dream for a while; I may then realise I haven't heard anything the person I'm with has said and it can appear as though I am not interested but it's actually because I just switched off (or switched away) mentally. Hopefully they don't really notice this because I have learnt to try to hide it well in conversations and social situations but if you find me asking something you already told me, that might be the reason why.

There are other dissociative symptoms which can happen too, such as: sometimes I feel like the world isn't real and I am just watching everything on TV, or sometimes my vision gets blurred or tunnel like: the visual disturbances tend to only happen to me when I'm under some intense stress for instance; during a confrontation.

I may feel disconnected from my body at times and looking in the mirror; I might feel that I'm not the person who is looking back at me. It's hard to explain and understand all of these things.

It’s also possible to dissociate the body sensations, so that something you would expect to be very painful doesn’t hurt at all.

If I am under extreme stress, I can actively 'dissociate'. For me this usually involves my entire body freezing up and me being unable to move. This has only happened to me on rare occasions when I have been challenged by too much so I don't really worry that it'll happen to me in the middle of the supermarket or something.

Sometimes, and this happens quite a lot in my therapy sessions; I just get generally confused; everything goes all a blur. The questions T is asking me stop making sense, I'll feel like my head has a whirlwind inside it and I won't be able to think straight. It's really embarrassing when this happens and something I instinctively try to hide, but I wish I could just be honest with her more often and say what is happening. I always worry that she'll think I'm stupid: I feel stupid when it happens.

Dissociation can have a relationship with the body too. Some people with DID (and probably other disorders) tend to suffer from ailments which don’t seem to have any medical underlying cause. This could be migraines, headaches, IBS or other things. I get bizarre pains in random body parts which arrive without warning and stay for a while and then eventually disappear again. Or sometimes I just get really sick for maybe just an evening and then feel better. I know this is a psychological thing because if I can be distracted e.g. if my husband drags me out to the cinema, it is likely I’ll feel better quite quickly.

Does anyone else share these experiences with me? What weird things happen to you? Do you find dissociation scary?