Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a highly dysfunctional, long term disabling and pervasive mental illness. It's exhausting, time consuming and frustrating, but I have developed techniques and strategies to help me exist on a daily basis.
While DID has affected my ability to work and socialise, my strategies help me get the most out of each day. I hope they can be of use to you or a loved one living with DID.
End the blame and the shame
It's important to tell yourself that this illness is not your fault. Your past is not your fault and traumas endured are absolutely not your fault. The blame lies purely with the perpetrator. Please remember that!
Moving through unwarranted blame has been long and difficult, but therapy helped.
Similarly, shame destroys self-worth and tells you that you are not deserving of help or acceptance. Shame is corrosive and humiliating, it keeps us silent, and silence in treatment prevents recovery.Learning to move through shame takes time, patience and a sensitive therapist.
People with DID can experience internal intense shame from themselves and their voices, resulting in unrelenting internal dialogue of blame and self-hate. Shame can also come externally from the outside world (family, friends, other people) in the form of disbelief, isolation and stigma.
'Shame is a soul-eating emotion.'Carl Jung
Build your knowledge
Reading up on DID was confusing and confronting. My search for answers and solutions to my anguish lead me to countless books and internet resources.
What I found is that, like most mental illnesses, DID isn't necessarily ticking all the boxes and that my DID, like just about any illness, is extremely personal and varied. Many people living with DID will be on a spectrum – low to high or 0-10 scale. Accept that you can be anywhere on the spectrum and that's completely okay.
It was important to understand how this illness affects me, and not be worried that my experience isn't textbook. Reading countless books probably gave me more anxiety than anything else. But it did allow me to weed out the things that weren't relevant to my experience and I found material that helped. So, read up, but only work on things relevant to you.
Find calm and relaxation
My internal world is chaotic. So it's imperative to ensure calm and order in my external world. My home, my life, my relationship and my family.De-cluttering my day to day life has proved highly beneficial.
I accept I'm going to have bad days, but having calming techniques like music, knitting, self-safe talk (we're okay and safe) and grounding techniques are helpful. Feeling like I am losing control is daunting and alarming, so distractions such as, TV, time with pets and hobbies work for me.
Overwhelming mental clutter is tormenting and unhelpful. Voices, when confused, scared or stressed, can be critical and frightened.
Start planning and organising
I learnt to plan because it became necessary for basic functioning. With unpredictable amnesia, I can spend minutes to hours of unaccounted time on any given day. Forgetting things that I have done, like taking medication, can be very detrimental.
Some things I do include:
- Writing down medicines when I take them
- Setting the timer when in the kitchen
- Organising email/mobile reminders for bills
- Writing appointments down in a diary
- Drawing up a daily/weekly plan.
My daily plan is an A4 sheet of activities. I print this template, and as I work through things I tick the corresponding box. I can insert one-off events relating to treatment, hobbies, study, relaxation and distractions.
Develop emergency strategies
Having a routine for stressful times is also helpful. I listen to music when I am stressed, or watch TV shows or movies to distract me from confronting chatter in my head.
Some strategies include ringing my partner or close friend when feeling particularly vulnerable, afraid or tense. A comforting talk may be all that is needed.
Times of crisis – like feeling suicidal or self-harming – require a more structured plan of safe interventions. I have a 1, 2, 3 approach I try when things get tough.
- Self-soothing or grounding techniques to keep me present and feeling safe
- Pain or anxiety medication as recommended
- Contacting my therapist if it's getting out of control.
Some episodes of self-harm have required medical treatment and it's important that those I turn to are non-judgmental and understanding. A negative condemnatory reaction may mean I avoid treatment in the future.
Form a support network
A support network of family, close friends and treatment providers is crucial. People to talk to, have an understanding therapeutic relationship with and build trust with.
It's important to ask for help, and accept help when it is offered because you do not need to do this alone. I personally find a treatment team who talk to each other is ideal – doctor talks to psychologist and they both consult with psychiatrist.
Internal communication with my Voices is vitally important. This is a continual work in progress and I may never know the full extent of my system.
Think of my DID system like a group of people in a building. Some people you see regularly. You know them by name and have a chat as you pass in the corridor. Whereas others you didn't even know were in the building!
To understand why a particular voice is there, first you have to identify that voice, get to know them and what they are linked to. This may take years or decades, because the fundamental basics of DID are secrecy and protection. 'Don't tell' because that is the safest option. I have no doubt that shame manifests itself in this as well.
Some of my Voices were created during extremely traumatic events and just locating them is challenging let alone opening up communication channels, because their purpose of existence is to keep the traumas from me, to hold those horrific memories so that I can live in the outside world.
Allowing me to experience that past defeats their purpose, but for many DID sufferers working with these voices and understanding the distressing memories they hold is necessary for recovery.
If you are feeling alone, in crisis, or in need of support call the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 7263. Or Lifeline on 13 11 14.