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What The Heck Is DID Anyway?


The Peacock at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston, SC, by Jim Dollar

It rarely fails. When I mention to someone that I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I’m met with a blank stare. Then, I know, I have some explaining to do. Usually, I go to the place of the old definition: Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). It seems a bit easier for folks to grasp. For some of the people with my “label” it even describes their condition better.

My “disorder” used to be called MPD, and some people still relate better to those terms. You see, just because the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) changes its valuation, it doesn’t make the PEOPLE it’s describing any different. Our “diagnosis” is just a measure to tell us that there other people like is, and to show us how those other people have coped.

I’m always amazed whenever I hear people who are talking about me using superlatives or boxes. “Deneen,” they will say, “is a very sexual being.” Well, yes, Deneen is…and Deneen is not. It depends on which person in here is facing forward; who is running the show. “Deneen,” they will say, “is very good at talking to people.” Sometimes, that’s true, but I also have selves inside here who cannot speak at all. Literally. Sometimes, we have no voice. Nobody can reach the voice-box of the body to make it go. Do you want to know why hardly anybody knows that about me? Because, when we can’t talk, we don’t! You will never get to speak to my person who cannot speak! It’s only logical that my friends and loved ones are largely unaware of her. As a matter of fact, you would be hard pressed to get some of the people who know me to believe that I am ever quiet.

Often, I have different parts of myself triggered to come out with different people. When I’m with my friend and fellow writer, Charlene, for instance, I’m a giggly Fourteen-Year-Old-Girl who is having the time of my life. No matter what else was going on before I walk through any door to Charlene, I eventually morph into the person who blends with her, who enjoys her, who knows her. Chances are, if you spend enough time with me, you’ll have a “person” in me who comes out to be with you. It’s not always a new person. It rarely is a new person, although new people do get invented when there’s a need.

You see, inside my head, it’s like a big parts factory. Parts labeled with likes and dislikes, happiness and sadness, silliness and seriousness, work or play orientations, the lists go on and on. In any given situation, there is an unconscious process that goes on inside my head and says: What does this person/situation expect from you? What tools do we need here and who inside of us posses them? Is there a consistent character here that this person/these people, expects to see?

Sometimes, if I’m the wrong “person” when another person is needed, the person who IS facing forward (the Me-Who-Is-Speaking-To-You-Now, which represents different “me’s”), we play act. Sometimes, we just know what the “usual” person who is expected would say, and we say it. Even when we don’t feel it, believe it, or want to. It’s a way to function and SEEM like the same, stable, solid person to the outside world. We like to think that it helps us to interface better.

The brain of the person with DID is a complex brain. It’s a creative brain. It’s a marvelous brain, really! Throughout my life, I’ve needed different sets of characteristics in order to survive. I’ve needed to be able to respond to my environment in a way outside of my emotions. Splitting myself into people who handled difficult, often traumatic, events, it just makes sense. Hiding the fact that one “switches” is also the job of the brain, so amazingly intricate selection processes and story-making takes place inside the head to explain away inconsistencies. Our brains hide from us for a long time the fact that we are not one, continuous-memory being.

And there’s the rub. Everyone has different types of selves that come out at different times. No doubt, the person reading this has a work self, a play self, a romantic self, a depressed self, and an enthusiastic self. This is all normal and how it should be. The difference between your selves and my selves is that your sides usually will share a solid/same base core memory, set of morals, set of likes and dislikes. You don’t abhor plaid one day, and wake up the next thinking it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. You don’t get married and go out with friends, run into a stranger who kisses you—and forget that you are married. You may CHOOSE to ignore it, but you don’t forget that there’s a waiting spouse at home. Not really. That can happen to me.

So, what do I do about it? I learn my triggers. If going into a certain environment or around a certain set of folks has triggered me to go into a personality that I do not wish to be, I avoid those situations. I also work on group communication. We try to talk in here and remind one another what we’ve all agreed to, commitments that one or the other of us has made, whether or not the rest of us agree. It’s a committee of The Deneen.

You may wonder, when you’re with me conversing, “How do I know who I’m talking to?” Chances are, you won’t. Not unless we tell you, and, hell, most of the time, we don’t even know who the “we” is that’s facing forward. No matter who has control, that controlling entity just feels like “me”. It feels as if they are ALWAYS there and “me”. It’s taken a lot of getting used to to realize that whoever the “me” is, she/he has to accept that there were “me’s” here before, and that there will be “me’s” after, and that the Me-Who-Is-Speaking-To-You-Now won’t know what the other “me’s” have done. Not unless they tell me. That’s what we’re working on. Our goal is to have all of us telling one another what’s gone on, and to what/whom we’ve made commitments.

Another thing on which we are working is being aware of what some of our people can’t do. The-me-who-is-speaking-to-you-now may be capable of leading your support group, helping you build a dog pen, write that article that we are both excited and psyched about…but the one who is there when the deed needs to be done, well, that may be a different “me” entirely. Sometimes, we get very tired of trying to keep up with the commitments that others have made in our stead.

What does this all mean in terms of how you interact with me, or someone else who has DID? Well, for one thing, if we DO allow you to see us transition, that means that you are in a very trusted spot. How you respond to that transition tells us whether or not it’s safe to let you see it again. If we decide you aren’t safe, it’s not like it’s something we can talk ourselves out of later. That unconscious programming takes over and the ones in charge inside here will not allow us to be vulnerable again. A layer is put up between ourselves and you, and we remove ourselves, one step back. Its hard to explain and I don’t know if I’m doing a good job of it…but we’re getting tired now.

That’s another thing. When we all try to talk/write/do things jointly, it burns a tremendous amount of energy and we often must drift into neutral. It’s like floating in a pool of water with nobody in control. Floating in nothingness as nobody in particular—and the potential to be anyone, absolutely anyone, that we need.

Want to learn more about DID? What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

This post is dedicated to my friend/fellow-traveler/soul-sister/cheer-leader: Charlene Marolf

Eternal gratitude to: Jim Dollar Photography. Your pictures make us better, and the world a prettier place in which to be!

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