I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder two and a half years ago by my long-time therapist. Prior to that, things weren’t making sense.
I had been tormented by suicidal thoughts for years with no relief even after multiple trips to residential treatment, plus regular therapy. I was self-harming, dealing with an eating disorder, and barely hanging on by a thread. In therapy, we started talking about this ‘dark’ place inside of me where it felt like a part of my being was missing. Using imagery, we got closer and closer to this dark place until it felt like something in there wanted to say something to my therapist. Following that session, I went home and allowed the words to come out through a pen and onto paper. As the pen moved, I realized these words weren’t my own, I wasn’t in control of what was being etched across the page. It was an alter—one of many—that had now chosen to reveal themselves.
Alters are alternate personalities. When a child is young, the brain is still developing, their personality is still developing, and everything is malleable. When a young child experiences severe, prolonged trauma, the brain is able to split and alternate personalities are developed to hold the trauma.
The weeks and months following the discovery of that first alter were chaotic. Fellow alters were coming out left and right. I didn’t know who was who or who I was. I was helpless to what was going on. Some were angry, some were scared, some wanted to talk to my therapist, some didn’t—but the one thing they all had in common: they didn’t want me to be in control. These alters were created for a purpose, they have a job to do: protect me. To keep me safe from the world, to shield me from what had happened, was happening, and could happen.
At this time, I have 80 known alters.
The suicidal thoughts and the self-harm weren’t coming from me. But through revealing themselves, my alters have learned coping skills and therapy that has allowed the thoughts and self-harming to subside beyond sudden trauma responses.
My alters are now much more open to letting me be in control. Through increased system communication, I am more connected to their needs and they are to mine. I know there are other alters we have yet to discover. Alters that reside deeper within that continue to be impacted by the abuse we endured. But in therapy, by creating a safe space, they are able to make themselves known when they are ready or able to.
Before being diagnosed with DID and getting to know my alters, I didn’t know I had been abused as a child. My alters held and still hold all of the memories from those experiences. I have the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse but none of the memories. The incredible thing about my alters is that they experienced the abuse for me so I didn’t have to—call it elaborate self-preservation. Through their efforts, I was able to continue developing as a child without the debilitating trauma of abuse.
There is a lot of stigma and ignorance surrounding DID. Oftentimes, I feel shame when talking about it. I’m afraid people will think I am crazy or making it up. But I’m not crazy and I’m not making it up. DID isn’t talked about much in the mental health community and that’s why I’ve made it my mission to bring more awareness to it. There are lots of us who have it, there are a lot of us who feel misunderstood. To those who are reading this and are a DID System, I want you to know you aren’t alone. If you are reading this and don’t have DID, I want to thank you for reading to the end and for caring enough to educate yourself.
DID deserves to be talked about. We deserve to have a voice in the mental health community just like any other mental challenge.
For more from author and mental health advocate Rebecca Hilliard, follow her on Instagram.
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