Represent, New York
(The author’s name has been changed.)
I open my eyes and hear my therapist’s voice. “Andrea, do you know where you are?” I know I’m on her office floor, but I don’t know how I got there.
“Where do you think you are?” she repeats. I want her to tell me why I’m sitting on the floor again with tears rolling down my face. Twenty minutes have just gone by while I’ve been asleep in the corner of her office.
But I haven’t really been asleep; I’ve just gone away. When I go away, it’s like I drift off into a safe place. When that happens, someone else comes out from inside of me to speak about what is really going on inside my head, to talk about the things that are too difficult for me to say.
I’m a 22-year-old college student, and I have what some people call multiple personality disorder, officially known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). What psychologists think happens when you have DID is that your sense of self breaks up into separate identities, often called “alters.” These alters have personalities, moods and ways of speaking and thinking that are different from yours. They might even have different ages and genders.
People who have DID often suffered serious physical or sexual abuse as children. Researchers think that the condition starts when you’re a child as a way of protecting yourself emotionally from the abuse by going into a state of mind where you can believe that it’s happening to someone else, not you. As you get older, various alters might take charge of you for a while, especially when something reminds you of a traumatic experience from the past.
I’d never heard of DID, and when my therapist first told me I had it, I was scared and confused and wondered how this was possible. At first I thought she was lying to me. But when she told me about the symptoms of DID, I recognized all of them.
As a young child I was sexually abused by my father. When he started touching me, I would quickly separate myself from the pain by becoming someone else, like a princess or a boy, because in my fantasy world, boys did not get touched by their fathers or mothers. In my fantasy world, I played and sang with talking trees and my time there was filled with freedom and ease. Even when I was small, I would often feel empty and disconnected from my body.
My first impression was that my therapist seemed smart and full of energy. She had that x-factor that my other therapists had lacked. I started to trust her when she gave me her beeper number so that I could call her any time.
Several times I did call her at night. She was always there. Eventually I began to see her as not just a therapist, but a friend. I felt relieved that I would not be going through this transition by myself.
Now that I know I have this disorder, I think a lot about how I can manage it. I want to trust my therapist so that I can just let myself go and put the disorder in her hands for a while. But there are times when that’s still hard to do.
I use the techniques my therapist has taught me, like reading, putting the flashbacks into the television and watching it go dimmer and dimmer, or using an imaginary vacuum to suck all the flashbacks up.
I haven’t even told my social workers what’s going on in therapy, because I fear I’ll be seen as not capable of taking care of myself. I worry that I’ll get kicked out of my supportive housing program, which means I’d lose my apartment and the independence I’ve worked so hard for. I try not to let the staff in too much, because I don’t want them to judge me and be put in the position of having people watch my every move.
I wish I felt safe enough to tell someone about my struggles. I hate to feel alone with this as a secret. It’s difficult for me to evaluate when and who it’s safe to tell. The one place that I feel certain is safe is my therapist’s office, but something is still holding me back from opening up completely.
I’m trying to figure out how to really let her into my world. I’d like her to be the one to help me understand the many faces of Andrea.
© 2009 Youth Communication/New York Center. http://www.youthcomm.org.