Hi, there! My name is Margaret, and let me say before anything else – THANK YOU. Thank you so much for sticking with me and with the story over the past year and three months. I really can't express how much it means to me that you did.
I was actually planning on filming this author's note, but unfortunately I've had so many issues with my camera that I decided it was no longer worth the hassle and I typed it up instead.
I'd like to talk a little bit about DID, which by this point you already know stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder. And it's a controversial issue in the field of psychology; it really is. But it's not usually clear to those who don't study psychology why it's controversial.
Now, you have to understand that, while I didn't take creative liberty with many things in regards to my depiction of DID, what you read was still a very condensed and extreme form of the illness. People suffering from DID rarely switch personalities that rapidly, and it's incredibly unusual for DID to present as early as it did for Kurt. So, please bear that in mind.
First of all, DID is a very difficult disease to officially diagnose unless someone has actually witnessed a personality switch, and even that can be hard to spot. Blackouts and memory lapses are caused by hundreds of different things, so there's no reason to entirely trust the word of the patient themselves. This is where things begin to get complicated.
There are three kinds of doctors when it comes to DID. The first kind believes it when someone has DID and will do whatever it takes to treat the illness, and what most people don't realize is that this can be a very dangerous and detrimental practice, and you'll see why when I come to the third category. The second category of doctor is the non-believer. They do not believe split personalities are possible at all, and they will refuse to treat someone who claims to have DID, which is also very dangerous for obvious reasons. If they do treat this person, they'll find an alternate and more concrete explanation for the patient's behavior, which may or may not be accurate.
The third kind of doctor is neither a believer nor a non-believer. They're skeptical but not entirely closed to the idea that it could be real. The most common opinion among these doctors is that DID is, for the most part, a doctor-induced illness. This means that someone is suffering from a severe mental problem and their psychologist diagnoses them with DID without having been as thorough in that diagnosis as they should have been. Then, because the doctor is seeing DID where he or she wants to see it, the patient trusts that opinion and truly believes that they do have it. And it's only from that particular point on that they begin to display the full-blown symptoms. It's a sort of reversed placebo effect.
So, there is a huge element of this that is falsified. The big question is how much of it is not real, and how deep does that go? And that's exactly why it's so controversial – it's because nobody can tell.
Now, a few statistics. The first acknowledged case of DID was sometime in the mid 1600s, and it probably wasn't the first case in existence if you consider the behavioral problems exhibited by those accused of witchcraft in centuries before. It was first studied as a formally-diagnosed illness around the turn of the century, and up until the 1970s, there were less than one hundred cases that had been examined and considered to be legitimate instances of DID, though at this point it was still identified as "multiple personality disorder".
Everything changed in the 1970s, and this is the point where it begins to get really nasty. The numbers exploded. By 1980, there were thousands of identified cases across the United States. The numbers jumped so quickly that it was referred to as an epidemic.
What had changed? The media. A combination of the two movies Sybil and The Three Faces Of Eve – but especially Sybil – had caused audiences to suddenly be hyper-aware of this new disorder. Bear in mind that at the time, it wasn't new. It was only new to the generalized public, and once people had heard of it, it was more an epidemic of panicked hypochondria than anything else.
To further add fuel to the fire, the case study that provided the foundation for the story of Sybil turned out to be a hoax. Was the original Sybil suffering from mental illness? Definitely. Had she been severely abused? Probably. Was it a true instance of split personalities? No. That was, as the third category of doctor will tell you, an instance of doctor-induced DID.
And even now, the numbers are still climbing. As of 2010, according to the US Census, there are 40,000 people in the United States alone currently suffering from DID. That's enough people to construct a community the size of Jefferson City. Of course, you have to be aware of where this number comes from. Doctors. Thanks to the policy of doctor-patient confidentiality, the only information that the Census Bureau receives is a little tick of a checkbox stating that a doctor is treating someone with DID. They require no evidence beyond that. That's not to say that doctor-patient confidentiality is a bad thing, but it can make it a little difficult to get the right information.
An interesting and suspicious fact that you should take note of is that prior to 1990, there were fourteen psychiatric treatment facilities in the US that had been founded specifically to focus on the treatment of DID. Today, none of those exist. So, if the numbers are rising, why aren't the hospitals multiplying in order to accommodate that?
You should also remember that in order to officially diagnose most disorders as severe as DID, one of the required criteria is six months of continued symptoms. Puts a certain coloring on the rapid number jump, doesn't it?
So you understand why so many health professionals are hesitant to believe this idea of split personalities. Now we get down to the real stuff.
While the statistical explosion I just explained is nearly impossible to believe, there are a few other factors to take in before you dismiss it. It takes a truly terrifying level of trauma to cause someone to split their self into pieces, but nowadays it's easier for that to happen. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse… these statistics are all rising rapidly. And that doesn't even include the scores of victims who go unreported. Even traumatic incidents like violent car collisions and bombings are on a steep incline.
There's your statistical element of truth.
One of the biggest reasons for the myths and misconceptions surrounding people's understanding of DID is the media. Even now, movies skew what DID actually looks like and turns it into a cliched horror movie ending rather than depicting what it is, so there's almost nobody outside of medical professionals and people who have experienced it firsthand who understand that it's not just a plot twist.
It is a mental illness and a very serious one, but someone suffering from DID isn't crazy. Not in the sense that they can't distinguish what's real and what's not.
DID is basically a concentrated form of PTSD. I'm actually hesitant to describe it as split personalities, because that's not really what it is. That's what it looks like. And this is really why it's now described as a dissociative disorder and not "multiple personality disorder", because the alters really aren't personalities. They're only disconnections.
What an alternate personality really is is a piece of the original personality that has been stripped away from the rest in order to protect and defend the mind as a whole. It's the same principal as an animal caught in a hunter's trap chewing off its own limb in order to escape, or plowing fire roads through a forest in order to prevent the entire thing from burning down.
Alters are not subconscious personalities that burst to the surface once they're threatened enough – they're not there to begin with. On a psychological level, alters do nothing but contain memories and emotions that, if allowed to the surface of the original personality, are irreparably damaging. And in containing these memories and feelings, certain subconscious characteristics of the person are highlighted and emphasized in order to create what appears to be a separate personality. And they are just detailed enough to be very good at appearances.
The stripping of an alter away from the whole is not an instant process. It's a vicious cycle that usually takes years to fully develop into what we call an alternate personality. Abuse or trauma occurs to someone who is whole, and they immediately repress the feelings of terror in order to survive it. It doesn't matter who you are – everyone does this. It's the same thing that happens when someone is hit by a truck but is able to walk away because their body is in shock and can't feel pain. The brain has an incredibly powerful gateway mechanism in order to deal with pain, whether or not the pain is physical. DID is just one possible result of forcing the body into shock over and over again.
Unfortunately, once the split has developed, there's really no way to completely heal that wound. It's like dropping a plate on the floor – no matter how clean the break is and how well you repair it, the crack is always going to be there.
I want to share with you a passage I wrote down from a book that belongs to my mother:
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"The answer to "I have no idea how I am going to get through this" is: You allow yourself to sob, to heave, to feel as if your heart has a boulder crashing through it… You listen to your sorrow. You get help from your friends. And you notice that at the end of every day you are still alive. That feeling anything, even grief, is different from what you thought it would be. That when you don't leave yourself, a different life is lived. One that includes vulnerability and tenderness and fragility and changes the landscape – makes it verdant, wider, breathtaking – of life as you know it.
To the extent that we go into survival mode – I can't feel this, I won't feel this, it hurts too much, it will kill me – we are slipping into baby skins, old forms, familiar selves. Young children, especially infants, mediate the pain of loss or abandonment or abuse through the body; there is no difference between physical and emotional pain. If the pain is too intense and the defenses are too weak, a child will become psychotic and/or die. It is lifesaving for a child to develop defenses that allow them to leave a situation they can't physically leave by shutting down their feelings or turning to something that soothes them. But if as adults we still believe that pain will kill us, we are seeing through the eyes of the fragile selves we once were and relying on the exquisite defense we once developed: bolting. Obsessions are ways we leave before we are left because we believe that the pain of staying would kill us.
But the person who would be killed, the "I" in the "pain is big and I am small" belief, is an idea, a memory, an image of yourself left over from childhood. You already felt destroyed. That was then. You will never be that small again. You are not dependent on someone else to hold you, to love you so that you can continue breathing.
Staying requires awareness of the desire to bolt. Of the stories you are telling yourself about the need to bolt. Staying means recognizing that when you want to bolt you are living in the past. You are taking yourself to be someone who no longer exists. Staying requires being curious about who you actually are when you don't take yourself to be a collection of memories. When you don't infer your existence from replaying what happened to you, when you don't take yourself to be the person your mother/father/brother/teacher/lover didn't see or adore. When you sense yourself directly, immediately, right now, without preconception, who are you?
When you stay, you question what you've never questioned: the you you take yourself to be. The you who is not your past, not your habits, not your compulsions. Anything becomes possible. Even living through extraordinary pain.
The glitch here is that it's not life in the present moment that is intolerable; the pain we are avoiding has already happened. We are living in reverse."
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You might not have guessed it, but that passage was an excerpt from a self-help book for dieters, titled "Women, Food, And God" by Geneen Roth. It's the psychology of binge eating.
This is why I believe DID is possible. Because dissociation – the exact psychological process that causes the split in someone with DID – is something that is absolutely inherent to the human brain. This happens on every level of our psychological construct, in every aspect of our lives. We say "I'll diet another day" and we believe that eating that chocolate actually makes us feel better, or we starve ourselves for the agonizing belief that we are ugly inside and out. We are afraid to chase our dreams. We procrastinate. We refuse to kick a drug addiction. We won't go talk to that person we like because, like a skittish dog avoiding a stranger, we are so scared that we'll be hurt.
So, if by some miracle I have managed to write a story that affects you as an individual and not as a fan, that's not because I'm a good writer. It's because you've realized that you do this and you know that you know the feeling of pushing pain and discomfort to the side.
Word of advice? Don't. It is absolutely within our capabilities to change our lives for the better, and those who lead unhappy lives are only fooling themselves by believing that there's a way to avoid pain.
DID is, above all, a tragically deep-set lack of faith in one's own safety. We as an animal species are bound by one unavoidable, all-encompassing truth: we will go to immeasurable lengths and sacrifice almost anything to avoid pain. And the more we are able to get over this primal instinct and work through the pain, the happier we will be.
— Margaret —