Coping with Dissociative Identity Disorder
February 09, 2014
Our society still has a lot of prejudice and fear around mental health issues. While there are laws protecting people with differences from being excluded, harassed or bullied, it still happens. Here's some things to try to help yourself cope with your diagnosis in the short and long term.
Realize you're not alone
As immediate proof, consider that you're reading an article written by a multiple. I'm not a mental health professional who learned about what you're going through in books and articles: I have gone through the process of not knowing what was going on to discovering other people in my head.
It can be tough knowing whether you know anyone with a particular mental health diagnosis. Mental health issues are generally invisible, so no one really knows how many people around them have issues. One person's quirk is a psychologist's playground for tampering and tinkering and cubby-holing. We've all been dealing with people with mental differences all our lives, and we might not know it. DID (once known as multiple personality disorder) is one of those mental differences that could be hidden from plain view, along with obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.
DID is considered to be rare, but consider that it is statistically mis-diagnosed for about 8 years when in therapy before someone has the "I have multiple personalities" V-8. This is further complicated by the decision by some in the psychiatric community to keep people's diagnosis from them -- a hold-over from the days of Freud and worse mental-health stigma than we have now. Other times, a professional tells us, and we don't believe them because we don't have proof.
I'm in some online groups with thousands of people with the same diagnosis, and I probably know over 100 people with a DID diagnosis. I know for a fact that you and I are not alone out there, but you need to meet some people before it will sink in.
There are ways to meet people on the web, on mailing lists, and in-person. Consider your privacy, safety, and reputation before you rush into joining a community; you may want to use an alias. Many multiples use a "system name" so they do not inadvertently out themselves on the Internet. Our "system name" is The Crisses, but we've also decided to come out of the "storage facility," so you can find us mentioning multiple issues as (Rev.) Criss Ittermann, too. People take on a second Facebook profile as their multiple self, and so on. If you choose to do that, look me up and let me know you found me through the Boot Camp. I can introduce you to a few dozen multiples.
As always, be cautious about meeting people in person. I used to hold public events and invite a bunch of friends and online friends to a public place like a restaurant. It didn't matter if some were new acquaintances because there were plenty people around.
Try to stay calm about it
Most people developed DID as a protection against trauma. Those who did are almost always also experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the very last thing needed is more stress.
Worry, stress and anxiety come from imagining the worst possible scenarios, looking at things in the worst possible light, and generally being afraid of the future. And they're known to increase the dysfunctional symptoms of nearly every known disorder, whether physical or mental. No one has ever needed a mental or physical hospital from the side effects of staying calm and positive. If you can, adopt an attitude of curiosity rather than fear. Wonder. Consider. Ask questions (even here, in the comments below the article). Find ways to look at the positive side of the issues that come up.
- "I wonder why we did that."
- "I wonder why that person in my head acts that way."
- "I wonder how to make the best of this situation."
- "I wonder who else I'll meet."
Wondering has a much better feeling to it than worry, judgement, name-calling, assumptions, etc. It's far more productive than getting anxious.
There are physical things you can do that affect your mental stress levels, too:
- Deep breathing exercises
Studies are showing the benefits of mindfulness practices. For multiples, I recommend mindfulness meditations over meditative trances until you get a better handle on things going on in your system. Mindfulness is the opposite of dissociation. Think of it as building a muscle and practice practice practice. Try any one of these quick easy and portable suggestions:
- Pay close attention to your immediate physical environment with one of your senses.
- Pay very close attention to the words that someone is saying to you, without thinking about how to interpret what they're saying or what you're going to say next.
- Stay grounded by feeling your feet on the ground or your butt in a chair. Wiggle, move, anything so that there's a sensation to pay attention to.
- Staying in-the-now, stay in your body.
It may not be easy at first. But look at the amount of your success in a positive light. Thi s is probably something you've never done before, and it takes a lifetime to perfect. If you can only be in your skin for 5 seconds, then that is a whole 5 seconds that you stayed present. Again, adopt an air of wonder and curiosity: "I wonder if I can do it for 7 seconds next time!" Mindfulness is not easy, that's why it's called a "practice". One doesn't master it: one practices it. But the benefits of mindfulness are massive, so I can't recommend it strongly enough.
There are different types of help you can get for the difficulties that can arise from the situation. I have the United Front Boot Camp in case you can't seek out a professional for some reason. Some people can't deal with therapists, in which case I'm available as a life coach and offer support and a very different approach to what multiplicity is and the options and outcomes. I might be able to help you get to a point where you can seek therapy, or I might be all the help you need. Whether you use my publicly available resources (this blog and http://kinhost.org, Facebook, my books, etc.), or you want to actually talk on the phone or in-person, or you want to seek out help from someone else or other resources on the web, please do seek out something. My goal is to help you become more functional (able to hold down a job, relax, enjoy life, take care of your responsibilities, get your bills paid, etc. by whatever legal and ethical means).
Help yourself: Check out the Boot Camp
I have written out steps to getting along better in your head, and you can see some of the topics covered in the Cloud Index on the right of this page. You can read the entire introduction and tackle the steps in the suggested order, or you can skip around to the topics that are relevant to you right now. Regardless, I think it's important that you mix getting help with helping yourself. Whether you choose to follow the Boot Camp or not, it might give you ideas, hope, strategies to consider, and examples of how someone else worked through the realization that they weren't alone in their head.
I'm not trying to promote the United Front Boot Camp as much as I'm trying to help you. Seriously. I want feedback to improve it so it can help others, and I want you to have the resources you need to help you out. Some multis work with a therapist: I had one on a regular basis for about 5 years. Unfortunately he was totally over his head with my disorder, and didn't do much that I could tell to educate himself about it. You can use the Boot Camp to educate a therapist on possible strategies to help you. You can use it while seeing a therapist. You can use it with a coach (I don't know how many other life coaches out there would work with a multiple, but I will!), or you can use it on your own.
I really hope this is helpful. If you have more ideas on how to cope with being diagnosed with DID, please let us know below: