Please welcome my #DCfC guest, Jade Miller, who is here to shed light on a topic that is not well-known and very misunderstood – Dissociative Identity Disorder aka DID.
Merriam-Webster’s simple definition of STIGMA is: “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”
Imagine for a minute that you have a neurological condition that can only be detected with highly specialized neurological testing that most insurance policies won’t cover and few doctors know how to perform anyway.
Let’s say that most of the time it profoundly affects your memory, behavior, thoughts, and emotions…yet your friends and loved ones blame you for it. The condition is inconvenient, to say the least, and it affects every area of your life, and you are met with resistance at every turn when asking for what you need in order to cope with it. Few people have ever heard of it. Some people don’t even believe the condition exists. Out of those who do believe the condition exists, many of them don’t believe you have it simply because you’ve eliminated all other possibilities and recognize the symptoms popping up repeatedly in your daily life. You know what they say: where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. Yet somehow people insist on every other possible explanation when it comes to your own personal mental health, as if that topic was up for debate.
Just trying to get a formal diagnosis is a crapshoot because even some of the so-called experts have never had any experience with it. Let’s say the experts don’t know what they’re looking for – or how to work with the condition – because they are not required to study it in order to get their Master’s degree.
Oh, and hey, by the way, the condition itself is thought to be rare but the cause of the condition is as common as the flu. So not making it a requirement of students seeking their Master’s degree makes no sense at all. And believing in the rarity of the condition is a bizarre misrepresentation of the facts.
One more thing. To add insult to injury, this hypothetical neurological condition is often the foundation of a character in a movie or a TV show – in which they are painted as a murderer, a thief, a liar, a criminal, or a psychopath. Regardless of how it manifests in the show, the implication is clear: the person is crazy and needs to be locked up.
Welcome to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and all of those things I just said are true of this condition. It’s not a neurological condition, it’s classified as a dissociative disorder. But the amount of misunderstanding, stigma, and misinformation circulated about it keep sufferers isolated and afraid to share the knowledge of their inner life with more than a select few. The prejudice, rejection, unfair judgment, and ridiculous assumptions made out of ignorance cause horrendous amounts of stress whenever those with DID try to be open about their diagnosis. I know this because I have DID. I’ve been aware of it for the last ten years, after a lifetime of therapy and intense psychological struggles that really made no sense to me until I finally landed on the right diagnosis.
People think DID is rare. This is a well-accepted idea among people who have even heard of it at all. Yet one of the main causes of DID is trauma. Guess how rare trauma is? About as unique as a thunderstorm, unfortunately. Everyone dissociates, yet no one knows what that term means. Dissociation is a built-in ability to protect your mind from unbearable circumstances. It’s a way of psychologically distancing yourself from situations that you are unable to physically escape (e.g. abuse). If you have to distance yourself often enough throughout childhood, you can develop DID as a natural progression of this coping skill.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not even that hard to comprehend because DID is on one end of a spectrum of experiences that are completely common and normal. Every person has different aspects of themselves, usually linked to the roles they play in their lives. Like having a “mom hat” (at home) and a “doctor hat” (at work) and a “party girl hat” (at a night club) and a “wife hat” (with their spouse), etc. Some people are still aware of, and in tune with their “inner child” – which is the same thing. These personas are all the same person, but they can be vastly different from one another. Yet society tends to view those with DID as some kind of rare two-headed unicorn that should be drugged, hospitalized, and locked away – if we even exist at all.
The main difference in those with DID, and the common person shifting in and out of personas, is that we have memory lapses between personas. For example, when operating under the “mom hat” we may be unaware of what we said or did while operating under the “wife hat.” Our views, thoughts, and feelings between these two roles can change widely. This can be resolved over time, with the help of a good therapist or peer support worker who understands the dynamics of trauma and dissociation.
For me, the first time someone else recognized I was DID (without actually knowing what it was at the time), their response was to take me to an exorcist. When the exorcism failed, they abandoned the relationship. Things only went downhill from there.
Mainstream media doesn’t help the cause at all. Name one movie or TV show where a person with DID is painted in a positive light. Name one where they are written as strong, capable, non-violent, competent and valuable; as someone respectable and not someone to be feared, shunned, or at least laughed at. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Can’t find one? That’s because there isn’t one – or if there is, I’ve never seen or heard of it. Please, by all means, email me (or comment) if you’ve seen a show where someone with DID is construed in a positive way.
What we do have is this (in no particular order, by the way):
Heroes (Niki Bates)
Hide and Seek
Me, Myself & Irene
Lord of the Rings (Smeagol)
I could keep going on and on…and these are just movies I’ve actually heard of. If you Google it the list extends much longer. More recently we have Leonardo DiCaprio playing in a movie based on a real-life case where a man used DID as a criminal defense in a court case; but once again, the media is choosing to sensationalize a case that represents almost no one in this already-small category of people. Those with DID are far more likely to be a danger to themselves than anyone else. (Being misunderstood, stereotyped, and outcast for most of your life will do that to you.)
And even more current is the new M. Night Shyamalan movie called “Split” – once again, a movie about how those with DID are psychopathic murderers who should be locked away from society and drugged out of our minds. The redundancy would be annoying if it didn’t affect me so personally. I happened to jump onto a thread in which a few people with DID were protesting the film’s misleading information in the comments. Besides taking note of those who outright mocked people with DID, a few people essentially told the commenters to simmer down, as regular people can tell the difference between reality and things portrayed in movies.
This sounds really good in theory, but how true is it? If you know nothing about brain surgery, and you watch a few movies about it that portray it a certain way, you’ll assume that’s how it is because you have nothing – no reality, as it were – to compare it to. Why do you think corporations go to all the trouble to control the media? Because the average person doesn’t believe what they see on TV? Please.
At any rate, the stigmatization of those who struggle with mental health needs to stop. And the only way it will is if enough people tell their stories and stand up to people who perpetuate the stereotypes. I discuss all of this and more over on my blog, Thoughts From J8. If you or someone you love struggles with a mental health issue, I hope you’ll consider writing a guest post for Abbie to help link arms and fight the misinformation perpetuated about people who suffer. We have enough to deal with already, without adding the rejection and ignorance of society on top of it. Thanks, Abbie, for having me!
Jade Miller is a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, and member of a poly- fragmented DID system. She desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.
Do you or someone you know struggle with mental health issues? I would be honored to share your stories which provide new perspective or edification and put matters concerning mental health into accessible, relatable tales of true life. If this sounds like something you would be interested in please check out my submissions page HERE!!
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