Not long ago I was doing pizza and movie night with some friends when that thing I hate happened. A character in the movie, wild-eyed and demented, was revealed to have… dissociative identity disorder! (cue the creepy music)
Some of my friends shuttered, some laughed, others scoffed. They didn’t know someone with dissociative identity disorder, or DID, was sitting right there on the couch, slice of pizza halfway to my mouth. I wanted to tell them DID isn’t like that. I wanted to explain it’s really just another way of being human. It’s our way of managing life and not a joke or a threat to them. In the end, I realized my friends didn’t know enough about DID for me to even begin the conversation.
Here’s a list of what I wish everyone knew so we could really talk.
1. We’re not all ax-murderers like you see on TV. We were overwhelmed by pain and suffering when we were children. It changed us and now our minds work differently than yours. But just like you, we want to have a good life.
2. We have different identities/alters inside one body. They are different ages, have different feelings, ideas, talents and agendas. We work very hard to maintain a functional system that gets us through the day.
3. Switching between identities/alters isn’t very dramatic. Most of the time the switches are internal, seamless and invisible. And, unless you’re our therapist or a really close friend, they’re none of your business. We’re handling things the best we can.
4. When we lose time, it’s really lost. We’re not faking. If anything, we’re pretending we know more about what happened than we really do.
5. If a teenaged identity/alter takes over, they’re not an adult pretending to be a teenager. They’re a real teenager. Demanding they think, act or decide like an adult isn’t going to work. Relate to them based on their age and unique personality.
6. The adult out front isn’t the real us. They are the identity/alter who’s best at getting along in the world. The real us is all of us together.
7. If you’re dealing with us in a crisis and kid identities/alters come out, don’t ignore them and try to force an adult identity/alter out instead. If we could get an adult out front to run things, we would. Help the kids feel safe and our system will stabilize.
8. When the system feels threatened, protector identities/alters can come out. They may be angry, cold or determined to escape. Please don’t take this personally — we’re just overwhelmed. The best way to help is to back off and let us get safe.
9. We already know DID is “controversial.” You don’t need to remind us some people think it doesn’t exist — which sounds a lot like we shouldn’t exist — which sounds a lot like what we heard from our abusers. Not good.
10. There’s nothing wrong with the way I am. We’re different in some ways and like you in lots of others. We share the same world and want the same good things you want. We’re not “crazy” or weird — just a little complicated.