I wrote last week that a Clinic and hospital I had previously attended when suicidal and engaging in self-harm had refused me admission had left us with nowhere to go. We were desperate. My husband was worn out with repeated trips to the ED for stitching and constant supervision and of course the associated anxiety. My Dissociated Identity Disorder (DID) was out of control with one of the alters hell-bent on punishment in the form of cutting.
My psychotherapist contacted any psychiatrists she knew who specialised in DID and finally one of them got back to her interested in my case. He agreed to admit me to his hospital. It’s two hours from where I live so that’s a bit tricky but in the scheme of things nothing to worry about. Just means my husband can’t visit very often but the break will probably do him good. He desperately needs the respite.
I arrived on Thursday and the staff were very welcoming and professional. I met the psychiatrist within a couple of hours of arriving and was amazed at his attitude towards me. It was so respectful and compassionate. My psychotherapist had clearly given his a detailed briefing background so there was a whole load of talking I just didn’t have to do he already knew my story. He welcomed me and the alters!!!! With that out popped my mother alter and spoke to him. They spoke for half an hour and she made her case very clear. Her motives, reasons for existing, what she thought of him, the works. She didn’t hold back. He managed her beautifully, listening, engaging and taking on board what she had to say. She certainly gave him a picture of the task ahead of him which wasn’t an easy one.
Since I’ve been here I have switched alters continuously. In groups, in my room, in the dining room, where ever I am. It’s very discombobulating as I don’t know when it’s going to happen or who going to come out. The main thing is I am contained so I can’t hurt myself so I am safe.
I have found the groups very beneficial especially one on Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) which I have got into the habit of doing a lot.
A great deal of our thoughts, our cognitions occur automatically and help us meet the routine demands of our lives They become habitual. For example, we usually have routines around chores like cooking and cleaning that we can do without a great deal of conscious thought. However, when things become habits we stop paying attention to them. Thoughts can be habitual too. Especially negative thoughts. We all have habits of negatively framing things that happen to us, interpreting events and ourselves in the most negative light.
In addition, we typically have two streams of thought in our mind at once. We are more aware of one, while the other is less conscious So, for example, you could be working on a letter to someone who is important to you, and thinking about words to use, etc. Then there could be another, an underlying stream of thought that is commenting on what you are writing. A constant evaluation, usually critical, of what you are dong, eg. “They’re never going to understand what I’m writing.” This is an Automatic Negative Thought (ANT).
These ANTs affect our emotions and behaviour and can lead to insecurity, uncertainty, anger, anxiety and low moods. They’re unhelpful and even very destructive, yet we all have untold numbers of them. By becoming aware of and challenging the ANTs we can change the associated feelings and behaviours and with practice, change these negatively framed thought configurations.
The first step is learning to identify our ANTs. While we all have our particular thought patterns, there are some common characteristics. They are:
- Always negative
- Self Sabotaging
So, how do we learn to recognise and challenge our ANTs?
As they are so automatic and occur so quickly, at first the only clue we have had an ANT is the difficult feelings we are left with. So we can use those feelings as a clue. When we feel anxious or upset or afraid we can be curious. We can name the feelings and then ask ourselves, “What was I thinking just now?” Some of us are more visual, so it can also be helpful to be curious about any images or pictures that might have been in our minds too.
If we’re up in response to a situation or event, we can enquire into what we were telling ourselves about what was going on. Very often, there’s a running commentary, interpretations that reflect poorly on us or increase our fears and insecurities.
Counting our ANTs add writing them down are other ways we can increase our awareness of them and begin to challenge them.
I am very hopeful that I can make progress at this Clinic with these programs and a new psychiatrist who has such an in-depth knowledge of DID.