Edited by: Lia James and Sarah DeSouza
TW: self harm
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when the blackouts got dangerous, when I would wake up next to scissors and blood in peculiar places, that I started to realize that this wasn’t just a case of a bad memory.
For years I would go through my days with large gaps, with people describing situations and actions of mine that I could not imagine myself doing. I remember sitting on the math lawns at Columbia with a friend last Spring when he looked at me and said, “sometimes I swear you got like multiple personality disorder or something.” We both laughed and I brushed it off.
But the night after that conversation, I began researching Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Looking at the diagnosing criteria I shook my head, because although identified with every bullet point, I couldn’t conceive that to be the case. It wasn’t until I began reading blogs and forums from those with DID that I began to truly question my previous diagnoses. I cried reading the way people described their thoughts. Never had I felt so connected to other people’s experiences. All my life I had hoped that my experience was ordinary, and until then I couldn’t begin to accept otherwise.
I compare my experience with DID to the following. In times of stress you can often feel your heartbeat pulse in multiple parts of your body. Similarly with DID, when I’m emotional, I can feel emotions or thoughts in multiple parts of myself. These emotions and thoughts come from distinct repetitive sources, sources that I would later begin to correlate with my often mysterious actions. Each of these sources or parts has their own personality traits and worldview. Some of my parts have clear inner narratives like my own and some only provide me with “swirls” of emotions. This can be very taxing as often the parts have conflicting emotions and thoughts, some I cannot clearly discern without an inner narrative. At times I can feel my parts take over while I observe from inside my body, a phenomenon called co-consciousness, but more frequently, I have no recollection of my parts’ actions at all.
While I began to put the pieces together, I couldn’t fathom how I had made it twenty years without being aware that my experiences were symptoms of DID. But with more research, I realized that most people aren’t diagnosed DID until later into adulthood. Most people with DID, like myself, struggled with the many contradicting diagnoses at first. With conflicting opinions from my doctors and stereotypes from Criminal Minds in my head, I thought, “How could I have not noticed? How could no one have?”
Part of my reluctance to accept this diagnosis was my fear of another label that would push me further from the white heteronormative narrative I had yearned for in my childhood. I grew up in the South, born to West-Indian parents. I often think back to the racism of my classmates and the cultural conservatism and homophobia of my family. As I began to understand what it meant to be Black in this world, as I began to uncover my sexual identity, my heart hurt for the acceptance that I would never receive from society. I felt othered by my identities and once DID entered the picture, I couldn’t help but feel further isolated.
I often carry burdensome resentment towards my different parts, all of which I conveniently named after the Spice Girls. In the beginning of this journey, the thought of giving them names, the thought of acknowledging them, felt like a loss of power. I already felt so powerless, losing so much time to my parts, I didn’t want to lose my identity to what I perceived to be “parasites”. The Spice Girls were a way of acknowledging my parts without giving up control. It was a way for me to distance myself from the reality of my situation. Baby Spice annoys me, Ginger Spice embarrasses me and Scary Spice terrifies me. And somehow that annoyance, that embarrassment, that terror, is easier to cope with when it comes from my childhood idols rather than from the negativity my parts surround me with.
With more research, I came to understand that DID develops as a coping mechanism. It doesn’t exist to be discovered. It is the reason I was able to function so well given the situations I was in. It was well-hidden until I was further removed from my trauma and it wasn’t needed anymore. With this realization, the Spice Girls started to feel more like my allies and less like my enemies.
Still at times, I feel hysterical, like this was a problem of my own conception- like being gay was my choice, or that being an angry Black womxn was of my own will, or that my symptoms of DID were just another bad decision. I was gaslit by the narrative that Black womxn’s problems are self-inflicted. I couldn’t accept my reality because if I did, I thought that I must accept the blame for my own problems.
Now I’m on the path to overturning these internalized narratives, via self compassion and lots of therapy. I know that my journey with DID will be a long one and I am learning to treat my parts with kindness. I must reconcile that through the most traumatic times in my life, DID was my savior. A large part of living with DID is integrating your parts, learning to accept them as your WHOLE self. I am hoping that sharing my story, that outrightly claiming my parts, is the first step on this path to acceptance.