Dissociative Identity Disorder, Depression, PTSD, Anxiety
I was correctly diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder in May of 2003, but I’ve been dealing with it all my life, as well as the depression, anxiety, and complex P.T.S.D. So yeah, all my life.
D.I.D. is created in early childhood usually before the age of seven and it’s a result of overwhelming circumstances, in my case it was severe neglect and abuse, and it can also happen if a young child has had multiple surgeries or medical procedures. It also happens with kids, young kids, which have grown up in refugee camps and live in a civil war area. What it basically is is the child has nowhere to go when the overwhelmed circumstances happen. So what I did was, if the perpetrator came into the room, me the typical Suzy that you see here, would kind of go into the background and I created this persona that would deal with the event in the situation and they would hold all the memories and everything of that event. When the event was over and the perpetrator was gone, that persona would kind of go back into my subconscious and the apparent normal self, me, would come out just kind of carry on and try to carry on the best I could.
When I was in the psych unit one time on my birthday – the hospital is up on the hill – they paddled during practice, they paddled underneath to sing me Happy Birthday. I remember sitting outside and my nurse came up to me and said what are you doing, you know conversation sitting at the picnic table. I said “Oh waiting for my dragon boat team to sing Happy Birthday.” Well she couldn’t see the dragon boat team because the hospital is on the cliff. So she’s looking at me like thinking is Suzy hallucinating again, what is she talking about? I said no, no it’s dragon boat practice and the team did paddle by, we couldn’t see them but we could hear them and they were singing Happy Birthday. They’ve been there from the very beginning and they have been an awesome phenomenal support system all in their own way.
I’ve got three/four, maybe five, major personas. One is Stanley. Stanley was created when I was six years old. I had an older brother who was one of my protectors, and when he was sixteen he joined the army, so I no longer have the protector when crap happened. I created Stanley and Stanley’s job was to find really small places for me to hide in when stuff happened.
I would like to get out more and be able to do more public speaking, talk to more students, talk to more classrooms. Actually I would love to do a conference, a mental health conference. But because I don’t have the PhD and all the letters behind my name, it’s kind of hard to get into it. But it will come. Whatever’s meant to come, will come. I never thought I’d be talking to youth and at risk groups and stuff like that. I never thought I would ever be doing that but that’s what I want to do. So I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I have done presentations, given talks to nursing staff or nursing students from the college. I’ve also done talks with a couple at risk youth groups and then the girl’s group at the local transition society here. And then this last June, I went back to my old school, my old high school and presented to three psychology classes there. That was a little surreal. Each class is a bit different but yes; I just go in there and talk about the D.I.D. and what it really is and what it isn’t. I discuss how it’s affected my life and talk about the depression and the complex P.T.S.D., mental health in general and why we need to start talking about it. What’s really interesting is once I start talking about mental health issues, other people start opening up and it just blows my mind. Could be teachers, it could be people I sing with, could be people in the dragon boat team, people I golf with. Because mental health touches everybody, whether you have it or family member have it, you know somebody who’s got it, so it touches everybody. It’s very interesting that people come up to me and talk to me about their issues or their struggles with it.
Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Postpartum Depression, PTSD
So what are you dealing with?
My diagnosis has been postpartum depression, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder. I struggle with anxiety symptoms that link me back to generalized anxiety disorder, and some of my symptoms that pop up have been psychosis in the past; it’s self harming behaviour. So it really covers a large gamut fortunately or unfortunately of diagnosis
How long have you been dealing with everything?
My first symptoms presented when I was around three and they were anxiety based. And as I grew and as I gathered more life experiences, the fun stuff in the not so fun stuff that happens in life. The symptoms have evolved over time and so they’ve been there my entire life. I don’t remember a conscious time when they weren’t there. One of the themes that have been there right off the hop is feeling bad about myself where I don’t belong in this world or that the world would be a better place without me and so that’s been a constant for my existence.
So what have been your coping strategies?
The coping strategies have been interesting because over my lifetime they’ve changed and I believe when I was a teenager, and my twenties, I was having a lot of what I would call a psychological pain. Sometimes I actually felt like I could feel my skin peel off it felt so painful on the inside and I thought if I could just find a magic thing that worked then it would work forever and I would have it made in the shade. What I’ve realized is that those coping mechanisms need to also change and evolves because some things that worked when you were sixteen, don’t work when you’re twenty-five, and don’t work when you’re thirty seven. And so currently the coping strategies that I use at a very high level are really looking at vulnerability triggers and realizing that I actually want to move towards that feeling. My instinct is as soon as I feel that fear and I feel like I’m not going to be good enough or I’m going to mess it up then I just back away and what I’m finding is I have to really consciously talk to myself to say do it anyway and just see what happens. So that’s a big one and tied into that is a lot of meditation. A lot of finding a creative outlet and I don’t necessarily mean a lot of what people talk about as creative outlets, we look really at music in art, but looking at some of those other things. I’m a social worker by trade. Creativity to me really looks at you know how do we start looking at social emotional issues in different ways. Different things work for different people and that’s how I feel I can spread my creative wings.
How has dealing with mental illness or mental health issues added to your support within your job?
I’m going to be as authentic as I can be because that is something I always strive to be. With being a professional provide service there can be another level of stigma around if you’re a practicing professional and you also have mental health issues then that that somehow either you’re not a true mental health patient and you’re also not a true service provider. It really is changing which I’m glad to see in the reason it’s changing is because people are talking about it. There are more conscious conversations flowing out about the topic. But for me I found that it has been a real plus. Once I moved into the authenticity of it, as in I don’t need to announce from the mountains that I have a mental illness. At the same time if I’m sitting with someone and we’re working towards an intervention plan and one of the questions that pops up this is the time to go to the hospital. I feel that my authenticity means that I need to be asking myself those questions as well and care taking for myself and if I know all the difficulties that come to me accessing services also apply to the people who are sitting with me trying to access services as well. We all have the innate knowledge of what we need to heal. Sometimes we need a space where we can explore that and remove the shoulda woulda coulda and so that’s where I tried to head towards. So it’s not that I’m a fancy pantsy professional who knows what should be done, but I can be an active part of their team. I’m grateful for that and hopefully we can provide support that the plan can come in place and it can be effective for the person. It’s their life they are the experts. I want to honor that in my professional practice as well.
Parenting with mental illness.
People have asked me through the years about parenting with mental illness and some people assume I can’t automatically because of the mental illness. They never speak a word to me but they think that I can’t because of what I look like on paper and that can be very difficult because parenting is difficult regardless outside of anything else. And adding that level of having people look at you like they’re not sure if you can be a competent parent. Informal support systems are important. Find those people around you that can be your cheerleaders and see you for the parent that you are. Talking with your children about mental illness and your symptoms can be done and should be done and if people are wondering how to do that, that’s when they can speak to some of the formal resources out there to get ideas how to do that. The kids know. Genetically they’re also at risk. As a society we’re not very good at talking about feelings off the start. We learn about reading and writing and math and all those very important things. But there’s not a lot of conversations that sit down and say yeah you know what? I got really mad there and I yelled it I’m sorry about that. Fights tend to be explosive and then nobody talks about them again because they’re done and they’ve gone away. And so thinking about developing those skill sets in your kids and it’s a challenge because I have my own vulnerabilities in regards to that. But I feel it’s important because as they grow, the risk of them having symptoms is there. If I had the ability to identify some of the feelings I had sooner in life I sometimes wonder what would be. I did not have that skill set and ended up in a crisis situation when I was nineteen because I let everything go away too long and so those are the parts where that can be a strength. Parenting with mental illness. When you’ve got your support and you’re able to flow those lessons to your kids can be a strength. Your kids will have a chance to grow up with knowledge and insight and respect for something that many other people don’t and so it’s not necessarily a negative thing.
Being in a small community what would you say is available resource wise or what would you be your recommendations for people?
Being from a small community is interesting because on one hand we don’t have a lot of resources. We just don’t because we don’t have the population base. It would be too costly or we don’t have the professionals who live in the rural areas. But on the
Do you think you can live positively while dealing with something labeled so negatively and how do you approach it?
The positive negative question is definitely a complicated one. I would say because the experience of stigma and well being very negative is very much active in out there. But it has contributed to positive change within my world and it has helped add to my confidence after it has hurt me profoundly. So I have a hard time looking at that saying it was a it was a completely negative experience because it has helped turn me into who I am today. But going through those negative experiences and the stigma attached was not helpful and it delayed everything by a long time and it kept me from doing other things because of the fear. In social work practice we talk a lot about oppression. I was asked one time why I felt the need to be so public with saying I have a mental illness. My response to that when I thought about it I looked back and I thought if you have never been backed into a corner so badly by nobody saying a word to you that you felt like the only way you could get out of that corner was to write it on a sign and stomp your way out. Hold on to that feeling because that means that you’ve never had the experience of oppression. And that’s a good thing for you. I however have not had that experience. I have been in scenarios where it is the metaphorical corner. I’ve been in it by not anybody saying a word but by the way policies are created, the way procedures are done, the way that people come or talk about the psychiatric units in the community. I felt like the only way I could come out of the corner was waving a sign. So positive or negative, I’m not sure. I’ve come to land at this point in my life and realize they were the experiences I was meant to have. My responsibility is to help process those experiences to help make a stronger me, and then to help advocate so that the next person may have different experiences, positive or negative, but that they won’t die in the meantime. Because that’s the risk we run with the stigma in-between and around mental illness is that that people die because of that negativity and that close door and shutting people in the corner and we need to pay attention to that.
What would be a piece of advice you’d give somebody?
A piece of advice I would get somebody is check your expectations. Do you expect your symptoms to disappear? They may or they may not. What if they don’t? How do you live life anyway? How do you feel that fear and feel that pain and still live a life that you can be proud of in the midst of it? I waited for a finish line for a long time and I realized the finish line was actually death. In the meantime, I had to figure out a different way to be with symptoms that bothered me every day. So it’s just that good old cliché feel the fear and figure out how to do it anyway. To me if I had one piece of advice that would be that would be it.