If I had a pound for every time I had tried to start this post only to end up deleting it straight after, I would be a millionaire by now, sunning it up/self-isolating in Bora Bora with a string of Paramours, getting my back broken by a different lover every night but I digress (hey…hey. It’s been a long lockdown okay?).
I have used my little corner of the internet to talk about an array of subjects: from body image, confidence and self-esteem, to self-harm, eating disorders, depression and shitty dating stories. I do believe, however, that this may probably be the most vulnerable I’ve ever been on here, as I’ll be discussing something that I have been living with since childhood, and have been quite anxious to talk about until now.
Please bear in mind that at the time of writing this, my mind is all over the place (huge pun intended there), so it may not be a Pulitzer-price worthy piece, but it’s important for me that I get this all out in whatever way it chooses to come out.
I’ve always been pretty open about mental health and my personal experiences with being diagnosed with clinical depression at a young age. It took a few years for me to be completely open about it, due to mental health still being a point of contention within some African communities. Although conditions such as depression have become generally accepted to a degree at this point, there has always been another side to my mental health that I had always been terrified to discuss publicly, due to how stigmatising it can be.
I’m at a point, however, where I finally feel ready to talk about it, and even though I’m slightly trembling as I write this, if it can help at least one person or encourage someone to feel seen, then that’s all that matters.
So here goes *exhales*. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder.
What is it exactly?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a mental health condition that was previously known as ‘Multiple Personality Disorder‘. The disorder can present itself in a multitude of different ways, along a broad spectrum from mild, to severe.
It’s a condition that can affect memory, identity, behaviour and emotion and symptoms include the experience of detachment (either aware or unaware) or feeling as if you are outside your body. It’s a condition that is frequently associated with trauma and is often referred to as a coping mechanism that our brains undertake to dissociate ourselves from a situation or experience that is either too traumatic, too violent or painful to assimilate to your conscious self.
There are three kinds of dissociative disorders:
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
- Dissociative amnesia (where you’re unable to recollect events or specific time periods)
- Depersonalisation (a detachment from your body, as if you’re looking down at yourself from above. Also a detachment from your surroundings)
DID is a disorder that has been highly stigmatised, due to it being frequently associated with other disorders such as Schizophrenia – another *taboo* mental health condition that has been highly stigmatised in society due to its negative associations with violent and non-violent criminals, as well as its sometimes-over dramatised portrayal by characters in movies and television shows (eg: Split, Shutter Island and Joker).
Due to DID mostly being portrayed in its most volatile/unhinged/extreme state in the media, there is a general fear and misunderstanding of it, with people such as myself being too anxious or scared to speak up.
D.I.D & Me (potential multiple trigger warnings)
I started experiencing feelings of detachment around the age of 12. As kids, most of us would have gone through that stage of having imaginary friends and talking/having whole scenarios with them in our heads, eventually growing out of it once we started going to school and being social. For me, it’s something that I never grew out of. I am also unable to remember large chunks for my childhood (basically anything before the age of 7), which is something also associated with DID.
Secondary school was in short extremely traumatic for me, and it was then that I began to notice the decline in my mental health.
I experienced bullying at an extreme level from the boys in my year and years above which manifested itself verbally and mostly physically. From being strangled, punched and burned repeatedly, to having wheelie bins thrown on me, suffering multiple contusions and dislocations and having acid poured on me (as well as some other things I won’t mention in this post), every day over the next 5 years was a living nightmare, full of extreme anxiety, depression, dark thoughts and hopelessness. There was not a day during those five years that I didn’t cry either at school or before going to bed, and I think eventually, my brain just needed somewhere to escape for a while in order to cope with the physical and emotional trauma.
On top of that, besides the 2 or 3 friends I had in school, I told no one about what was happening and in turn became extremely isolated and lonely. In class, I can remember going into random dazes for 3 to 4 minutes at a time and feeling as if I wasn’t present in the room. When alone, I started talking to myself more and more due to not really having social interaction as a result of extreme loneliness.
When coming home from school, I would lock myself in my room and talk to myself for hours, as if talking to a friend. I’d laugh, joke and create scenarios as if I were acting it out in front of people. In my head, I began creating an alternate reality – a reality in which I felt safe, loved and desired. In this reality, I was smaller, popular, outgoing, and had a multitude of friends. I found myself dipping into this reality a lot more as the bullying and isolation became worse. I began talking to myself more and more, the more depressed I became, and would often find that I would ‘blackout’ or become mildly catatonic (while mentally in my ‘other’ reality) for minutes on end.
When I turned 16 and started college, the isolation continued as I didn’t have the social skills required to make friends. I used to spend my lunchtimes eating my lunch in the girls’ bathroom, dissociating and living in my ‘other’ world. I continued talking to myself as if talking to other people, and would sometimes speak and converse with other college pupils as the ‘other’ version of me: the version that was confident, loud and fun, with the ‘real’ me literally staring at myself from some kind of sunken place, watching this version of myself socialise.
At 18, I was diagnosed with the disorder by the wonderful team at Springfield Hospital after secretly attending therapy for my depression and low self-esteem for two years. Although there is nothing that can be done to treat this by way of medication, psychotherapy is often the next best thing, which is what I have been undertaking bi-weekly for the last 12 years or so.
DID is still something I cope with on a day-to-day basis, however, since starting my self-love journey and making waves with improving my confidence and self-esteem, I find that I do not tend to dissociate as much. I am also a lot more in control over when it happens. As a child/teenager, I almost had virtually no control over it, and would repeatedly black out, both privately and publicly.
Today, I am almost fully in control of when I dissociate. I never do it in public, and I try to limit the length of time I detach as much as possible. These days, I am fully cognitive when I dissociate and during times of intense stress, I have been able to figure out a way to easily ‘switch’ when my brain is unable to handle the event or circumstance at the time. I still talk to myself – something that has been happening increasingly since Lockdown and self-isolation – however in a bid to limit this, I have started singing instead, which has helped me immensely. I have always used singing as a way to self-soothe in a way and that way, I’m able to limit the occasions where I zone out for long periods of time, while equally indulging in a bit of self-care.
This is a post that has been in the works for quite some time now. I will admit that I initially met the post with some trepidation: What will friends think of me? What will my family think? Will I be met with judgement? Will this post just give people who don’t like me more ammunition to tarnish my name? Will people start calling me *crazy*? How will people knowing this affect my work? Will people treat me differently?
Being able to be so publicly vulnerable as a black woman specifically, has always been a source of strength for me. Being able to speak about issues that affect myself and others who look like me has encouraged an amazing community of women who feel the need to finally take control of their lives, and it’s something that makes me so happy.
There is so much strength in being able to be open about mental health in the Afro-Caribbean community, as it’s important that we work towards dismantling these taboo subjects so people can get the help they need. This week, my friend Jess Morgan wrote an incredible article for Refinery 29 about being sectioned as a black woman, as well as highlighting the fact that black people are four times more likely than white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act, and 10 times more likely to be subject to a community treatment order. These statistics are shocking, which means having these kinds of conversations surrounding mental health as black people is more important than ever before.
I’m aware of the implications of writing this – especially about how my family and some of the African community at large may choose to interpret it, but I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t speak up about my experiences. Some people may see this as me ‘highlighting my L’s’ or embarrassing myself, but to be honest, there is a certain…freedom and relief in being able to live your most authentic, open self. I care more about that, then what people may think of me.
Being open about mental health struggles is so important, and I am so glad that we are in a time now where we are able to do so, but there is still so much work to be done when it comes to talking about the mental health disorders that aren’t *trendy* or more acceptable to society. Bipolar. Mania. Sociopathy. DID. Schizophrenia. Anti-Social Personality Disorder. These are all disorders that have been heavily villainized in the press and within the media. Those of us who suffer from these conditions have turned into a monolith of characters who only operate under one mode: Extreme. That isn’t always the case.
Conditions such as mine can manifest itself in a plethora of different ways that do not necessarily have to involve violent or disturbing behaviour. I believe my condition is relatively mild, but for those who suffer at a more extreme level, they are also worthy and deserving of the same respect, empathy and peace as those who present with mild symptoms.
I long to see movies and TV shows carefully depict conditions such as DID in a sensitive way, without the need for said characters to be the antagonists, or to react with violence and murder. One movie that I think depicted DID very well (despite numerous MH charities speaking out against it) was Joker. I remember watching the movie at least 5 times, in floods of tears every time as it was like watching myself. Obviously, with the character being a villain in the comic books, the movie eventually made Joker kill a few people which is canon for the character ordinarily, but it would have been nice if it wasn’t so linked to anti-social behaviour.
This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write on here, and I’m unsure as to what the reaction will be, but I just know that for me, it was time to speak my truth instead of hiding it away in the shadows due to what people will think. It would be disingenuous of me to frequently talk about mental health, without trying to help reduce the stigma of disorders like mine, and if this post is able to relate to or help at least one person who may be experiencing the same, then I know I’ve done my job.
Below are some linked resources if you want to know more. They are all links I have used throughout the years.