Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is primarily used as a treatment for PTSD. Discovered and developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., EMDR uses eye movements, taps or tones to reprogram trauma victims’ thinking. The end result can be relatively fast relief of PTSD symptoms, including the re-experiencing of the trauma and other symptoms resulting from horrific events like rape or combat. EMDR also helps with “little t” traumas having to do with beliefs about ourselves formed during childhood and other mental health disorders.
Media images can be very powerful. When we see something, especially when it’s “based on a true story,” our mind removes the words “based on a” and we are left with “true story;” as if what we are seeing on the screen is the absolute truth. In fact, the “based on” means it’s an adaptation of a story with a lot of “Hollywood” thrown in to keep you interested.
It took me five years to come to a place of acceptance around my Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis. A certain amount of wrangling with such life-changing news is par for the course. Some of it, however, could have been avoided if it weren’t for what I call the Sybil Myth.
I have not read Sybil. I have not seen either of the movies of the same name. I cannot speak to the content of the book or the movies. But I can speak to their legacy.
In my experience, when most people think of multiple personalities, they think of Sybil. Or, more specifically, the character created to represent Shirley Ardell Mason, a real woman treated for DID. That character clearly left readers and viewers with the distinct impression that people with DID are hysterical, unstable and erratic. The controversy surrounding the book helped solidify and further that impression by adding a new layer, one of possible deceit. Did Mason truly have multiple personalities? Or was she a hysterical woman manifesting the suggestions and expectations of her therapist?
Fairly quickly, DID found its place in popular culture as a bizarre and frightening phenomenon that may or may not be real at all. And the person that has it? Tragic, fascinating anomaly at best; deranged, dangerous hysteric at worst.
I cannot say for sure, but I doubt that the way DID manifests itself in Sybil is wholly inaccurate. I admit that there have been plenty of moments in my life that were ripe for reality television infamy. If those moments were all anyone ever saw, the lasting impression would be a disturbing one. If properly edited, my life would look crazy. I would look crazy.
I don’t know what Mason was really like; but I do know that anyone’s life can be whittled and edited down to its most dramatic hours. Whatever the truth is or isn’t about her, the name Sybil has become synonymous in the general population with histrionic instability and irregular, unpredictable behavior. But most people with DID live far more subtle lives than that. Those of us with DID, though our experiences and struggles are often unique, are just human beings with human frailties, human faults. The ways in which we are normal outnumber the ways in which we are not. Most of us aren’t Sybil. I am not Sybil. I suspect even Shirley Ardell Mason was not Sybil.
Share Your Experiences With Dissociative Identity Disorder
What’s life like with DID? Do you feel stigmatized by the book-movie Sybil? or do you feel Sybil is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like living with Dissociative Identity Disorder? We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights on the issue. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
You can watch our interview with Holly Gray on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show homepage by clicking the on-demand button on the player. The show is titled “Dissociative Identity Disorder: I’m Not Sybil.”
I’m reading the Bipolar Vida blog, and wondering “how much can one person take?” Cristina, admittedly, had a bad childhood which, she says, probably triggered the bipolar disorder she now lives with.
In the months since she started her bipolar blog here at HealthyPlace.com, Cristina has endured depressive episodes, hypomania, and everything else bipolar disorder can bring your way. Yet, in almost every blog post, she mentions that she’s doing everything she can to keep her bipolar recovery on track.
Whether it’s a mental or physical illness, it’s natural to concentrate on the person who has the illness. Many forget that family members and loved ones are also suffering. The impact of mental illness on families comes in the forms of grief, denial, frustration, exhaustion, and stigma.
Mental Illness is Foreign to Most People
It is difficult for anyone to deal with strange thinking and bizarre and unpredictable behavior. Imagine what it must be for families of people with mental illness. It is bewildering, frightening and exhausting. Even when the person is stabilized on medication, the apathy and lack of motivation can be frustrating.
Take, for example, our guest on this Tuesday’s HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show. Rebecca is a 33 year old mother of 3 young girls. She has spent the last two years watching her oldest daughter, age 12, “fall apart.”
Her daughter has experienced repeated fainting spells, severe headaches, catatonic episodes and bizarre hallucinations. Even with a college degree in psychology, Rebecca was not prepared for the diagnosis her daughter received – Dissociative Identity Disorder.
In her guest blog post (My Daughter’s Mental Illness Has Turned My World Upside Down), you can tell Rebecca has great sympathy and empathy for her daughter’s situation. At the same time, her family has shouldered a huge emotional and financial burden. And you can feel the enormity of it all…the toll it has already taken.
On Tuesday, Rebecca will be sharing her story of mental illness in the family and some things that she has learned through experience that bring her brief moments of relief.
If you miss the live show which can be viewed on our site, you can always click the “on-demand” button on the player and watch the show at your convenience.
Share Your Experiences on Mental Illness in the Family
We also invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experience – whether as a family member or loved one of someone with a mental illness. What has it been like for you and how are you coping? (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
Hello. My name is Rebecca. I am writing in response to the article I just saw on the HealthyPlace website about living with DID. I am a 33 year old mother of 3 little girls and have spent the past 2 years watching my oldest daughter completely fall apart. I watched her go from being a normal, albeit extremely emotional, little girl to not even knowing which parts of her life are based in reality and what is happening in a reality that exists only within her own head.
Out of nowhere, my daughter, at 10 years old, suddenly broke into severe bouts of psychosis, hallucinating horrific things happening over-and-over to all of the people she loves, forgetting her own age, school, family, home, friends, etc. In the hospital and in therapy, she would answer questions about herself incorrectly, sometimes with the answers being consistent for hours or days at a time, even though they were incorrect.
After over a year of intensive in-home and outpatient psychotherapy, repeated stays in Children’s Hospital and going through every test that every doctor could possibly think of, with still no clue as to what was causing her repeated fainting spells, severe headaches, catatonic episodes and hallucinations, her psychiatrist and psychotherapy team came to me with a potential new diagnosis; Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Little Prepared for Coping with Severe Mental Illness in My Family
I actually hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology and thought that I was very knowledgeable about Dissociative Identity Disorder, but would never have associated many of the symptoms I watched my daughter suffer through with this disorder. Our real breakthrough came when my daughter’s psychiatrist suggested that the next time she began to fall into one of these hysterical, hallucinatory episodes, that instead of asking her age, school, etc., to try to see if she was still based in reality, that I simply ask her name.
Even with a bachelor’s in psychology, I still thought this was a ridiculous request, but agreed to comply. Sure enough, that same day she went into an episode and when I asked her name, it took 20 minutes to convince her that I was not one of the “bad people” that she had been hallucinating, but she still denied that I was her mother and refused to tell me her name. I told her that we had just returned from the ice cream shop and asked what kind of ice cream she had just eaten. At that, she looked at me and said, “wait a minute, are you (daughter’s name) mommy?”
This was the beginning of a conversation that lasted all through that night, where numerous alters each came out to introduce themselves and tell me a little bit about what they knew about what was happening to my baby girl. I found out that the original split had occurred when my daughter was only 3 years old and was mauled severely by a rottweiler. This alter was so traumatized that she actually split at some point into twins. After this, every year on her birthday, a new alter was born, to watch out for her, just in case. Yet, every time something emotional did occur, it seems that a new alter was formed to deal with it.
Today, my daughter is 12 years old and I have personally met and spent time with 19 individual alters, not including my daughter herself. Some are young and sweet and fun, some are terrified, and some are just plain mean and angry.
The Impact of My Daughter’s Mental Illness: The Nightmare That Is Our Life
It’s been almost a year now since we figured out that this is what was going on with my daughter, and it just seems to get harder every day. During the year that she was 11, she was so stressed out and traumatized by the realization of her alters, her missing time periods, and all of the other drama that has been part of her learning about what is happening inside of her mind, that she continued to form new alters throughout the year simply to deal with the new stress of having alters. Currently, I know of 7 alters who are 11 years old.
This condition has been tearing apart our family and our lives and we all feel so isolated and alone. I feel like I must be the only mother in the world raising 20 children all in the same body, all with very different likes and dislikes, who even fight with each other. As stressful as this has been to me and my other daughters, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for my daughter. She lost it last week when she realized it was 6 pm and the last thing she remembered was going to bed the night before. She was so upset about the missing time that she convinced herself that she must be dreaming, wrapped up in a blanket, and spent over an hour pinching herself and pounding her head on the floor, trying to wake herself up from the “nightmare” that is her real life.
This disorder has torn our family apart mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. I can’t work because I was being called home every day to deal with hallucinatory fits in school or spending weeks at a time in the best hospitals we could find to try to understand what was happening to her. My marriage ended when alters began to come forward and tell me and therapists that my (now ex) husband was abusing her when I was at work.
I tried living with another woman going through a divorce who had children with mental illness as well. That ended after a year of them all having to also deal with tantrums, hallucinations, etc. I’m sitting on the verge of losing my home and even custody of my daughter because it is just so much to deal with and I have now become physically very ill myself and have an extremely difficult time even just keeping up with day-to-day life. We all feel like we are drowning and there is no hope.
The Strain and Stigma of Mental Illness
Please help me to find other families, other mothers, other children, other siblings, friends, who are living this same nightmare. We are desperately in need of help from someone who really understands what we go through every day, especially my daughter. She feels like a freak, she’s afraid to tell anyone, even her closest friends, which means that she does and says things to them that she has no recollection of and which has caused repeated problems for her with trying to form and maintain friendships, making her life that much more difficult to process.
I don’t know what exactly I really expect from you, I just know that we need help, we need friends, we need understanding, and most of all, we need hope. Please help to put us in touch with other people who might possibly be able to help us understand that there can be hope for her, for us, to still find happiness and live a full and positive life. I just don’t know where else to turn.
My name is Maria. This is my real name given to me at birth. I was born in 1959 from Italian and Arabic heritage. I have one sibling. I was, at times, surrounded by a big extended loving family. My mom was what was called in those days “Brittle Diabetic.” She was also a paranoid schizophrenic. The onset, it seems, came when she was very young. For her, she was unable to be a mom or a wife for long.
My life with my parents was very turbulent , often very unsafe , and very isolated. I was a caregiver (both emotionally and physically) to my mom from my toddler years until her death. I lived in many homes, often moving five or more times a year. My mom was often in the State Hospital, mental facilities and medical hospitals.
I was married at age 20 for a short time and later divorced. I am now 50 years old and the mother of grown children.
Discovering My Memory Problem
I had seen a counselor in high school to discuss my home situation. He was in the process of getting his Ph.D. in Family Counseling while being a social worker in the school system. I saw him three times a week to talk about home and how I was managing. I was unsafe at home , everyone knew it, yet by high school my attitude was very stoic, like what’s the fuss?!
I made it through school and out of the home I lived in. In my mid 20s, after my divorce, I was working several jobs and going to college full-time to be a Social Worker while raising my children. I remember a college paper assignment requiring that I list ten good memories from before the age of 10 and ten bad memories and how those affected my adult life. l also had to tell my fellow classmates about myself. I had no idea who Maria was and I had no memory. My memory began at 17 years old .
I went to therapy once a week to discuss my memory problem and anxiety I was having. I experienced some panic attacks (from trigger issues) and had trouble sleeping. I had seen several therapists before this, and always been told I had grief, stress, loss and anger issues that I needed to confront stemming from my mom, past abuse and other obvious childhood problems, but I refused to discuss my past or confront any anger or grief.
A Caring Therapist and Being Diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder
This new doctor did not push — just made me comfortable to speak, befriending me at times as a colleague. Because of his respectful approach, with some gentle nudging, I felt comfortable sharing different aspects of my life. And, for the first time, I also felt that I could share the existence of Toni, an alter (we call a person) who existed since I was two years old. Toni felt “safe” and introduced herself to the doctor, admitting she made the appointment to come in and was there during the initial intake session. We actually had been having a bit of co-sharing awareness. She was aware of me. I really thought I saw her as a child, but never knew who she was.
It was 1989. I was in a psychiatric unit at the University of Rochester, called the R- Wing, where Dr. Goldstein, a specialist running a ‘Multiple unit ‘ consulted further with his colleagues. I was officially diagnosed as Multiple.
Stigma of Dissociative Identity Disorders and Its Impact
This diagnosis carries a lot of controversy among people with multiple personalities, doctors and other mental health professionals. There are many distorted media depictions of life with Dissociative Identity Disorder which has created fear in me, my family and the general population. There are books written on the subject suggesting long tedious recoveries and not much hope of normalcy. Most of this information stems from a few groups and how Multiple Personality Disorder was originally presented vs. modern-day research on the subject.
What I, and this group, have learned after losing everything precious to us (like mothering our children, employment , respect , normal rights) because of a misunderstood label, is you can have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), you can be multiple and still manage as a healthy citizen, parent, wife or husband and so on…as long as a group learns tools to communicate and manage the symptoms of the disorder. I have learned to properly use inner dialoging, journaling , and sharing body space and time. We are all happy ,co-consciously existing, sharing memory together. Another option is integration of alters, where nobody is lost.
After all these years, it is not odd when a ‘switch or transition’ between one alter or another occurs. It is quite subtle, normal to us and even our loved ones now. We do not dramatically or sharply switch because we no longer fight and fear it, nor does it come with announcements, calling attention to switches or ‘switch on-command’ like circus show entertainment.
Our endeavor is to help younger groups, as well as psychiatrists, therapists and other medical professionals, as well as partners of those with DID who may encounter groups to know that multiplicity is another way of life and usually becomes a disability only when the person becomes highly stressed over being a multiple; fearing it, trying to control or stop switches and remaining hidden — furthering secrets and shame associated with the stigma of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Our name as a family group or system is ‘Mosaic Gang’ – not because we see ourselves as pieces to a greater whole or a puzzle, shattered , fragmented or broken, but simply because we each share in liking to do collages and mosaics.
Most recently, screenwriter Diablo Cody entertains tv viewers weekly with the real but exaggerated accounts of a woman struggling with Dissociative Identity Disorder without the assistance of medications.
What’s It Like Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder
This Tuesday, we’ll be discussing Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) and the complications of living with it day-to-day. If you are not familiar with the term Dissociative Identity Disorder, the term, Multiple Personality Disorder or “split personality” may be more recognizable.
Studies on D.I.D. have shown its development stems from severe trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse in early childhood (causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder). In D.I.D., several identities or “alters” materialize and take control of the sufferer’s thoughts and behavior at any given time. If this isn’t problematic enough, the change in identity causes loss of memory when the person is able to regain himself/herself again.
Her earliest recollection of living with a multiple personality was at 4 years old. As a teenager and young adult, she recalls making excuses for her alters when she had been told over-and-over again that she had done something she didn’t remember doing. At one time in her young life, she was coping with as many as 58 personalities. Now a mother of three in her fifties, Maria has managed to cope with her personalities and has some advice she would like to share with others. Her aim is to debunk the negativity about D.I.D. and show that “alters” (a term she has a problem with) might be a good thing.
Healthyplace Medical Director, Dr. Harry Croft will discuss the signs, symptoms and treatments of Dissociative Identity Disorder as well as his experiences in treating D.I.D. patients. Dr. Croft is always willing to answer your questions on this topic or any other mental health issue during the show.
If you suffer from D.I.D., or if you are involved with someone who does, e-mail me at producer AT healthyplace.com. We want to share your written or video story with others so that they won’t feel alone.
Mental health certainly carries a lot of stigma, but think about this — how many adults have you ever heard discuss surviving child sexual abuse? Outside of my job, the answer would be “none.” No one talks about it. They mention sexual predators or child molesters, but not what life is like after being sexually abused as a child.
On Tuesday night’s HealthyPlace TV Show, the discussion centered around the impact child sexual abuse has later in life. Dr. Harry Croft, Medical Director of HealthyPlace.com, helped us understand how sexual abuse impacts victims in their adult lives. Many child abuse survivors suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, personality disorders and may self-harm. It’s frightening, but some go on to become abusers themselves.
Our guest, Diane Champe led us through her difficult struggle with child sexual abuse. Tragically in her case, she was abused by her parents. Her military upbringing and constant traveling and starting over in new cities left her with no friends and no one to talk to. Her victimization, at the hands of both her parents, went on until she was 21 years old.
While determined to make a better life for herself, she shut off her emotions and became a very successful business woman. Unfortunately, life handed her another set of problems: her brother began sexually abusing her niece, her husband divorced her after her many attempts at suicide, and she was released from her job after she was very close to retirement.
Unable to cope with her “new” problems and not healing from her “old” problems, Diane sought treatment and soon realized she had developed Dissociative Identity Disorder (23 personalities to cope with her traumatic experiences) in response to her years of repeated sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
Dr. Croft recognized many of Diane’s symptoms. He explained that a child may not know that the abuse they are going through is wrong. “How can a child know that the only mother and father they have would do something to hurt them?” It’s often not until the child interacts with others, says Dr. Croft, that they find out the behavior is anything but normal.
Diane’s story, along with the clips of victims who have also endured sexual abuse, provide insight into this traumatic and challenging problem. Dr. Croft also had an important take away message from Tuesday’s show: “Child abuse effects people for the rest of their lives.”
If you missed it, you can watch the HealthyPlace TV Show on Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse here. Maybe you’ll even share what you’ve heard. You may be helping someone take the first step in getting their life back.
Next week’s show is: “Your Child’s Mental Health: What Every Parent Should Know.” I hope you’ll join us.