Living with DID: It’s Okay to Be Not Okay
"How are you?" is a commonly asked question, but for those of us living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), the answer is not so simple. A person may seem alright on the outside, but can be hiding a tremendous amount of despair on the inside. One part may very well answer, "Great!" while another part wants to answer, "Horrible!" Most times, when living with DID, we end up telling people we're okay -- but are we really okay?
Living with DID -- Defense Mechanisms to Hide Your Feelings
For people with dissociative identity disorder (DID), dissociation became the ultimate survival skill. It was what we needed to survive the trauma. Unfortunately, it is also likely for people with DID to develop other defense mechanisms, including suppression. Suppression occurs when you try to hide feelings and thoughts that you think are unacceptable. You may really be feeling angry, but you suppress that and say you're feeling okay, even though you're really not.
It is also common to engage in isolation of affect. When this occurs, you detach yourself emotionally from your feelings because they are too painful for you to deal with. In the same way one dissociates during a traumatic experience, one dissociates from his or her own feelings. Sometimes it's easier to feel nothing than to face your true feelings, especially when they are difficult. So you say you're feeling okay even though you're really not (Anxiety: I Know 200 Ways To Say I'm Fine).
Living with DID: Why Is It Difficult to Admit You're Not Okay?
Many people living with DID have survived unspeakable trauma. They grew up unable to express their emotions and feelings. They grew up needing to put on a brave face. They needed to be okay in order to survive. But even as adults, people with DID still struggle with emotions and feelings. They have to always be okay, because not being okay makes them vulnerable. Even though they no longer need to be okay, it's almost as if being okay has been permanently ingrained in their brain as a response to any questioning.
It's difficult to put into practice, but it's okay to be not okay. It's okay to say you're not okay, especially when the person listening to you is a safe and understanding person, like a close friend or therapist. Admitting your feelings while in a safe place will not put you in danger, even though it may have in the past. Putting walls down and blocking people out only ends up hurting you even more down the road.
Living with DID Means I Can't Tell You This, But I'm Not Okay
Many times I have sat across from my therapist, fists clenched, tears welling up in my eyes, repeating, "I'm okay" over and over again like a broken record. But my therapist knows that I'm not okay. Still, in nearly every session, she has to tell me that it's okay to be not okay.
You would think this is a simple concept to understand, but it's not. I was raised in a way that equated feelings with punishment, and even though I'm in a safe place now, my mind still associates any other feeling that's not "okay" with pain. So I tell everybody I'm okay because that's safe.
If you ask me how I'm doing, I'll still tell you I'm okay. The truth is that I'm not okay.
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Matulewicz, C. (2016, March 30). Living with DID: It’s Okay to Be Not Okay, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 8 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2016/03/its-okay-to-be-not-okay-when-youre-living-with-did
Author: Crystalie Matulewicz
Thank you for this article. I just printed it out so I can share it with my therapist. You put into words what I have been feeling but unable to put into words myself. For me my face and polite smile look like I am fine but inside my emotions are screaming in pain. It's so frustrating that they don't match up. I really like where you say that we had to pretend all was okay in order to survive. So true and so sad. Thank you Crystalie!