At the beginning of my epic journey of self discovery four years ago I was terrified of how people would view me if I shared my diagnosis. I spent the majority of my life pretending to be “normal.” Occasionally I would admit to what I considered my less controversial diagnoses of depression and anxiety. However, I usually said it with reddened cheeks and in hushed tones. I would rush to get it past my lips as if the words were toxic. Then I would put on an overly happy face and brush the whole thing off with a joke. Nowadays I have embraced a new path. I’m sharing my diagnosis with the world. Today I would like to share with you a little of how I achieved this new outlook and how it led to a meeting of minds in my shower.
When I turned forty I realized I wanted more out of my life. I was a stay at home mom. I hadn’t held a job since I was in my early twenties other than the occasional short lived self employment opportunity. I didn’t go out much or have many friends. I was lonely and felt unfulfilled. I just needed more in my life. I decided to apply for college so that I could turn my lifetime hobby of sewing into a career. But, I was pretty certain I would never be accepted and I would fail the entrance exam. I hadn’t been to school in twenty years and I have learning disabilities. However, I knew inside my heart of hearts if I didn’t at least try I would always wonder and regret. I also knew if I didn’t force myself to take the needed steps in that moment I would put it off and make excuses forever. I honestly can’t tell you if I was more frightened during the application process or when I learned that I got accepted.
College was a huge scary experience for me. Everything about it was new and vastly different from any other experiences I had ever had. I remember crying in one of my first classes. It was a math class, a subject I had always struggled with. The teacher was lecturing on a math principal and it didn’t make any sense to me. I could feel myself checking out of reality. I was retreating inside my own mind as the world around me went out of focus and panic set in. My heart beat wildly, I couldn’t think, my breathing was rapid and shallow. I wanted to run and hide. No, I just wanted it to make sense. Oh please God let it make sense. Then the tears began to fall like hot wet traitors running down my face for anyone to see. I was humiliated and felt stupid. Why in the hell did I ever believe I could do this. I’m too old, too dumb, too damaged and now I’m trapped in this chair crying in class. But, I excused myself to the bathroom, wiped off my face, took some deep breaths and came back to class. Then I asked my teacher for help at the end of the lecture.
Slowly I gained more confidence and became more self assured. I began to see I was capable of more than I ever realized. I was stretching my wings and finding new sides to myself. College was a time of major growth and self discovery for me. My alternate personalities also went through changes. I was pushing my boundaries and they wanted in. Adrianna began to push for us to be more open about our struggles as a multiple person. She decided that it was time to “come out” to the world. She was no longer content being just part of the very super secret group of people living inside my mind mansion. She wasn’t satisfied with the occasional moments she was approved to drive my body around. She didn’t like how carefully I monitored her from my mental back seat. She made her demand clearly and concisely, “I want you to acknowledge us publicly!” Ohhhhhhh boy, I really didn’t know how to feel about that. The mere idea went against everything I believed to be true. You had to hide the others or something awful would happen. You had to look “normal.”
Adrianna was thriving in the college environment. She is logical, well spoken, analytical, organized, goal-oriented and very intelligent. She is driven and she loves to learn. She does not possess the whimsical creative flair of some of my other personalities but her collaborative efforts were vital to our overall success. Amidst all the mental stimulation and new and exciting things in her life Adrianna never lost her focus on the mission to come out. Her mission was of the utmost importance to her. “Share us with the world, Jennifer!”
Sometimes she gave me a gentle push other times a firm command. Once Adrianna wrote about my diagnosis in a college paper. She was so determined to come out to the world that she hijacked our body. I was aware she wrote the paper but I was not completely in control of the situation as it unfolded. I was able to nudge her literary choices but she was not to be dissuaded from writing and turning in that paper. I was angry at first and terrified of my professors reaction. However, to my great surprise the professor didn’t respond negatively. He seem a bit confused with “my choice” to write about my Dissociative Identity Disorder because It only partially cover the subject matter we were writing about. Nonetheless, he thanked me for sharing such a personal subject and redirected my writing efforts back on course. His reaction encouraged me and little by little I began to let go of my fear to grant Adrianna’s wish for all of ourselves to be publicly recognized. I told my best friend and another professor who I trusted about my diagnosis. This time, it was fully my choice and I was delighted by their nonplussed reactions. They simple accepted me for all my layers. In turn, I began to accept myself even more.
In my last year of college I started a job where I got to work with some amazing people that liked my quirky ways. The atmosphere was open and honest. I had the freedom to shine in all my weird and perhaps not always socially acceptable ways. This included my sometimes very perverse sense of humor (Thanks Lily). More of my alternate personalities felt free to poke their heads out and be present. It felt like a logical progression to let my bosses and coworkers know about my Dissociative Identity Disorder. They were accepting and unbothered by my news just like my college associates. It blew my mind! All my fear and the careful cultivated self preserving tricks I used to hide the real me’s was unneeded. I never felt so free, so loved and accepted for all of my-selves. The journey through college and the beautiful people I meet there had become a catalyst for deep internal changes. But, this job and my brilliant friends and coworkers were my inspiration to take it to the next level. I was creating a healthier sense of self than I had ever known was possible.
When my time at that job ended, I decided to take the next step and hopefully help other people living with a diagnoses. A dear friend told me about NAMI. Here was the perfect opportunity to do that. She arranged a meeting for me and the idea of this blog was born. Adrianna immediately began to write entries. She had already coined the term Dissociative American. She was very excited her mission was being realized. Her writing style was a lot like her personality. It was logically driven and it did not always connect to the emotional side of things. So myself and the others decided we needed to open a dialogue with Adrianna about her blog pieces. That is how I ended up having a group meeting of minds in my shower.
We needed to remind Adrianna that this project was best undertaken if we all participate. “Adrianna” we told her “we love you! What you have done is amazing! You inspired us to come out publicly and we are so proud of you. Your writing is superb and we appreciate you. But, we believe it would be even better if it had all of our inputs.” Adrianna thankfully agreed and here we are showered and writing as a team now. We hope our stories inspire you. Perhaps they will be a catalyst for your own changes. Maybe they will remind you that you aren’t alone. We want you to know it’s ok to be yourself, warts and all. We invite you to find your own dreams and follow them. We believe in you!