I haven’t written a post about DID in a while. It’s so much a part of me and my chosen lifestyle that I forget how much of a struggle it was to get here sometimes.
Every year something unique happens in my life. It can start any time between the first day of school and Halloween. It ends some time between March and May the next year. Average length of time is six months.
During this time period, my symptoms increase to an overwhelming level; my body memories activate and never stop or slow down; and all of my typical patterns (sleep, exercise, eating/hydrating habits, work) change.
It starts with a feeling of sadness that permeates all parts of my consciousness. The sadness is followed by hyper-vigilance, paranoia, and lethargy. I stop sleeping. I dissociate more often. My hunger decreases, and I’m tired all the time. Everything feels like a challenge. Nothing brings joy. Staying at home feels safe.
Time slows down or speeds up without my realizing it. I feel like I am moving through a fog. Fear makes fun activities like cooking and going out too scary to contemplate. Lack of appetite = weight loss = more body memories and body-related symptoms.
Worst of all, I start forgetting every day things and not recognizing my surroundings.
How do I know this happens? Why can I describe it so well?
The awareness started after I got a real job that required me to remember routines and processes, so probably 2006/2007. Shortly after I walked away from my family, I experimented with self-training a service animal to help with the PTSD. While that story is for another post (maybe), the whole experience brought the lost time issue into present reality.
It started in August with meeting, hiring, and learning basic dog care and dog information from a professional dog trainer. By October, I had a puppy and was working with him and the trainer through a 4-level dog training program. One Saturday in February, I woke up and couldn’t remember any of the training exercises and activities we had been working on since October.
Luckily, I did remember having a dog and how to take care of him. Reflecting on that experience, though, showed me a similar pattern of remembering and forgetting that spanned decades. My counselor at the time was not surprised when I shared this with her in session. She explained to me that many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) have such experiences.
A full switch (my term, not the professional one) between alter personalities means a full consciousness switch – as in one personality leaves or goes dormant while the other takes over completely – and whoever is in charge retains the memories of those experiences. Alter personalities in a non-integrated system often are not aware of each other and do not communicate or share memories if they are aware of each other.
My counselor reassured me that the memories weren’t lost or stolen. Instead, they were stored someplace in my mind that the present me (or me in charge) couldn’t access. If and when I did need that information, it would become available. By this time, we had been working together for almost two years. She was familiar with my patterns of increased and decreased symptoms, triggers, etc. more than I was.
When my counselor realized how much this bothered me, she offered to help me create a plan to minimize the negative effects of my seasonal memory loss. The first (and most effective to me) was focusing on Internal Family Systems therapy to foster communication within my alter personality system.
The coping strategies and techniques I have discussed in the past are all part of this plans so I’m not going to describe them again here.
Who is in charge? And what will I remember next May?
Back then, it was me or Pip or a combination of our four dominant personalities in charge unless something triggered one of the others into taking over. I didn’t know about my two simultaneous lives, so couldn’t factor that into the equation. But that mattered less because the memories still disappeared and often didn’t come back again for years.
These days, we all work together and are all “in charge”. Sounds weird, but that is the truth. Each personality or part of me has a specific set of tasks to do in order to keep our system running smoothly. We have others trained to perform multiple tasks or act as back up if someone isn’t feeling well or needs extra help, but all of us are needed if we want to be at our best.
So what will I remember? I honestly don’t know. And at this point in my life, I am not sure if I would want to know. One of the best lessons therapy taught me was that I don’t have to remember everything that happened. And I will remember what I do need to remember at the exact time that information is required to help us:
- achieve a goal
- maintain safety
- not make the same mistake again
- something else I can’t describe with words
While memory loss is scary and often feels uncomfortable, I can now accept it as another part of my life. Sure, I miss being able to remember everything and sometimes mourn the loss of those memories. But at the same time, I trust all parts of me to find and share memories, skills, and experiences as we want or need them to thrive in our present life.
Thanks for reading