Thursday, November 15, 2012

Santa Clause And The Story Of Sybil

DISCLAIMER: This is a trigger free post. HOWEVER, this post discusses the topic of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Some people choose not to believe in this disorder. If you are one of those people, you have two options: read it so you may gain understanding, or turn back now and go on your merry way :). It's your call.

When I was in school, we were taught that the concept of Santa Clause was inspired by a true man, who existed some place overseas. His claim to fame was this: if children would leave their shoes somewhere where he could get to them on Christmas eve, he would leave the children a small amount of money in one of those shoes.

I didn't Google to do any fact checking, and I can't remember that it was folklore from our over seas neighbors, or if it was actually a true story.

"Sybil", as you know, is a character in a "biography" entitled by the same name. It was written by Flora Schreiber. It was a grueling, blow by blow account of a little girl being terrorized and tortured at the hands (mainly her mother) of adults that went on for years. As the story goes, "Sybil" seeks help from a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who'd been one of the first female psychiatrists to enter a tiny clustered world made up almost entirely by men. Dr. Wilbur had aspirations to go far, to make her name and her trade well known. "Sybil" was also portrayed as a young woman having strange "fugue states", where she would wander off and not remember where she was or how she got there. Then one day, "Sybil" shows up to Dr. Wilbur's office in attire fit for a small girl, draws her hand forward as if meeting this woman before her for the first time, and exclaims "Hi! I'm Peggy Ann..."

This is the story that made Multiple Personality Disorder not only known in the tiny circles of psychiatrists "in the know", but all across the United States and even further. It is claimed that "Sybil" had over 16 personalities, and each personality reported to the psychiatrist tortures so unspeakable, so horrific, that it didn't seem real. After the "biography" started circulating, Multiple Personality Disorder -- an illness that only appeared in the single digits world wide in years past -- was being diagnosed in alarmingly large numbers. Had we all had our heads buried deep in the sand, that we never were able to catch friends and family seemingly switch personalities overnight, or even several times a day? Were people before the book's publication in 1973 just so oblivious that they couldn't pick up the signs that something very, very wrong was going on in the lives of their patients or loved ones.

Maybe. Maybe not.

As it turns out, that "Sybil Dorsett" was just another version of Santa Clause. "Sybil"'s real name was Shirley Mason, a woman with fugue states and an attachment disorder. Shirley caught wind at the age of 26 (maybe a little younger) that her psychiatrist was pouring her heart and soul into women being diagnosed as "multiples". Shirley Mason, who had really had an uneventful childhood and had actually loved her mother very much, compelled by a desire to be "special" in the eyes of her doctor, read up on this new up and coming disorder. Then she one day showed up on Dr. Wilbur's doorstep as "Peggy Ann", who would be followed by "Peggy Sue", who would be followed by more than a dozen others. In the sixties, when research was still new, 16 multiples was unheard of.

Shirley Mason and Cornelia Wilbur were the reason for the diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder being put in the DSM III, and brought to light once was a rare illness to any and all.

You know, it is not uncommon for young women to feel conflicted, not sure of who they are. Shirley Mason took it much too far, and it caused her to be outcasted, hated, and eventually, she paid the price with her sanity. While Dr. Wilbur continued to roll in the dough and teach other fledgling doctors how MPD patients should be treated. (Which violated every boundary set in place for doctor/patient relationships, which made the women diagnosed with MOD to become more and more vulnerable and stuck that nothing was ever accomplished. Except for the attention and "kindness" of this "doctor". However, that kind of relationship costs money, and by the time Dr. Wilbur had made a name for herself, the money was intoxicating so much to her that her methods and protocols grew to become more and more bizarre -- and down right abusive).

Flash forward to now. It is 2012. The term "Multiple Personality Disorder" is no longer used in the health care community. Instead, the term/diagnosis was renamed "Dissociative Identity Disorder" to try to detach the stigma associated with MPD and constrain it into specific guidelines. Doctors know much more about DID now, and are no longer as quick to throw that diagnosis at people. Now, it is widely accepted that DID is actually developed during childhood, and doesn't just present itself out of nowhere in the middle of adult hood. Also, DID develops when serious trauma occurs to a child before they can adequately verbalize what is happening to them. By developing alters (the newish term that replaces personalities), the child is then able to lock the horrors of what happened inside the alter and the alter never tells. And the child grows fond of the alter and can continue to behave normally. It's a survival tool.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I have DID. It's not a diagnosis I share really ever. But everything's been brought up back to the surface. And so, that's where the trouble begins...

My first alter developed when I was three. No one but me knew about her. But we knew we worked together. I knew her job was to protect me, and warn me later to stay away from certain people or places, it wasn't safe for me. But I was never told why.

As I got older and bad things kept happening, I started developing more and more alters. Each and every one of them as a specific job. Their main job is to protect me. So when they perceive something isn't safe, and I can't get away, or my thought processes are out of whack, the alters "switch" with me.

Apparently, it had never stopped. The switching used to be so subtle I would only be "gone" for a short period of time. But with last weeks events, it brought back out the panic and fury. Any time the alters hear something they don't like or can read my signals, we switch. A lot of times I don't WANT to switch, because if I do and I am talking to someone, I will not remember what was said. Sometimes to me, they seem to switch even if there is no danger or promise of danger. The last two days I have been dominated by alters. How do I know that? Because the last time I checked my clock, it was 8:30 PM Wednesday. Then the next time I looked at the clock in was 10:30 PM. Friday.

There have been endless recounts of my treatment team telling me that they spoke to "A" or "H". Which infuriates me, because a few years ago I told them they were NOT ALLOWED to speak to anyone. I told them that all six of "you" were making "me" crazy.

They never went away and they never quit talking. They just never talked to others outside of me.

Until recently.

This of course, heightens my anxiety. I cannot go out in PUBLIC and have an alter switch with me. Why?

They are all children. And I am 25 (even though all the alters insist that I am only ten years old). A 25 year old cannot behave like a child, it isn't appropriate and it is extremely embarrassing. Because if I know I had gone out, and then switched with an alter, and then am not conscious until 5 hours later when I'm home...what then, pray tell, did the alter do while out? What did they say? Who did they see? How did they behave?

Lately I've been coming home with crayons and DVD's for young children. I've also been finding books in the young adult section that I don't like in my home along with picture books like what one would read to a little kid before it was bedtime.

There's been a fair amount of crying and confusion between me and them. The alters keep trying to talk to "grown ups" since they never got to before, they're tired of being scared, and even since I've become more medically compromised, they are in a state of sheer panic. They feel like they've got to share their story. They know I need help because this has always been at the forefront of my mind.

It is my most shameful diagnosis. The alters want things (like human contact -- a hand to hold, a hug, that sort of thing) that scare me terribly and if I'm ever able to "come back" while this is happening, I jerk away and chastise the person "Now, you KNOW I don't like to be touched!"

Luckily, only three out of six alters know how to use the phone and one of them won't under any circumstance. Only one can type because she's 12 and knows how(she and her twin brother are super smart...too smart, I think). So if you get a call or text from me, 9/10 times it's actually going to be me. And if I send a message or speak in a manner that is not my own, feel free to not respond :)

And of course, the question: Why on God's green earth am I talking about/admitting to this?

This blog is my story. It is where I am recording my life's adventure. And I am writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder because it is misunderstood, has tons of stigma attached to it, and is overly dramatized in Hollywood and in the news. DID is a part of my journey. I have it, I am struggling well with it, and so is someone else. Someone else is going to run into this blog post, and they are not going to feel so alone. They are going to see that others also battle this along with other illnesses. And they are going to see (because that is my full intention) that they CAN conquer to the point where all this "stuff" no longer inhibits them. That doesn't mean that it has gone away. What is does mean, however, that stability and safety can be achieved. And once you find this gift, it is yours. For keeps.

Never feel ashamed. Never feel alone. There is always someone else out there that "gets" it.

Hope much and heal well. That is what I want for all of you.



  1. Danielle,

    I know we don't speak often, but I am so amazed and proud of your bravery. Not many have the strength to tell their stories, let alone explain them so effectively and eloquently. And I've never told you enough, or to what extent, that you helped me more than you could know when I was in VITA with you. For this, I thank you.

    From your time-continuum friend,
    Megan B.

  2. Megan,

    I hope you are continuing to do well. I think of the many people I met through VITA and consider myself blessed. There are precious few places to meet those with the same struggles but aren't all about the drama. I'd gone a grand total of 9 times before they closed, and got better each time. This last time was not productive, but we sure did have fun.

    Like I've said in a previous post -- there is someone out there that needs to hear all this. I remember being that person, unable to make a connection with anyone as far as my multiple symptoms were concerned: eating disorder, bipolar, PTSD, DID, Ehlers-Danlos type III, gastroparesis, and now mito. Someone else out there has some or all of these and don't feel like they fit in anywhere and that they are destined to be alone. And my blog is all about dispelling that myth -- that fear -- that any one person has too many "problems" and cannot be helped or even comforted. It isn't true, because I am living proof.

    Thank you for popping in and the wonderful words. I miss and love you.

  3. I get it. And ... I didn't know the back story about Sybil, and about Dr. Wilbur and all of that with her occupation, & etc - as distressing as when I realized "Go Ask Alice" wasn't about a real girl, but a hybrid of many girls that a teacher had seen and was using there stories as a warning shot.... again, thank you - thank you!!!