I discovered my multiple personalities about five years ago while working with my therapist. I am going to introduce you to “my kids,” but first I want to make it clear that I do not have certifiable Multiple Personality Disorder, properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
True DID personalities would fight mightily against being introduced to you — it has been called “a disorder of hiddenness” — and they would likely have the power to stop this blog from happening. While my kids are shy and not sure that you’ll like them, they are nevertheless ready to reveal themselves.
I am not making light of DID when I speak of my kids. I know people who have DID, and it is a painful and debilitating disorder involving mistrust and secrecy that can isolate you from others. Many people don’t even know they have DID and have instead been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or bipolar disorder.
There’s a whole spectrum of dissociative disorders, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being the “mildest” (ha!) and full-blown DID being the most severe. DID is not a dysfunction, per se, it’s actually a remarkable coping mechanism for people who have experienced traumatic events. In essence, the “parts” of the self that have been traumatized “split off” in order for the psyche to survive. They keep the painful memories isolated.
This becomes a dysfunction later in life when the trauma has passed, but the self and its dissociated parts remain separate and act as if they are still threatened. Hence, the separate parts are usually mistrustful, somewhat paranoid, and protective.
Psychology lesson over. To learn more, check here and here and here.
The Birth of My Personalities
Like a lot of people who grew up in chaotic, unpredictable homes, I experienced some dissociation when I was a kid. When confronted with painful and confusing situations, like my gentle and loving Daddy suddenly becoming an aggressive and nasty person after tossing back a few tumblers of Gallo sherry, my brain compartmentalized the chaos. Distancing from the craziness made it bearable.
My brother told me that when I was thirteen, I walked into the dining room and my father slammed down his glass and said, “So, are you pregnant yet?” I have no conscious memory of this. But the shock and confusion is in there somewhere.
You may be able to relate. Perhaps you’ve reacted to a situation irrationally and then in retrospect wondered why you were so bent out of shape . . . or since it’s easier to judge others than yourself, you may have noticed such inappropriate overreactions in friends, family, or coworkers. Often, the reason for this behavior is that our brains have made a subconscious connection to a similar upsetting situation from childhood and we are literally reacting with a child’s mentality. We have disassociated from our adult identity.
In short, I have some kids in my head, and they sometimes govern my reactions to life events. I can now recognize them and give them their due. It’s like being a parent to a passel of children. You need to listen to them, reassure them, and meet their emotional needs.
The cool thing is, these little characters are part of my identity — I am reintegrating them into my adult self and find that they are creative, funny, and inspirational. And they like to express themselves through poetry. Their poems help me understand myself.
This week marks twelve weeks since my brother Biff passed away. The kids honored the event by expressing their feelings through poetry. The poems are Blackjack Poems, three lines of seven syllables each for a total of twenty-one. So without further ado, here are my kids and their poems.
Marnie and Biff
Characterization through Poetry
Marnie is what I called myself when I was too small to say Melanie, and the nickname stuck. Mom always called me Marnie when she was feeling mushy. Marnie is about four. She likes to laugh and have fun and play and is easily frightened by anger or confrontation. I have an image of her in a puffy party dress, hiding behind the couch waiting for an argument to blow over. She’s the reason I avoid tense situations. She writes:
The house is very quiet
I don’t know what happens next.
Nobody’s laughing. He’s gone.
Sport is a nickname my brother gave me when I was seven or eight. Sport is a fun kid with short hair, freckles, and a gap between her front teeth. She’s an animal lover and likes to be active outside. In the early sixties, she would flee whatever madness was going on in the house and escape into nature, which she found to be a healing balm, almost mystical. She’s probably the reason I became a vegetarian and devoted my career to environmental protection, and she’s definitely the reason I get so pissed off when people say they don’t believe in climate change. She knows that honoring nature is a matter of survival on many levels. She writes:
No, that’s silly. He’s hiding.
There’s no sun if he’s not here.
He’s the one that makes us laugh.
Whisper didn’t show herself until well after the others had come out and named themselves. Whisper is intensely shy and prefers to be invisible because it’s less painful than being ignored or neglected. She feels responsible for bad stuff happening and carries a lot of shame — another reason for hiding. Whisper spent the late sixties sitting in front of the TV watching sitcoms and eating bologna sandwiches and chips, in the hopes that chubby layers would keep her hidden.
She’s a creative little soul, ten or eleven years old, who finds peace and joy in music and other artistic pursuits. When I decided to face my fear of computers and create a blog, it was to Whisper I turned. I gave her permission to be heard. I think she’s the one who helps me write from the gut. Her poem:
If I am very quiet
And don’t cause any upset,
Maybe he will come back home.
Cat. Dear Cat. Her name says it all. She is a teenager and powerful in a way that only teenagers can be. She strode in, dressed in patched blue jeans, a paisley t-shirt, and a bandana and stood between my father and the cowering Whisper. We were silent no more, though we could be sullen, surly, and snarky. Passive-aggressive and bitingly sarcastic, Cat was done with my father. (Now that I think of it, she learned those behaviors from her beloved big brother, Biff.)
Cat’s clever and brims with false self-confidence. Underneath, she’s just as fearful as Marnie and Whisper, but you would never know it. I love Cat — she took control and took no prisoners. She’s impulsive and spontaneous and is the one who still occasionally tears down the Beltway at eighty five miles-per-hour in pursuit of some idiot who cut her off. Sometimes she drinks too much and it took me several tries to get her to quit smoking. She cusses a lot. Cat is dismissive of poetry but offers this nonetheless:
How could he do this to me??
What the fuck! This can’t happen.
I gotta get out of here.
Mel is a miracle. Mel totally rocks. She is my young adult, twenty or so. She’s the one who started asking, “Why not?” and “What if?” She is smart, capable, determined, and gets things done. Mel worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and held a weekend job as well so she could pay her way through college in night school. When she didn’t find the major she wanted at university, she designed her own Environmental Studies degree. She nagged the folks at the Sierra Club until they hired her in 1982. I think she deserves most of the credit for the Masters in Nonfiction I just received from Hopkins. I need her to get me out of bed during this period of grieving. I’m sure she will step up, she always does. She writes:
I guess I’ll try to do this.
What is an executor?
I’ll ask the lawyer; he’ll know.
Finally, there’s Melanie; adult Melanie. Me. Through spiritual disciplines, recovery support groups, and therapy, I’m learning to integrate my kids and am becoming a whole and healthy adult. I seek to appreciate and learn from all my parts — the whimsical joy of Marnie, the outdoor girl in Sport, the creativity of Whisper, the fearlessness of Cat, and the go-getter spirit in Mel. Here’s where I am:
On good days now, I can laugh.
Some days I stay home and cry.
My friends laugh and cry with me.
This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge: Power of Names. I’ve found it empowering and enlightening to name and claim the kids inside of me. Who’s inside of you?