I had my first group therapy session. It was a very welcoming, warm group. I felt safe. I disclosed that I have DID. It didn’t elicit much of a reaction, which told me that the group wasn’t really familiar with it. After gaining our permission, the therapist explained to the group what DID is. There were some questions, which were answered between ourself and the therapist. There were also some incredibly insightful comparisons in an attempt to understand the disorder. Overall, it was comfortable. There was no shaming, no fear. It was amazing.
We still didn’t unmask during that first session. There were several switches, but aside from a change in pronoun use, everyone masked as our host, Shell. Warm as they were, we don’t know these people. And more terrifying, the therapist is a specialist in DID. And we are so afraid of visibly switching in front of people. What if we switch the “wrong” way? What if she doesn’t believe us? What if she thinks we’re faking the switches? We’ve had two seperate psychologists and a psychiatrist tell us we have DID, and still we are so afraid of getting “caught out”.
I should be more specific and say that I–Shell, the host–am afraid of being fakeclaimed. I’ve reached a point where random trolls on the internet don’t really affect me. But this is a professional. A specialist. If she says I’m faking, then she must be right? The others groan at me. They are confident in their existence, and they don’t really care what we label it.
I’m the one reliant on the label. Labels tell me my experience is valid. Labels mean that what I’m experiencing is real, and that others have experienced it too. Without that label I feel invalidated. I’m sure this can be traced back to my childhood–when I had no validation, and I never learned how to validate myself. Quite the opposite. My sense of self was consistently undermined. I didn’t know who I was. The other person, they knew best. So as an adult I still look to others to tell me who I am.
Labels tell me who I am.
Intellectually I know that whether or not I have a diagnosis doesn’t change my experience. But I’m still learning internal validation, so the ground is shaky at best.
I am getting better. Two years ago I was convinced I was faking all of this. One year ago I couldn’t imagine being “out” to more people than the handful I had told. Now I am introducing myself as someone with DID, if I’ve assessed them as either safe enough or insignificant enough to tell. I share my experience with DID online. I won’t mask switches when I’m with specific people, even though I still find it embarassing.
The acceptance of the people I have told has been a major factor in my own self-acceptance. My friends tell me that they can tell certain alters apart. A couple of them have picked up on cues that we’re switching. They tell me that they love all of me–all of us. I think probably most helpful has been my ex’s acceptance of the diagnosis. For better or for worse, his validation of my experience can still make or break me. We don’t ever talk about the DID; and I interpretted that as him believing that I am being my “usual, hypochondriac” self. After a recent conversation, I learned that he actually is just accepting it at face value. When I told him about the diagnosis, things started making sense for him. But he knows that I am–we are–still a great mother to our son, and that is the only thing he cares about.
I am slowly learning to allow the others to express themselves. Other alters have their own clothes in our dresser and closet. They are building their own relationships with our friends as themselves. I don’t resist switches as much as I used to. I’m beginning to accept that I really do have DID. There really are others living in this brain besides myself. This isn’t just my life, it’s our life. And we’re learning to collaborate to make it livable for everyone.
There are still family members that I won’t tell. I’m still not ready to walk around with a name tag that says I have DID. But I do have a sticker on my water bottle that I carry with me. Anyone observant enough can see it and ask about it. And that’s a risk I’m willing to take. When I meet new people and it becomes relevant to the conversation, I am more likely to disclose that I have DID these days.
I dream of a day when I will feel free to be my beautiful, authentic selves. I am working towards it. But I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was two years ago. And I’m pretty freaking proud of that.