This is mostly about memories. It’s a massively complicated field, especially for the one who holds them. Mine is like a demilitarised zone, burdened by landmines everywhere and sudden bursts of friendly fire. I’ll share a bit about my experiences with my memories over the years, and i’ll try to communicate how i’ve sifted through the wreckage and managed to deactivate some and tiptoe around others.
I live with my memories as i live with my people: We have an arrangement. I own the land they’re on so, my turf, my rules.
In case it has not been clear heretofore, i live with Bipolar Disorder and multiplicity. I will explain my word choices.
When i look at the definition of BP, i fully agree, including the characterisation of it as a disorder, which means a mental condition that is not healthy. I use the term “multiplicity” because i do not agree that “dissociative identity” or “multiple personality” is a disorder.*
I see being bipolar as an injury, whereas i see my multiplicity as more of a mutation. My survival was at risk, and my brain found a way to alter (haha) itself and save my life. Calling that a disorder deeply offends me. It dredges up feelings of resentment and bitterness, because i fought the diagnosis and blocked myself from getting the help i needed for so many years, due to the misunderstandings, mischaracterisations, tropes and morbid fascination surrounding it. I view my bipolar behaviours as dysfunctional, but i see my multiplicity as creative or differently functioning. Further, it suggests that the parts of my brain that may technically be me, but aren’t quite me, are a sickness or a virus that needs to be eradicated. As a collection of various bits and pieces, we view this as tantamount to murder.
(As a brief aside i would like to impress that these opinions are my own. I don’t take my thoughts and conclusions about my diagnoses and apply them to anyone else. If you’re bipolar and/or multiple and you see things differently, i don’t think you’re wrong. This is only how i view things through the lens of my own life experience, my own personality, my own personal philosophy, and what i believe to be truths. I’m looking through my own kaleidoscope, facing the sun at a particular time and place in the sky, twisting the tube and marking the bits of coloured glass where they fall. You have your own cylinder of mirrored magic, and i’d love to hear what you see when you look through it. Tell me who you are and i’ll believe you.)
I have memories from very early on. I’d be relating things to other family members and they’d ask, “How can you remember that?”
My grandmother was a teacher, and she taught me to read very early. She saw my gift for memorisation and gave me poems and portions of books to learn and recite back to her. When Mom picked up on it, she’d get me to do it too. She was a single mother on a tight budget who often had to bring me along to adult functions, and i would sit there quietly reading and committing to memory whatever she’d given me. Sometimes she’d make me demonstrate my abilities to the people gathered – she loved the attention.
I also remember my dreams. They go back almost as far as the memories, i think. To this day all my dreams fall into distinct categories and are filled with recognisable patterns and motifs. I was terrified of the dark and plagued with night terrors. Mom was mostly just irritated by it all until i was diagnosed with epilepsy. Then she was able to milk sympathy from everyone, and money from her parents. It also gave her a reason to get me in bed and out of her hair a couple of hours earlier, because proper sleep was paramount to controlling the seizures. This proved problematic for both of us because of my sleep issues. She found someone who could help me (her), and i saw him a few times. He taught me lucid dreaming. I met him in an office and he had nice furniture, so i’m going to guess he was somewhat educated. He might have been an MD or a p-doc or a counsellor with accredited courses under his belt. Regardless of his education, i took to his instruction like the proverbial duck to water, and my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep improved measurably.
I wish i knew who he was, because he saved me in more ways than he or i or anyone could have known. He taught me to examine my dreams: to think about them, talk about them, even write them down. He had me prepare for sleep, too. I would lay in bed and purposely think about prior dreams that had scared me, and tell myself firmly that i wouldn’t be dreaming about those things that night. He had me remind myself that i could get away from anything that scared me in a dream by either waking myself up, or doing something creative within the dream to change things, like fly away (which is awesome, and i can still do it). Then i would use the breathing techniques we’d practised in his office and i’d fall asleep.
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you might already know that as a multiple, my imagination is practically a super-power, and although my fear of the dark persisted until i left home and i would still sleepwalk occasionally, my night terrors stopped.
Once away from home and relatively out of my mother’s reach, my dreams began changing, becoming horrific once again. The subject matter was sexually violent and bloody. Although i was still adept at lucid dreaming, i was frustrated in any attempt i made to control these dreams. At best i might be able to wake myself up, but often i was helpless until it was done with me. In these dreams i felt heavy and had terrible difficulty in holding my head up or moving my arms and legs. Everything around me was distorted, including sounds. I could hear cries of pain and pleasure, and there were thick, awful smells that made me actually retch. I remember the therapist telling me that if i wasn’t certain whether i was dreaming, to pinch myself hard. If it didn’t hurt, then i was dreaming. But i was almost never able to, and i’d usually cry or scream myself awake. I’d realise that i’d been dreaming, but i could still smell the smells sometimes, and my body would hurt where it hurt in the dreams, including my arm if i’d been able to pinch it.
I learned to live with the dreams, what else could i do? They faded over time, and once i had my first child i only suffered the bloody ones a few times a year.
I’m going to fast forward through finding love, having more children, gaining and losing a tremendous amount of weight, losing my religion (lalala), and being diagnosed with both multiplicity and Bipolar Disorder. I’m going to pick up again where i’m trying to keep myself alive and out of the Bin, and it is REALLY FUCKING HARD, because i’m drowning in a sea of memories and my dreams won’t leave me alone, and i have realised and accepted that there are, to all intents and purposes, other people who live in my head and holy shit! do they have a lot to say about EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME.
Then they tell me that some of my dreams are actually memories, and my whole world explodes.
And here i’d thought it already had.
What followed was a massive purge. I liken it to when you’re eating something that tastes okay, but then your mom tells you it’s not the usual chicken stew, it’s actually the wild rabbit that’s been nibbling the cabbages in the garden, teeheehee… And your stomach suddenly clenches up and you know you’re gonna catch hell for it but that bunny is comin’ back up.
I spilled everything that was in my head out into my husband’s lap, sorting through it, picking up various items for closer inspection, grabbing him for support, shaking him as things became horribly clearer, shaking him as i was shaken inside. Recognising voices that i’d always assumed were random thoughts like everyone else had. Learning that they weren’t, that they were me yet not quite, that they were siblings and friends and protectors, yet all of them my own children somehow…
Feelings attached to dreams-that-weren’t-dreams.
There was the awful, sickening internal thud, as these memory-stones that had been floating through my brain-space were finally weighted and overcome by the terrible gravity of my knowingness.
They fell, one after another, like a meteoric hailstorm, scorching the ground and leaving massive craters. I could do nothing to stop them, only watch as they burned until they could burn no more.
Those dreams, those terrible movies that played in my head while i was sleeping, now i knew they weren’t horror movies that i’d directed.
I’d always feared i must be twisted, perverted, and depraved, because children don’t think like that, but my dreams had always been so putrid, so filthy. As an adult i knew i was sick, because i could see nothing like it in my own children.
It was always with me; a shadow, a secret that i tried desperately to keep, a constant plaguing surety that if you reeeeally knew me…
Relief came, relief because i wasn’t a depraved degenerate! but it was bitter and short-lived as it was quickly consumed by feelings that my people had been absorbing and holding for me for so long. They unleashed a torrent that swept me into the cesspool that i swam in for the next decade or so.
But while i was soaking, wallowing and marinating, i was able to identify a lot of the crap that was floating around in there with me.
Metaphors and poetic imagery aside now – i went to science for help. I’d left religion behind some time before, and any belief in the supernatural soon after. I knew that scientific study had found some answers about the brain, and specifically how memory works, so that’s where i started.
I read scientific, peer-reviewed articles on mental illness and how my particular set of challenges affects my brain functions. I learned what skepticism is, and have tried to be a good skeptic ever since. I try to think critically and rationally. I learned about memories and the effects things like trauma, drugs, and time can have on them.
I learned to look for corroborating evidence; i asked family wherever it was possible and safe for me to do so.
My yardstick became a phrase made popular by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
I let go of the need to be right, the fear of being wrong, the idea that i needed to justify my life to anyone, and instead focused only on what i could reasonably believe to be true.
My dreams were finally able to offer some help. They come, regularly, in their highly stylised, easily categorised ways; full of recognisable imagery and well-used motifs. The ones i can affect or alter, are of my own imagining. The ones that hold me in their bloody grip and i can only rarely escape through the sheer horror/terror of them, or my own cries and screams waking me… Well, those are memories. Even those though, can be suspect. Yet still, i can suss out some truth. Some of them have what i thought at first to be a dreamlike quality to them: blurry, melting colours, strange shapes, unnatural creatures, unlikely behaviours and the like. But i know i was often made docile or malleable with the use of drugs, so even those become a confirmation of a kind.
And some of that truly fantastical stuff that i shared with my husband and a few trusted friends? Some of it almost certainly never happened, and some of it may very well have, and although i might like to know for sure, i do not need to.
Because this: Even if i’d never had any realisations, never got my diagnoses, never figured out a damn thing, even if i’d just kept truckin’ along with what i’d been present in the face for, even if all i had was my own flawed recollections from about 4yrs old and upward…
IT WAS AWFUL AND IT’S ENOUGH.
I’m the kind of person that is curious and wants to learn about stuff and wants to know things. The more emotional garbage i toss out, the more organised i become mentally, the more functional i am on a day-to-day basis, the more i am freed up to learn and to know more stuff.
I want to believe true things and be a good human.
I am muddling my way along to that end.
Love and Peace,
*I do use the terms “MPD” and “DID” in my tags, so those interested and others of like mind may find me.