The Elephant

WARNING: This contains some specific references to childhood sexual abuse and integration with regards to DID/MPD. Consider speaking with your p-doc or mental health go-to before proceeding. Take good care.

**********

I’ve been ruminating over what’s happening to me through this recent therapy.
I mean, of course i have – duh. What else does one do when one is getting their head shrunk?
I’m navel-gazing.

I’ve been in the hospital twice since getting back into therapy this last fall. Nothing as glamourous as being placed in a soft room wearing a sweater with extra long sleeves that tie up in the back.
Just detox.
Not at all pretty, with no romantic wash of the tortured poet.
Just a woman whose demons are so terrifying and whose memories so fantastically ugly that i’ve been hiding in the oblivion of alcohol.

Alcohol and drugs were used to keep me compliant as a child.
I won’t go into lurid detail, but
— Here, drink this —
** SMILE **

As an adult i didn’t have much use for it.
I mean, i could party, but i didn’t much care for the blotto, head-hanging-over-the-toilet, devastating hangover the next day, sort of drinking i saw in others.
I was the one who held your hair out of your face.
I was the one who made sure you got home.

Then came my devolution.
A sweet social worker in service to a crazy pastor at the cuckoo church i was attending was finally able to convince me of my multiplicity.
I fell in love with and married a beautiful atheist.
I freaked right the fuck out and promptly gained over 200lbs.
I had weight loss surgery and lost it all plus more.

And then i had my first bipolar mania, and i discovered booze.
Food and fat had been my medication and my protection, keeping the pain and the fear and the people who live with me in my brain at bay.
When that fell away, i felt completely exposed and vulnerable – but of course i lacked that insight at the time. All i knew was everyone thought i was beautiful and sexy and wanted to be close to me and give me things.
Mostly attention.
Sexual attention.

I was easily lured into working in the entertainment industry. I’d had some experience as a child and enjoyed some success. My mother’s abuse and neglect of me, coupled with her own dysfunction and envy/jealousy, made certain i never got very far with it. I’d get involved in something, get noticed, get offered opportunities, and she’d either put the kibosh on them straight away, or we’d be moving soon to escape creditors/social workers anyway.

But the problem was i wasn’t a child anymore, and my system hadn’t been more than minimally active for a long, long time.

I was quite unprepared to be struck with crippling stage fright. My job came to the rescue because it revolved around making sure people spent money on –yep, you guessed it– alcohol.
Guess what made my stage fright disappear?
Guess what made all the sexual attention i got tolerable, even enjoyable?
Guess what took away the fear of being exposed and vulnerable because i no longer took up as much space?

The booze and the mania swept me along for years. I practically abandoned my children and nearly destroyed my marriage. In a brief moment of clarity (sometimes referred to as a DUI), i realised i needed to get away from the place i lived and the industry i worked in.
The geographical change wasn’t the cure, but it made the disease more easily treatable.
This was the place where i finally found a mental health professional i could trust; i could work with her and figure my shit out and get my feet planted firmly on the ground and begin my slow, dogged plodding toward a decent level of function and some semblance of normalcy.

I got to a place where my body, my marriage, my children, and my home, were all in a manageable, reasonably healthy place. I was even handling my system. I was in the face most of the time. There was a bit of sliding around, but not much switching. I’m highly dissociative (naturally, heh), so i was always coping with that as best i could, but there was very little chaos.
Except for relationships outside my husband and children.

While learning to live as a multiple, i either lost or walked away from every friendship i had, and became completely estranged from any family.
Don’t misunderstand – that is not a bad thing. My life is better for it, but i did want some new friends.
The difficulty was i couldn’t do it.
I had absolutely zero experience with making friends. In the past, i’d just fallen into them, or the other person had pursued the friendship and i’d just gone along with it.
I barely knew who i was, let alone how to be myself and make a friend.

It was then i discovered yet another serious mental/emotional problem of mine – social anxiety.
I HAZ IT.
If i’m the engine of my train, i’m pulling plenty of cars, y’all. I carry passenger cars with a profusion of riders, but i’ve also got more than a few hoppers full of a combustible black rock called ANXIETY. It’s fueled nearly every social interaction i’ve ever had.
I’ve always found it difficult to people, but being a multiple at least made it less obvious to me. Being dissociative tamped down the nervousness and dampened the awkwardness.

And being morbidly obese gave me a doctor’s note excusing me from gym class, indefinitely.

When i found myself out and about in the world again, not just without the body armour of fat, but armed with the knowledge that i was my own army…
I was boots on the ground with no lieutenant and no orders.

Once again, alcohol made everything easier.
HA.
Until, of course, it didn’t.
I found a lot of drinking buddies, but no one knew me, and i didn’t know them. That’s certainly not their fault – all the booze did for me was make it easier to hide myself and therefore less scary to be around people. It gave me the illusion of friends.

Speaking frankly (why should i stop now, and also, my name is Shirley), i know folks who navigate that lifestyle well. They meet at the bar for a few drinks after work, sometimes they get loaded on the weekend, they have friends over for supper and they crack open a few beers or uncork some wine… They do these things with their genuine friends who truly know them and their relationships are strong and do not revolve around drinking.

I couldn’t manage my intense fear and crippling social anxiety without it – so i pulled away from everyone and hermitted in my Little Crooked House for years.
Not to hide. Not to avoid.
To do the work required to learn who i am and how to live as functionally as possible as more than one person occupying the same body. To hang out with and get to know my precious Bits N’ Pieces.
To know myself, so that when i was ready to return to real life social interactions, i would be able to stay present, in the face, in my body, and engage with people.
And who knows, maybe make a friend or 2.

I discovered i could socialise without drinking with no problem.
It was a transformative and cathartic experience.
I pursued a friendship with someone who is now my best friend.

So why have i needed hospital help to detox, twice in the last few months?

My childhood experiences taught me that using alcohol made scary situations not-scary.
This new round of therapy i’m in is all about feeling all the things that my abusers gave me alcohol and drugs to not feel.
The fear, the pain, the hopelessness, and awful, terrible aloneness that they visited upon me – over and over and over again, for years and years and years.

So now, while grownup me no longer needs or even wants the crutch of being chemically numbed, there are little scraps and wisps and snippets of lovely little creatures inside me, for whom that is all they know.

On the way to every appointment with my therapist, my throat starts to ache, i feel like i need to puke, to defecate, my genitals burn.
I sit in a chair in her office with my legs tucked up underneath me and a pillow clutched tightly against me, covering my girl parts – so i won’t run. So i can sit there with her and ride out the pain and the abject terror.

So that i might be more than just in control of the way my brain works.
So that i might be more than just the Captain of this ship of fools.
So that i might be more than just able to function in the world, on the world’s terms.

So that i might be 1 engine
1 retired soldier, a celebrated veteran of a war long over
1 beautiful tapestry with all the threads intricately and astoundingly woven together
1 song, with a thousand voices in perfect unison
Kintsugi
Not just to navigate the world, but to be a living, breathing, integral part of the world.

It’s excruciating work for me, let alone for children. These programmed, invaluable wee ones want their medication. Numbness. Oblivion.
And i have been overwhelmed and exhausted by this process and unable, and yes, often unwilling, to resist their demands.

Today i am detoxed and sober* and renewed.
Sometimes it takes me a long time to learn something, but by sticking with this process i believe i have arrived at a place of relatively calm acceptance of what i’m currently doing and what is coming.
I have gained purchase and am slowly inching towards my centre.

This is the unvarnished truth of it.
It’s enough for me. In fact, i don’t want it any other way, anymore.

Love and Peace Always,
~H~

*Respectfully, i’d ask that there be no 12-step commentary, plzkthx.

Slow Trees and Sweet Fruit

Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.
~Molière

To be committed this year to writing through the bad, means that i must write today.
Because yesterday was bad.

I’m not sleeping well. I haven’t in months, but it’s taken a steep downturn these last few weeks. I don’t think i’m getting enough restorative sleep. I sleep without dreams for the first 2 or 3hrs, but then a dream will wake me, and after that i’m awake every half hour or so for the rest of the night. If i have a nightmare, i usually have to get up and write a bit about it before i can get back to sleep. In the morning i can usually catch another hour or 2 unbroken, but it’s not enough, and i’m not sure i’m hitting D-level sleep.

I’ve struggled with sleep issues since childhood:
It started with night terrors, which eventually got so bad my mother actually sought treatment for me (unless i needed stitches, i was generally on my own). Learning lucid dreaming helped me drastically improve my sleep, which was particularly important as a child with epilepsy.
Abuse would sometimes come to visit me in my room at night, so i’ve spent a lifetime as a light sleeper.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in ’95. It’s known to those who’ve heard of it as chronic, deep muscle pain, and it sure is, but what most who don’t suffer don’t know, is that it’s also characterised by an inability to reach the restorative level of sleep that follows REM.
Although i practised good sleep hygiene in my 30s, manic bipolar episodes regularly threw me waaaay out of whack, and i began using alcohol as a way to get some sleep. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it seemed to be a favourite way of my system to cope, too. Imagine that, heh. I’m sure you can imagine the price i paid for it, too. The problem wasn’t so much that, for me it was the toll it took on my husband and children.

The cost is simply too high.

These last few years have consisted of learning how to live with how my brain works, and building quality of life. I settled in to checking in with my brain at the start of the day, tailoring my activities to optimise function, monitoring my inside chatter and maintaining connection with my Bits N’ Pieces, and ending with a little roundtable at the edge of my bed each night. This was designed to set me up for success in the morning, and also to quiet my mind as much as possible, in order to achieve restful sleep.

I’ve plugged away rather successfully at this for some time now, i think. I set a very small goal, and i work slowly and methodically to reach it. Once i do, i practise it until it becomes an unconscious part of my daily routine, and then i set to adding in another little thing. I tweak things a bit here and there to improve my efficiency, and i’ve needed the odd course correction, but i haven’t gone too far astray. In fact, i did so well for so long a time that i felt like i needed to set bigger goals; things like working parttime, volunteering, and more peopling – including building friendships.

You may gasp now. Heh.
You may also understand how i found myself back in therapy, tits deep, and not sleeping for shit.

Looking back at the last year, at first i thought i’d been going too fast. Now, i think that may have played a part, but it’s not the crux of it. There’s a tinge of fear too, the waiting for the other shoe to drop, but that was my childhood. Once i got away from my parents, my physical and mental well-being were no longer in serious jeopardy. After that, when a bad thing would happen it could be traced back to some genuine responsibility on my part, usually accompanied by some unconscious actions/reactions and choices i’d made due to my upbringing.
It might also be something utterly out of my control.

But that’s not this. I think this is homeostasis.
I’m establishing a baseline. It’s a minimum level of quality and safety that i must have in order to live the life of my choosing. I’ve never had this before. I’ve spent most of my life just surviving, much more time than was necessary. I’m not blaming myself – it was all i knew, and like Maya Angelou said, when i knew better, i did better. And i’ve done better. So much better, in fact, that some parts of me are resting now. I think the nightlights inside my brain that various parts of me keep on for fear, my dear, hypervigilant little soldiers, are blinking off because they can finally rest. They’re leaving their posts to go home for a rest, and i think they may sleep for a very long time.

But hey, just because going too fast wasn’t what got me here — fucked up and freaking out — that doesn’t mean that slowing down isn’t part of the solution. I think it is. When i get upset and anxious i’ve learned that dialing it back a bit can free up some much needed energy to deal with the stress. And Boy Howdy! has there been stress.
I’ll tell you about yesterday, tomorrow.

See You Then,
~H~

The Push and the Pull

Get away from her, you bitch!
~Ripley, Aliens (1986)

I saw my therapist today, and it was both easier and harder than the last time. It was more uncomfortable, and also less. I hated going and i was anxious, but i was glad to be there, and relieved to be doing the work. I go about every 2wks. I’d like to go weekly, but man, that ain’t cheap, so i’ll take what i can get. About 3 days before my next appointment, feelings are bubbling up, percolating. I’m anticipating and fretting and winding up. I put it somewhere in the background, but not too far back. I need to be tuned in to what’s going on, but i keep it far enough away that it won’t keep me from seeing her. The day before can be dicey – my skin is thin and my restraint, low. The drive in is both a buildup of emotional tension and a hopeful sort of intellectual relaxation.

Today is the first day since i resumed therapy that she hasn’t asked me why i think i’m there. Last week i commented on it as i answered her -again- and added that i’d guessed her doing so indicated that i wasn’t getting it. I can’t remember what followed after her acknowledgment that it was so. She asked me if i’d done the homework she gave me last week, and i couldn’t remember what that was.

When i get to her office, the disparity, the ambiguity, the ambivalence, it’s all intensifying. When i see her, i’m standing on the 3m dive tower, and she’s the lifeguard at poolside telling me i can jump. I hold my breath and step off, landing in the rocking chair (is it a rocking chair?) as she closes the door. I’m holding my collective brain-breath as i’m putting my knapsack and my coffee down, my whole body is thrumming, fuzzy, like a heavy bass line played through shitty speakers.
She always asks me how i’m doing and i never know. I say “okay” without conviction, or “meh”, or i shrug, or just say “i’m here”. I now how to look inward and check in with my feelings, and i’m a decent communicator, but i’m suddenly unable to come up with anything that seems satisfactory. Nothing fits, or rather, nothing fits everyone, and i have a lot of Bits N’ Pieces paying attention.

Some of them are only barely there; they’re groggy, drugged, sleepy, and when they turn their attention her way, parts of my body feel the same. Some areas are numb, some are warm and buzzy-fuzzy, but it’s not in a pleasant way. It’s like bees all brushing up against each other, and i don’t like it and i’m afraid.
Others are laser-focused on her, but from a minimum safe distance. They are afraid, and angry too. They are Ripley, ready to nuke her from orbit.

Don’t misunderstand me – it’s just a literary device for comparison, delivered via an injection of humour, which is always appropriate in my world. I am not, nor is any part of me, a physical danger to my therapist.
But i can feel them glowering at her from their hiding spots. When the people who made you rape and beat you, it wrecks you in catastrophic ways. With few exceptions, they are not well-developed or sophisticated. Some are moments in time stuck in my brain, playing over and over. Some are emotions that i could neither bear nor process. Some are a bit more, like flat characters – they aren’t intricate or well fleshed out, and they don’t change or grow. Like the good little girl in the frilly dress that always does as she’s told,  or the troubled teenager that hides in their room, listening to dark music and writing darker poetry. No matter who they are, how tangibly they exist, or what affect they have on me, those who hide and glower trust no one outside of my brain. Hell, they barely trust me, and i’ve been working hard at it for over a decade.

She checks in and asks how/what i’m feeling every few minutes. I sit there, combing through all the words, trying to say any of them, say one of them. Keep it simple: sad, mad, bad, good, scared… But the answer is YES and so, which one? I try to say just that, what i’ve just written here, and i can’t. I’m bombarded with opinions/feelings on what words to say, or if i should say any. I stumble and sputter and end up not saying much of anything. This is not like me. I regularly deal with explosions of emotion and/or chatter from my people. Even those who know me well often don’t know when it’s happening.

Before i knew i was a multiple, and long before i’d accepted it, i would have these explosions in my head and they’d cause me to act out. There were times i’d disappear. My mother mostly didn’t notice, but other people did. I got separated from my aunt in a Sears department store once, when a man approached me. I remember running outside and then walking around the neighbourhood for hours. I don’t know how i got home, but i do recall that it was late in the day, and the front room was filled with people and murmuring voices when i returned (was returned?) to Auntie’s house. I was 5 or 6. A year or less later i remember punching the glass of a framed print of my mother’s. Big red flowers with spiderweb cracks and my own fresh paint. I can see myself now, sleepwalking it into my bedroom and hiding it under the bed. She beat me when she found it. Then there was the time i put the kitten in the fridge. I was trying to hide her from a bad man who was coming and i knew he’d hurt my kittens. I can’t remember where i stashed the one, but i found the other in the fridge, mewling and covered in spilt Tang.

Stressor — brain overload — hide
By the time i was 8 or 9, i’d developed this way to cope, and before i hit junior high, i’d stopped breaking stuff and hurting myself.
I still went for long walks, though. Always with the walking. The internal imperative to GO HOME, but it was never the place i lived.
As an adult, even that stopped and was replaced with other things: food, booze, sex.
When i finally, officially met my internal roommates, i hit the road again with a goddamn vengeance.

She’s asking me how i’m feeling, and i don’t fucking know (ALL the feels! NOTHING!) and i can’t fucking say (too many WORDS!!) and i WANT.
the FUCK.
OUT!!

She sees and knows my head is exploding.
She draws my attention to my twitching feet, or my bouncing knees, or my arms crossed over parts of my body, or hands balled into fists, or switching tics. (If i can’t/won’t leave physically, you’d best believe i’m going to get out/away from this, regardless.)
She asks me what i’m feeling ( *eyeroll* FUUUUCK!)
-no-
Not an emotion – what physical sensations am i currently experiencing?
-oh-
– in my feet (walk! get away)
– in my arms (cover up! hide)
– in my fists (punch! protect)
– in my head/face (cantgetawayhideprotect SWITCH!)

So she says, Let’s give your body what it’s asking for, and she brings my attention to that part of my body and gives me something physical to do with it: movement of some kind, like stretching, or an object to use, like a pillow or blanket.
Then she asks, How does that part feel now? and i can get out a word or 2 like, “good”, “okay”, “better”.

When i was seeing her regularly before, one of my favourite things was that she almost never spoke to my system, even indirectly. In my long, storied history with mental health professionals, they all started out with having me talk about my childhood, which always led to what i saw as playing with my brain. When one of them would suspect i was a multiple, they would ask for their names and then ask to speak to someone. They looked at me like a cartoon mouse staring at a piece of cheese.

I know now she let me leave therapy, knowing there was more work left to do.
I wonder if she thought i’d be back.

I’ve come back to her, anxious and losing control because there are some voices that i haven’t heard for a while. My system and i all thought they were dead, and now we’re afraid that is to be the fate of them all. They don’t want to die, and i can’t imagine how life would or even could be, without them.
They saved my life, and helped me navigate being alive. Is getting better killing them?
Does being well have to mean being integrated?

She says: I want all your people in there to know that i have no interest in hurting anyone, or making anyone go away. I want them to know that it is impossible for them to die, or otherwise disappear.
She’s talking to them like a mother would talk to the room where she knows her child is hiding. Like, “I wonder where H could be? I hope she comes to the kitchen soon, because i’m making her favourite – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”

Before, they were watching her, watching how she treated me and watching my reaction. Now, some have moved beyond observation and are actively listening to what she’s saying. Some have had to move to be within earshot.

She asks me how i’m feeling, and i cannot speak.
But i can cry.

The push and the pull has been my whole life. Feeling one way but also it’s opposite. Knowing what is and yet that it is not. Not believing what i know to be true. Trying to keep back the things that would consume me. The encroachment of age and the return to innocence. Walking into the light, towards the black promise of entropy. Living on water and dust.
There is no dark or light side, only the force.
There is neither devil on my shoulder, nor angel – it’s just me.

Anyway, i’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.

Image shown: The Defiance of Entropy, Andrew Netherwood

Homeostasis

ho·me·o·sta·sis
/ˌhōmēəˈstāsəs/
noun
  1. the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

This has been a good year; my most functional to date. I stopped hermitting, made a couple of friends, and reconnected with some old ones. It’s the year that i added exercise to all my lifestyle changes regarding food and eating, and all the work finally started paying off with some significant weight loss. I took up some parttime work, and i began volunteering my time in a couple of areas that matter to me.
By the time summer rolled around, i’d hit my stride and was feeling successful, and also like it was just the beginning.

Fall brought a change in the weather, dead leaves picked up and strewn about by chill winds, sucking the warmth from the ground, bringing the kind of silence that fills your ears and echoes in the stillness.
It’s analogous to what was happening in my brain; old voices whispered into an unsettling quiet, invading the hush. I shushed but they persisted, until i was so full of sound my body couldn’t contain it and it spilled out of me like Shhhhhhhh, bleeding off the pressure like a tire with too much air.

Dreams, too many, then nightmares and sleeplessness, and then the old urge to run. To get away, to go home, and for the first time in a very long time, wondering if it might be better to just stop. I didn’t know why it had gotten quiet, but i did know that it had caused fear and panic inside me. I went looking for answers in the dark corners of myself, but i only found emptiness, a yawning blackness where something once had been. The voices following after, soughing through my head like wind through trees.

No sleep, no peace, the anxious murmurs, old bones rustling like ancient scrolls. I have trouble hearing my therapist over the susurration – she repeats everything once, twice. Again please. Sorry.
She doesn’t say “integration”, she says “homeostasis”.

My switching tics return.
I stop exercising because i keep trying to “go home”.
I pull away from people, from work, from helping.
I don’t fit in my body correctly.
I break my ankle.

Maybe it seems like my year started out good, got great, and then got fucked.
Kinda accurate.
Maybe it looks like i started out walking, broke into a run, then tripped on a stone in the road and went sprawling.
I mean, that does look like road rash.

All those years spent fighting the urge my parents programmed into me to go home. I think in resisting it i found true direction. My Fortress of Solitude. My true north.
Homeostasis. HOME.

This has been a good year.

**********

I have some resolutions. I have some little goals and some bigger ones. I intend to continue on as i have been, one foot in front of the other, pushing doggedly forward, adding one kilometre onto the next, putting distance between myself and the place i was told to go, and instead heading towards the place i want to be.

My resolutions this year are less nebulous, more distinct and definitive.
They are little things like building my wardrobe to better reflect my own personal style, and having exercise be an integral part of my personal hygiene, like showering and brushing my teeth.
They are bigger things too, like blogging and keeping in touch with family and friends. Deepening my relationships; letting worthy people in a bit more.
Returning to helping and growing its scope.
Getting my house shipshape, top to bottom. Declutter. Organise. Move Kiddo downstairs and finally turn his room into my makeup/change room, with a day bed and a light-up mirror.
Keep moving our home toward healthier eating.
Read more fiction, and maybe even write some?
Blog more than last year, maybe even through the tough bits this time?

It’s 5:37am on January 1st, and i was woken by a bad dream a couple of hours ago. I got up, got a cup of tea, recorded what i remembered of the dream, and then i brought up my blog and clicked that little rounded rectangle button that says WRITE, with a plus sign, and bashed out this wee thingy.

Not a bad start to the year.
Homeostasis right now looks like bed and hubby-shnuggles.

Love and Peace To You, and Happy New Year!
~H~

North

Once again, i think it’s important to start with a warning:

If you are currently in a place where you’re easily upset or triggered by content, this may be a piece you’d like to skip, either until you’re better able to process, or even altogether.

If you are a multiple, this piece contains discussion of integration. Take care of yourself and your system. Think about it before proceeding. Talk to your p-doc or whomever is your mental health professional go-to.

**********

I used to be scared of
Letting someone in
But it gets so lonely
Being on my own
No one to talk to
And no one to hold me
I’m not always strong
Oh, I need you here
Are you listening?
Hear me
I’m cryin’ out
I’m ready now
Turn my world upside down
Find me
I’m lost inside the crowd
It’s getting loud
I need you to see
I’m screaming for you to please
Hear me
~Kelly Clarkson, Hear Me

I don’t know how to start this part.

I know i’m not a writer – i’m a talker. I’m a sharer. I don’t have much to share, but i do have experiences and thoughts about them that i think might help others who struggle as i do, so i share words. The problem is, i have so much trouble being physically around people that some of the more important words that i want to share never come out of my mouth. So i’ve tapped away on the keyboard for years, trying to find a way to say the things i’ve always wanted to say, to say the things that so need saying.

At first trying to find the right way to say it all was like learning to draw blood. Finding a vein was difficult, and once found, it was frightening to make that first stick. What if i failed to hit it, or the needle went all the way through, or the vein dried up before i got enough blood?
Now, i’m practically a phlebotomist, but am i tapped out?

Okay, that’s a lot of directions to give you for my location when you can probably see me standing here across the street, but i’m anxious about this, and so i’m babbling.
You see? Not a writer, but i have found my voice, out here in the ether. Some of the people who know me in real life AND read my blog, have confirmed that this is how i talk. A soup of ramblings, 50 cent words interspersed with random slang from various cultures and fairly drowning in qualifiers, salted liberally with profanity. My talking style highlighted on the page by run-on sentences and bracketed asides. When it seems as if i’m done OH LOOKEE! more punctuation that is not a period. Yep.

In all the early movie depictions of multiplicity that i’ve seen, the characters aren’t considered fixed or well until they’re integrated. In other words, no more scattered bits, no alters, no splits. Not even a cohesive unit or a workable system (i don’t think that was even considered back then). Nope. Seamless and smooth and all in one piece. I only knew of one person who’d refused to integrate. I’d read her book and she was on a daytime talk show once, where it was clear she was still quite troubled, and the undertone of the show that i picked up (which may not have been there, admittedly), was one of pity and sadness that she was not whole.
(Note: I didn’t put quotation marks around certain words in this paragraph, as i thought it might be distracting, because there’d be a LOT.)

Once i finally had a therapist i could work with, i found out right away that integration was not an option for me. I wouldn’t even consider it. I’d been in mental crisis due to bipolar mania and the resultant onslaught of people in my brain all wanting to know and be known and freaking out at the same time, and although they were wreaking havoc and had been doing so for years, i’d developed strong feelings for them. I knew that i loved them, and was grateful to them, and that i owed them my life, many times over. Integration, to me, was murder. It was anathema, so much so that i could never quite recall the word. I always had to search outside myself for it, be it googling, or describing what i meant to the person i was talking to, and asking if they knew.

I know she talked to me about it, and i know i told her no fucking way, but i can’t recall how the conversation or conversations went, or when they occurred.
And i know that at some point i was done seeing her. Did i tell her? Did we have a session or more where we talked about it and had some sort of exit interview?

Zero. Fucking. Clue.

Though i moved on without her, and our times together became like the dreams-that-weren’t-dreams of my childhood, she taught me things about how the brain of a multiple works, and how i might better be in the world and navigate it in order to achieve a higher level of functionality, thereby cutting down on chaos and freeing me to get more of what i wanted out of life. I learned how to stay present, in the face, and as i enjoyed more success at living life on life’s terms, i gained more trust from my precious Bits N’ Pieces, and being in control of myself became less difficult. Don’t mistake me though, things were by no means easy. There was a great deal less crisis and chaos, but every time i was with anyone outside my family i’d quickly dissociate and lose control of switches and slides. I had to admit that social situations were a minefield for me, and the only way i found to handle it was to stop altogether and just stay cocooned in my Little Crooked House for a couple of years.
My system trusted me, but weren’t much closer to trusting anyone else.

I spent those years at home, learning and practising how to manage my brain. How to tune in to my system, to listen and to comprehend what they were saying. To meet their needs by meeting mine, and vice versa.
I hermitted at my own personal Fortress of Solitude, where we all took our turns being Jor-El answering Kal-El’s questions, imparting our personal histories, sharing the strange flavours of a culture of one or the occasional melange of 2 or more. And me, ever parsing over it all.
Our crystalline shards, some razor-sharp, jagged, dazzlingly beautiful. Stories told in whispers, puffs of icy wind, pain sung like silver bells, tinkling like falling ice. The words land and bite into my skin,  glittering emerald frostfire that illuminates our haunted faces, and we who are able, see.

Like young Clark Kent, now armed with knowledge, i begin the long walk home, and like him, i don’t have a clue where i’m going.

Keep On Keepin’ On

Once again, i think it’s important to start with a warning:

If you are currently in a place where you’re easily upset or triggered by content, this may be a piece you’d like to skip, either until you’re better able to process, or even altogether.

If you are a multiple, this piece contains the prelude to a discussion of integration. Take care of yourself and your system. Think about it before proceeding. Talk to your p-doc or whomever is your mental health professional go-to.

**********

It’s okay, you can take a condom
It’s okay, you can take a valtrex
And it’s okay, you can get an abortion
And then keep on keepin’ on
And then keep on keepin’ on
~ Vic Chesnutt, You Are Never Alone

I’ve written at length about my life experience with therapy, but a (semi) brief refresher course would be apropos.

I started therapy when i was around 6yrs old, when my mother sought treatment for my night terrors. After that, she began involving me in whatever new thing she was into, as she struggled with her own mental health. We chased a few pop psychology gurus including Werner Erhardt and EST, and Fritz Perls and Gestalt. She jumped on every bandwagon and read every book. If you are unfamiliar with my story, let me be clear that, although she had her own issues that needed addressing, i don’t believe that’s why she walked those paths and broke bread with those people.
I don’t think she ever put any serious work into becoming a better, healthier person. It is my opinion that these places were rich with easy targets for her to use, and the icing on the cake was that they also vastly increased her arsenal of weapons with which to manipulate people. And this is what i may have subconsciously took in – her absolute derision of anyone seeking healing or enlightenment through psychology. They were beneath her.

Then there was the indoctrination i’d received since birth that i’m never to talk about what happens in our home. Ever. And i was a good girl who did as she was told. Even when teachers or school psychologists, members of the church, friends of the family, or mandated social workers would occasionally smell something off and ask me questions varying from vague to pointed – i said nothing. Years later, when i was a new mother and sought out an old and much-loved caregiver for insight, she related a story of a night i was dropped off at her home for an overnight. I had obviously been seriously beaten, and when she asked me about it, all i would say is that my mother had told me not to speak about it.

At one point i was taken from her and put into foster care, which cemented my brainwashing. Every visit home she’d fill my head with how all the caregivers and professionals around us were trying to take me away from her, how they were telling lies about her and trying to keep us apart; how my foster parents were trying to adopt me and i’d never see her again. I was too young to know that she’d made me both her mother and her spouse years before, so she was triggering me to come home and take care of her.
I carried that distrust and suspicion with me until i was 21yrs old, when my mother abandoned me at a shelter after an attempted rape by a family member, and a tiny, First Nations social worker convinced me by just telling her own story that i was a victim of child abuse.

Once i knew the truth i was set on figuring my shit out, and i knew i’d need help to do it, but i could never find the right person. I could work with someone for a while, but they’d either tell me after a couple of visits that i was fine, they’d hit a wall they couldn’t get over, or they’d suggest i was a multiple and i wouldn’t go back. There was a wonderful social worker through my church who was finally able to get me to accept the diagnosis, but the kind of therapy that she offered was filtered through our religion and that was never going to help me.

Since i was 21, i’ve probably seen at least a dozen therapists, and that’s not counting psychologists or psychiatrists i’ve seen through my medical doctor or when i was either staying voluntarily in various hospital units (i call them The Bin, with zero affection) and mental hospitals, or being forcibly committed. I’ve done various group therapies offered through different counselling groups and tried a lot of 12step groups, and courses and workbooks under the care of trained facilitators galore…

How funny -and here i mean both peculiar and haha- that i should finally find the right person in a little sleepy town i’d gone to hide in, who agreed to see me at my husband’s desperate request, at a women’s shelter on short notice?
I don’t remember anything about meeting her, just going to the shelter and i think she was in an office down the stairs? I may have seen her a couple of times there, but she incredibly, graciously offered to come to my home for sessions, which was wonderful, because i was taking off down the road all the time at that point. Maybe i told her these things or maybe she ascertained my level of fuckedupness and stooped down low to meet me where i was at, either way, she started coming and i actually let her in.

She did (or rather didn’t do) a number of things other than that, that no other therapist had ever (not) done before*:

– she didn’t ask for my life story;
– she didn’t ask to talk to my system or even ask for their names;
– she respected my request for no spirituality and talked about things from a science or experience perspective only.

She would sit on the big leather couch by the front door, and i would sit on the love seat, on the side farthest from her. The other thing she didn’t do, not even once, was push. Not to talk about anything, not to do anything, not even to think about anything, that i didn’t want to. Not ever.
I think it was over a year, and maybe even 2, before she could sit beside me.
And sometimes, i would even look into her eyes.

We’ll never know for sure of course, and i know i’d have kept trying as long as i could have, but i was spiralling down hard and fast and she helped me save my life. I may not have got that done in time without her.

One more thing she never pushed on me, though we discussed it: integration.

Here we go.

*Sorry to grammar people for that one. It hurts my brain a little too, but that’s how it came out, and i try not to edit this stuff.

Photo credit: Melancholy, Louis Jean François Lagrenée (c. 1785)

Now

First, a reiteration of the most important bit from yesterday’s content warning:

If you are currently in a place where you’re easily upset or triggered by content, this may be a piece you’d like to skip, either until you’re better able to process, or even altogether.
If you are a multiple, this piece contains the prelude to a discussion of integration. Take care of yourself and your system. Think about it before proceeding. Talk to your p-doc or whomever is your mental health professional go-to.

**********

Yesterday, any way you made it was just fine
So you turned your days into night-time
Didn’t you know, you can’t make it without ever even trying? 
And something’s on your mind, isn’t it?
~ Karen Dalton, Something’s On Your Mind

After years of chaos and then the drudgery of therapy (it just is, for me), i felt freer and more happy than i had ever felt. I knew my system and how it worked, and they knew me and trusted me to be in charge and care for them. I organised things in my mind in a way that made sense to any part developed enough to be able to get there. I enjoyed a couple of years where, while there were still many difficulties, i was able to manage without the 3 big ones i’d worked hardest to avoid: police involvement, hospitalisation, and serious marital discord.

I turned my attention to my physical health then, as i live with some chronic conditions, and have struggled with weight and food since i was a child. I was morbidly obese in the early aughts, and had a gastric bypass which was very successful. Unfortunately, it also heralded my first severe mania. Medications, heavy drinking, along with lousy food choices and eating hygiene meant that around 1/4 of it came back on – when one starts out as big as i was, that is not insignificant. I spent the last 10yrs taking off and promptly putting back on, about 1/3 of that amount.

Over the years i did learn a lot about eating and food, and my relationship with them. I found a way for me to lose the weight i need to, and keep it off. I don’t talk numbers or details, because that can trigger obsession in me, but what i will share is that i stopped dieting, and made one small change to how, why, and what i ate at a time. So when i shifted my focus to my physical health, it was more about adding exercise in. Again, the details aren’t necessary, just know that my approach was the same as it had been to food; one small, manageable change at a time. I’m not looking for magic, or instant results. Slow, steady steps forward are what works best for me.

What happened was the same in my physical health as i had experienced with my mental health. It took time and patience and commitment, but small changes gradually built upon each other until the results were obvious and easy to demonstrate. I passed that 1/3 loss that i couldn’t seem to conquer before, and i was heading towards my goal, closer than i’d been in many years.
I added in more socialising.
And then i added in parttime work.
And then i began volunteering.

That was when my dreams got ugly.
That was when some voices stopped talking.
That is when i crashed.

I didn’t notice the missing voices, but some parts did, and there was panic. It flooded my body, feeling like it was filling in every space, like frost spreading on glass. Except from the neck up, which was suffused with hot blood, gushing in my ears, swelling my skin. I knew i was in trouble, but i couldn’t make out what was wrong. It was too loud, it was too many, and it was too much. I stopped sleeping. If i dropped off it was due to pure exhaustion, and then i’d only get a couple of hours before nightmares would set in, and i’d be forced to wake myself up.*

It took tragically little time for me to unravel. I stopped exercising, volunteering, working, socialising. I left the house as infrequently as possible, and i drank regularly, to quiet my brain and get some sleep (NOT RECOMMENDED, BTW). I started losing my control over the face. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and terrified – terrified of things going back to how they used to be.

Like finding myself walking towards the highway, trying to return “home”.

It started happening when i first became severely manic, and i would switch, hard and often. I kept wanting to go home, and hearing it in my brain. It felt like an imperative. Go home. Some younger bits crying for home, others saying more authoritatively.
GO HOME. GO HOME NOW.

During those difficult years of getting to know how i work and who else lives in my brain, i tried to go home countless times. I would leave my Little Crooked House and hitchhike into the city. Trying to get home. Revisiting old places and looking for people from my past. I would eventually find myself back in the face, usually in an untenable situation. I would get to a phone and call my husband. Sometimes it would be hours before he found me, as i’d be sliding all over the place. He also spent dozens upon dozens upon dozens of hours following me, trying to get me in the car, trying to keep me from hitting the highway in the first place. More than once i tried to jump out in traffic in the city. More than once i tried to walk in front of semis on the highway, parts of me holding my life hostage to try to get to some place i didn’t know. I did know what that word “home” meant to me as i looked back unblinking at my childhood. Pain. Fear. Alone. Anger and ugliness everywhere.
I tell you this because i started finding myself walking towards the city again.

I had learned to manage the walking by going for walks. Heh. Compromise and negotiation was and is key to managing my brain and the splitty pieces that live inside it with me. I love walking and i always have. So if someone inside wanted to go for a walk, i took them. When i set out to improve my fitness level, walking was the first thing i started doing regularly. My doggies were ecstatic and i truly enjoyed it. But walking turned dark when those voices did. I felt it in my feet, in my calves and my knees – this itch inside, a need to stretch, to go. To go home.

I’d find myself on the road, without the dogs, walking. I could feel it in my legs and hear it in my head that i was not going towards town, i was heading towards the city. I’d feel kind of floaty, like my head was a balloon, which means i’m sliding around, but not hard switching.

I was scared and i felt so defeated that, after all this work parts of me still wanted, and could still try to take me to this unknown and potentially harmful place.
I did the only thing i knew to do – i called my therapist and started seeing her again regularly.

Maybe another day you’ll want to feel another way, you can’t stop crying
You haven’t got a thing to say, you feel you want to run away
There’s no use trying, anyway
I’ve seen the writing on the wall
Who cannot maintain will always fall
Well, you know, you can’t make it without ever even trying

So next, let me tell you a little of my history with my therapist.

*See “lucid dreaming”.