DID: Chronic Illness and Envy

A few days ago I told my partner I envy people who can live their lives without DID.

He asked how envy made my life better, and I said, ‘It doesn’t. That’s the point.”

No one wants to admit to feeling envy, yet learning to manage envy is crucial to successfully managing a chronic illness.

These days I struggle with an old demon: raised in a culture of disdain for intelligence, intelligent little boys were beaten for ‘showing off’.

The beatings were especially brutal when they came from my Mother.

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding attention and playing second fiddle.

I’m not afraid of succeeding, I’m afraid to be seen succeeding.

I’m most vulnerable to feelings of envy when I’m struggling.

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.  Susan Sontag  1978

I’ve always had Dissociative Identity Disorder but I have not always been sick with it.

Prior to my diagnosis in 2009, I had a career, interesting friends, and an active life

One day I woke up and I was permanently too sick to go to work.

I told myself I hated the job, I told myself I’d find another job, I told myself I’d eventually get better, I told myself I brought it on myself, I did not have DID, I was burnt out and needed a rest.

Ten years later, it’s obvious that I’m not going to get well enough to work and I’m getting old, as in elderly.

The difference between fifty-seven and sixty-seven is like the difference between five and fifteen in reverse.

Whose body is this? Whose aches are these?

The problem is acceptance; I know I’m ill and getting old, but I still live in emotional denial.

I still expect myself to be healthy.

Knowing is not accepting and this is at the core of my envy and sense of frustration.

Accepting Envy

Envy is about someone getting ahead of you, someone doing better, someone possessing qualities that you wish you had. You think you are losing the race. You are falling behind. And you are feeling sad, angry, resentful, anxious and you just can’t accept it.  Psychology Today

It’s easier to be angry, or sad, to smother envy with somatic symptoms or to project it onto others.

We don’t want to admit to envy. We see it as a petty, selfish, sour-grapes emotion. So we hide it, we harbor it; we disguise it with claims of unfairness or with character assassination. And we may avoid the people about whom we feel envious. You might think, “I don’t want to be around him because it reminds me that they are doing better than I am doing.” Psychology Today

Finally, who wants to admit to wishing ill on the healthy?

Defusing envy is not as simple as not feeling it

Not letting yourself feel or validate envy makes it more toxic; repressed emotions express themselves in passive aggressive ways such as criticizing others, hostile and cynical comments, shaming and chronically feeling unappreciated.

The first step in defusing envy is acknowledging that it really does suck to be sick: life is already hard, and on top of it, you have a painful illness that saps your strength.

It really does suck to have an illness that interferes with your talents and goals.

The illness ends when you die; it’s a fact you have to accept.

In 2009, I could write a six-hour training presentation in less than a week while working full time.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I could walk for miles without panic attacks.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I thought I would be the clinical director of the agency I worked for by 2019.

That’s gone.

In 2009, I was still a young man.

Today I am old.

Acceptance is a daily practice.

Just for today, I can accept my life as it is, and I will let myself feel joy when others succeed.

Just for today, I can focus on my talents and take pleasure in my substantial accomplishments.

Just for today, I can forgive myself for being human and respect myself for having the courage to discuss my envy.

When are you most vulnerable to envy and how do you cope with it?

Rob Goldstein 2019

 

DID: The ACE Study

A new and profoundly important paradigm for understanding overwhelming emotional pain has emerged over the last few years, with the potential to change the way we conceptualize human suffering across the whole spectrum of mental health difficulties. It is an evidence-based synthesis of findings from trauma studies, attachment theory and neuroscience, which offers new hope for recovery. It also presents a powerful challenge to the biomedical model of psychiatry in that it is based on scientific evidence that substantiates and attests to what many individuals with first-hand experience of mental health problems have always known — that the bad things that happen to you can drive you mad.

A New Paradigm for Understanding Severe Mental Distress

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study revolutionizes the way we think about the body and mind.

The ACE Study settles the question of whether we are shaped by genetics or the environment: we are shaped by both.  Nature Versus Nurture: Where We Are in 2017

The ACE study proves that child abuse causes enduring neurological damage that can affect a person’s health and quality of life throughout the lifespan.

The body of a frightened child floods with hormones and prepares to fight, run, or die.

In less than an instant, the amygdala sends an alarm to the hippocampus, which tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline.

Adrenaline increases heart rate and breathing, oxygen goes to the muscles and brain, which increases hearing and sharpens eyesight.

Adrenaline wears off and cortisol takes over; cortisol is a longer acting stress hormone designed keep the body alert.

Illustration from Harvard Medical School
Understanding The Stress Response, Harvard Medical School

If a child fears for his life, he may freeze and go numb.

For a prey animal in the wild, numbing is a blessing.

For abuse survivors, it means gaps in memory

During the fight, flight or freeze response the brain inhibits the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for retrieving memories. 

The memory is there but the brain can’t retrieve it.

A chronically abused child lives in fear which damages the structure and
functioning of a the brain. Harvard University

The toll of chronic fear on physical health includes:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders

The toll of chronic fear on emotional health includes

The Pyramid of effects of abuse on the lifecycle
Abuse Affects the Life-cycle

It takes nine months for the fetus to become a baby that can survive beyond
the womb.

Between birth and the age of two, we have no words; for the first ten years of our  lives, we are helplessly dependent on our parents and communities for our physical and psychological well being.

Child abuse is a betrayal of unconditional trust.

You don’t just ‘get over it’.

People with dissociative disorders report the highest occurrence of abuse and childhood neglect among all psychiatric disorders. This suggests dissociation is the ultimate reaction to significant trauma. Links between Trauma, PTSD, and Dissociative Disorders

A 2018 review found changes in the structure of the brain in people with DID. These changes are complex and  include decreased limbic activity, increased frontal lobe activity, and changes in communication between these two regions.

An illustration depicting a little boy glaring at his drunken mother, passed out on the floor
Child Abuse Lasts a Lifetime

DID is something done to you, like the rapes and daily beatings.

One must accept what happened and make peace with it.

Acceptance means seeing what might have been and grieving the loss.

Acceptance means letting go of the idea that I brought it on myself, that I am shameful and not good enough, and it means not letting the dismissive arrogance I sometimes encounter gnaw at my soul.

Acceptance means holding abusers accountable for the messes they make.

Acceptance means believing the abuse will end.

I am not completely there.

How do I accept the evil of child abuse when the abuse never ends?

For now, broken but better is the best I can do.

DID: When Everything is a Trigger

Get Your ACE Score

(C)Rob Goldstein 2019

‘Child Abuse Lasts Forever” (C) Rob Goldstein 2019

All other graphics were found online and are used here for educational purposes.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Positives and Negatives

People have described me as flaky, high maintenance, difficult, hysterical, confusing, compulsive, and dishonest.

That last one, dishonest, is a common reaction to people with DID.

If I wanted to fake an illness I’d choose something people would believe

People tend to go with what makes the most sense based on what they know.

Most people know nothing about the mind, much less states of minds.

The other wordson that list are alternate descriptions of the symptoms of DID.

Gaps in memory look flaky, but they’re more than forgetting. These gaps
are the same as not knowing.

High maintenance means I require more medical supports and more patience from friends and family.

Panic attacks look like hysteria.

Personality switches are confusing because my alternates have different interests.

However, the words people use aren’t all negative.

People also describe me as, loving, intelligent, empathetic, compassionate, loyal, strong, and honest.

That last, honest, means I say what I think is true based on what I know or think I know.

The goals of treatment for dissociative identity disorder

My ultimate goal in life is to be a good person; it’s an ongoing project and a choice I have to make every day.

What are the words people use to describe you?

Rob Goldstein 2019

This is a companion to a previous post; ‘A Lifetime’

Mental Health: When the Narcissist is Normalized

In this post I use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ because my subjective experience is that of multiple separate people.

The children of pathological narcissists must blind themselves to behaviors that healthy people consider unspeakable.

Food deprivation, the killing of pets, theft, forced sex, gaslighting and other forms of psychological abuse and the threat of psychological annihilation.

The child of a narcissist must have no dreams of his own, and no vision of life without the clinging demands of a parent or parent surrogate who is essentially a two-year old without mercy.

My Mother despised my intelligence and did everything in her power to kill it.

I normalized her contempt and used Dissociative Identity Disorder to save my mind.

My talents became a boy named Peter who only emerged when Mother was gone, or when he was with his Grandmother with whom he felt safe.

A male who must contend with a female pathological narcissist is at a disadvantage in this culture because the assumption is that the male always has power.

This assumption doubles the power of a female narcissist.

My Mother used her advantage as a ‘helpless woman’ to destroy my Father, who ultimately lay down and died.

My Mother’s threat to me was if I wasn’t ‘careful’ I would end up like
my Father.

VR photograph of two male avatars, one who stands in front of a mirror and the other who is emerging from it
People Like Us

We’re still blind to most narcissists but we are now alert to certain clues.

A narcissist is usually charismatic, charming, flattering and warm.

My Mother was a waitress at a greasy spoon.

When she worked she was on stage.

Everyone loved her.

A narcissist looks vulnerable and reserves for herself the right to pass judgment on others. This is not the same as learning another person’s strengths and weaknesses.

The people who loved my Mother were dismissed as undeserving trash.

The suggestion that she might be one of them was the same as asking
for a beating.

A narcissist traffics in envy and in her mind everyone wants what she has.

If the meaning of a word doesn’t suit her she changes the definition.

Vicious beatings are acts of love.

Letting guys rape me is getting me ‘straightened out’.

A narcissist never gets the attention she thinks she deserves.

My Mother often provoked my Father to violence.

One night he loaded us into the car and drove to Reynolds Ave, North Charleston, SC.

Reynold’s Avenue was where the sailors in Charleston went to play.

My Father got out of the car.

I saw my Mother through the open door of a bar.

She was sitting on some guys lap.

My Father dragged her out of the bar by the hair and beat her in the street.

My memory goes blank after this.

The point is that his reaction to her behavior was an excuse for her to call her Mother and beg to come home to New York.

Her family pulled together the money to set us up in an apartment in Queens.

My Mother took us back to Charleston after three months.

A narcissist takes without giving back.

Whatever you give is simply her due.

The narcissist is a rhinestone among rhinestones; a glittering fake.

Today I am a diamond among diamonds, some big and some small.

I still don’t know my worth, but I know I’m real —

— and I’m very glad to be here.

Rob Goldstein 2015-2019