Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Week in the Valley of Shadows

Repulsion and Trauma

First posted 2/24/2016-Revised October 2018

Decompensation: Psychology, a loss of ability to keep up normal psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions. Dictionary.com

One of my favorite literary descriptions of a psychiatric decompensation is in the 1933 short story, Miss Lonely Hearts by Nathanael West.

Miss Lonelyhearts is an advice columnist who slowly loses his mind from the suffering he reads. This passage is toward the close of the story:

“After a long night and morning, towards noon, Miss Lonelyhearts welcomed the arrival of fever. It promised heat and mentally unmotivated violence. The promise was soon fulfilled; the rock became a furnace.

He fastened his eyes on the Christ that hung on the wall opposite his bed.

As he stared at it, it became a bright fly, spinning with quick grace on a background of blood velvet sprinkled with tiny nerve stars.

Everything else in the room was dead–chairs, table, pencils, clothes, books. He thought of this black world of things as a fish. And he was right, for it suddenly rose to the bright bait on the wall. It rose with a splash of music and he saw its shining silver belly.

Christ is life and light.

“Christ! Christ!” This shout echoed through the innermost cells of his body.

He moved his head to a cooler spot on the pillow and the vein in his forehead became less swollen. He felt clean and fresh. His heart was a rose and in his skull another rose bloomed.

The room was full of grace. A sweet, clean grace, not washed clean, but clean as the inner sides of the inner petals of a newly forced rosebud.

Delight was also in the room. It was like a gentle wind, and his nerves rippled under it like small blue flowers in a pasture.

He was conscious of two rhythms that were slowly becoming one. When they became one, his identification with God was complete. His heart was the one heart, the heart of God. And his brain was likewise God’s.

God said, “Will you accept it, now?

And he replied, “I accept, I accept.”

He immediately began to plan a new life and his future conduct as Miss Lonelyhearts.

He submitted drafts of his column to God and God approved them. God approved his every thought.”

Miss Lonleyhearts by Nathanael West

My episodes of decomposition are less dramatic, but no less frightening.

It’s frightening to lose the ability to sleep and concentrate.

It’s frightening to lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

It’s frightening to wake-up tired and hopeless and thinking that it never gets better.

Decompensation is not necessarily a bad thing if it is part of the therapeutic process.

“…anxiety and panic symptoms are almost invariably “feeling flashbacks” triggered by a relatively benign event in the here-and-now, such as being alone in a room at twilight.” The Work of Stabilization In Trauma Treatment

The basic skills a trauma patient needs are these:

  • grounding and centering techniques
  • coping strategies for dealing with suicidal and self-abusive impulses
  • contracting for safety with themselves and others
  • anticipate stressful or triggering events
  • learn how to calm the body and mind
  • distinguish past from present reality and how to stay “in the present”

The Work of Stabilization In Trauma Treatment

If the trauma symptoms include dissociative alters the alters must know about and communicate with each other.

This is not easy and my recent attempts to communicate broke through memory barriers and lead to this most recent period of decomposition and regression.

Regression is an unconscious defensive process by which the patient reverts to a previous level of functioning, usually to a certain infantile or juvenile stage.”

One of the best portrayals of regressive decomposition is in the film Repulsion by Roman Polanski.

Catherine Deneuve portrays Carol, a sexually conflicted young Belgian woman.

Carol lives in London with her older sister. .

The film suggests that either Carol’s father or some other man sexually abused her as a child.

I first saw Repulsion when I was in my 20’s.

Watching it again this week during an episode of decompesation was a revelation.

Polanski shows us Carol’s anguish and her rapid decline with brilliant accuracy; when the Sister leaves for a week-long holiday we enter the territory of Carol’s mind.

“…the most common effect of sexual abuse is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms can extend far into adulthood and can include withdrawn behavior, reenactment of the traumatic event, avoidance of circumstances that remind one of the event, and physiological hyper-reactivity.” Psychology Today

We see these symptoms when Carol’s boyfriend tries to kiss her. She reacts with disgust, runs into her apartment in a panic and obsessively brushes her teeth.

Among the trauma symptoms depicted in Repulsion are the loss of time
which begins almost as soon as Carol is alone.

We see her increased sense of disconnection from her environment.

Later, as her paranoia and hyper-vigilance escalates Carol re-lives her assault.

By the end of the week Carol is lost to herself and the film closes with a snapshot of Carol as a child, gazing angrily at her Father.

Kim Morgan of the Huffington Post calls Repulsion one of the most frightening studies of madness ever filmed.

My emotions were everywhere this week.

My decompensation was not as dramatic as Carol’s; it certainly doesn’t
have the narrative edge.

It involved lost time and laying in bed watching Repulsion followed by
non-stop episodes MST3K.

Thank God for that show and for the part of me that comes out to watch it.

The most difficult thing about surviving is surviving.

If you have a counselor or psychotherapist let that person know what is happening if you think you entering a crisis.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Remind yourself that memories are just memories; it is more normal to remember a trauma than to forget it.

When you have a panic attack stop and pace your breathing.

If you start to relive the past remind yourself of the present.

When you can’t sleep don’t lie in bed thinking or worrying; get up
and enjoy something soothing or pleasant.

If you have difficulty concentrating, give yourself time to focus on what
you need to do.

People with PTSD and CPTSD also have depressive episodes.

If the acuity lasts for more than a few days seek help.

If you think you are a danger to yourself or others call 911 or go to an emergency room.

Rob Goldstein 2016 revised October 2018

Video clips and still shots are from the film Repulsion and used
here for educational purposes.

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. I write about my personal experience. What works for me may not work for you. If you think you are having a psychiatric episode please see a professional.

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Peter – Morning with the Captain

Warning: The content may be triggering

When Mother turns on the television, Peter sits tensely
with his tiny hands clenched tightly into fists.

Mother says slouching is bad and boys that slouch must
be punished.

The Captain lectures Mr. Bunny Rabbit for stealing carrots.

Peter wonders why the Captain doesn’t burn Mr. Bunny
Rabbit’s arms.

Stealing is bad.

A bunny rabbit that steals must be punished.

Lions stalk the plains of Africa.

They roar and eat up the deer.

When they finish eating they stretch out their claws
and shake out their bloody manes.

Jim, the man on TV says; if a deer is too young and too weak,
it ends up as food.

Then he says, “As a mother lion protects her cubs, you can protect
your kids with insurance from Mutual of Omaha.”

Suddenly, Peter’s heart speeds up; he cocks his head and listens:

Mother’s in the kitchen boiling water.

Peter must sit very still and be extra quiet.

Mother says squirming and being loud is bad.

Loud little boys that squirm must be punished.

A black and white screenshot of avatars staged to represent a child alternate named Peter and protector alternate named Bobby.
A screenshot of avatars staged to represent a child alternate named Peter and a protector alternate named Bobby. Please click the link for more about my alternates and their function.

(C) Rob Goldstein 2017 All Rights Reserved

The stuffed bear in the photo was made by Second Life artist, AM Radio

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Know Thyself

Several patterns play themselves out in my life.

Each one is a link to some aspect of my childhood that either is either a scar
or is a source of salvation.

If insanity is repeating the same mistake with the hope of a different outcome, than I have been completely insane since childhood.

One of these insane patterns is that of seeking out and hooking up with narcissistic women.

There are other patterns based on the community in which I was raised: the racism, the antisemitism, the homophobia and the static class system as it existed for people at the very bottom.

These patterns of repetition became especially pronounced when I stopped working and entered therapy.

Psychotherapy means dredging up memories that I want buried under a mountain of distraction and denial.

I often go to therapy in a state of emotional distress, walking through panic attacks and other flight or fight reactions.

The literature I’ve read regarding the treatment of trauma and dissociation states Psychotherapy as essential for successfully resolving a complex trauma disorders.

Cognitive approaches teach people to manage distress but they won’t resolve Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

***

Based on a 1922 photograph of Freud in the Public Domain

The patients’ job during intensive psychotherapy is to ask why.

Why do I seek out women who are devoid of the capacity for love?

Why do I veer from an extreme identification with the middle class to an extreme identification with the poor?

Why do I force myself to fail economically just as I get closest to winning?

Accepting the option to ‘know thyself’ means living in a perpetual state of brutal self-questioning.

Why do I sometimes behave as if I hate myself?

I first grappled with the problem of internalized stigma during the early days of the AIDS epidemic when I wondered if the epidemic was God’s judgment.

None of the intellectual and political constructions that served me as gay activist in the 1970’s could defeat the internalized homophobia that AIDS unleashed.

I watched men die from grief, self-hatred and fear.

I was nearly one of them.

This was when I realized the true function of any ‘ism’ is to convince the target to self destruct.

This was why any novel written about gays before Stonewall usually ended with the suicide or the impoverished death of the main character.

AIDS was the greatest tragic ending, fraught with the dissonant myth of a loving, yet angry and vengeful God.


Internalized homophobia was the least of my problems.

AIDS was trauma on trauma.

I did not know that I had a dissociative disorder.

I did not know that I was living in the worst possible place at the worst possible time for someone with DID.

The political climate in San Francisco coupled with the fear brought on by the epidemic fueled a political backlash against the gay community.

Increased fag bashing was a trigger.

Friends who were healthy one week and dead the next were triggers.

Any spot on my arm sent me into panic, so much so that I became a frequent flyer at the local clinics, which eventually gave me a prescription for Xanax.

Xanax
                                 Xanax

I did not know that Xanax was addictive; I only knew that it made the fear go away.

The straight psychiatrists I saw  were completely removed from the Gay Community and the AIDS epidemic and didn’t understand why the panicked
patient whose friends were all dying was so distressed and unstable.

The pharmaceutical industry reported that Xanax had an anti-depressant effect.

By 1986 I was on a prescribed dose of eight milligrams a day.


Everything that happens during the course of Psychotherapy is a representation of the trauma, its affect your life, and the meaning of your symptoms.

For adult survivors of abuse a common theme in therapy is mistrust and the fear of forming an attachment.

DID allows a part of me to make friends and to form an attachment while protecting the parts of me that are fragile and afraid.

My task in treatment is to intentionally make all of myself vulnerable to another person; in my case, a woman therapist, since most of the damage was done by my Mother.

This process of building trust with a woman who wants what’s best for me and who acts in my interests is the path to becoming whole.


In the Hell of my childhood nothing about me was acceptable.

I was a show-off, too sensitive, too feminine, too much of everything that people in my ‘class’ had no right to be.

In the world of my childhood, God rewards the Godly with a good Christian family, white skin; and money.

A lowly birth meant your place in God’s plan was bondage.

The idea that all Americans have a right to a stake in the wealth of our nation was deemed an absurd fiction, a delusion foisted on good people by damned Yankees.


 

John C. Calhoun Homes
                                                      John C. Calhoun Homes

 

***

Children instinctively want to please their parents; it’s an evolutionary adaptation that enhances survival.

The double bind for an abused child is that the only behavior that pleases the parent is an abdication of the self.

As I enter my fourth year of intensive psychotherapy the questions I must answer become more confounding and painful.

But at least I know what they are have the strength I need to ask them.

(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017
The Photo of Xanax found on Google Images

First posted November 1, 2015-updated November 8, 2017 – After 7 years
of psychotherapy and I’m pleased to say I’m getting better.

 

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Finally, a clearer understanding of Narcissism & how it relates to CPTSD

from living in stigma

living in stigma

If you are a survivor of PTSD, CPTSD or raised by a Narcissist this video is a must.  Don’t worry about emotions, I was tearful throughout the entire video. This gentleman showed empathy and shared his experiences.

TRIGGER WARNING!!!!  This may be upsetting for some people.

He has a series of excellent and informative videos on YouTube explaining various Narcissism and Complex PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) traits. Source: (https://youtu.be/L6l59nEn2ZY)

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