Dealing with Stigma

Whilst I write this blog and talk of my experiences living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, I am in many ways invisible. I can express my views and be honest about my life, my experiences and my difficulties, safe in the knowledge that no one would actually know who I was.
This week I have been thinking about why I chose in some circumstances not to declare my diagnosis or indeed the fact I have been detained under the mental health act, I realised that my fears of rejection and the stigma of mental illness really do impact upon my everyday life.
I guess to the outside world looking in I may be seen just ‘normal’ whatever ‘normal’ is. I don’t carry a label saying I have a mental health issue, and I no longer carry my teddy bear everywhere I go, which only two years ago I held in full view of everyone.
I live in a small community where everybody seems to know everyone, and I am trying to rebuild a life after so long in hospital, in and out of that revolving door that epitomises the mental health system.
So when I meet people for the first time, I tend to skip over the fact I have DID, and the fact I have been in hospital sectioned, with no control over my life. I never lie, I just don’t expand on certain issues:–
          so I have been studying for my degree… true, the fact I started my studies in a secure unit is conveniently missed out. .
          I have three grown up children…true, the fact that for a couple of years I wasn’t allowed to live in their home due to my self-harming behaviour is never mentioned.
          My parents are deceased….true, rarely do I say I was a victim of child abuse and that one of my parents was awesome and the other one of my abusers.
Why is it that out of fear of rejection I chose to limit what I tell people, even if I have known someone a while I still might not be so upfront and open. The fact is I want people to judge me as a person and not a label, to see me as an equal who can contribute to society and can make a difference to this world that I live in. So I try and seamlessly interact with society, despite everything I work at me fitting in to a world that at times is alien and frightening, triggering and scary.
This isn’t easy for someone with D.I.D, I switch alters, my voice changes, my facial expressions change, my mannerisms change, so I have to work hard to try and plan and prepare for everything just to look ‘normal’, you see just being out there and being adult can take its toll on me.
I find it hard sometimes to justify why I am so forgetful, why I lose track of a conversation half way through, why I have to keep periods in my diary free; simply so I can either rest and recover or let younger alters play. Yet the reality is people don’t recognise instantly that we have D.I.D, they don’t realise when we have switched alters unless of course we react in a very clear physical way or the change is so drastic, they just assume I’m forgetful or perhaps pre-occupied with something else.
Of course those who know me well and know about my D.I.D they can tell instantly, and on many occasions will interact with whichever alter is out; whatever their age. At times these people come to my rescue and help me out of a situation if its overloading me and my system, they might prompt me, to help me remember what was being discussed, or conveniently remind me of the time and the need to get moving. in other words a quick exit strategy.
Fear and stigma surround us, while there are lots of TV programs about mental health, its often sensationalist and more entertainment than stigma busting.
Society views mental health with scepticism, many people think  it couldn’t possibly happen to them and well this 1 in 4 statistic that’s for other people isn’t it. But of course the reality is that we all know someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, indeed we probably no more than one person.
But will people know anything about D.I.D, it’s not the most talked about issue, there is very little coverage in the media of Dissociative disorders, in part I guess because of the underlying cause…trauma.
This leads me to the final reason I tend not to tell people, I tend to hide the shame and the guilt I carry and have carried since a small child. Being a victim of child abuse leaves a stigma above and beyond mental health, I was always told it was my fault, I was bad, I was to blame. The harsh reality is of course I was a child, who was hurt, who cried and suffered at the hands of adults who should have protected me or at least not done this to me.
I guess I tend not to tell people about having a diagnosis of D.I.D because I am ashamed, not of the diagnosis or my alters but of what happened to me. I carry the guilt and the shame that belongs to someone else, my abusers. This is my own self created stigma, for acknowledging the label acknowledges the cause and I so wish that this had never happened to me. I wish I had been loved by both my parents, cared for by them both and not seen as a object but a child, a person.
Telling people I have D.I.D also means admitting not just to them but to myself, that what happened to me as a child is a reality and as much I sometimes wish I could, I can’t deny my past. .I can’t wipe away the truth, instead I have to embrace it, take up the mantle of rebuilding a life out of the mess of my past.
All I want today.. is to live with this diagnosis, with all its difficulties and challenges and yet to be accepted as a person. Not a victim but  a survivor, not a statistic but a human being, who just happens to have a mental illness caused D.I.D.
So my personal challenge this coming week is to start to dealing with the stigma, so if people stop talking to me, cross over the road to avoid me, ignore me, judge me… that’s there issue not mine. I am who I am, Carol… and they can either accept me or reject me, but I am one of those 1 in 4, and no longer afraid to tell.


I’ll let you know in a future blog how it goes, being more open, more upfront  and as that famous mental health slogan says…..ITS TIME TO TALK. 

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