Today is bipolar awareness day, happy bipolar awareness day, may your day be filled with stability or shoe-purchasing, hilarious mania. I observed the day last year, when I was still officially the least convincing bipolar people in the world. I observed it with my usual mix of sadness, outrage, activism and piss-taking in 140 characters or fewer.
There are lots of awareness days, some kinds of mental even have a week (OCD) and some a whole month in which to be aware (Depression).
There is no DID awareness day
I’m not surprised- after all how on earth could we ever decide when to hold it? As a fellow multiple pointed out this morning we probably couldn’t even decide whether to hold it in the present or the past. Then we’d have to factor in those who remain in denial that they have DID, those who are too ashamed to admit it, those who would rather buy crayons, those who would ponder if it would be the perfect day for suicide and those who never know what day it is anyway. The chances of us agreeing on which colour the DID awareness ribbon should be are slim to none. I’ve taken to wearing these on my jackets, I assume the world thinks I’m gay, I know I’m a multiple.
We could just ‘celebrate’ all the awareness days/weeks/months for all our various comorbidities, for most multiples, every day could be an awareness day. Just think of all the cards and presents!
Joking aside, this is indicative of something far deeper, something I’ve been tentative to address, mainly as I’ve been to busy licking my (metaphorical) wounds and mourning the loss of my career.
Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID is many things but primarily it is a mental illness. I can’t decide if DID doesn’t fit the traditional ‘illness model’ or if the traditional illness model doesn’t fit DID, it doesn’t matter- the results are the same.
I am quite clearly as mad as a box of frogs; in short I believe I have several other people living inside my head/body, these other people all behave, think, act, dress and talk differently. Whilst there’s never a dull moment with DID my functioning is severely impaired, my quality of life impaired, my future affected, the lives of my children are affected, my income is affected- there is nothing DID, nothing the mental illness I suffer from doesn’t touch.
I can’t tell you the last time I saw a psychiatrist, this is not due to my usual problems with memory, this is because ‘my’ psychiatrist doesn’t want to see me. Don’t get me wrong, I can think of several people I’d much rather spend those precious 8 minutes every couple of months with (in fact, anybody) but why do I not see a psychiatrist? Am I cured? Am I no longer mental?
No and clearly- no.
I don’t see a psychiatrist because my psychiatrist doesn’t know what to do with me. There is no drug treatment for DID so I can’t be drugged into a nice, easy to manage state. Seeing the psychiatrist is such a triggering event that we invariably send our sanest part to consultations, she’s lovely but formidable and never shies away from pointing out flaws in professionalism; in fact I suspect the psychiatrist may still be recovering from the last consultation.
I have no care plan; never have; I’m not even sure what one is. Is this because I have no care needs?
I have no care plan because current provision cannot meet my needs; I fit the criteria for a CPA but don’t have one. For too long I have accepted the blame for this having been told by many mental health professionals I’m “different” or “complex” and my favourite “challenging”. I don’t doubt for a second I am all those things and more- they are all symptoms of my illness.
This discrimination is nothing new to me. Sometime last year, during the perpetual crisis season I was visited by the Fantastic CPN, she was so concerned about the (frankly atrocious) state of my mental health the GP was asked to visit- the GP was equally concerned and they tried to persuade me to attend a mental health assessment- I refused. Mental health assessments are not something one can refuse as the answer to refusal is that you are clearly so mental you need get one anyway.
The psychiatrist did not bother to assess me as there was “nowhere suitable to put me” this was at the time my correct diagnosis was accepted but not allowed to be spoken of as I hadn’t had the official stamp on my notes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relieved I escaped yet more time in the horrendous pit of shitness that is the local acute ward but that day, a Friday I was considered to be a danger to myself, a danger to my children and I was left, alone, all weekend. The children were removed from my care and placed with their father; I’ve yet to get one of them back.
I struggle to label myself as a “trauma survivor” that’s kind of symptomatic of DID, particularly at this early stage in treatment. I’ve done the ‘backwards calculations’ though and as painful and difficult it is for me, I know I didn’t end up where I am today because I was a slightly miserable kid. In fact I like to think I was a veritable ray of sunshine who left a trail of happiness and rainbows in her wake.
I am a trauma survivor.
I suffer from all the same problems as other trauma survivors do- multiplied. From the little things to the big things- multiplied. I have PTSD- multiplied.
I haven’t survived the trauma of combat, just my life. There are a number of national PTSD organisations and charities in existence to help those traumatised by war and I salute their efforts. Had I survived war then I would be able to approach one of those organisations for support, guidance and maybe even some financial assistance. The first and best advice I got when I began treatment for DID was to get rid of anything in the house that was triggering, to make the home environment safe. How I wish I’d been told this before I became too ill to accept the new 5 year contract I was offered in May 2011. The back garden of the smallest house in the world terrifies me, I can’t go out there- all it needs is a 6 foot fence around the perimeter to make it ‘safe’, I can’t afford a fence, I miss the garden.
I recently replaced some cushion covers as the existing ones were triggering, I am now able to spend 6 minutes in my own living room before I scuttle back to the safety of the bedroom, 6 minutes is crap but it’s an improvement on my previous record of 4.
Then there’s the stupid car, I had hoped “being too terrified to go over your own front door” would be enough to qualify for the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA so I could make use of the Motability scheme but alas as I have two legs this is not the case. The fact those legs often don’t move (freezing is a very common trauma response) or those legs are often very painful (somatic memory) is insignificant to the DWP. I need the stupid car to retain that tiny bit of independence I have, the stupid car, for all its failings is safe.
I am working hard in therapy and have made huge progress, I am a very active participant(s) in my own ‘recovery’ (a word I despise in this context but I can’t think of a suitable replacement) and with the right package of care I could be doing even better. I’m not a fool, I know my journey is going to be long and at times very difficult but it’s a journey I’m willing to travel. I know what my needs are, I am aware they don’t fit with the traditional needs of someone with a mental illness but they are needs that I have as a direct result of my illness/disability, I intend to apply for Direct Payments to meet my needs. I have no doubt I face an enormous challenge but I am determined. I have been NHS Fife’s ‘dirty little secret’ for too long, I’m not a bad person, I have a mental illness. I asked for a social worker to assess my needs on the 12th of June, I suspect they’re still drawing straws in the office, if it’s any consolation I have no desire to deal with any of them either- but needs must.
There are two survivor-lead organisations for those with DID, First Person Plural and PODS but they are small, under-funded and generally unnoticed. I hope one day to have the strength and stability to help move DID out of the shadows. Not because I think we’re special but because we trauma survivors deserve the same services and same recognition as everybody else with a chronic mental illness.