Recently I was lucky enough to attend a training day run by PODS. PODS are an organisation, specialising in recovery from Dissociative Disorders who provide training, support and resources for both survivors, their supporters and professionals working with those who have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).
It is thought that so much as 1.5% of the population may be affected by DID. This statistic means just under 1 million people in the UK alone. DID is only one form of dissociative disorder however. PODS have more information regarding statistics on their website if you would be interested in taking a more detailed look.
PODS is run by Rob, a qualified counsellor, and Carolyn Spring. Carolyn is a writer, speaker and trainer who has DID which resulted from organised abuse that she experienced. I was incredibly moved to hear her speak about her experience of DID both in terms of the impact it has had on her life and the ways in which she has found support, management and healing possible over the years.
What is DID?
First and foremost Dissociative Identity Disorder is a completely normal and healthy response to trauma. It is a primal reaction to allow the person to survive something that would otherwise be unbearable or overwhelming to the body and mind. If an experience/trauma were so great and unbearable it would threaten your existence you need some place to put that experience and the memories, thoughts and feelings associated with it in order that you continue to survive. Dissociation is a primitive function, accessible within us all, that acts as a way of shutting out unbearable thoughts and feelings or pain. Dissociation is often something we do to allow us to psychologically escape when we may be unable to physically escape. It can refer to both an experience, like ‘drifting off’ or ‘daydreaming’ and allowing us to switch to using another part of our personalities or equally the fundamental makeup of our mind. Dissociating from an experience of pain/abuse/trauma means that the experience becomes an isolated entity that is never integrated with the rest of our conscious selves, meaning it takes on a life of it’s own and we are often largely unable to process how this experience or trauma has impacted us and affected us day to day, or, even, how we feel about it at all.
DID is described as follows in the PODS Dissociation Resource Guide
‘It is a way of us surviving something that otherwise would be unbearably painful, by narrowing down our consciousness, and failing to join up the different strands of an experience, such as our actions, our memories, our feelings, our thoughts, our sensations and our perceptions. So we may have only an emotional memory (e.g. terror, disgust, shame) of what happened in a traumatic event, but no visual record (seeing it in our mind’s eye). Or we may have a vivid mental picture of what happened, but it is disconnected from our feelings, so it is as if it didn’t affect us: we feel numb or nothing. The traumatic experience is unintegrated and it takes on a life or identity of its own, separate from our main stream of consciousness. For the rest of our lives, we may have difficulty making a connection between what happened to us and how we felt about it at the time, or its impact on us in terms of how we feel or behave now. We may even struggle to connect with the fact that it happened to us at all.’
While Dissociation is a healthy and biological process, over time it can become problematic. Because we are distanced from the experience of the trauma and the thoughts and feelings that accompany it, we are unaware of the things in day to day life which may trigger a repressed memory around this trauma. Meaning we cannot guard against or keep ourselves safe from re-experiencing it. There will also be a part of us that is potentially always stuck in the trauma, as these parts of ourselves that contain the experience of it will keep their focus there, always alert for signs it could happen again so that they can guard against it. The same parts, that out of our awareness, flag up the triggers and respond to them, in an attempt to keep safe.
Carolyn describes her lived experience of DID as follows;
‘Sometimes I find myself somewhere and I don’t know how I got there or where I’ve been, don’t know how I am really, feel unreal, like in a dream. I feel like that now. I don’t know who I am that’s writing this. I’m not real, whoever I am. I feel like I’m ten different people squashed into one, all collapsed down like a concertina. I don’ know where I start and where I end. I don’t know where the inside of me is. I don’t know if I’ m really me or I just think I am. It’s the strangest feeling. How can I not know who I am?’
Carolyn Spring 2009
There is a list of signs and symptoms that those with DID may experience here – http://www.pods-online.org.uk/signsandsymptomsofdid.html
PODS Helpline – 0800 181 4420 (freephone)
If you or anyone you know has been diagnosed with DID or a dissociative disorder you will find a wealth of helpful and comforting information on PODS website. In addition PODS run a helpline on a Tuesday evening, between 6pm and 8pm. The helpline is for survivors, partners and anyone supporting someone with DID. It is not a crisis line such as The Samaritans so if you need immediate assistance/help please use the number below.
The Samaritans – 0845 7909 090
The resounding message from both Carolyn and Rob in the training they deliver is hope and that healing is possible. Therapy can play an important role in surviving DID and coming to terms with traumatic experiences. If you would like to talk with me about this I am happy to respond to any and all enquiries confidentially.
This post has been written using direct links to material on the PODS website with the permission of Rob Spring.