I am struggling. Have a poem.
Last week I had the opportunity to be a guest on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show. It was the first time I’ve ever been interviewed publicly about DID. So I wasn’t too surprised to find myself a little emotional after the fact. Nor did it surprise me that a lot of that emotion centered around a short clip from the movie Sybil that aired just before my interview began. What surprised me was how I felt about it.
In the clip, one of Sybil’s alters breaks a window with her arm, destroying the glass. Her therapist, Dr. Wilbur, expresses concern about her arm saying that windows are easier to fix than little girls. The alter responds with what looks like surprise, saying, “Little girls are more important than windows?” This exchange stuck with me, because no matter the sensationalistic nature of the movie, no matter the mythology it helped to perpetuate, this exchange at least was emotionally honest. And it left me feeling bereft.
How pathetically ridiculous to not know that you’re more important than a window. How tiny and sad that is. How I’d like to feel patronizingly sorry for the character, shake my head and mutter, “Poor thing has no sense of her own value.” Instead I feel grief.
I try very hard to make having DID be ok. I focus relentlessly on normalizing it. I am caught off guard by things that remind me with painful clarity that, despite the fact that those of us with DID are more normal than we are abnormal, having DID cannot be included in the wide range of experiences we classify as normal. And having alters pop out, break windows, and then wonder incredulously at their own well-being taking precedence over the condition of a window isn’t normal either. What I’d like is to point to that as an example of the mythology entertainment media perpetuates about DID. But it isn’t an example of that. It’s an example of what living with DID is truly like sometimes.
I now wonder if part of the reason the mythology surrounding DID is so adhesive is that there’s a grain of truth in all of it. No, we don’t have make-up artists and costume designers waiting in the wings to accentuate the shifts in self-states. No, our lives aren’t jam-packed with moment after moment of the kind of drama seen in film and television depictions of DID. But there is some genuine truth in the emotional impact of many of those portrayals. I wasn’t upset because the movie clip got it wrong. I was upset because it got it right.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not Sybil. My life isn’t a reflection of the legacy the book and movie left behind. But I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been moments in my life that were strikingly similar to the one from Sybil I described above. And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt.