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Bird in the Invisible Cage

As I watched my 68-year-old father hug my 16-year-old daughter at the airport, my stomach tightened around the bag of worms, renewing that old, buried feeling. My son waited patiently for his grandfather to notice him, but I knew he never would. They had lied to me. Father hadn’t changed. He’d just gotten old. And once again it was my fault. I bought the plane tickets that brought my mother and father to my safe haven, 1,500 miles away from where I grew up.

Northern Wisconsin had always been my home, until I was old enough to run away. It wasn’t graduating from high school and moving on with my life as it appeared. And now the monster was back in my life, invading the new life I had created because my sisters told me he had changed. And I so desperately wanted to have a normal life, have my children meet their grandparents. I thought I was living a normal life.

From the moment he walked in the door, I was catapulted into a life I thought I had overcome by sheer willpower. My artwork wasn’t as good as my sisters. My sister’s home was nicer than mine. My son’s name had become “the kid” and my daughter the object of his affection. Mom turned a blind eye and smiled her angelic smile that kept me alive for so many years. A blanket of warmth in an otherwise cold world. Did she know? Had she ever known?

I knew what was happening. He made no secret of it and flaunted the dare for me to try and stop him. He knew just as much as I that I was powerless against him. I was still that helpless child and could not touch him. Twenty years later, and I still could not defend myself or my daughter.

After he left, after surviving my fantasies of pushing him down the stairs, I continued to see his presence throughout my home. He was everywhere and everything was stained with his malice. It was during this time that I also found out the person who had helped me create this safe environment had betrayed me – many times over. My world was gone. The person I had created was gone. All safety and trust was nothing but a shadow that grew darker and more powerful than it ever had before. It was then that I knew I could not survive without help.

As I’ve learned throughout the process, not every psychologist or psychiatrist is the same. My first set was not a good fit for me and did not recognize all of the packages I had created for myself over the years. And then one day, after having left therapy for almost a year, I found him. We’ll call him Max. My first session with him, I don’t even remember – how could I be talking about this stuff with a man? Men can’t be trusted! My father and husband proved that to me. But he was a trauma specialist, and the one approved by my insurance company as being certified in EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – the therapy technique I had researched that would help me get past those horrid memories. My last hope.

Working with Max, I discovered many things about myself and the strategies I had created to survive. Everyday, more techniques are uncovered. Some quite painful to remember, some okay to keep using, some are what they are. Baby steps. Every day, baby steps. I had no idea that the sexual abuse I underwent as a child and teen could create so many effects. I created an entire life around a belief system that was tainted with memories from the heinous crimes, disguised under a premise of love.

I thought I was the unloving daughter who, one day, would not submit – Pandora’s Box opened after that. Then I became the outcast, the undeserving child, the child who was no good at anything and useless. The child of everyone’s jibe and ridicule. This began a new belief system. I thought everyone was the same as my family, experienced the same things and that I was the one who was strange. Until Max, gentle, over time, showed me that it wasn’t my fault. That I wasn’t strange and my childhood was not the norm.

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Max gave me a list of Assertive Rights to use as a guide to help build a new foundation. I still have trouble accepting them. Why do I deserve these rights? I truly do not understand how someone like me deserves respect or to let my feelings known or to say that I am unhappy. It took six months before I could accept that my life was created around an unhealthy belief system. I hadn’t even known what a belief system was, much less that I could possess one. My life has been one as a reactionary. I’m still grappling with the idea that I have control over where my life goes. That concept is simply beyond my paradigm. For 41 years, I have simply just existed, taken whatever was handed to me and accepted the fact that I could never be loved or cared about because I am unworthy.

We uncovered Dissociative Identity Disorder, which I evidently created as a small child to protect myself from the hurtful things that my father was doing. I’ve always wondered where those “mood swings” came from. To date, there are six of us inside this body, which I still do not claim as my own. Max uses hypnosis as a way to deal with their thoughts and behaviors because I have realized that it is much safer to look at these gruesome memories in the safer environment of hypnosis. He is showing them and teaching me, that they are valuable and validating them through homework assignment. Something as simple as coloring for the younger ones and journaling for the older ones.

We are trying to cope with the resurfacing self-injury urges. I was shocked and terrified when these thoughts first came. Then, through the teenage alter, we discovered that it is her belief to punish us for being bad and no good. If we can’t have pleasure, we must have pain. Which uncovered the anhedonia – imagine not being able to feel the love of your child when giving them a hug. Horrible pain and confusion – I love my children. I know I do. Why can’t I feel it? Why is God punishing me?

Depression has played a major role in my life, but I never knew it. I had accepted my way of thinking to be normal. But, when bad thoughts start surfacing, the Protector stood proud and threw red flags at me. He has saved my life many times without me realizing it. The Protector is the only male alter I have – can’t figure out why he’s male. After all, men can’t be trusted. Maybe I created him to be the appropriately loving father I so longed for. At times, my heart feels so empty, emptier than empty. God doesn’t even come to visit at those times. Imagine being so worthless that God can’t even be there. It is truly a pit, in the rawest sense.

Severe anxiety sprang from the depression and from therapy. In my own mind, I wasn’t moving fast enough, I was having trouble understanding the simplest of things Max was trying to explain or to get me to accept. I still get frustrated, depression goes up and down – which I didn’t understand either. The anxiety gets so bad, I lose track of what is reality and what isn’t. I can’t remember if I talked to someone or not, if I drove to work, what day of the week it is – the list is endless. Max would slow down in our sessions and I would regroup. He handled things as they came up. He allows me to e-mail him and monitors my moods at MoodTracker. All of these things give me a sense of safety, knowing he knows when things are really bad. I’ve made countless phone calls outside of session to ask questions or just for reassurance. There is no greater gift than a psychologist who truly understands what your needs are and when not to give in to what you want, but to give you what you need. And to explain that in a caring, non threatening or abandoning way.

Max uses EMDR with the alters and with me. He also uses a technique I call “crazy mixed up movie.” It’s a technique where he has me think of the disturbing image and then we play it forward, then backward but add things, like silly music, chipmunk voices, funhouse mirrors. I don’t know why it works, but it scratches up the image so it’s not so disturbing.

He has shown me how to use a three column technique to dispute my “automatic thoughts.” I don’t like it, because I have to write down my feelings and ugly thoughts – denial has been my game for survival and now he’s taking them away from me. That was very confusing and terrifying but now I understand as we work through the processes that it is helping to create that new foundation of healthy beliefs. Keeping my goals in mind is the key to forward progress. And it’s okay to take one step forward and two steps back. As bad memories or behaviors are addressed, it does throw my mind into chaos and sets me back.

I never knew that other people had setbacks too. People without mental health issues. To me, you either have problems or you don’t. Max calls it “all or nothing” thinking. My world is black and white and I still struggle with that – much to the frustration of a creative therapist (the gas tank isn’t full and it isn’t empty, it’s somewhere in the middle – the gray area. I say you either have enough gas to get where you’re going or you don’t).

It took me over one year to trust Max enough just to step into Psych Central. He said, just try it. Just look, you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. One day, I did. And things changed. I realized I wasn’t the ONLY ONE. There were other people out there who were struggling with the same things. People who weren’t “freaks” because they have DID and didn’t have to hide who they were. Caring people full of similar experiences and how they help themselves through the rough times and share in the joyful times. A special Hiding Thread created by others where we can all go and rest for awhile when things are just too much.

When I told Max what I had done out of desperation, tears came to his eyes as he realized that I had made progress and was beginning to trust. It was as much a triumph for him as it was for me. Two weeks of Psych Central catapulted me into a whole new learning phase – a whole new world of acceptance and care and thoughtful help or just a silly spinning heart to let me know that I was being thought of.

I know I will survive. I have a psychologist with a therapy technique that fits me perfectly, a psychiatrist who just doesn’t push drugs, and Psych Central for everything else.

Who would have ever thought that I was worthy of such kinship? Now, I know that I am.

–Songbird and Daisy

Bird in the Invisible Cage

Personal Story

A personal story contribution is a story told by someone who is living with mental illness, a caregiver or family member, or a professional who treats mental illness. We believe in the importance of the patient's voice, and those most impacted by the effects of mental illness. These stories are a vital part of the mosaic that makes up the complexity of living with mental health concerns.

APA Reference
Story, P. (2020). Bird in the Invisible Cage. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.