As an educator, I’ve become more and more convinced of the huge need for better information and openness about all kinds of mental illness. So many of my students have suffered due to misunderstood or poorly-handled mental conditions; the needless pain is truly heartbreaking to see. I’m determined to work toward more transparency and better support and treatments for all mental illnesses.
One of my dearest friends, Jane Wright, has been gracious enough to write about her Dissociative Identity Disorder in some (very well-received) posts on my blog. So it occurred to me to ask her whether depression played any role in the development of her DID. Her answer? Oh, yeah!
So here’s our kitchen-table interview:
Depression for me has become very complex over the years. It started when I was born to a depressed mother and depressed father. My mother in fact tried to kill herself when I was five. I did not understand what this meant, but the tension and emotion in the house was very clear. This was my real introduction to mental illness.
By age 14, I had developed over a few years what I thought was a run-of-the-mill adolescent depression, suicide attempt and all. After a hospitalization, I was removed from my home to go to a boarding school. That change from a dysfunctional home to a wonderful school brought out the best in me. I no longer felt the utter despair and fear and caution I always had felt with my parents.
Moving on to college was an easy transition for me. I had lived away from home as most of the freshmen had not. But the depression came on again my junior year. My father died quite unexpectedly. I had been responsible for saving him from each diabetic reaction since I was 10. Perhaps it was I who had failed?
I found myself walking into busy streets in Boston, with no recollection of doing so. It seemed as if my new depression was trying to kill me. I wrote this line in my journal: the little girl has to remember something. I had no idea what this meant. I found myself increasingly nonfunctional.
I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals for two years, while also participating in a day program. My father had become a god to me after his death. He was perfect in my eyes. I refused to acknowledge the heartache and difficulties he had caused. Therapy tried to allow me to find the gray area of his relationship with me. But my depression continued until graduation.
When I moved away from the Boston area where I had lived most of those horrible years, I recovered once again. I found a job, got married and truly believed I would never become depressed again. Unfortunately, mental illness doesn’t go away with a relocation. And there were things I didn’t know at this time, things that would help to explain all my depressions.
I had two boys. When the oldest turned 6, I suddenly found myself depressed again, and hallucinating, and having flashbacks and cutting and burning myself. Many of these injuries were unexplainable to me. And I didn’t believe what I was now remembering. How could I have been abused by my father and not have known it? I thought I was making this all up. I had an active imagination. Frankly, I thought I was crazy.
I sought the help of a psychiatrist. In those days insurance companies allowed him to provide therapy as well as medication management. I became very frightened by these thoughts and memories and my inability to tell what was real, as well of the self-mutilation. I was told the hallucinations could be a side to the depression.
Supported, I crept forward, telling him of my inner turmoil. He discovered and diagnosed me with Multiple Personality Disorder (later to be called Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID.) This depression had become increasingly complicated. I aggressively fought this in an absolute rejection. I did not have alters! It did explain, however, my loss of time over the years, how I did not know of the abuse until my son turned 6 (the age at which I started being abused) and my depressions.
As it finally turned out, I have an alter that deals with depression. Her name is Otter. Amongst other things, she is depressed. I soon felt that when she became particularly depressed I did too. I felt as if this explained my repeated bouts with depression: Otter was causing them. Though, as I looked at them more carefully, I could see that all the depressions have had legitimate reasons other than Otter.
Now I’m suspecting that perhaps as I became depressed Otter then became more depressed. Perhaps it’s her function to somehow hold my depression or shelter me from the worst of it. I had never thought it might work that way. So I am now entertaining this idea, that perhaps Otter has saved me from worse depressions (though they were pretty bad as it was) by taking some responsibility and taking on some of the feelings herself.
I do not yet know how it all works in my head, but now that I have accepted my diagnosis and past, I am willing to explore depression in a new way and the resulting effects it has had on my life.
Thanks yet again, Jane, for sharing so openly!