Living With Dissociative Identity Disorder
Living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) presents numerous challenges. In addition to feelings of being overwhelmed and possessed by other personalities, and being scared, distressed, and feeling helpless, DID also causes significant, daily dysfunction. Living with DID, you may feel isolated and struggle with relationships; work may become impossible; you probably have some degree of amnesia and maybe depression or anxiety. You may use drugs or alcohol to try to cope. To live better with this condition involves getting a diagnosis, identifying past trauma, and working hard on treatment.
Dissociative identity disorder was once known as multiple personality disorder. It occurs when your unconscious mind develops multiple, unique personalities as a response to traumatic experiences. These may differ in gender, age, interests, past memories, behaviors, thoughts, and many other factors. They feel like real, identifiable, and unique individuals.
To say that living like this is challenging is an understatement, but it is possible to make positive changes for a better life. You need to get a diagnosis, identify the underlying trauma from your past, get effective treatment, and adapt daily coping strategies to make life with DID more manageable.
Understand Your Mental Illness
Before being diagnosed and treated, living with dissociative identity disorder is confusing, scary, and distressing. You may feel as if you have no understanding of who or what is controlling your thoughts and behaviors. You probably feel hopeless and helpless about your inability to function normally or develop healthy relationships.
Once you get a diagnosis and learn more about DID, you won’t be instantly cured but you will feel better knowing what’s causing so much distress. This is a condition triggered by past traumas. It is a strategy your brain is using to try to cope with those terrible experiences, but it is not intentional. Without very difficult work with mental health professionals, this is not something you can control.
If you have DID, you may have these types of symptoms, feelings, and experiences:
- Two or more distinct personalities with unique feelings, memories, and behaviors
- Distinct personalities that may be subtle and difficult for others to recognize
- Hearing or feeling more than one identity in your head
- Feeling possessed by someone else
- Significant distress and impairment in multiple areas of your life, including work and personal relationships
- Co-occurring conditions such as substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts
You may also experience amnesia, another mental health condition associated with trauma that causes you to have lapses in memory. You may forget part of your personality and history or specific aspects of the traumatic experiences.
Identify and Process Underlying Trauma
The most important thing anyone with this condition can do to better cope is to figure out what past trauma may have triggered multiple identities. Like other dissociative conditions, DID is most likely caused by traumatic experiences. One traumatic incident is not typically the cause; it is more often repeated incidents, such as ongoing childhood abuse.
Getting an accurate diagnosis for any mental illness is important. DID is often misdiagnosed because it is rare and the symptoms overlap with other conditions, including acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and other dissociative conditions. With an accurate diagnosis of DID you can then explore hidden memories and determine the traumatic past that has triggered your dissociation.
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Engage in Trauma-Focused Treatment
Treatment for DID can be challenging. Response to treatment is often slow, although it is generally effective over time. While a big focus of therapy will be to integrate multiple personalities and to try to gain control over these separate identities, targeting trauma is essential.
As with any kind of illness, symptoms will never resolve without addressing the underlying cause. It will be difficult and frightening to actively remember and process traumatic experiences, but if you do it with a trained, expert, and compassionate professional, the benefits will be great.
Dissociating into multiple personalities is an unhealthy, unconscious way to try to cope with past trauma. It is a type of avoidance. A good therapist using trauma-focused strategies can guide you through the processing of these difficult memories. They will help you learn and practice healthier, more effective coping mechanisms so that you can move forward without extra identities.
Daily Life With DID – How to Cope
Treatment is the best way to learn to live with dissociative identity disorder. Because it is so difficult to treat, residential care is often the best option. A stay in treatment will give you the chance to really focus on processing trauma and learning ways to manage symptoms and personalities. Once you return home, you will likely need to keep up with outpatient therapy to support your progress, but there are other things you can do to make everyday life with this condition a little easier:
- Rely on family. Hopefully, you have at least one person you trust to return home to after treatment. Rely on friends or family, those closest to you who understand your needs and have your best interests in mind. Loved ones can support your ongoing improvement by encouraging and getting you to therapy, participating in family and relational therapy, and being patient with your unique day-to-day challenges.
- Keep to a routine and schedule. Life with DID is confusing and disruptive, to say the least. Highly-structured days will help you bring some order to your life. Work with family to create daily schedules and set reminders on phones and with visible notes to keep you on track. Without reminders, one personality may distract another and get you off task.
- Work on all aspects of self-care. Mental illnesses are easier to manage when you have good physical health. Manage stress by reducing responsibilities and commitments and by using relaxation strategies. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day to stay rested. And stick with a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen. If you need medication for other mental illnesses, like depression, stick with it and talk with your doctor if you feel a change is needed.
- Try alternative therapies. While trauma and behavioral therapies are going to help you the most, try engaging in other types of therapy as well. Alternative and creative therapies that use animals, writing, art, and music give you another outlet for difficult emotions. They can provide a unique way to explore your feelings and express the challenges you face daily.
- Learn about the experiences of others. DID is particularly isolating. It is a rare condition, so you may never meet another person struggling with it unless you seek them out. Look for books and memoirs written by and about people with DID. Find online support groups for all types of dissociative disorders. Learning from and sharing with others who have similar experiences will provide new coping strategies and a lot of comfort simply from knowing you are not alone.
Dissociative identity disorder presents a lot of daily challenges. Getting the right treatment is the most important thing you can do to heal from past trauma and to manage and even reduce symptoms of DID. See your doctor if you are unsure of your symptoms or if you have a dissociative disorder. Then look for the right treatment facility to give you the long-term, effective treatment you need to live better.
If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with complex mental health disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.