To start with, only one of us (myself or an alternate personality) can be out controlling my physical body at a time. As I, Cita, am writing this chapter, I have control over the physical body. But if Rim, an alternate personality in her late twenties, decides that she wants to be out to watch something on TV, it would take less than a second for her to “shift out”—meaning that then she would be in control of my body. This would cause me to shift inside my mind to an internal home where my alternate personalities (alters) live. Yes, the alters have an actual residence that looks very much like a regular home. We’ll talk about this internal home shortly, but for now I’m going to have Rim shift out and be the person actually typing:
OK, this is Rim. Hi. While I’m out, Cita has now shifted inside her mind. Freaky, huh? That’s how it works, though. If Cita’s husband, Christopher, came into the kitchen right now, he would see our black lab Dixie sleeping at our feet and the physical image of his wife, Cita. Just by looking at us he wouldn’t be able to tell Cita and me apart. However, that changes if I speak. My voice is a tad deeper and quieter than Cita’s. If I was watching a football game with Christopher, he’d also be able to distinguish me from the colorful profanity spewing from my lips. Enough from me; time for Cita to come back out.
Hi again. As Rim shared, when one of us is out (which again means that one of us is out controlling my body, living and functioning in the external world), the rest of us are inside my mind. Those who are internal (inside my mind) can talk to one another and most can see each other too. Each personality has its own anatomically correct internal body. They look different than me and have their own thoughts and emotions.
Take alter Tristan for example: Tristan is male with blonde hair, whereas mine is brown. My eyes are hazel, his are blue. Tristan is around seventeen years old, left-handed, and lean. I, however, am forty-five years old, right-handed, and overweight. I love the rain and he hates it. He thinks sour cream is the bomb and it makes me gag! Tristan can eat like a pack mule, but I can miss meals and not think twice about it. We both enjoy science fiction and natural disaster movies, but Tristan is also intrigued by quantum physics, time travel, wormholes, and black matter, whereas I get lost in all the technicalities and frankly lose interest quickly.
The only time I give a rat’s ass about black matter is if it’s covering the white powdered sugar on my Hostess donuts!
As you can see from just this short exchange that even though each alter originally split from me, WE are distinctly individual.
A memory from my husband Christopher:
It was just recently that I had been introduced to the Others who share my wife’s mind and body. We’d been married for nineteen years, but I have known of my wife’s multiple personality condition for less than two weeks. I am barely grasping its implications on our marriage and trying to get a handle on the fact that our once family of two is really now a family of seven.
This trip to Leavenworth, a quaint Bavarian-themed town in the Cascade Mountains in western Washington with wonderful shops and places to eat, was to be our first “family” activity together. Chrissy is one of my wife’s alters. She is six years old and so excited to be out and about with me, seeing all of these wonderful new sights. My wife and I haven’t really thought this activity through. None of us talked about expectations, rules, or guidelines for all of us out in public, but here we were.
We had barely walked half a block when Chrissy yanks me into a charming shop with a variety of handmade wooden toys, puzzles, and dolls. Chrissy is quietly sharing with me her delight and excitement of this wonderful world of toys. As her eyes pass over all of these beautiful goods, she spots a small curving stairway that leads to the store’s second floor.
With much exuberance, she pulls me up the stairs to a wall loaded floor to ceiling with stuffed bears. There are bears in green velvet dresses with lace ruffles. Brown bears dressed in yellow raincoats, complete with plastic yellow boots and hats. There is a darling black bear in a bathtub with plastic bubbles on its nose and head. Pink bears, green bears, and rainbow bears. The pleasure Chrissy feels in seeing the princess and ballerina bears light up her sparkling eyes.
Other patrons and of course the desk clerk are present, but no one pays us much attention until I push a button hidden in the first dancing bear’s paw. The music starts and the graceful bear spins around and around. Before I can comprehend the implication of this one bear, Chrissy waltzes her way to five more paw-activated bears. Now they’re all singing, laughing, and talking while Chrissy cries out in joy and claps her hands. Soon even more of these once-cute but now loud and obnoxious bears are gyrating and convulsing, with Chrissy laughing all the way.
I soon feel that the situation is out of my control. I glance down the stairs and notice the shop owner scowling up at me. To him he sees a husband and wife acting out some immature childhood fetish. Can someone say “Awkward?” I feel in between a rock and a hard place, because I don’t want Chrissy to sense my discomfort. She is truly just experiencing what any child would the very first time in a toy store or even on Christmas Day. You wouldn’t want to stifle a child then, but I am feeling anxious. It is the first time I think about having to publicly explain my wife’s multiple personalities.
Sadly, I am unable to prevent Chrissy from noticing my discomfort, and what began as a splendid adventure of wonder turns into her feeling confused and ashamed. It is hard on her to learn that her behavior has such a negative effect on me. She sheds many tears while apologizing for embarrassing me. I hold her tight, trying to reassure her that she didn’t embarrass me, the situation had. I let her know she is loved and that we will continue to work out all the kinks in being a unique family.
Therapy became increasingly intense. The more I opened up to Mariana, the more frightened I was of the outside world. I began experiencing such panic attacks that even shopping for groceries became a traumatic event; oftentimes it was only with Mariana’s encouragement that I was able to drive to the store, but getting there was only half the battle. More often than not, I would sit in my car just waiting to muster the courage to go inside and start shopping. Sometimes I never found the nerve to step out into the world, and I’d start my car back up and return home.
If I did actually begin my shopping expedition, I’d experience waves of anxiety and break into a sweat. My eyes wouldn’t focus, my breathing became sporadic, and my ears would ring. Other customers’ voices sounded warped and the store lighting seemed to penetrate right through my skull. With the help of Hope or Rim, I’d make it back to the car, having abandoned our cart in the middle of an aisle. SHE, Hope, or Rim would then drive us back home.
Not only did I have panic attacks but also something I call “noise terrors.” Oftentimes sirens would trigger them, but other sounds did too. One night Christopher and I were sitting on the couch together; he was watching TV and I was trying to read. I don’t know what instigated the terror, but the first sign that something was amiss came when the words in my book began to swim in front of me. I couldn’t get my eyes to focus and then the TV volume increased tenfold in my ears. At the time Christopher was tapping a fingernail on the remote control. It was just a slight clicking noise, but it distorted into clanging cymbals in my head. The noise became all-consuming, as though my whole body had been transported to a distant place of only sound. The TV and the clicking on the remote were the only sounds I could identify.
When Christopher realized what was happening, he gently stroked my hand and softly called me back to him. These episodes lasted only seconds or minutes, but for me they felt endless. When I was finally able to calm myself down, I would lean against Christopher and sob. I was losing my grip on the last shreds of my sanity and had no idea if I was going to survive. I remember a coworker asked me once where I wanted to be in ten years, and my response was “Alive.”
The deeper I worked in therapy, the closer I came to revealing our truth. Unfortunately, SHE had threatened me with more bodily harm if I said a word to Mariana. While Hope pleaded with me to fight for my life and not give up. One day I realized that SHE’s threats frightened me less than my own thoughts of suicide.
I felt so sick walking through the doors to my counseling office that day. That’s what I recall and not much more. I was forty-one years old. I’d been in counseling for over ten years, and for the first time in my life, I had found the courage to utter my terrifying truth:
“There is more than one of me.”