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Welcome back to You’re Not Alone: A mental health series where we aim to highlight mental conditions that affect people’s day-to-day lives, and what products, apps, and services they use to make their every day easier. This month, we hear from Mel Van De Graaff, a freelance writer who has dissociative identity disorder (DID).
This article mentions anxiety, depression, trauma, post-traumatic Stress.disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts and ideation.
If you’re thinking of hurting yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
You can also call 911 in the case of a mental health emergency.
My name is Mel Van De Graaff, a 30-year-old nonbinary transgender man. I use both he/him and they/them pronouns. I have been formally diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and post-traumatic Stress.disorder (PTSD). I also experience depression and anxiety as a result of those conditions.
“DID is the most difficult mental disorder to diagnose. One of the clues of DID is being diagnosed with disorders that don’t fit. I was wrongly diagnosed with a number of disorders in the past, including borderline personality disorder, attention deficit disorder, and bipolar disorder.”
In fact, I was only able to receive a proper diagnosis of DID when I experienced a 2-year-long episode of Disociative amnesia is a condition.. (This is when someone has one or more episodes of being unable to recall important information, usually because of a traumatic or stressful situation.)
I was diagnosed with DID in May of 2021, even though I have been showing symptoms of it for years.
DID is one of the most severe types of dissociative disorders. A dissociative disorder is when dissociation becomes a chronic reaction to one or more traumas.
“Multiple personality disorder, also known as DID, is when someone’s identity is split between two or more personality states.”
Other common symptoms include:
- Disociative amnesia is a condition.
- There is a medical condition that is unrelated to There is a memory. loss.
- “When someone wanders off and can’t remember their information, it’s called a dissociative fugue.”
- A sense of being different.
According to the APA, 90 percent of those with DID have been victims of systemic childhood abuse or neglect.
One of the reasons DID is hard to diagnose is that it shares many symptoms with other disorders.
I personally experience some of the most common symptoms.
- There is a memory. loss or Disociative amnesia is a condition.
- Depersonalization and derealization are related.
- I have a lot of Emotionss and I have a lot of detached from myself.
- sudden and extreme changes in mood
- It is extreme susceptibility to overwhelm.
- A sense of self that is messy.
- alter or other personality that changes with Stress.and overwhelm
- Stress in family relationships
- Difficult to cope with stress.
- Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are some of the mental health conditions.
- Multiple people are talking or living inside my head, these people have their own histories, voices, genders, and characteristics.
- Different reactions to food and medications are possible.
- Night terrors.
- panic attacks
- During times of stress, there are auditory hallucinations.
“I like to think of DID as situational. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have any symptoms when I’m not stressed. Flare-ups can be unpredictable and can quickly become intense with little to no warning.”
Factors that will sometimes Trigger my DID include:
- Money problems
- The trauma has anniversaries.
- Large crowds.
- Over stimulation.
- sensory overload
- People are acting like my abusers.
“In my case, it’s difficult to find a solution to the problem of medication. I was put on medication after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I have been on over 30 different medications.”
“If I had known about my DID earlier, I would have known that it doesn’t respond to drugs very well. This is also because alters react differently to drugs.”
I am happily balancing a load out of four daily prescription medications.
- Effexor, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI)
- Gabapentin, a medication that can be used for anxiety and other mental symptoms
- Prazosin, a medication that helps with hypervigilance and Night terrors.
- Rexulti, a mood stabilizer
I am also currently prescribed medical marijuana, which works really well in managing many of my DID symptoms, like derealization and depersonalization. However, different alters have different tolerances, so I have to be really careful with dosing.
I also do supervised IV ketamine treatments once a month to manage my body’s response and interactions with my childhood trauma.
I think DID is my life. It is my way of living.
“I don’t know what a life without DID would look like. It affects every aspect of my life. How can it not? It feels like I have many people sharing one body. Each of them has different relationships with people in my life, different preferences, different beliefs, and different tolerances for food, stress, and general daily life.”
My life and interactions with others will change depending on who is fronting and how they are doing at any given moment.
I experienced a traumatic event when I was 5 years old. My brain split into three different parts to deal with the traumatic event.
“I don’t know what it’s like to live in a world of multiple people sharing one The consciousness. I found that I liked being multiple once I realized that and learned how to shape my life around it. That means that I can step away from my life when it gets too much for me.”
There are some definite drawbacks that impact my life in a lot of ways. I feel like I only got here through therapy and determination, and that I am the minority.
“Many people I know are living with abusive families. They are dependent on at least one other person to support them if they aren’t disabled.”
DID and avoidance
“Everyone with a disability has a structured life around accommodating their DID. I don’t work traditional jobs. I wouldn’t be able to work if it wasn’t for freelance.”
Working as a freelancer allows me to accommodate flare-ups and reduce Stress.so that it doesn’t trigger overwhelm or amnesia.
“My career allows me to avoid crowds, which is atrigger for me. I can go to the grocery store at 2 p.m. because it won’t be as busy as it is when people are getting off of their jobs.”
“I don’t talk to my birth family anymore, except my brother. Many people think this is extreme. It was a necessity for me.”
Being around my family, who have a lot to do with my DID and PTSD, was constantly triggering me. The last time I talked with any of my birth family was October 2021, and I’ve noticed a significant decrease in Stress.flare-ups since then.
I am getting better at this, but I am not great yet.
Having a routine is incredibly helpful for managing Stress.and overwhelm. During the times when I’m better about enforcing my routine, my Stress.levels are lower. I think it’s because I know what to expect and I’m not constantly having to figure out where I am or what I’m doing.
“I talk to myself with DID. I don’t know what I’m doing at any given moment because my alters switch in and out a lot.”
Having the alter talk about what they are doing and what they hope to accomplish when they get there helps prevent the short-term There is a memory. loss that can happen when you get to a certain place.
It was a long process to realize I did. Many people with the disorder are in denial for a long time before they accept their diagnosis.
I thought I had signs of DID in 2010. I knew I had altered my appearance, but I was afraid to admit it. I knew a person with DID who was so bad that they could not function. I was afraid that my life would be a mess if I had done that.
I realized that the disorder varies from person to person when I met several other people with DID. I realized that some people could still work part-time and still adjust to their new normal.
For a long time, I wrote off many of my DID symptoms as complex PTSD as a result of severe childhood trauma — most notably the Disociative amnesia is a condition., or what I would call “blackouts.”
“I met with a psychiatrist in 2021 who told me that I shouldn’t worry about my blackouts being a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
How it feels to have DID
I am proud of my brain and of myself because of DID. I went through years of abuse that most people consider to be the worst type. I am still making a life for myself.
My DID is a successful way to deal with difficult situations.
“We live on our own, mostly by our own merit. We couldn’t have done it without our family and friends, they have been a big part of our lives. We have been together for more than 12 years, and haven’t needed to move in with family.”
I am angry at the people who were around during my abuse. I wonder why no one stopped it from happening.
There is a lot of stigma around the disorder. I have seen and experienced the hurt and haunted of people with DID. They need more than most our love, support, and understanding.
There are several things that help me with my DID. Some of my favorites are listed.
- $ = under $15
- $$ = $15–$25
- $$$ = over $25
- Price: $$
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll shows you how to use a bullet journal to manage your life and how to adapt it for your needs.
Honestly, the bullet journal system saved my life. Before I found it, I wasn’t functional, I wasn’t able to hold down any work, and I wasn’t able to keep up with my therapeutic methods.
Learning how to use the system helped me keep track of what my medications were doing to me.
Most importantly, using a bullet journal is the only way I’ve learned to combat my Disociative amnesia is a condition.. If it’s written down, it doesn’t matter what information my brain retains.
“I know that my bullet journal helps me remember deadlines, where I live, and how to handle certain situations, even if I’m not sure of my There is a memory.. I would not have been able to do that without the book.”
- Price: $$
This workbook was recommended to me during one of my inpatient stays at a mental health unit. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy most commonly used for conditions like borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, and DID.
The DBT has a few core beliefs.
- All things are connected.
- Change is inevitable.
- The opposites can be integrated to get closer to the truth.
Cheat sheets for each skill are one of the things I like about this book. I can refer to this book and not worry about remembering any of these skills.
DBT skills are a great way to learn diStress.tolerance (a person’s ability to manage actual or perceived Emotionsal distress).
“I use this to help me when I am depressed, overwhelmed, or suicidal, and I also use it to help me when I don’t know what to do.”
- Price: $
I have a system for this. The color represents a different thing. When an alter is out, their corresponding color will be on my wrist. All the other colors are on my wrist. I switch to the correct color when one of them leaves.
This system helps in many ways. I realized that I was changing between alters more frequently than I thought after I implemented it. It is an easy way to show the people around me that they are dealing with a different personality.
- Price: $$$
“I couldn’t function without my headphones. I live in an apartment on a busy street and the noise outside can get overstimulating.”
Music can be very calming when I am overwhelmed. I have different music preferences at a given time.
- Price: $
One of the most common symptoms of DID is dissociation.
Dissociation can be a problem.
- The consciousness
- There is a memory.
- Motor control.
The scent of incense brings me back to my body and helps me ground myself in the moment instead of being distracted.
You might think that there are more myths about DID.
People with DID are not violent or harmful. People with DID are hurting. They are more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.
DID is also pretty common; it occurs in around
It is not worth knowing that if you see any symptoms in someone else, it is likely to be worse than you could ever imagine.
People with DID will often downplay their experience and make it seem like it is not as disruptive as it actually is.
DID is a mental health condition. It can be difficult without adequate care.
If you know someone with DID, you should be supportive and open-minded. It is important to understand that their brain works differently than yours.