It’s true I had plans, hopes, & certainly reason to knock out more of these essays about my journey with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) this year for this here blog. There’s plenty of parts of myself / my life I could blame—busy opening days as a freelance handyman, a recent renaissance in poetry penning, the dang holiday season(s), the expected scattered brain, a surprising stint of stability within that brain. Right now, I’d like to blame the last essay of 2018 that was the mud I got stuck in: a set of ruminations inspired by photos I began to write after moseying back to Texas following my Uncle Jimmy’s funeral in North Carolina back in late October.
In order to become grounded & remain present, but also most importantly to be attentive to my dad & reconnect with my Gobble / North Carolina family, I vowed to stay off my phone. However, I found in this attempt a sensitivity to the visuals around me & a quickly-revealed inability to retain much detail separated from those visuals. So I budged a bit & began snapping photos, a few a day.
The essay I didn’t finish brought together the dozen best of those snapshots, each followed by a meditation on the photo. A photo of my dad painting the letters on a tire bright green & a sigh for the artistic / creative life he is just finding later in his life. A photo of my one remaining uncle’s two donkeys & some personal insight into the importance of what we let surround us, the purpose we gift ourselves in the caring for other creatures. A photo of my dad & three of his siblings around a table & how I see myself fitting in, fitting beyond, fitting around this family.
To be honest, the first entry, inspired by a photo of the first place I stopped after flying into Charlotte, a greasy spoon breakfast joint, is the only one that felt finished, the first & the foremost. So here it is now:
Whether a homeplace or a new spot or somewhere in between, when I land or find land, I hunt the comfortable place to stretch & fill up, ground myself & refuel, to be alone among strangers. A diner is a place I’ve always felt settled, the lingering smell of smoke from the days they allowed that sorta thing, like maybe last Tuesday when no one was looking, the can’t-mess-it-up (as long if you’ve got decent) biscuits & gravy, the families & old folks sipping their coffees & starting this particular day surrounded by one another. I go in, content to be alone with my book & their sounds, but end up, almost always, accompanied. Here, for instance, I settled into the only table available, a six-seater, & moments later when a couple & their teenage son stepped through the door way, the father & I, our words bumped – “Y’all can sit with me.” / “Can we sit with you?” The wife & the son sat at the other end facing each other, but the father evened it out, sitting right across from me. I did not want to impose, to take up any further room in their local spot (I knew it was theirs because they had ordered ahead – “the salmon cakes take longer,” the father said). The wall, it was theirs to break, & they did. The mother first commented on the book I was reading (WHY POETRY by Matthew Zapruder), the son later complimenting my jacket, his own jacket quite nice itself (faded denim with the neck layer of wool). But it was the father who played a welcoming version of connect-the-dots with me, swapping life checkpoints, discussing tattoo choices, & unearthing our similarities. Down here in Texas, I drive on many of the roads he helped construct. Two old ladies in Carolina Panthers jerseys teased a young man in a New England Patriots hat. Then my biscuits were gone, I scooped the last of the gravy with my spoon, & just like that, it was time to head on down around the bend. I shook each hand & relayed how much I appreciated having breakfast with them. Right before I left, the mother whispered something to the father, who chimed this goodbye--“Hey buddy, by any chance did I sell you a Ford Bronco in 2004?” I said, “No, sir, you did not, but maybe one day.”
Another essay to file under “drafted-but-didn’t-finish-in-2018" was a post about extreme feelings. I’ve always been befuddled by my natural inclination towards extremes, overwhelmed with its effects. Five years ago during our first session, my therapist SW said the core of my problems was easy to spot, the fact that my emotions so often solely operate on extremes, one or five, as she put it, furious / devastated or ecstatic / wound up, no happy, no sad, no bummed, no content. My choices often mirrored this shakiness; in moments of conflict, I chose fight followed by flight, the two locking hands & steam-rolling; unleashed, I’d react aggressively, irrationally, insanely & then instead of repairing, I’d run away, destroy the relationship, the moment, any chance beyond repair.
One reason I didn’t finish this essay is that I was also feeling inspired to think more on how this plays out across our modern society, but I’m clearly not up to that challenge yet. Too close in time to LR’s essay to make judgments on accountability vs. punishment. Too raw from all that I’ve done, all I’ve learned I’ve done, all I’ve learned I’m capable of doing to contemplate feelings vs. facts. Too new at this whole (less) extreme thing to dispel good vs. bad, to rebalance reaction vs. prevention. I stalled writing this essay because simply, I couldn’t pound the pavement as deeply as I yearned to because I’m still mid-swim in regards to reframing how I perceive the world as I live it with this disorder, with this history, with this future.
Another essay I didn’t write in 2018 was about my relationship to substances, chiefly beer. It came from a still nagging annoyance, how a random acquaintance tried to spin the narrative of the incident in LR’s essay to be about misperceived alcoholism & his own self-righteousness, instead of LR’s pain, my struggle with anger & mental health, & the importance of accountability.
In the first draft, I explained how I was straight edge from thirteen to twenty-two—no booze, no drugs, no smokes, no caffeine even—inspired by a rowdy but positive scene of Midwestern punk & hardcore kids, as well as a rare stroke of early-teen good decision-making. I had heard enough of my dad’s story of abuse from his alcoholic father & seen first-hand my uncle’s wild drunken behavior to know I was susceptible to such booze-induced bad decision-making.
I also wanted to explain how the most embarrassing part about not drinking into my mid-20s wasn’t being the guy who didn’t drink, it was being the guy who had just begun to drink in his mid-20s. I realized that when one starts drinking at twenty-two, one goes through the same phases, but they’re a little skewed & you look a different kind of dumb because of the age difference. Falling down wasted for the first time or not knowing the differences between types of alcohol is one thing when you’re sixteen, but an adult’s mistakes cannot be passed off as an ignorant kid move.
I also felt ready to admit I drank too much for a couple years, but I kept tripping back on excuses, who I was dating, where I lived, etc. Why is it so hard to admit I had that problem? I remember the one time someone accused me of having a drinking problem; my girlfriend-at-the-time & I both wondered how it could be a drinking problem if it wasn’t causing any actual problems—no drinking & driving, no financial problems, no professional problems—& yet right here a problem was staring us in the face.
A major part of this essay would have been about how starting my relationship with D in early 2015 brought with it the realization that I needed to do some intense self-reflection & problem solving around drinking, for my health & for the construction of my self (selves). I was facing the fact I was struggling with some sort of undiagnosed psychological issue. As Dr. Marlene Steinberg says, many dissociative disorders go unregulated & undiagnosed because people self-medicate with booze & drugs. In my mid-20s, I smoked pot to ease my increasing anxiety & thus the true symptoms were obscured.
Still, that essay threatened to veer towards the back-patting & proof-giving I was avoiding (like how I had never had a “spell” while intoxicated, & booze & weed even seemed to settle these symptoms), some blah-blah about my drinking plan in the years since. I wanted to prove that asshole wrong. Instead, I’d rather that essay be one of apology for any stupidity my drinking caused to anyone actually affected by it, to be one of reflection for how drinking bisects & blurs mental health, & to be one of gratitude for D for all her encouragement about my health, both physical & mental. She urged me to take better care of myself, not out of shame, but concern, because as she said, she wanted me to live longer & healthier alongside her. It’s hard to say no to that.
Another essay I didn’t finish, though I had a substantial draft, was about confidence & anxiety. About two years ago, I decided it was time to try medication to temper some of the inner feelings that spark my spells & the anxiety that re-cropped up with my diagnosis, the nerves firing in fear of having a spell. During my last year of grad school I had to storm out of several classes / meetings due to early signs of dissociative spells, later had to quit three jobs that didn’t coexist well with my journey, & abandoned / let down countless friends & opportunities as well. Nowadays, I take a low daily dose of Fluoxetine, an antidepressant belonging to a group of medicines known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). As my physician says, it takes the edge off, my edge being particularly jagged, variant, & unpredictable.
It’s likely I’ve always been this way, though I’ve clearly pushed it down to great success at times; as I said in a poem once, “My dad said I’d have a heart attack before I turned 18. I showed him.” After my beloved grandma & my favorite uncle died within a year, those deaths I had premonitions about, not long after my brother was sent away, I became very nervous, mood-swingy, & possibly paranoid.
I later realized the fear of having these outbursts, spells, fits, breakdowns, whatever you call them always ran deep inside me; the constant fear of possibly hurting someone or blabbering something awful (& worse, not knowing it!) or just generally being crazy unfortunately made those moments worse. Anxiety of embarrassment or loss of loved ones leads to an episode which brings more anxiety, thus bringing guilt & embarrassment, which leads back into another spell, which causes more anxiety, which causes another episode. We see how it becomes a cycle.
Yes, I accept the things I do in moments of dissociation or poor decision-making, & I hope to make amends & continue to be better, but the pill’s surprising insight on minimizing the initial anxiety has reopened some wonderful doors to confidence, focus, & collaboration in steps towards that goal.
In 2018, I meant to write an essay about how I internalize, understand, & feel about physicality, violence, & my body in the world. I couldn’t quite get the engine revving, so here are a few failed starts:
I would never say I grew up in a violent environment; my parents never hit me, though there were some much-deserved threats, & the social altercations of my youth were pretty on par with what I’ve heard from other rural Midwestern boys of the late 90s/early 00s. However, after I moved to Austin & became more capable of intellectualizing my past choices, habits, & episodes, I realized many people are not conditioned to see physicality the same way I was. Physicality—be it violence, sexuality, dare-devil stunts, whatever—is processed in my brain similarly to emotional & psychological areas of life—choices & habits to be trialed, misused, wielded, & eventually, hopefully, abandoned, or at least integrated into, adult life, not something to be totally shunned & ridiculed.
In what I call my “wake-up years,” last year of undergrad to now, I’ve come to realize many people my age, especially ones I’ve met in Austin in more “liberal” circles, trust the evolution & growth of emotional & psychological challenges & choices, but have completely banished physicality, especially violence, to the dumpster or abstracted it in words or video games, let’s say, that it doesn’t ring or fade into life, even if it’s tied into psychological or emotional struggles.
From an early age, physicality was presented to me as something to wield, like strong words, for power, control, & negotiation. Through movies, sports, & the ol’ “don’t start a fight, but finish a fight” wisdom, I, like many sensitive boys (or so I’ve been told by several therapists), became very swirled in the unwritten rules & difficult feelings of life. As my particular traumatic moments accumulated & my emotions & physicality intertwined heavily, I lost track of the control & consistency I should have had.
My best friend from school got spit into a rough family--substance abuse, violence, verbal barrages—& I chose, strangely enthusiastically, to be engulfed in it.
Central Indiana isn’t quite the beacon of mental health care; though full of kind-hearted, well-intentioned folks no doubt, the therapeutic community I bounced around in much of my life did more to suppress my struggles & feelings than to actually resolve or work through them. It wasn’t till I moved to Austin & found my first therapist here, SW, that I realized how backwards my therapy had been in Indiana. From school counselors who explained my anger as the devil working inside me to the various sports coaches & male confidantes who repeatedly told me to suck it up to my university therapist who convinced me to give up on my first marriage after only three sessions to my post-graduation therapist back home who taught me a three-step rule (1. Say your feeling. 2. Shout your feeling. 3. Make an aggressive gesture). I was trained to run around with these intense negative feelings bottled up, out of fear & shame, instead of learning constructive ways to re-channel them.
The essay I didn’t finish in 2018 that I most wish I had was one about writing letters, the importance they’ve taken on as I understand my disorder, past / present / future. Writing letters of apology, of explanation, of atonement for my past actions, forgotten or not. Writing letters asking for an account from folks who witnessed a spell, in the process of getting to know my parts / reintegrating.
I also meant to write letters to each of my alters, thanking them for their helpful intentions, explaining what I need from each of them moving forward, asking more about their needs. I wanted to write about how important letters from friends, family members, & even more distant folks have been, telling me about their own / loved one’s mental health journey (sometimes even with DID!) & encouraging me to continue this exploration.
It was going to end with a letter I wrote to LR, breaking her request to never contact her again, but I couldn’t find a way that wasn’t self-serving & exploitative, so now there’s just this.
I wanted to write an essay exploring what I wish I would’ve done & what I hope I’ll do in the future when faced with moral dilemmas like knowing someone who did or has been accused of doing something pretty rough. I was mostly thinking about the editor / publisher BC who published my first poetry collection & was later accused of sexual harassment. I didn’t engage him in the way I should have, out of peer pressure & fear; after having gone through my own journey with public shaming & disconnected community, I have some clarity on how to treat others the way I’d like to be treated, thanks in large part to the accountability, grace, & solid communication thrown my way by my own loved ones.
Luckily in the past several years, I’ve been blessed to work in more thoughtful, open-minded educational settings that emphasize natural consequences over punishment. Sometimes it is a literal difference; other times it is about framing. When I worked with adults with intellectual disabilities, this difference was crucial. Likewise, later teaching three-year olds at a preschool, instead of time-outs & stern, negative statements, we leaned on modeling, information, & patience.
This positive societal shift occuring in our society—folks like BC & myself being called out in the literary scene, the entertainment industry’s attempt at keeping abusive men out of the workplace, & the calling out of political figures who don’t live up to their offices’ ethical standards—has done great work in giving victims a voice, protecting vulnerable people from abuse, & hopefully, provided abusers & troubled, potentially harmful folks the accountability to better themselves.
It’s also reminded me that unintentional yelling & controlling, unfocused tactics create an impasse that is its own void or silence. Oh how I wish I had talked to BC more directly, both as men called out by women in the poetry scene, in need of revisiting our behaviors & place in society. An old friend of mine tweeted something about not being able to love someone enough to make them better; this person, however much they loved me, never discussed this situation with me, never provided her perspective & never pushed me towards being a better me. Instead, like many in the literary community, I was given the silent treatment. The path is still being paved, but I can’t imagine the best or right move in this day & age is exile, punitive ignoring.
That feels like punishment & I have come to believe what we need are natural consequences, good or bad. I am ashamed I did not do this with BC, to be more communicative & helpful, instead of ignoring him out of fear for myself & some unrealistic good-bad binary. The straight-forward-ness, this “calling in” idea, seems to be best, a community holding up victims & holding others accountable. I now see this as a natural consequence to the situation for everyone—the necessity of me being accountable & in-process regarding my actions, no matter the cause. As outsiders to a situation, we must hold ourselves accountable as community members, friends, & family.
Leading up to my one-year wedding anniversary with D, I wanted to revisit my vows, write a more direct / less family-friendly, redacted & rehashed version. My relationship with D has been my steadiest rock in the last several years. I nodded in that direction, my appreciation & my admiration. But in the familial cluster of wedding hoopla, I couldn’t say everything I need to say. I couldn’t say, “Thank you for immediately creating the space for me to be honest about my past blunders & my mysterious brain blisters, allowing me to tell you on our first date about how I choked my ex-girlfriend in a parking garage.” I couldn’t say, “Thank you for not letting me run away & live in my van, for not giving up on our mutual attempt to understand my disorder, for being bold about your own needs for safety, comfort, & decompression, for separating my states & recognizing the nuance in your own memory & experience.” But now I have.
I also wanted to check in on my own vows I did make that day—”I promise to always give you the tools & knowledge to be your best self. I’ll be your biggest fan at the desk, in the woods, at the theater, on the couch, wherever. I’ll be your best friend, listening when you need, playing together always, & giving advice when asked.” As I was rereading my vows for the first time in a good long while, this ending strikes me as truer than ever—”I will always love you, & with you being such a lovely freaking person, I’ll always like you, & because of that, I can promise, I’ll follow you wherever this stupid life takes us. You have taught me nothing less.”
I wanted to write an essay about cultural representations of DID. Here are some quick thoughts / rundowns:
Fight Club - Wouldn’t it be nice to blame my embarrassing teenage obsession with this movie as an early sign of my dissociative traits, how I “saw myself” in the movie, how I related to the struggle, if on a much smaller scale? But truth is, I was just like other midwestern weirdo teens, enamored with Edward Norton &/or Brad Pitt, aroused by the intense plot & giving into a typical teenage escapism. Truth is, I didn’t even connect this movie to DID or my journey till someone texted me a few months ago & said, “Just watched Fight Club & thinking of you,” which, to be honest, securely makes the top 10 weirdest text I’ve ever received list.
United States of Tara – This certainly takes the sponge cake as the most relevant (& surprisingly accurate) to my personal journey with DID. D & I, watching the series together, had some amazing connective tissue reflected in the show—the exhaustion after a spell, the struggle with treatment / public shaming / getting to know the alters, & the importance of art, most notably. We could also laugh at some scary moments in our own lives for the first time, seeing them reflected back in the safety of the screen.
Certain stand-up bits – This is another case of retroactively lacing my experience with something I love, but still, I think it checks out. Mike Birbiglia’s whole story told in Sleepwalk with Me about his rare sleep disorder, his original refusal to deal with it, & the physicality of this psychological issue rang particular bells for me. My favorite comedians have taught me to laugh at myself more & to not be so bummed about the things my disorder prevents, like having kids; I’m thinking here specifically of Bill Burr’s desire to not have kids because he doesn’t want to download all his fucked-up thoughts onto their precious, empty hard drives.
Sybil - This is the one that people most often reference when I reveal I have Dissociative Identity Disorder; even my therapist walked it out as a point of reference when doing the final chisel on my diagnosis. To her credit, it was a comforting move, a launching off point in contrast & contextualizing. I still haven’t seen it. It’s a scary movie, right?
Split - This is another one I haven’t seen, but I’ve seen the trailer like two dozen times. D doesn’t like me watching negative representations of DID & related disorders / scenarios, a good looking-out-for-you move. I often worry about the things I’ve done or am capable of while in spells or during moments I lose time. For years, I worried I might be a psychopath or sociopath; still, I’m terrified of discovering a nutjob (or should say, nuttier) alter. I surely don’t need this fella’s completely unhinged image as a mirror hanging in my imagination.
“Pretty Pimpin’” by Kurt Vile – D confessed that she’d always had a special connection to this song & recently realized its DID vibes. I must say I’ve always felt a special camaraderie to Vile, along with other more elliptical, dissociative lyricists like Courtney Barnett, Bob Dylan, & State Champion; like I’ve said before about poetry, this kinda work feels natural & somehow clearer to me. I heard him play it live the other day alongside my buddy BM, & when he started out, “I woke up this morning / Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror / Then I laughed & I said, "Oh silly me, that’s just me,” I laughed, too.
Hereditary - What’s the deal with Toni Collette & DID? United States of Tara & now this. When TC’s character says early on in this movie that her mother had been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, knowing it was a horror movie, D & I both leaned forward & put on our worried faces. Would this movie fuel the fright train with the energy of DID? Like Split (or so I assume), would it add another person to the crazy-multiples list, thus inducing my worry & notching another fear in D / the world’s belt? Instead, DID turns out to be about the least weird thing in this movie & through the terror, that felt nice.
The last essay I wanted to write in 2018 was about endings & abandonment, & I quickly realized it’s best suited for another format. I have this intense urge to revisit, though not necessarily reconnect or reconcile, lost friendships & relationships, to move beyond the grievance, embarrassment, & hurt together. I want to understand how to have a job, how to quit a job, how to develop a career with DID. I want to know how to take a trip or have an argument or suffer loss without completely losing it, without destroying it. I’ve started that work here & over in AN NEWSLETTER. I hope to take both of those deep dives further as I poke & prod, knead & nod towards exploring these big questions in a podcast in the Spring of 2019. Thank you for all the love & support in 2018; see y’all in 2019!