What I remember next from that early evening in May of 2014 is waking up, one of those naps gone wrong, feeling worse than whatever exhaustion drove me towards slumber. Except tagged to this one is an image I haven’t stopped seeing since: my girlfriend crying at the end of the couch I woke up on. Before that awakening, my last full-fledged memory was exiting the car together—no argument, no trigger, certainly no choking. The only explanation she could share through her shock was “you grabbed me.” What the hell did I do? was quickly replaced, for me, with, What the hell do I do now?
She published an essay in 2016, documenting that horrific event, along with her memory of our tumultuous relationship; it is the only perspective on that event (& several others) that is available & quite frankly, matters. At various stages of this situation, I’ve made offers as methods to forfeit any sort of power in an attempt to reconcile with LR—to drop any classes that she wanted to take that last semester, to skip any poetry / public events she wants to attend, to pay for her therapy, & to accept all punishments the university / the universe saw fit; this public acknowledgement of the event, as well as the continued search for meaning & hope beyond that incident, is my latest attempt at accountability.
“We want to know what makes other people tick, yet we are afraid to discover anything upsetting about ourselves.” – Don Richard Riso
She asked me in late 2014 to give her space, & I’ve done my best to honor that. In the last two years especially, I have poured my energy into understanding & growing out of my own experience, chasing answers to new boiling questions – How does one not only live with having done a terrible thing, but also live beyond that terrible thing? How does one strive towards being a good person, despite the harm he’s caused? The first step, obviously, was figuring out what caused it—the forgetting, the switch, the violence; honestly, even before this incident, I was flailing in the early stages of realizing something was different about me, something was off in my brain.
For a decade, I had been “losing time,” overcome by terrible mood swings & on a few occasions, even hearing voices. Before the parking lot incident, I had inexplicably stolen LR’s car & answered her call from the highway yelling non-sense & obscenities in a different voice; again, she found me on the couch asleep with no memory of the situation, a formula for outbursts that mysteriously pop up in my life to this day. In the spring of 2017, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I believe my openness about my disorder is a necessary contextualization for my betterment & hopefully her recovery, as well as a necessary puzzle piece to create a more secure & manageable future for myself & those in my presence.
“There are really only two stages in any existence—what we’re doing now and what we were doing then.” – Chuck Klosterman
After LR’s essay, a good friend asked why I didn’t just walk away from the situation—LR, the relationship, our co-habitation—immediately after it happened. This is a recurring, natural impulse for me, to flee, that happens still following spells & confrontations of all sorts, but in this situation, when I had done something that hurtful to someone I loved, especially pre-diagnosis & despite better judgement, I felt compelled to help as much as possible. But really, how could I help? First, I tried to provide whatever solutions & compromises arose; whatever LR requested, I went with it—keeping the abuse a secret, moving into a new house together, not telling people we had broken up, continuing to collaborate artistically. For better or for worse, I “helped” by allowing LR the steering wheel for as long as I could.
In learning about accountability, reconciliation, & mutual growth, I eventually realized that wasn’t enough. I had to shift my focus from what the situation “means”—about myself, for LR, for our connection—& focus on why it might have happened in the first place. As should’ve happened much sooner, we had to go our separate ways.
This was the point of the essay where I originally began telling “my side” of the story. I think it’s a natural inclination, one worth acknowledging—to flail for control of one’s own narrative & perception. Around here is where I began rambling off my own play-by-play of the moments from when LR & I finally parted ways till now—the goodbye, an investigation with the university, her essay, a series of random encounters & online interactions. After reading my wife’s responses to an early draft, I realized how off-based such an attempt is, & ultimately, how that’s not the question I’m wrestling--what happened; rather, I’m fighting for a better understanding of why it happened, what I can do to prevent situations like that again, & if anything, how I can continue to improve through the inevitable punishment & in tandem with accountability.
“How exhausting it is to be constructed / of a thousand parts—or is it several thousand?” – Timothy Donnelly
When LR finally started telling the story online, in public, & to the university, I, too, began opening up about it. I never wanted to deny her allegations, even the ones I couldn’t remember; instead, at that point, I spoke in terms of memory, as in I remember that or I don’t recall that but if she said it happened, I believe her. In that time between the incident & my diagnosis, I wasn’t getting the answers I was looking for—definite resolutions or clear answers—but the combination of all of it—the alcohol/anger management courses, the therapy, my writing, the personal conversations—it really started to nudge open some doors.
When LR published her essay, I saw the first glimpse in a couple years of her continued pain & anger. When someone that once knew you so well, that you care about so deeply, feels so strongly about your character & your place in society, it is easy to just collapse, to fold into that image, & move on as a terror. Embarrassed & concerned about this unknown disorder, I have leaned into my family, my writing, & my therapy to make this journey as “successful” as possible. Thanks to great wisdom from loved ones, I finally decided to move on instead in a different avenue than giving into a negative self-image, grappling about the facts, or attempting to impossibly control the past; rather, I worked from the belief in LR’s story & moved forward with hope in change & myself.
“We are not who we were not very long ago.” – Rebecca Solnit
A former friend of mine tweeted something about how you can’t forget that just because someone does good that it doesn’t mean they’re incapable of evil. This is a good reminder, but undoubtedly the inverse is true as well. As my loved ones have taught me, we all need the tools to be our best selves—be it diagnosis or treatment, skills or support. I’ve learned that answering what did I do or what can I do might not always suffice. Naively, I’ve been under the influence that a checklist can be completed in terms of accountability & reconciliation. As I continue to navigate the effects & reverberations of my most regrettable act, it’s clear that I have to trust the process.
I’ve never wanted to deny choking LR, & I never will. The what is clear, but I am so blessed to have the resources to explore the why & the how, which is why I write this blog to process my journey w/ DID. I also must include here a thank you gesture for all the good folks who both held me accountable & also showed me grace & dignity to witness/allow my journey. I was nearly kicked out of the university, yet the resources—insurance, time, money, etc.—that the fellowship afforded allowed me to pursue help & process internally when otherwise I would have been stranded, instead bouncing through the world with this undiagnosed disorder & an ever-destabilizing self-perception. I was separated from a poetry community that had shown me culture, taught me how to be stoked, & gifted me a rejuvenating & healing poetic practice that I would never have found otherwise.
The gratitude I am chasing in these words is that without the MFA program, my former life in poetry, & the deep relationships & practices I made in those spheres (& other arenas), I literally do not know where I would be in this journey with my disorder; it has given me the focus & call-out to address my mental health & make it a priority. I’m reminded of my time working at a ranch for adults with intellectual disabilities; we had a few residents who could be aggressive & our concern, rightfully, often jumped to the victim, their physical/emotional well-being & safety. Our supervisor reminded us that if our goal is progress, future safety, & positive community-building, then we also need to look out for the abuser as well. We must mind the psychological, environmental, & social conditions that allowed & influenced these actions, a sentiment I’ve come to respect & value greatly, one I’m thankful many people in my life have put into action. Without that, I would have been left alone to flounder, certainly harming others & undoubtedly wasting my self.
“What happened to the writer isn’t what matters; what matters is the larger sense that the writer is able to make of what happened.” – David Shields
I’ve written LR dozens of letters over the years since the incident in the parking garage. In order to respect her journey & her previous request to never hear from me again, I didn't send them. As is clear, it took me awhile to come to terms with the right approach to accountability for this situation, if I’m even there at all. What these initial, rational methods don’t acknowledge is the many human feelings wrapped up in it all, the extreme hurt as the dark cloud pulled over the situation, as well as the unknown & unseen forces—biologically, culturally, interpersonally—working in it.
It isn’t about me; I had to rethink my natural default setting of self-centeredness & give up the desire to “fix” the situation, LR, & myself. There is no instruction manual for things like this.
I’d like here to say sorry again, publicly: to LR for the harm I caused; to the communities affected & shaken as a result; to anyone else who has seen or been a part of one of my spells. While my disorder makes memory spotty & unreliable, the accounts are horrifying & real. I am terribly sorry you have to live alone with those memories. Regardless of the disorder, not an ounce of me wishes to justify or elude those actions & the consequences of those actions. It is why I didn’t kill myself or run away into the woods, as I often considered.
Instead, I am respecting the journey, accepting the challenges, & reminding myself what my wife tells me often when I’m feeling guilty about pulling her into this—she chooses each day to be with me. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted; I’m choosing each day to be with my selves, to better understand them, so together we can choose to be—safely, cooperatively, & productively—in this world. If you need anything or want to talk, we are here.
For years I floundered, looking for what was “wrong” with me, recycling the same unanswerable questions to mentor after mentor, therapist after therapist, friend after friend—Why can’t I remember that? Why did I choose to do that? Am I crazy? Who are you again? Luckily, with the help of a wonderful therapist, the crux of an unbelievable support system of loved ones & professionals, we stumbled towards a bit of an answer in early 2017—Dissociative Identity Disorder.
However, often one answer begets a new slew of questions: What caused this disorder? How should I feel about this or that episode? What responsibilities and needs do I have for my loved ones and my community in terms of safety, advocacy, and self-care? These questions & more pour from my mouth & the caring mouths of others. Through therapy, a stack of books and articles, & my own journey through selves-discovery & other internal work, I feel like I’m on a good path, fairly stable, consistent, and (gasp) “normal.”
I’m very fortunate to have such a solid group of loved ones that have listened with open-mind & open-heart, held me accountable in reconciling my past & securing my future, & done their own work to educate themselves about DID as a disorder and my particular case with its particular needs. I was discussing with a friend how it’s necessary for folks with DID, as well as other disorders like PTSD, not only to have support, but the right kind of support, fully-committed & healing-focused. Of course, not everyone is capable of that because of certain circumstances in their own life, & I totally respect that.
However, I am typing through tears of gratitude for those folks who dealt with discomfort (or worse) to ask what they can do to support us in this journey. I figured, heck, it’d probably be a good post, as Pee-Wee put it, to write an article of tips for helping folks with DID and their families, from our perspective, an article we wish we could’ve found when I was first diagnosed.
Starting research & brainstorming for this post, I asked myself, Pee-Wee, & others about tips they have for people learning about, dealing with, & understanding DID. I was also curious about what they’d learned from witnessing my spells—what worked & what didn’t, both in dealing with me & handling their own emotions in & after the moment.
Of course, each case of DID is very personal, having its own systems & needs. This is my best attempt at describing my specific needs, being humble in asking for help, & hopefully providing folks who choose to be a part of my journey or are going through their own dissociative situation (as either a loved one or a patient) with some perspective.
Be Here If You Can
If you are in, my biggest suggestion is doing some of your own reading / work about DID (or any other psychological disorder for that matter). This step will help you reach a level that you’re capable of on your own without the person with the disorder having to coach / teach you; that energy & time can instead be spent on learning how your relationship bisects their particular case, how their disorder operates personally, & setting boundaries that work for everyone.
In terms of materials, I had a life-changing moment, as did Pee-Wee, when I read The Stranger in the Mirror: Dissociation—The Hidden Epidemic by Dr. Marlene Steinberg & Maxine Schnall, an exploration of the psychological condition of dissociation that demystifies it, as well as provides case studies & tips. I’m also working on a review of a book called got parts? – An Insider’s Guide to Managing Life Successfully with Dissociative Identity Disorder by ATW for this blog. I’ll say more about it soon enough, but for now, I highly recommend it as a quick overview of the disorder, full of personal activities & useful resources for managing it. Here are some other online options for quick overviews & helpful tips: Resources from Sidran & DID info at Psychology Today. I’m also not anti-learning-about-DID-through-The-United-States-Of-Tara, especially Season 1; it was clearly well-researched & Pee-Wee & I have both remarked how we find both relatable situations & catharsis in the show. The important thing is to develop your own understanding of the disorder before attempting to support & engage with someone’s specific case.
Say Goodbye If You Can’t
I’ve had enough loss & triggers in recent years; I don’t need someone who is skeptical of my disorder, isn’t willing to do the work, or is fragile in their own right trying to console, support, or assist me, & certainly, that person does not need the added stress of my disorder or a spell. Likewise, it is not helpful to only talk about my disorder, especially if neither of us are learning anything new about it. I’m not obligated to share all the time about my disorder; I also find comfort, joy, & learning experiences in conversing about other things, obviously. Someone in my support system needs to be able to balance their curiosity, their concern, & their general affection, a very tricky trio to handle.
For example, I had to cut out a friend recently who wanted to talk about the same thing over & over, a situation that happened three years ago, not even with him, one that I’d given all my available energy & knowledge of to him years ago. He couldn’t move beyond it in his misunderstanding of my disorder, and thus he was stunting my own development, as we could no longer collaborate in the ways that once helped us both grow—in poetry, with time in nature, on double dates with our wives, etc. As much as it hurts, I’ve also had friends cut ties with me because of reasons like fear, or other factors, as well as my having to end relationships with folks who had their own psychological or substance issues, ultimately the best move for both of us.
One of the most important things we’ve been working on in therapy & in my personal life is stress management. I’ve always spouted off the idea of “setting people up to be their best selves,” but I’m just discovering what that means pointed back towards myself, my disorder, & my alters. It has been proven that more stress, more exhaustion, & more anxiety causes my spells to increase, both in quantity & intensity. This got parts? book hones in on the idea of providing your alters access to their own needs & desires, so reducing my own stress also allows me to provide them the time, comfort, & space they need. Here are a few basic steps I’m taking that might be helpful for others:
Lowering my stress / prepping for stress – This could be asking a lot, but as best as you can, any help in lowering my stress or prepping me for stress is greatly appreciated. This includes but is not limited to: being straight-forward with me about your own needs & feelings, forgiving me for my bad memory, not cancelling on me, letting me know who & what to expect in situations, etc.
Shrinking obligations – Pee-Wee & I are both highly scheduled, highly social, & very much “on-the-go” people. Lately, we have been lowering our amount of programmed time, tightening our social network, & allowing ourselves more downtime or at-home time. Don’t take it personally, please.
Work life – As I detailed in my previous post, I have made some realizations about my capabilities as a working adult, namely that I cannot work in education any longer & that my ability to work full-time might not be stellar right now. Yes, this is a sore subject currently. While I might seem capable of certain things outwardly, especially professionally, the required energy & possible volatility of my condition internally has made certain situations problematic.
Don’t bother my support system – If you bother Pee-Wee, my close friends, or my family about my disorder, my actions, or my reconciling of my past, you probably won’t get an alter, but you will get annoyed Tyler, which certainly doesn’t help me stay leveled. Yes, they know about my disorder, my alters, my capabilities. Yes, they are holding me accountable. No, they are not obligated to long conversations or time spent dealing with you (they expend enough time & energy on my crazy ass, in addition to their own good lives). No, they do not justify my actions or think this is “an excuse.”
Don’t Try To Do Too Much
The best thing you can do is listen to me (or Pee-Wee/friends who have more experience). I’m practicing being more open about my disorder & have trained myself to alert folks of what I need when I feel triggers or anxieties approaching. Often my best method for preventing a spell or damage is to either go away or ask abruptly for others to go away or stop. The natural reaction to this, understandably, is often to push back, or take it personally, or attempt to de-escalate. Trust me when I say these methods do not help the situation, as right as they might sound / feel. If I can go, please let me, or if you can go, please do, when requested.
I had a friend recently try to “de-escalate” the situation after he began to trigger one of my alters, using tactics he’d learned in working with young students. It is important to remember that though I have a child alter & an alter with an “anger problem,” these alternative states do not respond predictably or rationally to tactics such as this. Unfortunately, he refused my repeated requests to please end the difficult conversation & leave; I could feel the physical symptoms (sweating, shaking hands, blurred vision) & loss of coherent thinking / speech / memory that often comes with the switching to my alter Vinny, a control freak who will scare away or get rid of “threats” by any means necessary. Instead of one of us walking away & returning to the difficult conversation at another time when we’re both better prepared, I switched into Vinny.
If I express concern of switching & you do feel capable of preventing a spell, the best method is through grounding. I had a therapist teach Pee-Wee & I a simple grounding tactic that we’ve both utilized successfully dozens of times. It helps to engage all five senses in order to stay present, so the tip is asking “what do you hear / smell / taste / see / feel?” one-at-a-time over & over till the triggering feeling has subsided. Other grounding methods can be saying who you are, our relationship, & a comforting fact, like “My name is Pee-Wee. I am your wife. We are enjoying a nice, safe evening out to eat with our friends,” can also help me to not switch. In general, It works best to deploy facts, not feelings.
If I have switched, there’s no magic button that we know of to ground me or bring me back, unfortunately. Pee-Wee & a couple other trusted folks can bring me to co-consciousness, where I can be present / engaged in the presence of an alter, & my dog Ginny Bug has shown capable of helping me transition out of Vinny or other alters into the child alter, whom we call Little Bobby. The best you can do is leave me alone & listen to Pee-Wee & a couple other trusted folks. Whether you are part of the incitement or not, whether you feel hurt or not, in the midst of a spell is not the time to do anything about it.
We saw this first hand with my friend Geoff about a year ago, right after my diagnosis. Someone he knew threw a beer bottle at a couple friends of mine, a fight broke out, & after Geoff had taken the guy outside & I guided the other friends to the other end of the bar, I went outside to check on Geoff. That’s the last thing I remember. Apparently, I took something Geoff said offensively, not thinking he did enough to settle the situation, so Vinny came out & started to chastise the bottle thrower & then Geoff. Clearly, this was wrong of me & hurtful to Geoff; understandably, Geoff repeatedly attempted to intercept me, apologize, & “right” the situation, a very kind gesture but one that was doomed in this particular scenario.
A couple interesting things happened during that spell. One, we learned that two friends, Ricky & Michael, could ground me, or at least push me towards co-consciousness, something I had been working on with my therapist. When they would approach me, Vinny would recede, & I would become coherent, saying things like “Things aren’t going well are they” or “Please tell Geoff to stay away from me.” I also began to understand Vinny’s use of language, as told to me later by witnesses—he will throw whatever is in his grab bag to cause fear & discomfort in an effort to get rid of “threats.” This night, I shouted projections about my own relationship with my then-fiance, threats that had been made to me in other situations, and more in a flailing effort to “control” the situation. This episode has become both one of the most emblematic of the Vinny alter & one I feel saddest / most guilty about.
In their own ways, these two friends in each story I’ve shared were trying to do the right thing, but it failed because the right thing in most normal, social situations does not work with my alters, especially Vinny. You need to give me time & space to switch back, to recover (these spells are very draining emotionally & physically), & to process what I can on my own before offering witness, reconciliation, & apologies back to our friendship. The spells can often be very disturbing or confusing to those others who experience it, so it’s also proven useful to have time to process for your own sake.
This post felt necessary, like I said, following a great conversation with Pee-Wee, about the lack of personal, real-life “tips” for folks with DID & their loved ones. In addition to helping the friends & loved ones who read this blog, I hope this can help others with alters explain their specific needs to their trusted circle & I hope this gives a framework for loved ones, past / present / future, in caring for folks with DID. It is a strange, frustrating disorder for all, but I believe only in working together, as a system & a community can we create anything sustainable out of this mess.
I often process the frictions, factions, & fumbles in my social life through my poems. After writing this post, I galloped back to see what poems might slide nicely here. Thinking of this idea of "How Do I Help?" here are a few:
RESISTANCE TO LIGHT
A dove is stranded on the road towards Rome!
O do care to trample gently in return.
In fretting, anxiety, I came to view
The well-washed window, okay? Do you, do you
Find risk in my sly questions? My primary
Drug: when I dare invent these miserable
Reasons to call. Persistence never soothes
The mind, never stretched the illumination
Long enough to notice the chair has a spine
In it still. No more houses for the bad guys!
Let them fucks walk down to the concerned teeth
Of the anchored village, and shame on the boats
Guffawing existence in the pain of y'all.
Ah, diverse swearing—in the world not so pure
And in apology—it's significant
No one is innocent. By, Nancy, your lungs
Might obscure the heat in my vial of blood,
The port of my late travesty. An echo,
Firm & scandalizing, comes disappointingly
To drop down by the alternative garden
—a farce, an anchor guaranteeing death &
No money—I say tata & with others fly beyond Rome...
It was very important
When you leaned towards the camera
To say I see you & made this
A pleasant place to be, though it smells
Like seven rotten pumpkins
Because nothing is as what it is
As it is not what you think.
It is nice when someone promises
& is attentive to be sure
The gap in the gate of the new fence
Around the old parking lot
Gasps wide enough for your vehicle
To exit. Else the newness
It becomes useless. It does not sound
Very important, but yes,
It is true: the love I need can fit
Inside my truck, or the cloud
Shaped like Lincoln ending this poem.
Get off the internet, Diana. It is yours.
What is? Your birthday, but not
Just any birthday. 31. The Reggie
Miller birthday. A terrible-twos
Away from your Jesus
Birthday. An inversion of the number
Some wacko declared unlucky
Though he himself probably lived
For least a couple iterations of such.
Lately, the talk is hospitality, so here
Is a chair, is a pizza, is another
Chair for your tired feet. The massage
Of a lifetime like ducks skittering
Straight across the top of my pond.
As a baby, I did not know
You & even if we had crossed, had lives
Under the same awning, I would not
Remember you. This is not an argument,
But gratitude as loud as time.
What joy to know you, to love you now,
To eat duck fat fries & stumble
Up the dirty stairs together. You cannot spell
Bold without old, hospitality without hospital.
I would lose my watch if not attached
To my wrist, my head if it not sewn
To you, forever or several Reggie Millers over.
It was another morning, a Thursday I think, & my boss immediately intercepted me at my desk, like she often did, saying she had to ask me about something. It was usually like, “Is renting a U-Haul truck & picking up all this stuff I just bought by one o’clock possible?” or “Do we have space for this student?” The typical Head-of-School-to-Director-of-Operations exchange. What she came to tell me, taking me to an adjacent building instead of her office as usual, broke me to tears in a snap that has become all too typical in recent years.
Shaking, crying & trying to stay grounded (my attempt to not “switch” into an alter), I stumbled to my car, taking the rest of the day off. I had just been told that I made a co-worker so nervous that she was about to call the police, an occurrence I have no memory of, emotionally or physically. She didn’t know what else to do. Here’s this young man, one she’s always had a good relationship with, now her supervisor, shouting irrational, cruel, & completely inaccurate things to her, but also to no one, that personal-panic-turned-widespread verbal assault of the control freak alter I’ve begun calling Vinny. Of course she didn’t know what to do; she, my boss, & much of the rest of the world did not have the right context, all the information (& even if they had, what could they do, what would they know to do, what is there to be done?). I didn’t even know what was happening either.
Up till then, I had a full year of learning about my disorder, growing into my new job, building some kickass relationships, & exploring my hobbies & art practices, on top of some (more) broken relationships, stepping away from the poetry community, & uncovering more memories lost. A second marriage came. A promotion came. Loads of compliments about my progress, about my integrity, about how good I was at whatever it was I was doing. But outside of a few friends, my parents, & my wife, no one knew just what I was truly struggling with—this disorder, the complete incompatibility of it with my career in education, & the anxiety I carried around because of not being open about it.
Then one spell turns on, like a light. It illuminates everything I had tried to hide, that my coworkers / community members / loved ones had not been privy to, that my memory had zapped clean. It illuminates spells that had been written off, misunderstood. It illuminates my need to be open about my disorder, to build a better community around myself, to find ventures & adventures that support this disorder.
Fast forward a week, my week of medical leave to “decompress,” to meet with my therapist, to talk with my wife & my parents & my closest friends. We know what I am capable of in terms of spells & outbursts & harm the small-but-raucous percent of time I dissociate. But the new question to answer became, “What am I capable of in terms of hope, consistency, moving on?” The first answer burst bright & clear: I must be more open about my disorder, both with myself and others.
The first step to this opening-up was writing an email to my boss, providing her with many of the revelations & reactions in the first post & this one here. I was the first to call it—there was nowhere, in this situation, to go but away. My boss spent a week talking to the board, the priest, the other administrators, trying to figure out a way this could work. My mom sent me very “mom texts” about how I’ll just apologize & everything will go back to “normal.” My wife imagined overly-idealistic & otherworldly-generous accommodations my boss might make. But I knew when the call came from my therapist, after her talk with my boss, two experts trying to piece together an impossible puzzle, that my time at that school was up, as was probably my career in education.
But first before walking away from that school, all schools, I had to debrief with my boss, sign the paperwork, clean out my desk. In her office, I mostly listened, opened myself like a child’s butterfly net, hoping to snag whatever fluttering piece of hope I could. She listed her hopes for me—the hope in my ability “to do anything,” the hope in my wonderful support system, the hope in the books I cradled out of my office. Leaving that school for the last time filled me with a sadness, but what stays ringing in my ears is a sweet older teacher, uninformed about my situation, simply said, “It’s good to see you.”
I did what anyone would do in that situation. I grabbed a burger & a milkshake & planted myself on the couch for the afternoon, not giving over to wallowing or depths of depression, but merely existing, as my therapist suggested, in the moment, in the sadness. Then, I did something I’d never done before—I went with my friend to do stand-up comedy. I did three-minute sets at two different comedy open mics, babbling about the fish-per-dollar ratio on my shirt, the hilarity of names, but ultimately my bit was about my DID, a public admittance of the tangle inside me, something I’ve never been able to do in a meeting room, on a poetry stage, in print, or elsewhere publicly.
I forgot to include this in my bit, so I’m adding it here now: My mom is supporting, loving, & tries her best to understand her strange hick-dissociative-poet son. Pee-Wee told me about a time I had forgotten something in the house, so I left mom, dad, & Pee-Wee in the car while I ran back inside. Hopping back out, I was singing or dancing or something like nobody was watching, except my mom was watching; perplexed, she confided in Pee-Wee, “Sometimes I can’t tell if he’s being weird or if he’s having one of his spells.” I don’t know why I love this anecdote so much, or how it fits here, but there you go.
Anyhow, sitting in the car between the two gigs, Colton, a newer friend / brother of an old friend, starts shedding some of his demons, bad jokes he made on radio shows in his early twenties, some nudge towards “the asshole I was in high school.” He says something about how he’s glad he didn’t meet me then because I wouldn’t have liked him, how he didn’t even like himself until last year, the year he started doing stand-up coincidentally. What luck to shed those layers, to know the self now detached from the layers of the past.
This morning somehow I fell down the rabbit hole of “catching up” with my ex-wife on the internet. Instagram had suggested I follow her new husband, a friend of mine in high school & college, & while I didn’t make the click, I did check out a few photos of their first child, their new house, a cute photo of them in the woods. I don’t think I have Colton’s ability of severance, to separate the scrapes & scraps of the past from the weird line I’m walking now. This “news” of my ex-wife’s joy in moving on didn’t crumble me, didn’t send me spiraling, as one might expect, as might’ve happened previously. Instead it flicked a tick of hope, that the people I hurt can move on to bring adorable babies into the world, can fall in love, can make wicked discoveries about themselves & the world, despite the negative reverberations of my episodes.
Standing on that stage, saying the words “I have Dissociative Identity Disorder” & then molding that fact into a particular shape (whatever shape okay-humor is, maybe a cone?), I was reminded yet again of the importance of art, of creating something, not out of nothing, but from rearranging, to borrow from Jack Spicer, the furniture in my brain. I’m reminded of Tara (Toni Collette) in The United States of Tara, as she struggles with the “what now” aftermath of her disorder, saying her new mural gig is just what she needs, a chance to show that she can be functional, can create. It’s why, despite having no place in the poetry community / publishing world, I continue to read, write, & breathe poems; it’s never been about the career or the product, but rather the project, the project of the selves.
The other morning, my boss sent out an email to the staff & later the students’ parents about my leaving, surely a shock to them all (besides maybe the ones who saw me acting strange). It wasn’t appropriate for me to say goodbyes there, then, when my boss & I sat down to collaborate (another hopeful small victory, a person of authority not just shutting me down / kicking me aside but actually listening & collaborating) on how to frame it for everyone. The real goodbyes will trickle in, will come later at parties & random run-ins at HEB or the community pool.
For now, I live with this dream of saying goodbye that I had, one of the most restful slumbers in recent evenings. In that dream, I went to each staff member & we executed what felt like the perfect ending for each professional relationship—the jokesters did goofy handshakes, the huggers embraced me, the criers left tears on my shoulders. I pushed Finnegan on the swing one last time. I reminded Jake to stay on the track with the bike. I helped clean up Ella’s scraped knee. Then, just like it had happened in real life, I walked off with a handful of books & looked back. The playground was empty.
It’s no secret, just look at my resume, just ask my therapist, just ask my wife, I live a cyclical mess. Friendships have a three-year deadline. Jobs are one-&-done. So, while this job is the same, one year & then I collapsed, this dream ending, the meeting with my boss, the ability to stop & chit-chat with students & parents & former co-workers is a projected future that I didn’t even have with other situations—jobs, relationships, my own journey. My tactic was always to flee, to back away, to hide. I had no imagination for reconciliation, understanding, compromise & clean breaks. But if these last couple weeks have taught me anything, it’s that my imagination gives me a little hope, again.
I've been processing the sadness of leaving of the school by writing these small poems inspired by former students. You can read them here as they develop.