How do we do it? As multiples, how do we live in a world which is not geared to our special needs? We exist, we go through our days like every one else (well, sort of.) Within the course of one day, how many inner adjustments do we make just to be able to tread water? Like me, you might not always be aware of making these adjustments, as automatic as they’ve become. Still, there are some things those of us with DID will probably never be able to do automatically.
For me, one of those things is maintaining some kind of organization to my days. Somehow the days slip away from me without accomplishing half of what I’d hoped to do. The biggest reason for this is that I have parts whose co-operation I need in order to finish certain things. For instance, I will begin enthusiastically to make a softie. I’ve got everything cut out, things are going well and bam! Suddenly I’m pulled into another direction altogether, the softie lying abandoned and forgotten on my sewing table. Someone has just decided that it would be more fun, or satisfying, to make bread. So it’s off to the kitchen where, hopefully, I’ll have enough energy for such a task. Somehow I manage to stay focused long enough to throw the bread dough together, and cover it with a tea towel to let it rise. Then bam! It’s off to clean my room. This is a dubious undertaking at best. There are so many distractions.
While cleaning my room I’m likely to stumble across a bit of writing I meant to post on my blog weeks ago. Well, that can’t be put off any longer! I plop down in my desk chair and start by checking my e-mail. Someone’s sent me a message proclaiming, “Congratulations! You’ve just won a lap top computer!” Now, I get these all the time, and would be more than happy to simply delete them. But no, I have a couple of optimistic parts who refuse to believe that anyone would lie to us, and they just have to check it out. This takes some time, because of course when you click on the link you have to complete a survey, and then you are taken to list after list of “free offers” where you are encouraged to accept at least one. The problem with these “free-offers” is that at the very least, you’re expected to pay for shipping and handling. I don’t own a credit card, so here’s where the whole thing bogs down. I’ve just (for the kazillionth time) wasted 20 minutes of my day. There’s laughter and scoffing ricocheting inside my head. There’s a deep sense of disappointment too, which I know is ludicrous, considering how many times we’ve fallen for such nonsense. But it’s there anyhow, and it’s a feeling of how could I fall for something so stupid? I must really be lame if I think someone’s gonna just hand over a free laptop!
Now, full of discouragement, I look around my disheveled room, and my heart sinks. I don’t have enough storage space. How will I ever bring order out of this chaos? Very few of my parts actually enjoy, or are okay with, this chaos. It causes a deep sense of unease. But how do I find a place for everything? And isn’t this exactly why I didn’t follow through yesterday with my resolution to whip my room into order? It rings a bell, but I might be thinking of last week, or 3 months ago.
Well for crying out loud, it suddenly occurs to me that I haven’t eaten a bite today. Of course! This explains everything! How can I be expected to make any room-cleaning progress on an empty tummy?
In the kitchen I remember that I haven’t taken my medication for the day. Reaching into the cupboard, I retrieve the familiar white bottle. I’ve got the top off, and am in the act of tipping a pill into the palm of my hand, when I notice that something about it seems wrong. I peer at it as if it contains all the secrets of the universe. I know I haven’t taken one today, so why this hesitant feeling? I stare blankly at the other pill bottles crowding the dinky cupboard space. I’m hoping for enlightenment, hoping that if I stare long enough into the shallow depths of this little cupboard, a light bulb will go off over my head. Meanwhile, the rumbly feeling in my tummy reminds me of why I came into the kitchen to begin with. With a shrug, I recap the bottle, figuring I’ll deal with that later. Just as I return it to the cupboard and begin to close the door, I see the label from the corner of my eye. Of course! Those are my sleeping pills! No wonder I couldn’t bring myself to take one. Someone’s watching out for me, no doubt a part who has no intention of spending the day sleeping.
Now the phone rings, and it’s one of my sons. Too bad I can’t figure out which one. I let him talk, knowing that it will come to me within a sentence or two. And it does. Relief washes over me! (Sometimes, feeling overly-confident, I’ll call him by the wrong name, which is always met with exasperation.) We talk briefly and I hang up the phone, then stand there wondering what it was I meant to do. Oh yeah, water the plants. In the middle of this task, my stomach once again protests, and I laugh at myself. Okay, okay, just let me finish this one thing.
While fixing myself a bite to eat I recall that I need to do laundry. Abandoning the half-fixed meal, I shuffle off to my room where I am met, all over again, with that nagging sense of needing to restore order. But first the laundry, I tell my(selves) firmly. Oh, how proud am I that I didn’t forget the reason for coming in here! Scooping up a load of clothes, I return to the kitchen, deposit them on top of the washer, and notice my food awaiting me with silent reproval. Sigh. I really should eat before going any further into my day.
I’ve always been a fast eater, and today is no exception. For the millionth time I wonder why that is. I flash on various childhood dinners, and wince. The stepfather, King of the Mountain, leers at me across the table, winks in a lascivious way when Mom’s not looking. He makes crude comments, then laughs like a hyena at his own lame jokes. I choke down my food, anxious to be done with the meal so I can do the dishes and receive permission to leave the house for a couple of hours. The faster I eat, the sooner I can complete my after dinner chore.
Blinking back tears with angry frustration, I finish the rest of my breakfast in one big gulp, and jump up to stack my dishes in the sink. Seeing dirty laundry heaped on the washer, I tend to that while thinking, oh yeah, what about the plants? One of my insiders is laughing, and I hear, You already did that, dummy. Oh, right.
Now it’s back to my room. My shoulders slump in defeat as I survey the mess. How can one person be so messy? Immediately I laugh out loud at the absurdity of thinking in terms of one person, and clamp a hand over my mouth. Nothing will stop the hysteric laughter rising inside of me. I don’t want my family to hear me laughing out loud alone in my room, though. They know about my DID, but no point in being so obvious about it. As abruptly as the laughter began it fizzles out. I plop down on the bed, suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. I turn on the TV and discover, much to my delight, an old 50’s movie. That’s more like it, I think, settling back against my pillows. How cozy to spend the day watching an old movie. This lasts about 5 minutes. With a sudden sense of urgency, I jump up and begin shoveling the piles of paper on my bed into folders. Everything is getting shoved in together, I’ll never find the poem I need to finish, or the short story that was going so well the last time I worked on it. But too late now; it’s all been cleared away, out of sight. With narrowed eyes I frown at my desk, determined to continue this roll I’m on. Look at the dust! And what’s this piece of paper with the cryptic note on it in a handwriting I’ve never seen before in my life?
Cleaning is another thing I do quickly. In no time at all my desk is spotless, I can see the hand-stitched quilt on my bed again, and I’ve even managed to get dressed for the day. Victory! But immediately I’m overwhelmed with a random sense of foreboding. My mother wants to contact me after 5 years of no relationship. Why? What does she want? How can I bear it? I’ve no idea why this sudden permeating sense of doom should strike me now. Didn’t I just manage to complete a task which has eluded me for weeks? What has cleaning my room got to do with her anyhow? I close my eyes as the obvious washes over me: as a kid, I could never clean well enough to please her. Nothing was ever enough. She didn’t love me, no matter how hard I worked, how pleasant my attitude or obedient my behavior. I was responsible, and funny, and dependable, and none of it mattered in the long run. If anything, judging by comments she made to me decades later, she resented that I could clean more thoroughly and quickly than she ever did.
When will it stop? When will I ever experience a normal life, unmolested with memories too painful to consider? I glance around at my room, and the victory of moments ago now seems childish and flat. So I managed to plow through the mess of my room, so what? My mother never loved me, never loved me, never loved me!
Having trained myself in stoicism at a young age (oh, I would have made a great monk, hair-shirt and all!), no tears make it farther than the corners of my eyes. But there is no denying the roiling of my insides, or the certainty that all the blood in my veins has turned to ice.
My granddaughter knocks on my door, in that self-confident way she has which sounds just like an adult’s knock, and I am jolted out of my reverie. She comes running into my room to show me her latest drawing, and marvels, “Oh Nana, your room looks so pretty!” We tumble around on my bed, laughing with total abandon, until her mama calls her to come eat.
Now, the whole thing about my mom forgotten, I become focused once again. Check on the bread dough, rising just as it should. Impulsively decide to do the dishes and sweep the floor. Another phone call, this time from a daughter-in-law who is bored and wants to visit. Do I want a visitor? That’s not a question I ask myself very often. My natural inclination is to keep everyone at arm’s length, no matter who they are and how deep our attachment. People are always intrusive, no matter what. I must live in the world of the reality around me, it can’t be helped. But I am at one and the same time living in a totally different reality inside of my head. And there’s the rub. Being around people jolts me from my inner reality, requiring of me some kind of mental and emotional adjustment I don’t always feel up to making. But to refuse to try would be a sort of self-inflicted exile.
And so the day proceeds. There are always surprises (such as being reminded of something I have no memory of, for instance watching a certain movie with someone.) My days are a blur of stops and starts. That I accomplish anything noteworthy on any given day amazes me. Sometimes just taking a shower and putting on makeup seems overwhelming. But for the most part, I make the effort as best I can. There are some things which can be put off, things which will not cause the sky to fall if they don’t get done. I’m learning, slowly and painfully, to let such things go when necessary. There is no one watching me to keep score, no mother or King of the Mountain now to frown at the very sight of me, compelling me to try harder. It’s just me and those who make up my system. I’m trying to remember to extend to them some grace, and to cut myself some slack. Today, this is all I have.
(It’s okay to be different.)