Ruth Durkin: Suzie’s story – Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder
Suzie tells Ruth Durkin about her dissociative identity disorder, vividly describing a condition that is so often misunderstood and misreported. Trigger Warning: brief references to self-harm and feeling suicidal.
Flourish put me in touch with Suzie because she wanted to share her story but felt she needed some support with writing it. I had very little previous knowledge of her condition, but over a coffee one Monday afternoon she opened up to me about her mental health and the difficulties she’s faced:
“I wanted to share my story because not many people have heard of it and it’s not something that people know about even now. The old name is multiple personalities; the new name for it is dissociative identity disorder.
“People with this have more than one personality. There’s 5 I know about. I’ve done some diaries and at different times when I’ve been really poorly, different personalities have come in and took over. The reason why I wanted people to know is because it’s stigma. The only time people have heard about it is if they’ve seen films and I don’t think Hollywood or anything like that gives the right background, I suppose. They make it frightening, as if everyone is going to go out and kill someone. It’s not like that at all, it’s a completely different illness to what they portray it as.
“I was 11 years old and I felt I could never mix with other people at school. I was never a naughty child but I started to play truant because I was frightened. I don’t know what I was frightened of but I just couldn’t cope with people and wanted to be on my own. Looking back I think it started a lot sooner than 11, but that’s when I realised I had a few issues and I was put on sleeping tablets for depression. I started cutting myself at 11 and I’m 56 now so in them days there was that stigma to it. I couldn’t talk to anyone, I couldn’t go to my Mum because you just didn’t talk about things like that. So I was suicidal from about 11 years old. I never wanted to be here, I just wanted to be somewhere else. I got bullied a little bit but the main bullying was at home and it started very, very young. I’ve got 4 sisters and a brother and me and my brother suffer quite bad with our mental health and we were what you might call the scapegoats of our family. It started at a young age, the bullying, and it damaged me.
“I have hearing problems. I’ve got perforated ear drums and I believe that started when I was a baby because my Mum, although she loved me, I was the youngest of 6 children and my Dad was an alcoholic and he was quite abusive. My Mum had depression and she was bringing the kids up with no money, nothing. She was having electric shock therapy at Middlewood hospital. So I think by the time I came along it was hard for her. She was so bogged down with everything and I had a lot of ear infections and I should have been taken to the Doctor’s but I wasn’t. If an ear infection is left, particularly with a child – that’s how I got perforated ear drums and now I’ve got deafness. My Mum couldn’t cope but she didn’t want to neglect us.
“I think you just put up with a lot of things because you think everyone lives like this or that. Everybody’s got your way of thinking, so you don’t feel that you’ve got a problem. I knew I was different because I couldn’t mix and I didn’t know where I belonged in life. I saw my sisters and they were so outgoing and popular but I was totally different and I never wanted to leave my Mum because I was frightened that my Dad was going to kill her because the violence was quite bad.
“I was alright when I had my own children but I was susceptible to depression and I always had postnatal depression. I had a breakdown at the age of about 35 and then my daughter came along at 36. I seemed to just manage but when I split from her Dad, when she was 2, I think that’s when I started to lose the plot, if you like. I was finding it very hard to cope along with having these mixed personalities; they tended to come out more because I was on my own. I used to lose time a lot and I didn’t know what had happened. When I came back it was like it was a jigsaw puzzle and I’d been in a dream but I didn’t know where I’d really been. My daughter knew more of my personalities than me especially one called Suki. There are 2 Sukis: there’s baby Suki and there’s Suki. Suki is about 5 or 6 years old and she does a lot of crayoning and when things get difficult, that’s when Suki comes out. My daughter knew of Suki before I even did, if that makes sense.
“There are 5 personalities I know of. Like I said there’s Suki who is about 6 and baby Suki who is anything from 6 months to 5 years old. Suki comes with another personality called Susannah, and Susannah looked after Suki as a child. Then there’s the twins – they’re called Zana and Zeus and they’re teenagers. I’ve said there were 5 but there’s actually 6. The one you’re meeting today is the one who’s very confident called Suzie. The other one, Susan, has borderline personality disorder. When I was saying earlier about being suicidal – that’s Susan.
“I’m not sure if you could call it a relationship but I’ve been with a guy 4 years and we were OK until baby Suki came out and frightened him, and we’ve not been the same since. We’ve got no sexual relationship anymore because he’s seen that child in me he said he wouldn’t feel right. This is just part of my illness and I’m on my own. I asked him if he wanted to go for counselling but he won’t, so I don’t know where I’m at but I can understand his thoughts.
“When I tell people I suffer from mental illness, I never say dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality because I know that frightens people as does borderline personality disorder so I normally say bipolar, because I think bipolar is more acceptable. It stops me having to explain a lot what I don’t really want to go into.
“I was the youngest of 6 children and my sisters used to call me stupid and crazy and that didn’t help. My Dad would be very violent towards me; he used to spit at me and told me to get under the table like a dog.
“My understanding of it is that people with borderline personality like Susan – they say that they normally go to drink to try to numb it, like self-medication. But for me, because I was so young when the abuse or neglect started I think my borderline personality went to dissociative because it was my way of coping. I wasn’t old enough to drink or self-medicate so you could say that my personalities have been with me ever since I was born. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 40’s and when the doctor told me what was going on it was like a light bulb had been switched on and it all fell into place. It was like “Oh my God, all this time!” and it was when all of my personalities met each other. There were times when I thought I was going to have a brain haemorrhage because I couldn’t remember things and I’d have headaches.
“With dissociative identity disorder, it doesn’t mean everyone has the same symptoms. Some people don’t meet their personalities but I actually know mine. I call them party-crashers and when I’m really poorly I don’t know who’s who. There’s one I met not so long ago and she’s called Rosemary and she grows her own herbs and things like that. A lot of my personalities have their own handwriting and they have their own way they dress. Susannah reads angel cards and is very spiritual and can tell you about quotes from the bible.
“One of the main things growing up – my Mum did love me but she had a lot of problems. For me, I can’t seem to move on from why this had to happen. Why wasn’t I more outgoing like my sisters? I can’t seem to live a normal life, or what normal is supposed to be. I hate the way that I have to suffer for every minute of every single day. Right from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed, it’s a struggle for me, who I am and what I am and what I’m about. I thought everybody had a violent Dad and that everybody lived like we did with no money. We didn’t have toys. I’m not saying it’s all bad because I do have a lot of empathy for people. I think it’s a godsend for me because it makes you more feeling towards people when you’re suffering and I hate to see people suffering no matter who they are. I just wish the world out there was more compassionate. You can’t see mental illness but it’s still there. Because people can’t see it, they can’t understand it. I’ve been told so many times to pull myself together and that I’m an attention seeker. I would pull myself together if I could.
“I keep people at bay a lot and I don’t let them in until I really, really know them. I’ve met people I can connect with on a spiritual level through my angel cards and also through mental health groups. One of the main issues for me is that I can’t keep relationships because of my illness. I’m 56 now and I’m still on my own and I feel that’s sad. It can be daunting and frightening for people to see my personalities come out.
“I wouldn’t want to lose my personalities, even though it’s hard sometimes to function with them. I couldn’t function without them – they’re part of me and part of who I am.
“I have some coping strategies. Medication helps but when I’m in crisis I either tend to go in my room and stay there for days or weeks on end until the episode’s gone, or I go to my caravan where I can isolate myself because I don’t want to be around people. I think it would have helped me if I’d been diagnosed earlier in my life – the sooner you’re diagnosed and can understand it, the sooner you can learn to live with it. But you’re never totally over it.
“If people don’t understand me that’s their problem – I am who I am. I’m quite a normal looking person, I haven’t got 5 heads.
“I would like all mental health groups to know that if they would like me to come and speak about my diagnosis, I’m only too happy to help. I’d also like to thank Ruth so much for writing this article for me. Without Ruth and her understanding of this complicated illness I would not have been able to get my story out there to all those who are suffering in silence. I would say that with the right help and the right diagnosis there is life with mental illness.”
Suzie asked me to share these photographs of some art work she created when she was unwell. Her different personalities are represented in these pieces of art, particularly how the ‘Suzanne’ personality talks in rhyme.
If you are interested in contacting Suzie to ask her to deliver a talk about her diagnosis, please contact Flourish by emailing [email protected]