Today when I was browsing through the pictures posted by one of my contacts I ran across a bit of what was supposed to be humor. I’m not going to say who it was or link to it, because it was something I had seen in literally dozens of places. Hundreds, probably.
Today, however, maybe because I got up at 4:30 this morning to go shovel snow and my whole body aches, I decided that I am finally going to speak out. Enough is enough.
People, stop making jokes about the voices in your head. I’m serious.
I have a mental illness that is called Dissociative Identity Disorder. It used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. I do have voices in my head. It’s not fucking funny.
I’m very fortunate to be an extremely high functioning dissociative. I have been able to hold a job for most of my life, I can live on my own, pay my bills, go out in public around ordinary people. I have worked very hard and had the good fortune to be able to work with an outstanding therapist.
Like most dissociatives, I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. I have known a number of schizophrenics, and it is a brutal disease. Once I spent a couple of hours with a woman who was having a severe episode. She had called my wife, incoherent, and we went to pick her up and take her to be admitted. It was a weekend, and the ER could not admit her without first contacting her psychiatric worker, who was evidently hard to get in touch with. So we sat with this woman and waited for the worker to show up.
Our friend knew what was going on. She had difficulty remembering her medicine (routine is very important with anti-psychotic drugs–you have take them at the same time every day and also eat at the same times every day, and working out the schedule and the dosage is a matter of trial and error). This was not her first trip to the ER.
She sat between us, cringing at things that we couldn’t hear. A man that she had once known, who had died of a drug overdose, was screaming at her. She knew he wasn’t really there, but that didn’t stop the pain. She tried not to talk back to him, but she would visibly flinch and bite her lip, and I knew that she was hearing him shouting at her, threatening her, blaming her for his death.
Just try to imagine what that must be like. Try to imagine not being able to sleep because you hear someone screaming at you every time you close your eyes. Think about what it’s like to be unable to carry on a conversation because the other person’s words are drowned out by a voice that isn’t real.
Mental illness isn’t funny. Being crazy hurts. It is debilitating, humiliating and agonizing to be unable to trust your own mind.
What I have is comparatively minor. It is a functional rather than an organic disorder–my problem is in the software rather than the hardware, if you will. That means what I have gets better. Schizophrenia is not curable. Many schizophrenics can medically manage their illness, but many more are never able to work out a course of treatment that allows them to live unsupervised.
I wrote the characters of James and Catskinner, in part, as an attempt to communicate the experience of dissociation. It’s a fictionalized version, of course, and overly simplified (I, myself, have seven main alters) but I tried to capture the feeling of having a malevolent other occupying your body, speaking with your voice, acting for you. It can be utterly terrifying, to be a prisoner in your own body, watching yourself doing things with no control.
If my fiction helps people to understand that, then I will consider myself a success as a writer. I don’t like to preach, and I don’t want to be known as a “mental illness writer”–I write first and foremost to entertain, and I think I succeed at that. This is, however, a subject that I care very passionately about.
Having voices in your head isn’t funny. Stop making jokes about it.