Send Your Replies to Elaine about age and how you learned about abuse:
You offer an interesting Q:
I was being abused throughout my childhood and young adulthood by my mother. I was "a difficult child". As a teenager I sought out counseling but it wasn't directed at finding the problem but more toward helping me cope better. That was okay but I was still living at home. After I moved out I fell into some bad relationships and of course my mom blamed me for that too. When I was 28 my mom died. Things went along without much turmoil and I got settled with a partner at 31. Due to bad past relationships I waited 6 more years to marry. During those years I had some problems at work in a high stress job and then had the support system to really deal with everything.
My life unraveled and I got a good therapist. We worked for the next 6 years and I got divorced because my husband wanted me/us to be like someone else. I was getting better and he wanted me to stay the same. Wasn't gonna happen. I also think that it was then because my mom had died. I don't think I could ever have dealt with any of it if she had been alive.
The fact that you are working on the issue at a much earlier age is great! You can get better and have so much more better life ahead of you. Years ago doctors and therapists didn't know or believe in MPD/DID. So there were misdiagnoses and improper treatment. I'm 58 now and enjoying life so much more than I would have if I hadn't gotten treatment--but I did have a bunch of wasted years. Everyone has different issues and can work at different speeds, so you can't compare the time to heal. It takes as long as it takes, but it is definitely worth it!
You're asking a great question. I don't think there's an answer to the "best" age for everyone to find out. Maybe it depends on when in your personal journey you're ready to look at this side of things. I'd guess the sooner the better if there's a good therapist there to help you with it. There are plenty of therapists who help children with DID.
Here's an example of starting at a later age. I'm 64 now, and first realized I had DID about 6 years ago. The good news is thanks to therapy, I am well now, and having the best, deeply fulfilling life ever. I did have to grieve a lot about lost years, lost youth, etc.
I'm glad I didn't get caught in some of the bad therapies that I might have if my dissociation had been the diagnosis sooner. I did have a terrible psychiatric course, though, from all the wasted time and pain of missing the diagnosis and trying to call it everything else. I was shy and felt "weird" inside all my childhood. At age 20 I had a "psychotic break" and got diagnosed as schizophrenic. Like you, I also had to drop out of college, which really mortified me. I took antipsychotics then and many over years since. I got ECT for depression, which helped me feel better temporarily, but didn't help me look at the realities that were triggering all of this.
I had therapy then with a wonderful psychiatrist, and did disclose for the first time some of the abuse. I'm deeply grateful for her, as I know my experience with her gave me a better sense of myself and helped my function for a long time. But, I still carried a deep sense that I'm crazy inside, and always feared having another "break" ….perhaps what I really feared was the powerful urge to disclose more of what my several parts needed to tell, and my yearning to be heard for that…but knowing on some level how overwhelming and confusing that would be, as well as totally unacceptable to my home, family, etc.
At age 40 I had miscarriages and infertility, which got me diagnosed with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a common metabolic variant which causes too much male hormone and not enough cortisol. On retrospect now I can tell that adrenal problem contributed a lot to my dissociating, as it caused me to fall apart under stress. However, I got depressed on hormone treatments for fertility (though never got pregnant again), and as that got severe, everyone forgot about the adrenal problem. Instead, I went on a 15-year journey deep into psychiatric patienthood that resulted in a new label of "refractory bipolar depression." It was "ultra-rapid cycling" meaning that my mood shifted a few times a day, but nobody, including me, thought of whether these were in fact triggered switches, which of course they were. Nothing helped, I had 3 more psych. hospitalizations, and felt deeply like a very fragile person with horrible, unspeakable secrets, and convinced I had a progressive, terminal, psychiatric disease somewhere in my brain. Many more years of ECT's and lots of meds. only served to give me side effects, (fuzzy thinking and depression) and make me too tired to act on the exploding, intense feelings I was holding inside, let alone sort them out.
In my late 50's, after a divorce and some new awareness that all this psych. treatment made no sense, I tried a different kind of therapy, which thankfully validated instead of pathologized my many feelings. That led to looking back on my decades as "psychiatric patient" from a very new perspective, and we sorted out that these symptoms were really reactions to trauma. By then I was physically a mess, from multiple extra-inflamed, arthritic joints as well as zero stress tolerance. Those were, on retrospect, a consequence of the endocrine problem, adrenal insufficiency, since that had not yet been treated. I had 9 orthopedic surgeries and had to work much less, leading to financial stress. I was a new homeowner who had no business being that, as I had no skills. In my day to day functioning, everything seemed like a crisis, every stress a "last straw."
So, as I see it now, I split many more times, just to handle my job, my home repairs and maintenance, me as psychiatric patient, me as orthopedics patient, me as new divorcee, me as woman dating, me as musician, etc. I would guess I had about 12 parts including these new adult ones. The child ones, i.e. the mute secret-bearer, the protector/rageful one, the sexy acting out one, were vague to me, as they felt much, much too shameful to get acquainted with even though they popped out, uninvited and totally unwelcome! I was living a very terrifying life, felt like I never knew what will happen to me the next moment, and I have zero control.
When I finally got to treatment with a trauma specialist, he said on the first session we should focus on dissociation. Somehow I "knew" I was in good hands. He was really comfortable with what I felt as my craziness, as if he saw it making sense. I've stayed in therapy with him for 5 years, and we've got this stuff sorted out. It wasn't easy but I extricated myself from the hold of the treating psychiatrists who were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with dissociation and still insisted on calling me "bipolar." I got an endocrinologist who agrees enough with me about the role the adrenal insufficiency played in making me this way. He has me on maintenance adrenal hormone, so now I can think straight and handle normal stress without switching or freaking out, for the first time in my life.
I'm integrated now, and my therapist and I have ended on a positive note with an open door to check in sometimes. For the first time in my life I feel comfortable.
I know for the future that when I get too much stress or I'm in a crunch of too many things happening too fast, that allowing myself to function as one part at a time actually will come in handy til I do whatever adjustment I need to. I have the tools to value my parts, all of them, help them talk with each other, etc. till "everyone" feels heard and we can reach a compromise.
I see dissociating as a very fortunate process. I think if we didn't have this, we would have had to suffer worse emotional damage. I see having DID as an amazing tool available, instead of as shameful crazyness inside, as I used to think about it.
I know when I suddenly, at age 58, realized and said out loud "I've got DID," it was both a shock and a relief. I felt excited but incredibly alone, and I yearned to talk with anyone else in the universe that knew first-hand what I was feeling. It would have helped a lot to share and hear from someone else who had gone through the same kinds of terrors but worked on it and recovered. I'm so glad my therapist later suggested Many Voices, as I really appreciate how it's a safe place we can share and support one another.
Good for you for starting your therapy, and all my best wishes for your recovery.
I don't know if this helps, but I'll tell you my treatment. I was traumatized my entire childhood and adolescence. I was dissociative but not aware of this. I was not in treatment of any kind.....and this culminated in a suicide attempt at age 17. The funny thing is----after my suicide attempt....I somehow ( subconsciously ) told myself that NOTHING bad had ever happened to me....and that I would lead a "Normal" life. So, I dated, got married, and had a son. Because of my DENIAL, I was able to finish Nursing school, raise a good son, have a career and marriage. Then, when I was 32, I had a BIG meltdown when my father passed away. This is what led me into therapy. Then, came the MEMORIES. I was so overwhelmed by memories, meeting Alters/Parts, that I had to go on Disability for 2 years. I am now working successfully, tho still in therapy. My point is, I am soooo grateful that I was somehow able to "Delay" my meltdown and getting into therapy....because I was able to get my Nursing Degree and raise a wonderful son. Everyone's story is different. But, getting the treatment you need at any age is SO important. I wish you courage and strength along your road to recovery.
I knew "something was wrong" when I was in my late teens, early 20s. I always had huge arguments inside my head, though I never told anyone about them. (My uncle was a psychiatrist, and frankly--though he ran a large psychiatric hospital--I didn't trust his judgement. I somehow knew if I told him anything, he'd slap me into a hospital, and I had a family to take care of. I just privately thought I was psychotic and nothing I could do would stop it.) I was able to "function" on the outside...it was the inside of my head that was a mess. I occasionally had suicidal thoughts but didn't really act on them--except once as a teen before I married, when I figured out how to tie a lamp cord to hang myself, tested it, realized it would work and then decided "No, I don't want to do THAT!"
I tried a few therapists for brief periods in my 20s, but never got into deep discussions of my history. My husband claimed the drugs they gave me were placebos. I was so compliant at that time of my life, I figured he was right, quit taking them, and never went back. We did go a few times to marriage counseling, trying to save our marriage. We had power struggles-first I'd want a divorce,then he'd want a divorce. We did this for about 7 years...not an easy time for anyone in the family. Finally we both wanted a divorce simultaneously & within six weeks we had agreed on a dissolution. WOW was I happy! Free at last!
But of course I wasn't "free." I still had rampaging hormones in my early 30s, struggled with my (birth) children who had their own issues...and I still had the inside-the-head conflicts, though then I was able to admit to myself that it was OK to be upset and contradictory inside, because so much difficulty was going on in the rest of my life. I began to be kind to myself, for the first time ever. I even let myself cry.
The big change happened when I moved from my home town in northern Ohio to Cincinnati at age 39, to open a magazine office for a publication based in Cleveland. My daughter was in college. My son came with me briefly--but hated it and went back north to live with his Dad (a wise decision in many ways). I was still self-employed--but I had a regular, substantial paycheck coming monthly, and I had good health insurance at reasonable cost. It was now 1984. I decided to get my head "fixed".
The first therapist was a complete mistake, the second did nothing much, but the third realized I had something like dissociation. Since she felt this was out of her range of expertise, she sent me off to an experienced psychiatrist, who became my primary source and solution (more or less) for DDNOS (dissociative disorder not otherwise specified.) By this time I was probably aged 45. I worked with her for about 8 years, until she moved out of town and I was sick of "therapy," and medications. (I tapered off my drugs very slowly.) That was in the early 1990s. By then I had lots of good internal communication and many tapes from my therapist that helped me turn negative images of myself into positive ones, by listening to them over and over. I do not consider myself "integrated" but my system is very functional, & 99 times out of 100 I refer to myself as "I" not "we"...unless I'm talking about the entire MV Community.
I am grateful that I did NOT get involved with the psychiatric system back in the 1960s, when I first realized I was troubled. I could have easily wound up trapped in the mental-health-system of the time, which had no solid awareness of dissociation and would probably have branded me schizophrenic. I'm glad I was older and my children were older when I became 'aware' - because I believe I made (generally) better choices in what to tell them and what not to tell them about their grandmother, whom they adored. (They never knew my father--he died long before they were born.) In fact, it is only in the last few months I've shared a few details about my history with my daughter. She was VERY surprised. I've still not told my son, who was very close to his grandmother. He claims there is "nothing wrong with me." Yeah, right!
It will be interesting to see what other comments follow. Good luck, Elaine!