Inside The Mind That Saved Me: Part 4
When I had my first appointment with the “specialist” my psychologist had recommended, I knew this was going to be a very different kind of therapy.
Most therapists offices are fairly stark and business-like. When I showed up for my first appointment with the specialist, I could see that this was going to be entirely different from my previous experiences with therapy. There was bright artwork on the walls, some drawn by children. There were a couple of stuffed animals, a fish tank, and lots of greenery. And that was just the waiting room.
Laura, the therapist, came out to get me, and when we walked into her office, I was in for another shock. The waiting room had been minimalist by comparison. There was an overstuffed couch upholstered in large flowers in soft, muted tones, with two matching overstuffed chairs. There was an entire array of stuffed animals that took up a corner. There was a toybox full of dolls and trucks, and next to it some well-stocked shelves with art supplies. All of the artwork was done in crayon or paint, again with the artists obviously being children. Nowhere was there a desk. No computer. No signs of files.
I took a seat in the corner of the couch while Laura sat in one of the chairs. In her soft voice, she started out by saying that it was very important to her that I felt both safe and comfortable. If I felt the need to get up and move around, I was to feel free to do so. There was a small fridge with soda and water if I got thirsty. She preferred to be informal and asked that I simply call her Laura. If I began, at any point, to feel unsafe I was to tell her so. If it helped, I could hug one of the stuffed animals.
This was a totally different approach than what I was used to, which raised my anxiety a bit. Before I met Laura, I’d seen psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors on and off since I was 17. Here I was 32, but it felt like I was in the office of a children’s therapist. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, and as I looked around I unconsciously gripped tightly one of the throw pillows on the couch to hold next to me. Laura merely kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her, letting me know I was free to do the same.
The session began with Laura sharing some of her background, which was all related to the abuse of children, but from different angles. She had been a Guardian ad litum that represents the needs of children who end up in the family court system due to abuse or neglect, had been and still was involved with an organization that paired children in the system with volunteer mentors, and had been a private therapist on and off over a span of decades, specializing in adult therapy for those who experienced sexual abuse as children.
I froze, like a deer caught in the headlights. She already knew! The psychologist must have told her. What else did he tell her? How could she just say it like that, with no time for me to put my walls back up after the warm welcome? Did she plan it that way? Was she watching my reaction?
All of this and more flashed through my mind as I clutched the pillow more tightly—keenly aware that I did so and that she’d probably noticed. My anxiety went through the roof and into full-blown panic.
What turned out to be about 20 minutes later, I found myself in the other overstuffed chair, shoes off, curled up with a teddy bear. Laura was still in her seat, as she had been. There was silence. Laura didn’t rush to fill the emptiness with noise, but rather gave me time to react and think. It was obvious I’d missed time, now a second time when it had never before then happened in a therapy environment. It was also obvious I’d been up and moving around, which was usually the case but which hadn’t happened at the psychologist’s office.
I finally asked what had happened. She countered by asking what I had thought happened. I had theories about my missing time, which I started investigating when I still lived at home, using our encyclopedia. I spread out from there to the libraries, both school and public. I’d taken Psychology and Abnormal Psychology and Sociology. I’d also had juvenile epilepsy, so knew about seizures, but ruled it out because of the lack of after-effects.
I told her I wasn’t really sure as I’d never had any direct feedback, but that I thought I was dissociating at stress triggers, going into some kind of fuge state where I was on autopilot. She said that yes, I had a dissociative disorder, but it was more complicated than my being “absent.” I had become two other people who also existed inside of me during my “absence.”
As I sat in shock, Laura described to me a 17 year old male named Rebel who I had first become, who popped out to assess the safety of the situation. He knew that Laura wanted access to the “little ones,” and told her that was only allowable through him. After agreeing to no touching and that she’d stay where she was, Laura then met a young girl, she guessed four or five years old, who was very interested in all the stuffed animals and toys and art supplies. She said she liked books, too, and could already read. After wandering around, she grabbed a teddy bear from the collection before she plopped into the other chair. She said she already knew Laura’s name, and was proud of it. When Laura asked her name, she rolled her eyes playfully, said “not yet,” and then was gone.
I knew about multiple personalities. I’d avidly read Sybil in High School and wondered. But wondering in the secret recesses of my mind and having it affirmed are two wildly different things. That was it. I was batshit crazy like my father had always said, and they were going to lock me up and turn me into a zombie. I expected Laura to tell me so, only in nicer terms.
What she did instead was to explain DID as a coping mechanism brought on by extreme duress, usually severe abuse or incest. That, rather than freaking out or screaming, which weren’t safe things to do at the time, my mind had tucked away those memories in a different part of me that could get through it and keep me from whatever I’d endured. She went on to say that it wasn’t unusual for younger “alts,” as I later got used to calling them, to have someone older who protects them, and that women can have male alts but the majority don’t.
It was hard to absorb even that little bit of information. I was in shock. In many-layered shock. First, that I had “lost time” in front of a credible witness. That had never happened before except at the psychologist’s office. And although she didn’t say it, she had diagnosed me with DID when she explained what had happened. That made it official. And she’d met them. They’d interacted with her. One even introduced himself! A male!
Laura said she knew my head was spinning, and that I was sure to have questions when it settled down. She recommended that I treat myself gently that night, maybe a soak in the tub and a light meal. If I felt up to it, she felt it would be a good idea to journal, which I told her I did regularly. We set up the next several appointments, the next being in just a few days because Laura was very familiar with the process of “coming out” to myself and what its effects would be.