2.16.2009

Guilt by Dissociation


An interesting piece in yesterday's Inky on the new Showtime dramedy, "The United States of Tara," which is about a mother with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). The article notes that some are offended by the casual treatment of such a serious disorder, while others are glad the topic can be so mainstreamed.

Personally, I'm neither offended - nothing's sacred on TV anymore, what with our ability to make fun of, say, blacks, gays, and Italians - nor glad - the show may spotlight DID but it doesn't begin to get at how shattering a disorder it is. Some studies suggest as much as 0.5 percent of the population may suffer from DID. If the number of Facebook friends I have is an indicator of how many people I know, that means that I should expect to know two or three people with DID.

In fact, I know at least three, and at different points in my life have been let into the struggles of each of them. These were touching, sobering, heavy periods. I wish I could say I emerged more hopeful, having seen miracles and healing and triumph. If anything, it was the opposite: I emerged with a darker acceptance of the depravity of humankind, as countless atrocities that no child should ever have to go through were recounted to me.

That's the terrible thing about DID. For someone to carve out distinct personalities meant they endured unspeakable horrors, which they could not survive but for the remarkable ability of the human psyche to wall off the ordeal. Sort of like how you might "dissociate" away the pain in your legs as you sprint to the finish line; only, instead of the temporal pain of physical fatigue, it is the damaging wounds of unimaginable violence and violation and abasement at the hands of someone you ought to be able to trust. Indeed, even as I marveled at a little child's ability to survive, even that was a source of discouragement, for that very resiliency then impedes the future ability to recover, as past coping mechanisms are held onto far beyond when they are needed to survive.

Sadly, it is very likely DID will become a far more prevalent condition, as entire nations and people groups endure terrible violence and as mere children are bought and sold and abased and abused into the millions. And, war-torn parts of the world hold no monopoly over human depravity; in the cushiest of neighborhoods and the most proper of religious communities, too, little children are subject to unspeakable horrors which so shatter their beings that they are left with mere shards of personalities and go their whole lives in vain trying to put themselves back together.

The Inky article rightly notes that one unrealistic element of "The United States of Tara" is the easy manner in which the main character embraces her condition. In fact, someone with DID is often racked with guilt: the guilt of bad things happening to her, of wondering if they happened because she is bad, of wondering what others will think if they only knew that she is not a unified whole but rather a splintered assemblage of jagged parts.

I do not have cable so will not get a chance to watch "The United States of Tara," but will remember from here on out to hold up those I know, and countless others, who struggle with this terrible condition. Please consider, whether you watch the show or not, doing the same. For though the road to healing is long and seemingly endless, God does mend at the end, and comfort along the way. Perhaps we may have the privilege of joining Him in such a precious and delicate work.
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