Every year without fail, I get sick. And I mean sick; a long dragged out cold or flu where I have a fever, night sweats, gunk covered throat, clogged ears, and fever hallucinations.
This cold or flu slowly creeps on me and then unleashes itself on me and my system.
If you are thinking ‘system’? Does she mean her immune system? Well, yes, but I’m also talking about the five other people I share my body with.
Six people one body – sounds like the premise of a bad porn skit.
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. A disorder that is characterised by the disruption of identity in which there are two or more distinct identity states (dissociative identities or streams of consciousness [personalities]) associated with marked discontinuities in the sense of self and agency. This is a very roundabout scientific way of saying, the brain compartmentalised to cope with trauma(s) that occurred between the ages of 2-9.
I currently have five alters; Zacherie, Heinrich, Shoshanna, Alis and Roux. And as you can imagine, we all have our own experiences and mental health struggles. While I can talk about my experiences of being sick and mental health struggles with season changes, I cannot speak for them. So this article will be divided into six perspectives. We are starting with mine.
My name is Bethany; I’m a 30-year-old cis queer woman. I live in Toronto, Canada, where I am a social worker, sex therapist and mental health advocate. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is my primary diagnosis, but I also struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dysthymia (which is a fancy way of saying persistent depression), obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety.
I would have to say autumn is by far my favourite season and winter is my least favourite. I enjoy the communal family-like holidays in autumn – thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and New Years. However, it’s after the holidays, my mental health takes a steep decline, and this is when I tend to get the most colds or cases of flu. And I’m not too fond of it.
I hate how out of control it makes me feel being mentally and physically sick. Especially when the fever hallucinations start, and I know they are temporary but being that sick and unable to tell the difference between what is safe or a threat is very alarming. And when you are sick, you don’t want your brain to try to convince you that you’re still at work. In my opinion, THE WORST HALLUCINATION ON THE PLANET!
When my mental health is already a bit fragile, I’m already starting to neglect things like hygiene. So I’m just stumbling around my home in a duvet and greasy hair re-watching Bob’s Burgers until someone forces me into the shower or bath.
My name is Zacherie, but I go by Zache. I am a 30-year cis lesbian, and I am an alter. My role in our system is that of a Protector.
I protect Bethany and others from harm. I take my job very seriously, to the point where Bethany and I have had screaming matches about certain things. I suspect I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and when I have a flare-up, I feel everything so intensely that sometimes that affects others too. So if Bethany is sick and not taking care of herself, it makes me feel so much worse.
Then I have to force us to take a shower or a bath, do some laundry, eat something, and the stud you’re supposed to do when you’re sick. It’s the only way I can start to feel better emotionally and mentally, and sometimes others don’t understand.
My name is Shoshanna, and I am ten years old. I don’t really have a role, because I’m 10! But I don’t like it when it is winter, I don’t like the cold, but I love making snow angels. Summer is my favourite season because I can go to the park and I don’t get sick.
When Bethy gets sick, I get sick and then I can’t play. She and Zache get into fights about having a bath, I don’t like having baths when I’m sick because I’m always cold. When I’m cold, I’m sad, so I cry a lot.
My name is Heinrich, and I am 21-year-old, cis straight man. Shoshanna is my sister. My role in the system is that of a persecutor. Persecutors get much hate, but really we are misguided protectors.
When Bee gets sick, I’m usually ill too. And I often don’t feel like doing anything, and because I am a smoker, I’ll be coughing for weeks. And because I had endocarditis when I was doing heroin, every cold or bout of flu has the potential to reinflame the scarring in our heart valve, which could cause Bee’s heart murmur (something she was born with) to worsen or cardiac arrest.
There’s a lot I regret in my life, but this? This is my biggest regret, and every time we get sick, I worry we won’t wake up again. My addiction to heroin, while borne out of a need to stay energised through school, the consequences weren’t worth it. Please, please get your flu shot, or stay home if you’re sick.
At the time of writing this, both Roux and Alis declined to provide their perspective on what it means to be mentally ill and sick. This is not to say their stories are not relevant or any less valid. Someone you may know may have DID or any of its subsets. You can’t tell their story, even if you are a part of their story. A bit of compassion, self-awareness and kindness goes a long way for the welfare of others.
Bethany Killen-Ashryver (she/her) is a forensic and clinical social worker with Dissociative Identity Disorder in Toronto, Canada. Between her academic career, the needs of her system and her latest adventure; the Dissociative Society of Canada, Bethany is always ready to listen, especially over some iced chai. To learn more about her and her system, you can read her blog at www.themadsocialworker.com.