Trauma and dissociation
Carolyn Spring talks about suicide … her own experience of numerous suicide attempts, the hopelessness and sense of trappedness, and how she has recovered.
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is the label we give to the way our brain adapts to growing up in an environment of chronic terror. It’s most often correlated to quite extreme childhood abuse that starts at a very young age. It’s both a developmental and a post-traumatic condition.
In this video, Carolyn Spring explains the issues around talking to dissociative parts of the personality ahead of her training day ‘Working with Dissociative Disorders in Clinical Practice’.
If I said I could help you improve your life by 1% you might not be very interested. Especially if your life is filled with pain, suffering, dysfunction and struggle, you might think, “A 1% difference isn’t going to do any good! I need a 100% difference!”
That’s how I thought for a long time
All I did was walk into the kitchen and pick up a cloth. But the sudden waft of bleach flung me far, far back into some childhood memory. I switched to a traumatised part of myself. I had been ‘triggered’.
What is dissociation? It’s a weird word with lots of meanings. In fact, someone once said that it seems to suffer from ‘multiple meaning disorder’! But it’s important to understand that dissociation is an entirely normal, natural process. It’s not something that goes wrong with the brain. It’s something that goes right. It’s what the brain is supposed to do under certain conditions.
Courage. It’s the stuff of heroes, right? Frodo with the Ring in Mordor, William Wallace and the uprising, Henry V once more into the breach, ‘Sully Sullenberger’ parking his broken plane on the Hudson.
‘Courage’ isn’t necessarily a word we think is all that relevant to therapy, to recovering from trauma.
Carolyn talks about the issues faced by therapists when they suddenly discover their client has a dissociative disorder and how her live training day, ‘Working with Dissociative Disorders in Clinical Practice’, can help equip you in your work.
I was brimming. And I hated it. I hated being upset. The surge of emotion through my body. Being out of control. The pounding heart, the air being crushed out of my chest, the pain-stretchy zinginess in my arms and legs, and the scream … the lacerating, shrill shriek of a scream in my head.
Being traumatised is a tough gig. Maybe one of the hardest. It’s exhausting, it’s debilitating, it affects every area of your life and it can feel insurmountable.
So it’s difficult to think that recovery is possible, even a little bit of recovery. Maybe it feels impossible to think in terms of significant recovery. And harder still to think in grand, magnificent, skyscaper-type ways about recovery.
‘Unfortunately, you’ve undone all the good you’ve done today.’
She was deadly serious and I was utterly perplexed. What was she talking about? I had spent the day delivering my training day ‘Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm.’ A tough day, but a good day. A day of hope for how to help people who see no other way through their pain but by taking their own lives. A day of guts-and-bowels emotion.
I applied, with Emmott Snell’s assistance, for CICA. This is the compensation that the government pays out to victims of crime, administrated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
In the end I was unsuccessful, but the experience was full of learning that may be helpful to others, and so I share it here for that purpose.
‘I don’t feel real. All the time—literally all the time—I feel like I’m living life from behind a glass screen, or that I’m watching life as it’s happening on TV but it’s not real. I’m always ten yards removed from it. I don’t cry. I don’t feel things. I feel like I’m in a dream. I feel like I’m going mad. Even now, talking to you, I’m not sure if this is really happening or not or if I’m just imagining it. The GP says I’m just depressed, but I’m not.’