Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's not a gift

Hot on the heels of my relatively lighthearted look at attention deficit disorder, in which I referred to myself as "differently focused" came this morning's Dear Abby. Yes, I read Dear Abby. It's right there in the feature section. You might as well know the worst about me. I even think Jeanne Phillips is pretty smart, and does a good job. OK, there are worse things about me, but we'll save those till later, like 2012.

Anyway, it wasn't Phillips who teed me off this morning. It was the last letter. The one in which the adoptive mom of a child with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder is still the official term) says that "we" choose to use a "new term." MPG. Multiple Personality Gift.

"We" who?

I looked this up. It seems to originate with a book, and apparently one that's a great help to people brave and cool enough to take on loving a multiple.

Usually when something gets me angry, I whip out my trusty keyboard and start fighting about it with the appropriate online entity. But this morning I was angry beyond words. I put the paper back on the coffee table, made a conscious decision to forget I'd even read it, and did.
Something on TV this evening brought it back into my consciousness. I had probably, no joke, dissociated, the everyday mind trick kind of dissociation that we all use (daydreaming is another one), because I really had no idea why I was in such a foul mood all day.

We've got a language problem in this society, and it's caused by a boundary problem. We've traditionally defined people by some out-of-the-mainstream characteristic. Blindness, deafness, ADD, things we used to call "handicaps" and "disorders." We'd pigeonhole somebody as "handicapped" as though nothing else about them mattered.

And the movement to call these "differences" and "challenges" so as to acknowledge that it's something they do -- and deal with and overcome-- it's not who they are, is not a bad thing.

To me it would be better to call a damn disorder a disorder, and then train people that it's a small part of who a person is. That it does not define them. This may be too hard. I never had such a concept of identity or boundaries myself, until life as a 12-stepper. It's not a quick and easy concept to train into oneself, much less society as a whole, and I can accept changing the terms as a practical solution.

I have no answers.

But I have a great big answer to the claim that multiple personality is a gift and that answer is No.

DID is a coping mechanism. It helps people, usually as young children, get through trauma. But like many coping mechanisms, it mutates like a movie Gremlin, from a nurturing servant into a lousy master, and is no gift.

I see several letters in the column, and other things I've encountered in other sites, showing how successful relationships with some DID's are possible. If spouses study up first and know what they're getting into, OK. But forgive me for thinking a happy outcome is not typical.

Forgive me for thinking that childhood trauma most often creates relational problems for the victim (survivor, whatever), whether he/she becomes a multiple or not, and that DID is no more likely to prevent those problems than is non-dissociative response.

Those who want to point out that DID is not an angry or violent disorder intrinsically, fine. That it allows the patient to put the trauma into a smaller more manageable box instead of having the fear and anger that the trauma creates permeate all of life - great. That works for me.

But that's still far from it being a gift. At best I would call it Less Worse. The kids, parents, or spouses of DID patients can live in a confusing, frightening hell. Anything traumatic enough to cause such a dissociation is also quite likely to cause relationship problems. That unresolved abuse often makes the abused feel a lifetime attraction and hatred --both-- to people who remind him of the abuser or trigger the old feelings, is well-known.

Yes, this is personal. Yes, I know whereof I speak. Yes, mine is one person's experience, and others differ.

Yes my reaction was way more emotional than rational.

But I stand by my contention that calling this disorder a gift is the worst of PC excess. They can be very gifted people. They can be very brave people. For some, getting out of bed in the morning and facing the day, relating, creating, is an act of courage and a bloody miracle. Distance and time have enabled me to see this in someone I once knew, and to admire the admirable in him and wish him well.

But the overwhelming need to call negative things by positive terms can sometimes deserve "otherly differently abled" mockery. I've lived with a DID and it was no gift to anyone, least of all to the one who had it.


ronnie said...

I read this post a couple of days ago and, as often happens with your posts, I had to let it percolate and think about it for a couple of days before commenting. (This is a good thing btw.)

I agree with you completely... I read the letter, too (yes, I read Dear Abby too... I agree Jeanne Phillips is a good columnist. I remember when her mother was on the vanguard of condemning misunderstanding and persecution of gays and lesbians, and Phillips is a similar voice of reason and tolerance). Like you I was completely taken aback by the description of the condition as a "gift".

Frankly, it reeks of some combination of denial and desperation. (I note that the writer of that letter was a mother, not a spouse... I think that is significant in the need to deny the reality of the situation.) It's like putting lipstick on a pig and pretending it's a beautiful lady. Maybe if we all hope hard enough, it can be so!

Handicaps make life harder. There is no handicap, mental or physical, that makes life easier. I can't see calling anything that makes your life more difficult, every single day, a "gift" of any kind. If DID is gift, I suggest those with the condition ask if it's too late to hit the returns counter.

Having said that, I learned a lot from going deaf. It was a remarkable growth experience. My relationship with my husband became stronger (not the usual course of events, I understand).

Handicaps can inadvertently lead to positive experiences or greater understanding or personal growth.

But those are tiny spots of light in the daily grind of dealing with a world not built to accommodate you (or, in the case of mental disorders, dealing with a world that doesn't understand how you function and vice-versa). They in no way mitigate the negative impact the handicap has on your daily life. They do not constitute a "gift", and if they do not, the handicap itself certainly doesn't qualify.

Finally, your frustration at the sometimes-ridiculous sweetening of the language used regarding disabilities reminded me of my top all-time hated word in the genre: handi-capable.

Thank god that one was too stupid to ever gain much traction. I have no idea how anyone could use it with a straight face.

I have occasionally claimed "gimp" or "gimp-Canadian", but that's when I'm trying to be provocative. "Physically challenged" reminds me of someone having difficulty opening a door, and hardly connotes permanent inability to do certain things.

"Handicapped" is accurate, descriptive and only three syllables long. It's also based in reality, and when you're dealing daily with a handicap, that's a good place to be.

Sherwood Harrington said...

I was waiting for ronnie to comment on this, and the wait was (as could be predicted) absolutely worth it. I was a little surprised that she didn't mention
this issue
, though. (There was actually an episode of one of the "Law and Order" series about a murder rooted in the dispute.)

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Interestingly, my first inkling of the deaf-culture versus CI controversy came in a thriller - called 'A Maiden's Grave' by Jeffery Deaver:

As i recall it was not only good as thrillers go, but really seemed to treat both sides of the issue honorably. Those judgments, of course, come from the level of knowledge i had 5-6 years ago!

Mike said...

I had a very close friend who was a multiple. It's not a gift. It's a coping mechanism that indicates a horrible, painful, terrible childhood. No reasonable person could call that a gift. I learned to deal with the alters, but they were a major pain in the ass, not an enhancement. I'd like to know if someone would like to classify other forms of PSTD as "gifts" -- "Thank god I went to war and saw dead children! What a blessing that has been!"

ronnie said...

Sherwood, I decided I would leave a comment and not a novel ;)

The whole Deaf Culture vs. CI thing is like wading into a swamp. My personal position is that there is a real and valuable Deaf Culture which deaf people rightly take pride in. However, I draw the line at supporting deaf parents who refuse to implant their deaf children. Just because there is a legitimate deaf culture does not magically make deafness no longer a handicap, and as Brian Fies commented when we discussed this once, isn't the whole point of parenting supposed to be to give your child every advantage available?

(I also wonder if the whole controversy doesn't make CODAs [Children of Deaf Adults] feel like they're the ones who are 'broken' and 'disappointments'!)


Sherwood Harrington said...

I imagine that just about everybody feels like a broken disappointment to his or her parents at some time or another (I know I did), but you're right about that situation: awful.