I wore the coat of stigma through my life
Like so many people with dissociative identity disorder (DID), Renee experienced severe trauma in early childhood. Compartmentalizing her experiences and attributing them to different identities became a way to cope with an unbearable situation.
My abuse started when I was four years old and continued until the age of 13. It was normal for me to hear voices and dissociate.
Renee’s family was initially in denial that her struggling was due to the trauma she experienced or her mental health.
Mental illness was not discussed or acknowledged. If it wasn’t something that could be seen, like cancer, then it wasn’t real. There was always talk of, ‘Well, Renee has always been a nervous person, which affected her decision making.’
Renee could be impulsive. Because of the sexual abuse she experienced, she ended up in a series of unhealthy relationships as an adult.
Over the years, she numbed her emotions with alcohol and drugs. She attended 12-step meetings, but nothing seemed to change. Then, when she was 30, a therapist accurately diagnosed her with DID. The diagnosis was a relief. Renee stopped using substances and spent the next 10 years integrating her identities.
With effective treatment, Renee began to heal. She raised her children to the best of her ability while receiving therapy. She went on to pursue a degree in human services while doing the difficult work needed to recover from her trauma. She went on to work in the mental health field for three decades, advocating for and supporting individuals who also carried the burden of mental health stigma.
It had taken a number of years before Renee sought help. It took even longer for her to disclose her diagnosis. She waited because she was ashamed: she thought that having mental illness made her weak, a failure.
My upbringing had a lot to do with it. It was always taboo to speak “real talk” in my family. Sweeping things neatly under the rug with the denial broom was how they functioned. This unfortunately influenced me. I struggled with the stigma I held against myself for a long time.
Through it all, she received support from a group of close friends.
I’m blessed to have had a circle of women friends that just held me through it, understood, and didn’t judge.
She still struggled to receive support from her family.
Even after years of therapy, and going into remission from my mental illness, my family questioned all of my decisions. It was difficult to feel like I have to prove to people that I’m well.
Throughout her recovery, Renee’s relationship with her two children, now in their thirties, has continued to change and become healthier.
I’ve always been open with my children regarding my mental illness and how it affected them. My daughter is the one who got the brunt of this. She didn’t know what mother she was going to wake up to in the morning.
She was a junior in high school when we sat down and had a conversation about DID. She said, ‘This gives me so many answers.’ It was a road to recovery for her as well.
It took a long time, but Renee’s mother accepted Renee’s experiences, too. When Renee was a little girl, she tried to tell her mother about the abuse that was happening. Her mother said, “Don’t talk like that.”
But many years later, she met with my therapist and that helped her a lot. They had a lengthy discussion about what DID was and why it happened. My mother expressed to me that it was just so hurtful to her to realize all of the abuse that was happening.
Once she understood what I had experienced, she was unconditional with her love of me, and was extremely supportive.
Renee wants other people with mental health conditions to feel supported and to find acceptance—especially from within.
We need to hold our heads up high, educate people, and deconstruct stigma–starting with ourselves. I want others to know it takes a fierce warrior spirit to contend with stigma, day in and day out, and to still have the utmost respect for ourselves.
Mental illness is not a personal failure, but letting it keep us down and giving up would be.