Where Am I?
Have you ever awakened to find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings? It takes a few moments for you to get your bearings. Perhaps you are staying in a hotel while on a business trip or spending a long weekend with relatives. The few seconds it takes to reorient yourself are terrifying. But shortly, you recall the events of the past 24 hours and remember where you are.
Now imagine those few minutes expanding into an hour or three, perhaps even an entire day. Imagine finding yourself in an office and not knowing how you got there or why. Imagine waking up in a strange bed beside someone you recognize but don’t know. Imagine thinking you are still 13 and then looking in the mirror to see a 40-something reflection. Imagine finding yourself in a car driving down the street and suddenly not remembering how to drive or believing that you haven’t yet taken your driver’s exam.
This happened to me this past week, but this isn’t just my story. It’s the story of many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Since I am a rare individual who can remember what happens during my dissociative episodes, I’d like to share some of this experience with you. Please keep in mind that this is a narrative about my own experience, and everyone’s experience in life is unique. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals put labels on our issues in order to better treat the problems and assist us in coping and recovering. So if my experience doesn’t match yours, don’t panic. Everyone’s individual experience is real and should be given due respect. This is my story:
By Liz Lawley (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via
On a Wednesday morning, I awake in my own bedroom next to my wife—but I don’t know where I am or who I’m lying next to. I’m frightened. Amid the shock of waking up in new surroundings, I can’t retrieve any memory of last night—or what I might remember as last night–but I know I am awaking in the wrong place. When I went to bed (as far as I could recall on that day) I was a 13-year-old eighth grader living in a small town in Kansas. I attended a small private school and had just begun (with my family) attending a new church with a fun, inclusive, dynamic youth group. Had all that changed overnight?
After grappling with the initial fright, I began to pelt my wife with a barrage of questions. “Why am I here?” “Who are you?” Why aren’t my parents here?” “Where do I live?”
(Kudos to my amazing wife—everyone with the type of struggles I face should be blessed with a person as wise and caring as she.)
My wife isn’t a morning person, but she doesn’t miss a beat—answers every question carefully and honestly. Then she responds with questions of her own. “Who are you?”
“I am Ellie. I live in Haven. I go to First United Methodist. I sometimes get dizzy and pass out. Is that why I’m here? Am I going to a doctor?”
“Yes. Time to go to the doctor.”
My wife realizes I am not able to drive myself to my counseling appointment. She arranges to go into work late. We pile into the car, stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, pull onto the highway and head toward my counselor’s office. I talk non-stop.
In my mind I am a junior higher with almost all the annoying traits one attributes to young teens. I’m smart. I’m popular at my new church (a new experience for 13-year-old me, but one my alt is embracing fully). I amuse my wife with stories. (This is a consistency among all my various parts—we love to tell stories, especially to people who want to listen.) I relive sitting on the floor of the gymnasium at our church with a group of other teens—mostly older than I—singing “just the 12 of us. We can make it if we try, just the 12 of us—you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and I.”
We arrive at Eddy’s office and enter a small, dark waiting room strikingly unrepresentative of the 1980s. Cognitive dissonance for me—Ellie thinks it is still 1986, 1987 at the latest. She does not recognize smart phones as anything but props from Star Trek. She cannot comprehend the lack of a reception desk at the office. Pictures of modern New York without the Twin Towers puzzle and frighten her. This day just got a lot worse.
I (presenting still as Ellie) do not recognize Eddy (although every other part of me—even the two-year-old—always has). I agree to go into his office alone, although I am reluctant to leave my wife (Ellie knows her as “auntie”) in the waiting room.
Eddy invites me to sit anywhere I like. I choose the divan, slip off my “cool shoes,” as Ellie describes them, and sit down cross legged.
Ellie is a jabber jaw. I talk enthusiastically and incessantly for about 30 minutes, and then . . .
I pause. My chin dips toward my chest. My brain chases an elusive thought. I’ve stopped mid-sentence and can’t recall what was so important. I take a deep breath and look up. My voice changes. It’s deeper, more grownup—my voice at age 43. The primary has reemerged. I smile. “Eddy! Why are you sitting there?” He’s watching me from the chair where I usually sit during our sessions. “You usurped me.” I’m joking, trying to make light of what feels like an awkward situation to me. Eddy, who works primarily with trauma survivors, is unphased.
We spend some time processing the emergence of Ellie. The session ends. I meet my wife in the waiting room. I smile and nod when she asks if I’m okay to drive. The day must proceed as scheduled. We both have promises to keep.
(To Be Continued)