Challenges to be aware of/prepare for
As much as it’d be great to say ‘people with DID can function just as well as anyone else’, that’s simply just not the case of any disorder. That’s why it’s called a disorder – it causes dis-order to your life, and is going to cause roadblocks and issues that need to be worked around. That being said, can people with DID learn to work with these and find ways to live functionally? Absolutely. It is, however, a process, and most with this disorder are somewhere along the way of finding their way through that process so if you’re in the life of someone with DID these are things to prepare to be there for.
When you think about amnesia in relation to DID, you think about forgotten trauma, huge blackouts, big and dramatic things. If you’re someone regularly in the life of someone with this disorder, though, you’re likely to quickly realize that amnesia is quite pervasive into the small details of daily life. This can cause serious issues and it’s okay for this to be a struggle for you, and it’s something to take seriously and to be prepared for. It’s okay for it to be frustrating and for you to struggle with it as well – it will affect you. Does that mean it’s okay to blame the person with DID for their amnesia or to get unreasonably angry or set ultimatums? No. But it’s okay for it to affect you and you’re not being ableist or a bad person if it’s affecting you and difficult for you.
Some examples of ways amnesia could affect you:
- You might ask a roommate or partner to do a chore like cleaning the dishes before a certain time. Maybe you’re having people over that evening. They agree to do it, but then something triggers a switch and that amnesia between alters keeps the new alter from having any awareness of the agreement the previous alter had made. It’s absolutely fair for you to be upset when that evening rolls around and you get home to a sink full of dirty dishes and people will be arriving in ten minutes. It’s okay to feel let down and even betrayed by that. The alter who had absolutely no idea what was going on will also probably feel defensive and taken aback by your reaction and that’s something for every system to work on. Remembering you have amnesia is a very difficult thing, because the immediate impulse, even after knowing you have DID, is for your brain to want to convince you you don’t – so it will be common for systems’ knee-jerk reactions to be ‘no I didn’t/I never said that/that never happened/etc’, because their brain doesn’t want to accept they have amnesia.
Being unable to speak to the person you’d like to at a given moment
This one might sound ‘bad’, but it’s real and it’s fair and it’s something important to talk about and prepare for. Sometimes you might be in a tense conversation with someone or have something important to tell someone or need information from them, etc etc, but someone else is fronting and in that moment it can be incredibly frustrating. Particularly when you’re always hearing from everyone ‘Don’t ever ask a system to switch for you – don’t ever ask an alter if another alter could switch in because that’s super problematic’, but sometimes you’re just in a situation especially if you’re the partner of someone or living with them where situations arise and it’s not that you’re asking for fun or because you ‘just want to hang out with that person’, but because you genuinely need them because there’s a time crunch and they have information the other person doesn’t.
Ideally, you have communicated with that system ahead of time with how to handle those situations and what they would like you to do in those circumstances and you’ve planned accordingly. Sometimes, though, you simply have to accept that you’re not always going to be able to be perfect, and life needs to come first. So long as you’re not actively acting maliciously and you’re being gentle and recognizing in your speech ‘hey I’m not trying to be rude but I really need to be able to ask ____ something right now, I know you might not be able to do anything about that but if there’s any way you could that would be really helpful’, that’s the best you can do. And unfortunately often they might not be able to do anything about it and again, that’s one of the really difficult things to be prepared for.
Things to Establish with the System in your life/Questions to Ask
Now it’s important to recognize that these aren’t all things to ask and rattle off the second you learn that they’re a system or they start to open up around you. Take your time with it and don’t overwhelm them. Over time, however, establishing these things can be very useful to understand how your system friend will like being interacted with – and to understand that different alters may have different preferences. As you meet them it’s not a bad idea (again, take your time bringing these questions up) to get their input on what they’d prefer when they’re out.
- Do you want me to ask who’s fronting when I’m interacting with you?
- Do you want me to engage with you if you’re triggered or having a flashback and if so, how can I be most helpful to you in that moment?
- Do you want me to bring up DID if I think it’s relevant to something or do you want me to never mention it unless you mention it first?
- Do you want me to use plural pronouns for you or singular?