I’m told there’s a power to “healing out loud,” speaking to one’s experience of working through, or living with a mental health condition, physical disability, chronic illness, etc. As I tell the story of my recovery from anorexia or living life with my chronic illnesses, I’ve seen this power myself in myriad ways. Still, when I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) in February 2021, I wondered if there was a limit in the power of healing out loud.
DID used to be known as multiple personality disorder. It is one of the diagnoses in the DSM that remains highly stigmatized. Often the subject of sensationalized media portrayals and wild misinformation, my own DID went unrecognized for years, hidden under layers of shame and fear and confusion. Being open about anxiety or even an eating disorder was one thing. Trying to find the courage to speak about my darkest secret out loud, that I shared a body with multiple alters formed out of great trauma, was entirely another. Would my loved ones accept not just me, Leah Ilana, but the other members of my system I was getting to know in therapy?
Many did. My fiancée is a clinical psychologist and I have been blessed to receive their support right off the bat. Friends seemed to react to the news with more curiosity than judgment, wanting to know more about how to offer support.
One afternoon that stands out as a shining example of acceptance and care from a dear friend, in the most unexpected way.
I had scheduled a date with Xandra the week before at a nearby coffee shop to catch up. It had been some time since we had seen each other and I was eager to chat with my energetic, bubbly friend. On the day in question I found myself with a potential roadblock: I (Leah Ilana) wasn’t present at all. One of my alters, Viktor, was stuck at the front instead. With DID we are not in control of “switches,” –when one alter swaps in for another, taking control of the body. This is known as “fronting.” A switch can happen for a variety of reasons, from a trauma trigger to needing to deal with an outside situation, to a positive response. Either way, a very male, very distinct alter who was noticeably different from me, was in charge. There was nothing that could be done about it.
Anxious, Viktor thought about cancelling the coffee date, but decided to go through with it, not wanting to disappoint my friend. Dressed in an oversized men’s shirt, baggy pants and covering our short hair with a beanie, chest bound and voice in a lower register, he used all of the courage he had to spend a few hours with Xandra, who immediately accepted him. “I could tell it was one of your male alters right away,” she told me later. When I expressed how worried Viktor had been, she simply said, “Please tell him not to be anxious! He did wonderful and I had a great a time!”
In the face of such a misunderstood condition, Xandra, who is not Jewish, offered us the epitome of Jewish values, genuine warmth and kindness. Xandra demonstrated what it means to show up for each other in community and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Someone may not have to understand the intricacies, or the ins and outs of DID, to give someone a safe harbor to be themselves. This is truly a blessing.
I’m still not fully convinced that I am able or want to “heal out loud” fully in regards to my DID. I am also learning to come to some measure of peace with this. Regardless, knowing that there are those who are willing to hold me and my alters in love and acceptance can be enough, at least for today.