Violence was prevalent in my family ever since I was 10 years old. My parents struggled with finances and my dad turned to alcoholism. The mounting stress and tension caused my parents to fight a lot and they started taking out their anger on us. They would often punish me over the smallest things, emotionally and physically abusing me (hitting me).
And when my parents fight or have physical outbursts, I’d tell my sisters to hide in the room while I put myself out there to bear the brunt of my parents’ anger. Somehow, it felt like the right thing to do for my siblings as the eldest. I also felt like it was my duty to be the middleman in helping my parents resolve their disputes—a responsibility I carried on my shoulders as the first child. I even took on three part-time jobs while in poly so that I could help with the finances.
There was a lot of emotional void and I was constantly trying to do things to please them or make them happy, so that I would get more love from them. I grew to have a people-pleasing attitude because of that.
Those traumatic experiences took its toll on me and I started to have depression and anxiety.
Then, I had my first mental breakdown at 20.
What Is There To Live For?
For eight months, I locked myself in my room and tried multiple ways to kill myself. I was in so much pain internally that I felt like I really could not take it anymore. I felt like there was no other way out of the plight I was in. Everyday was just a constant fight to stay sane amidst the fights, emotional abuse, and physical beatings.
The details are all fuzzy now, but I remember trying to cut myself, hang myself, and overdosing. Fortunately, I didn’t know enough to properly take my life back then, and when the suicide attempts didn’t work, I continued cutting myself instead—to feel the pain. I could not process all those pent-up frustration, anger, and sadness I had, and in order to let out the pain that I felt inside, I felt like I had to feel pain on the outside.
At that point, I had already been going to the doctor’s and had been taking medications for depression and anxiety. However, my parents weren’t convinced that I was struggling with mental issues.
My mom kept my medication and refused to give it to me. To my parents, it was their way of preventing me from overdosing, but even when I needed it, they wouldn’t give it to me—even when I had a full-fledged panic attack, my dad simply stood there and said:
“Don’t be a drama queen.”
As far as my parents were concerned, I needed to snap out of it.
Fast forward to 2014 when I was 25, I had my first major dissociative episode.
I Lost My Memory And Dissociated
I had been feeling really stressed out from juggling a few jobs, and had to complete some work at home over this one weekend, when I already had another part-time job that weekend. I made plans to finish that piece of work on Sunday night instead, only to return home on that fateful night to see my dad and a relative drunk and passed out on the couch. The house stank so badly from alcohol and the pools of vomit all across the living room, and my mom was nowhere to be seen. That was the last straw and was what triggered my first dissociative episode.
I lost my memory and began acting like a child for three months.
I didn’t even have a memory of what happened or how I was behaving, and it was through the people around me that I learnt of it.
It is very scary to know that for three months, you were being taken over by this other personality. I didn’t know what was going on and it was very unsettling and stressful to know that I dissociated.
Although, it also gave me a sense of comfort in knowing that there was more to what I’ve been feeling than depression and anxiety. After multiple visits to hospitals and various psychiatrists, I started getting treatments that effectively helped me revert to normal adult behaviour. However, the memory that I lost was still gone.
It was a year later when I got diagnosed with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), or ‘split personality’ to most people.
I was doing my Master’s in the United States back then, and it was at a psychiatric ward there that I was also diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder—all of these with triggers that are rooted to traumas that go way back into my childhood.
The Scary Part About Having ‘Split Personality’
When all you know about DID is from how awful and terrible it is portrayed in movies and media (like in Split), it makes you fear having DID yourself. I didn’t like any of my personalities when I was first diagnosed, and the denial lasted a while before I accepted my disorders. But DID is far from what is shown in the media.
Having DID feels like having 28 persons living inside me—which is the number of personalities I currently have.
I don’t have any recollection of what happens when one personality takes over. Sometimes, I dissociate within a snap of a finger when the trigger is very strong, like when someone approaches me from behind, at the stench of alcohol, or even men, because of the sexual abuse I’ve been through (I was naive and a people-pleaser). These triggers come from my history—traumatic experiences I’ve had since young.
My past has also made me very sensitive to stress, and I don’t have the capability to handle any change in behaviour from people around me. It’s made it almost impossible for me to get a full-time job. However, I’m also fortunate to be able to make a living from freelance marketing jobs.
But the scariest part of all is not so much of the disorders itself or having to face the people around me. The scariest part is not knowing when I will be suicidal and when I will act on those suicidal thoughts.
Road To Recovery
With the help of various treatments in the US and in IMH, medications, and focus groups, I have come to understand the significance of my personalities.
There are personalities that take over when there are triggers that make me angry. For example, Angie comes out when I’m really, really angry and when she’s in control, it makes me become uncontrollable, physically violent, and extremely strong. There was an event that happened in the US where three men with big build couldn’t hold me down when Angie took over, and I had to be physically restrained when they took me to the hospital.
Then, there’s Viyolante, who thinks of violence, gruesome and graphic acts, and is very specific about who and how she’s going to be violent towards or hurt, but she will never do anything violent.
On the other hand, there are a lot milder ones like Baby Gayu and Wava, who are childlike personalities, and a motherly figure, Moonlight, who takes care of everyone. There’s also a rescuer personality, Ressie, and a ‘non-living’ personality called Memory (or Mem), which is sort of like a treasure chest that holds all my lost memories.
I’ve learnt a lot more about my conditions, how to process my emotions, and to logically process the traumatic memories I have instead of dissociating upon triggers.
In the process of recovery, I’ve also had to make the extremely hard decision of cutting my family and husband out of my life, which I did five months ago. I realised that there was no way I could properly recover if I still had to face those triggers when I return home to my family every day.
There are many times I feel guilty for leaving home and leaving them, as I feel like I’ve betrayed and ‘abandoned’ them. I’ve always felt responsible to ‘fix what’s broken’ in my family, and I still feel this way. However, I know that if I don’t focus on my recovery right now, there is no way I will be stable enough to face them, much less solve any problems.
Staying Alive For The Prospect Of Better Days
I have a dream to be named one of the most influential women in the world by 35, or doing a PHD in South Korea and then settling there. These are ambitious dreams, but are goals I set for myself to remind me that I have to keep going as there are still things I want to achieve in my life.
But of course, living with mental disorders can be so overpowering that despite having all these goals and aspirations, I still feel empty and battle with suicidal thoughts and aimlessness. It’s a constant and daily fight and I still wake up feeling depressed and suicidal on most days.
However, the process of working my way through it, of recovery itself and believing that someday, I will be able to live a normal life, keeps me going—because I don’t know what normal is, I never had a normal life.
These feelings come and go, and it’s always a reminder for me to take it one step at a time.
This story is written by Millennials of Singapore as told to us by Gaya.
(Header Image Credit: Shirley J. Davis)