Many moons ago, I saw a long documentary about a young woman called Freda suffering from what was called schizophrenia, but would be more rightly called multiple personality disorder.
Multiple personality disorder is commonly called schizophrenia, although it’s not, and the error may come from the fact that schizophrenia is derived from the Greek words skhizein meaning “split” and phren — “mind.”
I have to say though, that in my opinion, mental illnesses do not fit so neatly into the boxes that science has defined. Science does this because there has to be a standard treatment, a drug to be prescribed or other “therapy.” There has to be some structure whereby mental illness can be understood…
But the truth is that when the mind goes haywire, there’s lots of overlap, lots of morphing as it progresses, and really, the idea that any specific set of symptoms fit into any box snuggly is generally false in my opinion.
Okay so Freda had multiple personality, actually two personalities, herself and a bully that made her life a living hell whilst at school — two voices in her head where one would sometimes be dominant along with its associated persona and at times, there would be dialogue between the two, all going on in one mind.
And as I’ve heard over and over with the whole spectrum of chronic illness, the treatment she was getting, really did not make a dent in her condition. Bottom line, the treatment — drugs and counseling — wasn’t working at all.
So, how did she get into such a state? What were the causes?
The main cause was this bully… TRAUMA. Trauma does things to the mind and intense trauma, repeated on an almost daily basis is enough to throw any mind into complete disarray and meltdown. Look at a similar situation with post traumatic stress disorder — same thing, repeated trauma — mental and nervous breakdown.
We break down under intense trauma because we are stuck, our natural instincts are squished. All that adrenaline fueled energy has nowhere to go and so it damages us. Look at any other animal in nature whether it’s a mouse, an elephant or a lion. If they sense danger, they will run away and if they can’t run, they will display a threatening posture and if necessary, fight. Basically they get the hell out one way or another. Their whole being and focus is all about getting SAFE. That is our instinct too, but it’s repressed — we have to stay in school, we have to stay on the battlefield.
The natural way this would have played out for Freda using her natural instinct would be; she spots this guy with a threatening demeanor from a mile away and goes in the opposite direction with all haste. End of problem.
So… we would all break at some point under this kind of mental stress but some are more prone to it, being more sensitive, but we’d all break sooner or later. Perhaps Freda was singled out because she was the easiest target, how brave is that?
A very sensitive person has a great gift, they feel everything very deeply and so are in the best place, all being well, to choose the right thing to do. But in the case of overwhelming emotion, overwhelming danger, overwhelming anything, they most easily break down.
What struck me watching this documentary was that most people would clearly see that one of these personalities was real, the other made up, the “bully.” But in fact, they are both made up, one is just older — the original one, the one most people would call “me.”
Personality is a bunch of subtle habits, as subtle as your regional accent that you took on-board without even thinking. It’s subtle and we build our personality by taking on-board certain vibes that we encounter as we grow in our environment. My son would often almost become — mimic — certain people he admired and would be like a mini version of the other person for a few hours after spending time with them.
So over many years we build our persona by choice and by default by taking on-board vibes that come via our senses and via our attention. We build mind-body connections via speech, movement and so-on.
When the “other” personality appeared via trauma, the sensitive person has this vibe literally forced into them. Like if you watch a scary movie and for weeks after get fear-flashes in your mind. But Freda’s horror was every single day, no time to recover and so the horror embeds, surfaces, puts the mind into a more and more disturbed state until it’s becomes its own personality, with its own voice, behavior, moods. It can so easily happen, especially to sensitive people.
I’ve spoken before how sometimes I will get this horrible racist thought pop into my mind. This is exactly the same thing in miniature. This isn’t MY voice, my opinion, my personality. It’s something that got embedded in me by some neanderthal guys that happened to be there when I was growing up. And the verve with which these racist comments were made was enough of a trauma to drive it deep in me.
Now I can look at this and see it as garbage, but this is miniscule in comparison to what Freda suffers. Her horror and trauma has made the voice more and more present, more real, more indistinguishable from her own voice. It’s only a matter of degree.
And of course, as we feel more disturbed, more out of control, the whole thing continues to morph into more and more bizarre behavior, anxiety, controlling but dysfunctional behavior, self-harm perhaps, eating disorders and so-on. The poor woman is in hell.
Drugs can be useful to calm the disturbance to a level where other therapy is possible, but they are not a solution in themselves, the problem wasn’t caused by lack of drugs.
The solution is for Freda to fully understand how and why this terrible thing happened to her, the clear cause and effect of it all, and then to show her how to let it go, by starving the other personality of attention.
Then time will be a healer once attention is removed, and this other personality is not empowered with meaning or attention. It won’t go immediately but it will die away, the frequency and intensity of the other voice will lessen, more and more until it feels like a distant memory, like a lifetime ago. That takes time, but the important thing is to turn it around by understanding and not empowering it any more.
Essential is to feel safe, because danger and stress is likely to play out newly ignored thought-habits automatically; ramp them back up. We should all have a nurturing, safe environment. An environment of constant threat is really unnatural and leads to all sorts of problems.
So far so good. Now the next thing essential is to raise awareness of all thoughts, by remaining in a step-back position from thoughts, so that thoughts pop, they don’t run on endlessly. And the way to do that is to “listen” to thoughts, which means to be aware of them popping, and make this a constant practice so that you are never swept away. Only when thoughts are popping are you really in a place of choice. In-between there is peace.
And finally we have physical well-being. Long-term mental illnesses are compounded over time by behaviors that deepen the problem, like not sleeping well, poor nutrition, constant stress and so-on. For example, essential fatty-acids are known to be absolutely vital to mental health and yet are likely to be deficient in the long-term sufferer. Zinc is another nutrient that has been linked to mental illness when deficient.
But the truth is that EVERY single nutrient matters, and every single one interacts with all the others.
So the truth about overcoming schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder and actually, every other mental illness is that it needs a multi-pronged strategy. Lots of different tools working together that gently move us back to health and well-being.
For Freda, understanding very clearly what is happening and why, seeing clearly that a return to health is truly possible, and having the right tools for the job, can actually heal. Instead of the normal gradual decline, a turning point and a gradual return to health and sanity is possible.
If you or someone you know is suffering mental illness, please arm yourself with the tools that work together to create health and peace of mind. And work with your doctor as you improve, to reduce and eliminate dependency on medication.
After reading Happy Guide, feel free to get back to me if you have any questions about how to put it into practice or how it applies specifically in your case.
Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.
Read Chapter 1 “The Happiness Secret”
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