[TW: Abuse, self-harm, and trauma mentions]. By Amy Crellin
Have you managed to keep yourself safe? What does this question bring to mind for you? For me, it brings a whole host of complex questions, answers, and ideas. When you are a psychiatric patient with a long and complex history, there is a lot more to this question than meets the eye. To an average person of my age, 26, it might mean did you look before you crossed the road on the way to work, did you drink enough water after last nights pub rounds, or maybe did you check the oil level in your car? For me, it takes on a totally different meaning. Have I dissociated into another part? Have I self-harmed? Keeping myself safe means: Did I manage to eat some dinner? Because I haven’t eaten for 3 days because swallowing causes bile to rise in my throat. Do I wish my life were simpler? Yes. At the moment, I am watched during every waking hour. Sometimes I am interactive and comical but other times I must be like watching paint dry. It is a surreal existence. I have a whole team of people who can tell me the manner in which I dry my hands, how I hold my pen, how much I move at night and the truly dedicated and observant individuals can tell me when I’m going to cry/feel sad/have a flashback etc before I’m even aware of it. How many individuals live like this?
But more poignantly, what would you do if this has been your experience since childhood? On my 18th birthday, I was in an adult acute unit being observed by 6 or 7 different individuals each day and each night. This was the age at which I should have been shouldering more adult decisions and responsibilities, but instead, they were all removed from me. They were in charge of meals, laundry, and even making my bed. I began shrinking in confidence and growing in frustration. I am capable, calm, and controlled, but due to other parts of me being so disturbed I am unable to live a normal life, however, it is also due to these parts that I can LIVE a LIFE. Without my personality shattering, I would have died. No matter how hard I tried to exclaim this was too dramatic and drastic a possibility, my therapist assured me, “DID is the last line before death. If you didn’t have the ability to have DID, you would’ve died”. I have now taken this on board and will forever be grateful -although at times begrudgingly- that my brain is wired the way it is with the ability to splinter at the appropriate times. But how does this link to keeping yourself safe?
There is a part of my mind, a 3-year-old state called Ellie, who is in charge of keeping us alive. A hefty job at 3 years old, but one she is excellent at. I also have a 35-year-old dissociated part called Emily who is a defense for us. And there are Lauren, Jess, and Roxy who have sadly taken the brunt of the trauma and have been prostituted by one individual to hundreds of others over a span of 16 years. It is due to this that I am always asked, “Have you managed to keep yourself safe?” Typically, if it is me who has been present for the entire 60-minute therapy session, then the answer is “YES”. However, on occasion –and by this, I definitely mean more than once- I have been injured by my own hand, but not my own mind. This is when I become desolate, distressed, and despondent. I have worked so hard to be able to cope by MYSELF but other parts can’t, not WON’T or DON’T – can’t. Due to their deeply held belief that our abuser will return, they believe we will forever be considered a plaything. They feel like they cannot prevent themselves or protect our body. However, their “protection” has led to hundreds of surgeries and complications – resulting in a life-limiting situation.
I hope at some point I will get my life back. But after an hour in a padded room with two books and one pen, I am asked, “Have you managed to keep yourself safe?” A little part of me, Amy that competent 26-year-old I mentioned earlier, dies inside. My armor is chipped away daily. Most of my tomorrows are full of yesterdays and all of my tomorrows are uncertain. When I think about my safety, I question my life and its fragility – not the lock on the back door.