Another Kind of Loss

I hate Father’s Day. The commercialism, especially, and the obligation to be cheerful and celebratory of something that has caused me so much pain… Fox’s dad invited us to a special restaurant in honor of Father’s Day and I wouldn’t miss it for anything, but thinking about it and listening to Fox talk about it is ripping my heart to shreds.

I know some people whose fathers died, but it happened when they were adults. Others whose dads left them, who never knew their father, who are estranged from their dads… But I can only think of one person I know whose father died when she was a child – I’m pretty sure she was a child – and to be honest I’m not sure she’d be willing to talk to me about it. We’re not that close.

I feel like there isn’t anyone who can really understand the grief Father’s Day brings up for me – the deep, aching loneliness of watching others celebrate something that has been lost to me for most of my life, and knowing they cannot possibly understand how I feel about it.

To make matters worse, I threw away a perfectly good friendship with the one person I’ve ever met who understood what I was going through.

This person joined my class in school a mere seven months after my father died. He was an orphan, living with a relative. I don’t remember how we got to know each other, or even if we ever talked about our experiences, just that we became very close. We shared an understanding with each other that neither of us could share with anyone else in the school. At recess and lunch we would spend as much time as we could together, just talking. Connected.

People made assumptions about our relationship that I thought were completely unfounded… but that had a kernel of truth: he had a crush on me. I did not share those feelings, but I agreed to a romantic relationship anyway. It lasted a weekend; the bullies descended upon me almost as soon as I set foot in school. I panicked and broke up with him. Then summer came, and we went our separate ways.

I’ve thought back on that parting with regret, but I’ve never really mourned it. Today may be the first time I’ve ever talked about this person with anyone. I think I can forgive myself: I was much younger then, and less assertive. I prioritized romantic relationships to a degree that was probably unhealthy, and I hadn’t yet learned how to salvage a friendship from disappointment. He may not have been able or willing to work with me, even if I had made the effort. It’s gone, it’s done, all that’s left to do is mourn.

I’m recognizing that I lost something that was important to me, and that would be even more valuable now: a friend who understands the pain of having lost a parent when I was very young.

To be honest, I’m not sure I want to try to get back in touch with this particular individual. I doubt I’d have much to say, other than “I’m sorry.” But I do want to find a group – at the moment I’m leaning toward online – for adults who lost one or both parents when they were young. Maybe then I’ll feel less isolated.

My Past

content note: language (to describe ease of using skills) that is based on my experiences as an able-bodied individual

I have a turbulent relationship with my past. I have longed for it: for long-gone friendships, fond childhood memories, deceased loved ones, “simpler times.” I have shunned it, disconnecting myself from identities and ways of being I felt did not serve me well, and embracing the anonymity of a new school. I have been taunted by it in dreams where that person I miss so much is alive again – but for some reason I never get around to interacting with them directly in a meaningful way, and I wake up feeling empty. I have been tortured by internalized abuse and actions I regret. I have blamed my past for my current problems. I have hated it and run from it, and yet I can’t stop looking back.

Yesterday was the first time I truly and consciously thought of my past as a tool. Fox’s dad was telling me about a time he was surprised by his ability to do something he found challenging, but later realized that he’d managed something similar over 30 years ago! It was a skill set he had already developed, that was just waiting to be used. “Like riding a bike,” as the saying goes: once one learns to ride a bike, one can do it again at any time (assuming no change in physical abilities, e.g. from an injury). It gave him confidence for a new direction he wants to take his life.

I connected his story to my ability to lead a group music therapy experience with my classmates on Wednesday, despite feeling overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, and inadequate. They were role-playing children; I used a familiar children’s song to facilitate group interaction. Once I’d received enough support from them that I was able to focus on the task at hand, my past experiences kicked in. Years of playing guitar guided my fingers between two familiar chords, even though I hadn’t so much as looked at my guitar in months. My brief experience of working in a daycare for young children (seven years ago) jumped back into the here-and-now: I was singing the same song, having the same fun, and using the same strategies to keep the group from descending into utter chaos. This was augmented by related experiences in some of my music therapy fieldwork (five years ago).

Even the new suggestions I got to try out in the moment were supported by what I’ve learned through past experiences and reading. I was able to consciously focus on them and be more intentional in my overall approach because so much was happening automatically. All I needed to do was allow myself to be fully in the moment, past and present working together.

I see it in other areas of my life, too. Being in my thirties is great because I clearly remember things that happened ten, fifteen, occasionally even twenty years ago. I’ve been driving for well over a decade; it’s become as easy and natural as walking. I’ve been actively and voluntarily developing my music skills for over twenty years now: singing in choirs, studying instruments, becoming fluent in music theory, composing and improvising. Reading and writing and looking up information… forget about it. They’re all active skills I’ve nurtured for so long, they’re just part of my nature.

I can use them, trust them, develop them further. Too often I fear going into new situations alone, like I’m completely unprepared and I’ll fall apart as soon as things become unpredictable. But I’m never alone. I have all these years of experience to guide me.

Healthy Plurality

For most of “my” life, “my” thoughts have “taken the form of” a conversation between 2 or more people. I think something, and someone else responds – sometimes in agreement, sometimes with a counter-argument. It might happen when I’m trying to make a decision or just thinking about something that’s important to me or has temporarily captured my interest. Sometimes it just … happens.

Sometimes I’m alone, but that’s actually kind of rare. Most of the time it feels like someone else is here with me; we experience all the same things together and (usually) support each other in coping with them. On occasion it’s like I’m in a crowded room with several conversations buzzing all around me – or, several people all shouting what they think I should do / say / eat. (Eat? Whoever said that? Yes, eating is the most important thing we do every day. No, breathing is! Eating and breathing, okay! We don’t have to decide what or whether to breathe – unless there’s cigarette smoke. Just leave “eat” in there, okay? Do we have to leave this whole conversation in here? It’s really embarrassing! It’s how our brain works …)

Umm, where was I? Oh, right. I hear it all with my mind’s ear, like when a song gets stuck … really, whoever wrote that? It just sounds so lame! Hey!

That’s what you get for trying to minimize the fact that the rest of us exist. So there.

I’m sorry I’m introducing readers to a (potentially) new concept. I didn’t want to weird them out too much at first. Give them a chance to learn what healthy plurality is before they have to deal with our arguments!

This is fun!

Anyway, I’ve been curious about the idea of plurality for some time, but I thought it could only be part of a disorder – what was once called “multiple personality disorder” and now (in the US) is called “dissociative identity disorder” … as far as I’m aware, they’re essentially the same thing. “My” way of being plural has always felt normal-for-“me” … which is a little weird to say because I’ve gotten so used to being depressed that in a way that feels normal too. So, let me clarify. Depression has always interfered with some aspect of my life, whether it’s feeling confident and important / respected in social situations, getting out of bed in the morning, taking care of myself, dealing with really intense emotions, etc. Being plural has been … interesting … but never actually a problem. Right, folks? No problem? … Usually. Any group of people will have disagreements and drama. Sometimes it gets a bit stressful; sometimes we’re not as supportive of each other as we could or should be.

I wouldn’t want anyone here to go away; I enjoy their company. It’s just another way of being, and “I” often find it adaptive. How? If I’m feeling lonely there’s someone I can talk to. I don’t have to make difficult decisions alone. There’s often a comforting voice, such as the one who reminded me that the incredibly harsh self-criticisms were the depression talking, and didn’t reflect reality. Or the one who convinced me to get out of bed today by promising I could have cookies for breakfast …

I recently had the opportunity to meet members of 2 multiple systems (independent people who share the same body) and learn a bit about their subjective experiences. I learned that plurality / multiplicity / multiple systems can develop naturally and don’t have to be the result of trauma / psychopathology. The people involved in such systems don’t need to integrate into one personality in order to be healthy. As at least one member of a multiple system put it, “We find that the easiest way to explain our thought processes is as a conversation among multiple people.” (not an exact quote)

Sound familiar?

I’ll admit, the possibility of being multiple is scary. Does this have to go in here? Yes, it’s part of my experience! As I meet others who share “my” body, how do I know that what they’re saying is coming from them and not me? I think I’m usually the one fronting (using our body to interact with the physical world). If I become more aware of, engage with, and get to know the others as individuals, do I have to give up control of our body to them? If I do, will I get it back? Yes. I can only deal with this – okay, fine, I’ll use “stuff” – for so long. Is any of this even real? Yes!

Ultimately, it’s all subjective. Of course it’s all happening inside my / our head – that doesn’t have to mean it isn’t real! (props to anyone who gets the reference) I’ve / we’ve lived this way for as long as I can remember; nothing will change unless we want it to. Being aware of it, even talking / writing about it, doesn’t change it. It just broadens our understanding of ourselves, and the many ways of being in the world(s).

I’m very new to the idea of healthy plurality and can only share my own experiences. To learn more from the perspectives of healthy multiples, including faq and the like, visit Healthy Multiplicity . com

You might also find this Glossary helpful.