MPD & Headaches by Sara Lambert
The single most common neurological symptom reported in MPD is headache. (Frank Putnam) Suffering frequent headaches is so typical an experience for multiples that it is one of the major clues psychologists look for when diagnosing MPD. Most multiples report that their headaches are extremely painful, often to the point of being literally blinding. Medication seldom works to relieve the pressure or pain. There are some different explanations for why multiples get more headaches than the general population.
STRESS: Life can be very stressful for multiples. In addition to normal daily problems, you have to deal with post-traumatic stress arising from your abuse history. Other stresses specific to multiples include lost time, waking up in the middle of situations and having to appear as if you know what is going on, and trying to find ways to continue functioning when all you want is to hide under your bed forever. All of this can leave your nerves ragged and muscles bunched up in tension. It can also drain you of emotional strength. Headaches are a natural result.
Considerable physical stress is also a consequence of having a dissociative disorder as you use your physical senses to contain and come to terms with your psychological disabilities and “strange” experiences. Take derealization, for example: a common occurrence of dissociative misperception wherein the world seems distorted or two-dimensional. The effort to focus your vision all the time can cause eye strain and, subsequently, acute headache. On top of this, it can be incredibly distressing, frustrating, and frightening to experience episodes of derealization. The emotional toll is enough in itself to cause headache. But it doesn’t end there because, in addition to the physical effects of trying to deal with dissociative misperceptions, and the emotional effects of it, most dissociators also fight hard to hold everything together and look “normal” to the outside world. This can be exhausting, especially when selves are struggling to get out. As the brain works furiously to manage all these layers of stress, the dissociator develops a worsening headache.
To ease stress headaches, find what works best for you to decrease swollen, tense muscles. This is different for everyone – some prefer ice whereas others need to stand in a warm shower. Massage can be helpful. Music is soothing but, for some people, the noise simply adds another layer of stimulus onto the load the brain is already having to deal with. Some find the only thing they can do to help the pain is sleep. This works by giving your body a chance to rest and revitalize. There are also a number of self-hypnotic techniques you can use to let the stress and pain go. As dissociators are highly hypnotizable, these techniques can be particularly effective. You can create any hypnotic scenario you want from your own imagination. For example, fill your mind with a gentle, soothing color that washes the pain away.
OVERSTIMULATION: Multiples are very prone to pressure-type headaches caused by too much incoming stimulus. This barrage of psychic “noise” includes things which impact on all our senses and overwhelm them. It may come from inside – for example, too many alter selves standing near the front of consciousness. The noise may also come from outside – too much sound, too many bright colors that blur in front of your eyes. There are two probable reasons why multiples are overly sensitive to external stimuli – because of their chronic abuse experiences, multiples have developed a hyper-alertness which means they are constantly aware of everything around them incase danger is lurking – and because they have so many different “eyes” perceiving the world around them, often simultaneously. As one survivor put it, “Sometimes things have too much meaning. It’s as if we’re all looking at something at the same time, and our different perceptions get jumbled-up and become too much to cope with, and then our head feels as if it’s going to explode. And of course we all have separate feelings and opinions for what we see. It can be unbearable. There are so many eyes/minds, but only one sensory system to process everything. Even just a walk down the city street can leave us with a crippling (but somehow painless) headache.”
To help ease headaches cause by over stimulation, ask inside for everyone to step back and give you some space and quiet. Explain that it is more effective for them to tell you about their experiences when you have time and energy to listen properly. Alternatively, they may like to write their thoughts/feelings in a journal if they can’t wait. Some multiples find it helpful to carry pen and paper around with them for this purpose. There are ways to achieve ventilation of some of the noise – deep breathing exercises are good for this, and again you can use a number of self-hypnotic techniques, such as picturing a steam-valve on the side of your neck. If you find it overwhelming to go out in public surrounded by “noise pollution”, you could try wearing a walkman that playing peaceful, soothing music which blocks out the other noise.
SWITCHING: Switching from one alter self to another causes headache mainly when there is some kind of conflict between the selves for control. The solution to this is better communication and cooperation within your system. When there is a disagreement about who should be “out”, many selves may be happy to accept a third party to take the out position as act as a mediator so both voices can be heard through her. Often this third party is an automaton self who has few sensitivities of her own, and so is not disturbed by being a channel through which others can communicate. Another suggestion is that, instead of coming completely out, the two selves stand in a place on the edge of inside, where they can be heard without a complete switch having to occur. Most people find that, as their co-consciousness increases, struggles for control (and the consequent headaches) cease to be a problem. There are some multiples who experience headache or other symptoms, such as nausea or dizziness, with even the most uncomplicated and unconflicted switches. This is usually the case for those who are early in their healing process, or whose dissociative barriers are profound. It is not surprising when you consider the physiological changes that happen when a multiple switches between alter selves. It has been proven that selves have their own unique pattern of brainwaves. Furthermore, everyone has at different ages a different biochemistry and mental capacity – thus the switch from adult to child is going to be more physiologically complex than between two adults.
SPILLAGE: When alters have disputes between themselves at a subconscious level, or when one is seething because of some anxiety they have, the tension often emerges in the form of headache. In this way, the person who is out may have a migraine without being aware that it is being caused by a stroppy teenager who is figuratively stomping around inside because she is angry about something. Alter selves are also notorious for sending headaches to the front person as a kind of message. This headache can be seen as a kind of acting out. In cases like these, pain-killing medication is of no use, because there is no actual physiological problem – the pain results from emotional disturbance. It is necessary to get the selves talking to you about what is going on for them. If they are willing to do this, there is a better chance they will get their needs met than if they simply radiate wordless feelings and pain.
I was four, I had told my mom about my dad. That part wasn’t in the memory. The memory started with her coming after me, swinging her fist above her head and down on me. She was screaming, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! That didn’t happen! Shut up! Stop it, stop it, stop it!” And she was whaling on me and at me.
I opened my eyes and reported that to Karl. He said we had to go back in, as usual. I asked what else I needed to see. He wasn’t really sure, so I said I would just pick up after she stopped hitting me and left the room.
I was in fetal position on the floor, calling out to her, screaming “Mommy, mommy, please! MOMMY!” Stuff like that. But then I was quiet. And then as I was laying there, I could still see the me laying there, but the. A different me in different clothes stood up from inside the crying, laying on the floor me. She stood up and walked determinedly with perfect posture down the hallway and into my bedroom.
i said i wanted hypnotherapy because i have days where i don’t know who i am, and if i weren’t co-conscious, i believe i would forget these days and lose the time.
got in touch with some parts.
i have a four year old, a sixth grader, and one who remembers a lot of stuff but not emotionally. she is the one who steps in for me when i am overwhelmed. like when i can’t scooter any more or when rob is doing long boring to me things and i haven’t the patience to wait it out. she is extremely handy and very cool. she is laid back. i like her.
he had me name them so we could keep track.
i didn’t want to, but i had to. it makes sense
but when i was the four year old i couldn’t think of a name except that my grandma called me tricky lou.
or tricky doodle, but tricky lou is less embarrassing.
the sixth grader didn’t want a name at all.
i said amelia because i always liked amelia earhart. so dumb.
oh, well, they can’t all be the world’s best names.
and the cool one who takes over for me said she is a place holder for me, so she said to call her PH.
so. it was an eventful hypnotherapy.
man, i could hear myself talking when i was tricky, and my voice was small and high. so fucking bizarre. i didn’t do it, it just happened.
Walls have come down. The ones I raised between Scott and me. Down. One of my breakthroughs the other day was about this one of me, this one I call G, at first didn’t even know Scott. G knew enough to be polite and junk, at first. But then G started finding fault with most things Scott would say. G wanted to be better and smarter. G knew she is better and smarter. But G felt that Scott didn’t know she is better and smarter. More insightful, ahead of Scott in the evolution, the blossoming into her true self. G’s precociousness knows no bounds. G is a badass. G walks with complete confidence. G never blinks first.
And I am not clear, exactly, how it happened, as I wasn’t G at the time, but it occurred to me that G was pushing me away from Scott. G wasn’t pushing Scott away because Scott is here to stay. So G was pushing me. Trying to make it impossible for me to even like Scott, being he is so much less everything than G is.
But, you know, G is a fragment of a person. G is a sliver in time. Perfectly preserved as she is. At an age young enough to have that complete confidence in her many abilities and fine brain. And old enough to know how to fuck with people. G is a force. I like G. I like G’s walk. I love G’s attitude. I believe in G.
All I had to do was to just not judge. Not judge everything out of Scott’s mouth, everything he typed. And I just stopped. I realized that G was driving the wedge in, and I am not G. G may more than I do about some things, but G doesn’t know that decades have passed. G doesn’t know how unbelievably kind and patient and true Scott is. G doesn’t know he is the one we have been waiting for around here.
I still don’t know how any of this works. But me seeing the damage being done by G was all it took. The decision to just stop was easy peasy. And it took. It actually took. I could feel the change deep I side me when I chose to be different. To not be pushed away. Walls schmalls. I choose living right now and being happy with my person.
The confusing part is that G has been doing this since day one. But I didn’t know then that G is what G is. And when I did know, and I could hear myself being G, I truly felt like she didn’t know Scott. So, how could she have been G-ing him all along if she didn’t know him? Maybe she had never talked to him before. I don’t know. This part, I don’t know.
Thank you, Scott, for accepting our G. You are an amazing man. You are our person.
I had a flashback just now.
I was on my parents bed in our old house, probably three or four. And my dad was doing stuff to me.
And I looked out into the hallway and saw my mom.
If I had been nurtured, I would have been a dynamite person.
I mean, I am a dynamite person.
But, you know, with support, I would have made it out okay.
I guess this is the answer I have been asking for, whether or not she knew. I can only guess what she saw traumatized her to the point of shutting down or something. Because it didn’t end there for me. And she is really messed up, to this day. I imagine she shut down or dissociated or something, because how else could she not stop it and help me? Something happened to her. Either then or before. I don’t know. But that isn’t part of my journey. All I can do for myself is know the facts of her. And save all of the helping for myself.
I am broken. I am seriously broken. Into small parts. Into small parts of my own self. That are basically hiding from me in the depths of my giant brain. And maybe in my heart. Or, like, in my spleen. I mean, honestly, who would look for a person part inside a spleen? I am broken.
There are many ways I have discovered recently in which I am broken. Well, I overspoke. There is one glaring way I have discovered recently in which I am broken. Sexually. I can absolutely have sex and love sex and enjoy the fuck out of sex with you if I like you a lot. I can have same sex if I love you, too. But if I strive to create an atmosphere of intimacy, real intimacy, and of loving, pretty sex, I cannot do it. When I try that, I have unspeakably horrid flashbacks and I thusly panic. And, really, I do cry when I am having like and regular love sex. I cry every time. That’s not normal, either.
To reiterate, if I am sexing you up because I like you or regular love you, pretty fair chances it will go well. And there will be an excess. But if I come to you vulnerably, with intimacy on the line, ready to open up to you in ways I heretofore have never experienced, there is going to be some trouble. I have on hand and in spleen many versions of me for whom sex didn’t go well and was disgustingly inappropriately timed. Those parts do not want me to be vulnerable. Or something. I am not really sure why they send me the flashbacks. I imagine it is to protect me, keep me safe. But why when I am trying to be safe and ensconced with intimate, pretty sex? And with the regular like love sex, I merely get a small crying spell?
These days, my head is so full of thoughts from other mes. It’s full of knowing my perceptions are skewed and correcting them manually. It’s full of knowing I am the wrong me in a certain situation and trying to act as if.
I am growing tired of trying to make my today mes into whatever would be the right me for the other people. The other people who know need to put some effort into this, too. Not just with lip service, but knowing there will absolutely be days where I will be different. And to look out for those days. And try a little harder to go out of your own comfort zones to meet whichever me I am. Sadly, we don’t all respond to people in the same way. How could we? We have all led very different parts of my life.
I am not for everyone. I am broken. It is going to take a lot of time and a fuck of a lot of effort to put this sucker back together again. This is a long haul project. I am not for everyone. I need people who can think on their feet. Who can improvise. Who aren’t going to turn on me and accuse me of not liking them and try to bail on me. I need consistency. I need people who aren’t afraid to know they are broken, too. I need support. Not negative things pointed out to me. I need help. I am broken, goddammit.
I woke confused again. Not the kind of confused like when you are napping at a strange-for-you time and you wake up and can’t of what day it is and what time it is and maybe you should be doing thirteen things already and you are late and where is your child? But the kind where it takes me a minute to place myself. More existential. Like where am I in the way that a drunk wakes with dread to the new day wondering what social or sexual blunders she has committed and whether or not it really matters at all. Like trying to remember what you did when you don’t remember what you did. Because there are more than one you. And, really, it could be days later than you remember, not just hours.
It’s a very familiar feeling for me. I watched and listened to myself handle the confusion. After a beat, my mind swept it under a rug and seamlessly went on as if nothing present was completely crazy. An instant spin. Nothing to see fear, folks. Move along. But in that instant of covering up the weirdness, about a million things went down in my brain. I processed the situation with such speed and nimbleness, highly proficient in dealing with that which makes no sense to the naked brain. As if I was born doing this, to do this. To go on as if everything were normal and lovely and where is my cereal.
I tried to process my processing as it lighted by, leaving a hum in the space behind my forehead. The part that my furrow controls. From what I gathered, I didn’t know who I was for a flash. I assimilated the view from my apartment sofa and finessed that I was indeed at my apartment on the sofa, and I recalled that my mother had been here last night for laundry and extensive smart phone lessons. But it wasn’t like a recalling of things that happened to me. It was like I had memorized a fake alibi.
And I believe that when this happens, there is a certain amount of anxiety that arrives in my chest. It’s as if I am covering for a murder or something and it really is an alibi. And I struggle to make sense of what perhaps I had intended to do on this day. Was I going to mow? Was I supposed to be buying Rob foods? Do I have any money at all in my bank account? What was this day to be? And is it too late for it to be that? How can I still fit in all of the things even though the time is later than it should be? And I bargain with time and rearrange it, like we do when the alarm goes off and we hit snooze. And then we do all of the nine-minute math.
I believe I have been able to do this DID thing for so long without ever getting caught because I am crazy smart. Smart about my crazy. My brain is highly complex. Like, seriously, dudes. In fact, I was never caught for being molested, either. of course, my mother was an easy fool. She saw it and didn’t see it. She can process things in a way that makes them never have happened. It’s a lesser form of this brain sport. But, of course, she never has had any confidence in her intellectual capabilities. She hides what she can and forgets the rest. I think it’s sloppy. Were it not for her dedication to unknowing, she would have failed long ago and would have to admit that things happened.
I don’t like this anxiety. It isn’t clean. Points will be deducted for style.
Last last night, early this morning in fact, I didn’t feel in any way capable of communicating with the mes. But I tried, anyway. I asked that if they had anything to share to please feel free, now and always. I said some kind, soothy things. And after my mom popped downstairs and said something she didn’t need to say as the obvious result she was after was to upset me, I asked the mes if they know why that stuff gets to me sometimes when I could easily ignore her and not give her that power.
Flash forward to my needing nap. Rob had had an enormous meltdown before school, a kind of meltdown where I was worried he would break the dishwasher or something, because scratch.mit.edu was down and stayed down for a long long time, and that is his one go-to website before school. It didn’t help that we went to the Is It Down Now? website to check if it was down or if it was on our end, because Rob kept refreshing that age, and he became more and more upset. So we were a little late for school. I told him we would wait until it was back up because how he feels in more important than being on time for school. Once I got home from taking him in, I was already beat. So, the nap.
I had one of my EXTREMELY vivid dreams. The kind where I can actually direct what happens a little bit. This one was disturbing, at best. The dream had the usual characters who are involved in my crap dreams: my mother, my brother, and my father. He comes back in these dreams as a drunk, dumbass, and we all know he died, but we stopped reacting to his presence as if it’s freaky. It’s like, oh, there is dead drunk dad again.
In the dream, my dead drunk dad kept trying to grab at me and fondle me and grope me and kiss me. And other things. I got away from him many times. But then it occurred to me that I needed someone to see it happen. So, I made the dream kind of reset. My dad came at me and I honestly couldn’t get away. And my mom walked in and totally saw it. My dad stopped and those two walked off together, with their heads together, discussing how I always do things wrong. How things are my fault. And my mom assumed that whole my dad attacking me was my fault. And then she was telling him about the money I used for emergencies.
I saw her a little later and I was, like, what the fuck? You saw what he did. And she said why, no, I didn’t see anything like that.
This same basic thing played out a few more times. Once with my brother watching. But then he turned into Chris, and Chris got right in my dad’s face and really let him have it. He yelled at him, then he yelled at my mom. But it was like they couldn’t hear it. But in my dream I was happy that someone believed me. I am not really sure if that was Chris or my brother believing me. But my mom never, ever did.
There is another layer to this dream, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing it yet.
I feel like the dream was a way for me to know she did know but pretended she didn’t. And it also answered the question of why I let her effect me instead of ignoring her. I have serious rage issues about her.