It was 1995 when I began therapy and was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (originally named multiple personality disorder). D.I.D is a creative way to cope with unbearable pain. The main personality splits into several parts with dissociative or amnesic barriers between them. It used to be a controversial disorder but I have had extensive tests over two years by leading psychology professor at UCL, John Morton, who has established I have no memory of switching between the alters (splits in personality) and that I have the misfortune of representing the ‘British gold standard’ over genuine dissociation between them.
D.I.D is the norm for us as we have known no different. The split in the personalities happened at a very young age and, for me, the main problem that I encounter daily is amnesia. With the help of our therapist, daughter and our art we are managing better than ever, to fill the gaps in memory.
In 2004 while spending some time with a support worker who was training as an art therapist, five of the alters showed an interested in painting. Initially it was with children’s paints, on the back of wallpaper but after a few months it was suggested that we should take our art more seriously. After buying some canvases and acrylic paint, we have not looked back and now 14 of us paint and we have had over 70 group and solo exhibitions, nationally and internationally. Each artist has their own distinctive style, colours and themes, ranging from solitary deserts style, figurative, abstract and paintings with traumatic content. Each style has become easy to identify, which helps me to track life when I am not in control of the body. Many alters are unaware that they share a body with other artists.
I am completely unaware of any switching between personalities. It is quick and spontaneous. I suppose for people to have some connection to what it feels like it could be similar to not being aware - like sleep-walking. Other people tell you you have got up in the middle of the night and eaten all the cake but have no memory of it and it is hard to believe until you get on the scales and your weight has increased.
Four of the alters are exhibiting at a current exhibition (With Art in Mind at Zebra One Gallery), they are Judy, Anon, Karen and Ria.
Anon paints in the middle of the night and nobody has been able to ask for a name. She likes to paint with thick acrylic paint pouring it onto the canvas with limited touch so the paint if fresh and untouched.
Judy is 15-years-old and has an eating problem. Originally she would only paint on large canvases as she felt they made her feel smaller in size. She does have a poor body image.
Ria is about 12-years-old and paints graphic scenes of abuse, usually in bright colours. She feels that abuse should not be covered up or ignored and that by using the bright colours you cannot miss the canvas and have to have a look.
Karen is a very shy, quiet person who does not talk much but gets pleasure from painting.
I like some of the personalities’ art like Anon, Judy and Abi, but as people I have never met them so find it hard to say if I like them or not. I do like Judy’s rebellious streak. Sometimes I leave her notes making suggestions about her paintings, but she has trouble accepting that she has D.I.D and feels I am interfering in her creativity. She’ll leave a note telling me to mind my own business and get a life. I am not sure I would like to meet her.
I feel my art has to be influenced by my mental health issues but I see our art not as art therapy but therapeutic. Having no formal art training our work comes from within, our experiences, our thoughts and feelings and it is our way to communicate, relate and learn about one another. Art has had a great impact on our lives. For us it is a way of meeting one another and getting to have a better understanding of some of the people I share my body with. Also it gives me a feeling of unity. It has helped me to get in touch with a feeling of confusion, madness and the unknown. I suppose it is similar to getting in touch with your subconscious. Yet our subconscious is a physical being, with its own personality and life and art has opened up a new world. In 2011 I wrote my biography ‘All of Me’ and also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Our work will be on exhibition until the end of the year. I felt very honoured when I was asked by Gabrielle, the director of the gallery, to exhibit in With Art in Mind alongside world-known artists like Dali, Warhol and Bacon. I greatly admire their work - their paintings reflect their own pain or confusion or someone we know who has suffered deeply like Marylyn Monroe. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the exhibition to raise awareness about mental health, with a percentage of the proceeds from the purchased paintings going to the Mental Health Foundation.
The best advice I can give anyone in the same situation as I am in would be to get the right diagnosis, so they will be in a better position to get the right treatment. Therapy is a long and hard journey but worth all the pain it can entail.
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Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org