Meet Jessica, part 2

If you’re new here, you can read the first part of Jessica’s story here.

In part one, I left off with sharing how I had otherized Jessica.  As sobering and discouraging as it was to see this, what’s even worse is that I’m not the only one.

Jessica has been treated like “the other” by the medical community and often by well-meaning friends and family.

Here is the rest of her story.

Before Jessica was diagnosed, she was working a full-time job that she loved.  But she didn’t just love it, she was good at it.  As a patient financial services supervisor for a major hospital system, she worked with a team of 35 people to reduce outstanding insurance company payments.

“I miss my job terribly,” Jessica said.  “I miss the intellectual challenge, getting out and seeing people every day.”


Parts of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia are beautiful.  (Photo by: Tracy Smith)

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) doesn’t just go away.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t just go away.

There is no medication to treat DID; long-term therapy is required to learn how to manage the condition.

“Outside of some miracle, this is my new normal,” she said.  “In-patient treatment will be necessary at times.”

What is the new normal though?

While her DID symptoms don’t happen every day, they are frequent and brought on by a trigger.  Most common are episodes often referred to as losing time.

“I have large gaps of time that I can’t remember, especially from my childhood,”  Jessica said.  “I will have a conversation with someone but have no recollection of having spoken with them.”

Flashbacks, nightmares and depression are part of the new normal too.

And then there is the most frightening experience:  the voices in her head.

“They are not psychotic,” she said.  “They are parts of my personality that developed for a specific purpose to survive trauma.”

When this is your new normal, is it any wonder why statements like, “Life is tough for all of us, suck it up and do what needs to be done,” can be tough to hear?

Some people defend themselves, claiming they would never say anything so insensitive.  Well at least not to her face.  That would be cruel.

But then they post even worse statements on their Facebook page, reducing Jessica and those who are like her to a single story, reminding her that she is “the other.”

According to Jessica, even relatives that are part of the medical community will regularly post jokes on Facebook that make fun of those suffering with mental illness.  Facebook is full of comments, lies, jokes and myths that paint those with mental disabilities as “other.”

“Facebook ‘friends’ like, comment, share and post things that they would never say to me and these are very hurtful, ” she said.  “In the few instances that I’ve pointed it out, the response is always, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean you.’ ”

Some Facebook “friends” have even posted comments that suggest that dealing with gun control is best accomplished through locking up people who are mentally ill.

Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.

Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, Jessica believes that you can’t begin to accept an individual without first rejecting that stigma.

But rejecting a stigma requires taking the time to get to know someone who struggles with mental illness.   Dismissing others is far easier to do.

“Acceptance is being honest enough to voice concerns instead of hiding them, acknowledging that you don’t understand but want to try,” Jessica said.

Although she considers herself “pretty open,” she’s convinced that most people don’t actually ask questions because it’s either too awkward for them or they are afraid of the answers they may get.  As a result, people just stick with the stereotype or label.

“Acceptance means understanding our differences, because trying to deny them makes matters worse,” she said.  “It’s finding our similarities and not avoiding me, or worse, my kids.”


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