Okay. This is going to sound bad, really bad, coming from a person who is trying to lessen the stigma attached to mental disorders, but when I learned about former NFL star Herschel Walker’s dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, I immediately thought of the story that my neighbor-psychologist told at his partner’s funeral…
They both were psychologists very committed to their patients. His partner was worried about one of her patients as they the two of them took off for a vacation, so she gave him her hotel number, to call in case things got bad and he needed to talk.
At three in the morning, the second night of their Caribbean trip, the hotel phone rings and it’s her patient. Diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (or DID today), he told his psychologist that one of his alters was acting up, and he couldn’t get a handle on it.
“Hold on a sec,” she said, and turned to her partner to ask him what she should tell the guy.
“Tell him to get an intervention together—with all the other alters–and confront the alter who is causing the trouble. Have all the other alters gang up on the guy. That should solve it.”
So that’s exactly what she told her patient.
Now I know this is a very serious mood disorder, and I’m not making fun as to say, “Get a grip, Herschel!”
I was very saddened to read the details of Walker’s story in the CNN article written by Miriam Falco. How can you not feel badly for someone who describes his mood disorder this way: “My life was out of control. I was not happy, I was very sad, I was angry and I didn’t understand why.”
And I very much appreciate Falco’s article, because I am one of the multitudes who don’t understand this diagnosis and automatically think of a Sybil-type character with different people trapped inside one head. I would benefit from learning about this form of mental illness, just as those who think being bipolar means extravagant shopping sprees followed by a crash in a psych ward, might do well to read up on manic depression.
Says Falco in her article:
Everyone has various facets that make up his or her personality — assertive, angry, comforting. But, experts explain, in DID, these various parts — known as alters — don’t come together as one cohesive single personality. Instead, one or the other part of the identity takes over and determines one’s behavior.
Asked how many different personality facets, or alters, he has, Walker replied: “To be honest, I have no idea.” But in the book, Walker talks about a dozen. They’re described by their roles or function: the Hero, the Coach, the Enforcer, the Consoler, the Daredevil, the Warrior, to name a few.
Some of these alters did a lot of good, he said. But others led to some extreme and violent behavior, most of which Walker said he doesn’t remember. As a result, the disorder, or DID, led to the breakup of his marriage. “I lost the person that was like everything to me,” he said. “I lost my wife and that’s totally, totally devastating to me.”
Walker said a competitive alter caused him to be a danger to himself, playing Russian roulette more than once. In the book he describes another incident, the very late delivery of a car, that made him so angry he had thoughts of killing someone. It was the moment he realized had to seek help, he said, which ultimately led to his diagnosis.
The perspective of Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, was especially intriguing and disheartening. He repeatedly threatened her with guns and knives and razors. But he doesn’t remember the assaults.
CNN interviewed Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University who has been studying multiple personalities for more than 30 years. According to Spiegel:
*Dissociative identity disorder affects about 1 percent of the US population.
*DID is really a childhood disorder which usually isn’t diagnosed until adulthood.
*DID stems from trauma, physical and psychological abuse suffered as a child, when the brain is still developing a personality. Says Spiegel: “It’s a natural response to overwhelming repeated trauma.”
* There are no drugs to treat DID. Says Spiegel: “It’s hard to get treatment and there’s no quick fix, but psychotherapy helps.”