Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Horses That Made Me: Part I

“Everyone has unique experiences, but not everyone has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and that is why I’m here. I’ve had this disorder for basically my entire life and it is a strange, difficult, and sometimes panic-inducing thing to live with.”
This personal essay focuses on mental health struggles and the healing role horses can play.

This piece was submitted by one of our readers who wishes to remain anonymous. She provides a unique perspective on life and the role of horses. Trigger warning: this piece discusses mental health issues, trauma and suicidal ideation.

The horse the author trained mainly on her own, tolerating her first bareback ride.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still quite young. Some will say that I’m wildly inexperienced, and in some ways I am. But I’ve had some extremely strange experiences. Everyone has unique experiences, but not everyone has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and that is why I’m here. I’ve had this disorder for basically my entire life and it is a strange, difficult, and sometimes panic-inducing thing to live with. It’s never easy to live with any sort of illness or disorder and this one happens to be one of the stranger and more difficult ones I have. But let me explain.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a mental health condition in which a person has multiple, distinct personalities. The various identities control a person’s behavior at different times. The condition can cause memory loss, delusions or depression. DID is usually caused by past trauma

Just like basically everyone who has DID, my life has been traumatic from the beginning. People with PTSD generally have memories of a “before.” It’s before the trauma, before being hurt, before the tragedy that gave them the PTSD. It’s generally caused by a singular traumatic incident in life. I don’t have a “before.”

With both DID and a condition known as Complex PTSD, there was never any chance of a before. Complex PTSD is similar to DID in many ways, but the depth of dissociation and the manner of dissociation for CPTSD is different. The biggest difference is that with DID you have alters who literally take over your body. Alters are basically parts of one’s self that get scattered during the formative years, which are infancy to age five (approximately). DID cannot begin after the age of five.

I don’t remember extremely large chunks of my early life and most of what I do remember is absolutely horrific. It’s probably for the best that I don’t remember more. The first time I can remember being aware of someone/something else in my brain was around the age of eight. I was walking to my bathroom and realized that I wasn’t … me. It was like I could see myself from the outside and that a whole other being was inhabiting my body. I was in there too, but had no control over what was going on.

The naughty bay pony that taught the ever-important skill of stickability. 

I know of other times where I completely blacked out. That’s generally how my episodes occur. The next real clue I can remember was when I turned 14 or so. My childhood was a blur from where the question came: Had I gone through it, or had someone else? It wasn’t until after my mother had died that I had any form of diagnosis. For then, it was regular PTSD. And then along came the wild things.

I’m not entirely sure how it all happened, but while a family member was visiting my sister and me, he insisted that we have a meeting with my psychiatrist. My instincts immediately told me something was wrong, but I had to go with it. No was not going to be an answer. Everyone was told to wait outside except for me, which very much validated my instincts. When I was in the office I was barraged with questions I barely understood and an accusation of being suicidal. While that was correct, I hadn’t told anyone about it.

Everyone else came into the room and basically planned my life out to go to a rehab for my mental health. I was massively angry about it since I didn’t get a say. I would later find out that a family friend told my psychiatrist that I was losing it or something like that and then she broke HIPPA and told my uncle, despite not having any confirmation.

My best friend was living with me at the time and she said that she had been brought in on it too. Was I angry for her not telling me? Absolutely. She told me after that they were going to try and send me to an institution that also housed men and criminals, which would have absolutely killed me. I eventually forgave her because she advocated for me when I could not. The place I was supposed to go didn’t work out and instead I ended up at a place that had horses!

Gus, the lesson pony.

I don’t do well without being around them, so having the horses around was a huge relief. I would go and say hello to them every morning while drinking my tea, which kept me much calmer. I made friends and memories there that will last a lifetime.

Back to the DID — I had found out earlier in my stay that my past was full of sexual and physical abuse. This caused me to have extremely severe dissociative panic/anxiety attacks at least once a day for about two months. Sometimes they would happen in my sleep. The longest one I had lasted about six hours. And then one evening I had one outside. From what little I can remember, I blacked out, came back for a bit, and then blacked out again.

My roommate was there with me and she told me that it looked like someone else came out. Our residential assistant, or RA, seconded that statement. My roommate and I talked that night and I asked if she thought it was possible that I had DID. She had her bachelor’s in psych so I figured she could at least have a theory. She told me that it was possible, or it could be some other type of dissociative disorder. We went with it and it didn’t really come up much after that. I continued to help in the barn there until I left, and then I was released and ended up going down south for the winter.

The situation I tumbled into wasn’t what I was told it would be. I lived with a formally married couple who had issues of their own. One afternoon, I blacked out. When I came back, I was still on the bed where I’d blacked out, but something felt wrong. I went out to the living room and the wife told me that we needed to have a talk. She told me that I had an alter come out. She knew about what had happened over the summer and confirmed that yes, I have alters. The one that came out is my five year old who stores memories, plays nicely with other children, and loves to snuggle.

I have haphephobia (an intense, irrational fear of being touched), and therefore don’t like to be touched. But that kid loves a good snuggle. There are certain people who I allow to touch me and they worked long and hard to get to that point, so maybe the haphephobia fluctuates. After a lengthy amount of time, I escaped the clutches of that house and ended up back with my old therapist that I saw the summer before I went down south.

A kiss from Charlie. 

This woman was my therapist for almost four years. We broke each other in slowly and she didn’t press for details of my abuse until after she thought I was ready. Was I? Sometimes I still question whether I was or not. She said something to me at one point like I was holding back or something, and that was when I told her about my discovery. She didn’t look surprised. I asked her if it was DID or something like it, but she is a therapist and therefore cannot make diagnoses. She said that it could be DID, or other things, or a psychotic break.

Spoiler alert: it was not the psychotic break. Before the end of 2019, I met a new alter, a protector who is about two years older than I am, and male. Because of my traumas it can be said that I’m not a fan of men and I’ll keep it at that, but there he was…

The second part of “Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Horses That Made Me” will be published tomorrow. Stay tuned for the completion of this personal essay. 

All photos were provided by and published with the permission of the author.