My name is Tiffany Fletcher and I am the second oldest of six children born to a mother diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder. My mother was originally diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder in March of 1994. Later that year, however, the American Psychiatric Association changed the name from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The change was made to reflect the medical understanding of the disorder, as it is not a personality disorder at all, but rather a dissociation from reality. Although my mother’s original diagnosis was MPD, I have used the more current term of DID to promote the name change and the professional understanding of the illness. In my attempt to promote awareness of Dissociative Identity Disorder, I have decided to share the first two chapters of my book, "Mother Had a Secret" for readers to enjoy. Although I am now 32, I lived in the trenches for 28 years, experiencing every mood, every alter, every heartbreak and every success. This book begins with my feelings of resentment towards my mother but then moves into understanding, respect, healing, acceptance and love for all my mother was and for all that her alters taught me. If you like the chapters, please leave a comment and then tell all your friends about the blog. Word of mouth is the only way I have to get the word out and the more comments I get, the more likely I am to get it published! So, please, if you like the chapters, tell your friends, post it on your blog, yell it from the mountain tops. Help me do whatever it takes to get people here. Thanks so much and enjoy.
Chapter One-Family Secrets
What happens in this house stays in this house. Although she was now dead, the words resounded in my mind as clearly as the day my mother said them. I hated the words for what they represented, a life of hidden suffering. While relatives and friends gathered outside the small bathroom of the funeral home, lining to view my mother in her last repose, I stood looking at my reflection. My eyes were swollen and glistened with new tears. “They glistened like Tiffany diamonds,” Mom would say, “That’s why I named you Tiffany.”
I stared at a small window at the far wall of the bathroom. Twenty-four, I thought. It was the number of panes in the window. I had an incessant need to count things ever since I was a child, which only grew worse as my nervousness increased. Whenever I was nervous I found myself counting things, not consciously. It was an involuntary habit like chewing on nails. My mother said she did the same thing when she was forced by her father to…I couldn’t think of it. Instead, I splashed water in my face from the running tap in the sink I stood next to.
I looked back at the window, trying to refrain from counting any more of its symmetrical features. It was the only source of light in the dismal bathroom. It was about five feet off the ground with just enough clearance to squeeze light through, but not much room for a person, unless that person were desperate. I was certainly desperate. I wanted to runaway and avoid what was to come.
I splashed more water on my face in a futile attempt to bring back my senses. What’s wrong with me? I couldn’t just leave my own mother’s viewing. What would people think? That was the ultimate question; the question that kept us in our social lines of what was acceptable and right. Who would dare stray from the accepted norms when the neighbors were watching?
There was nothing I hated more about myself than the need to be perfect in the eyes of others. Although I often told myself that I didn’t care what they thought, the truth was that my life was ruled by how I thought others viewed me. Like a harsh slave master, propriety kept a watchful eye over me, as it did everyone. If I stepped out of line, it would crack its whip of ruthful public scorn and I would file back to my proper place and once again take up the labor of maintaining the community façade.
Mom also tried to maintain that conformity despite her secret, a secret she insisted we preserve as well. The same secret, which I now had the freedom to discard like an unsightly thing. Yet, somehow I was not willing to toss it aside. Was it my duty as a daughter? Was it the pressures of family? Did I really care what they, outside the door, would say? I knew what their question would be. “How did Vickie die?” they would ask. What I did not know was the answer. I knew how she died, but would I tell them? Could I tell them?
I splashed more water on my face and glanced again at the window. Maybe a running start would help, I thought, amusingly.
“Tiffany,” said a voice from behind the door. It was my sister, Lydia. “Umm…one of your children needs a diaper change.” She paused for a moment. “Oh, and Grandpa’s here.”
The words shook me to an awakened state of duty. I quickly wiped the mascara from under my eyes, took one last look at the mirror, and started for the door. I paused a moment and looked to the ceiling. “You have to help me with this, Father” I said. “I can’t do this on my own you know.” There was no reply, but I knew He was listening, perhaps even cracking a smile.
I stepped outside to find Lydia standing, waiting. “Where is he?” I asked.
“In the outside foyer,” she said.
“Duty calls,” I said, mostly to myself.
Four feet from the door to the foyer, it happened, what I had been avoiding. Since I received the news that Mom had died, I had been preparing myself for this moment. Now that the moment was here, I was just as uncertain as I was before. She was an acquaintance from church and although she was not a close friend, she came along with the rest of them to offer her support of the family and to pretend with us that this death was unforeseen.
“Tiffany,” she said, “I’m so sorry.” She put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my face. She mirrored my mourning expression and then embraced me. Pulling back she asked, “How are you holding up?”
“We’re getting by alright,” I replied. I felt the need to talk on behalf of the whole family as if I represented their collective feeling.
“This came so suddenly. I couldn’t believe it. When I heard I…” A look of shock replaced her words as if she were miming the rest of the conversation.
“It was a surprise to all of us,” I said. That was a lie. I promised myself I would not lie, but there it was blatant and unobstructed. It fell out like all lies fall into a conversation. They were the fodder from which we grew our deceptively perfect lives. I felt guilty that I had contributed to it. Shame stricken, I began to excuse myself when the question came, just as I had seen it in my head a thousand times.
“How did she die?” she asked. Her lips seemed to move synchronously with my thoughts. Though she spoke the words, I heard them more than with just my ears; I heard them with my heart, like steady precautionary beats.
I did not see Mom when she died, but I could imagine how it must have looked from the descriptions I had been told. She was kneeling by the edge of the bed, her head and arms sprawled across the blankets. The vision was horrific like a gothic painter’s depiction of the saints lying prostrate before their God.
I looked at the woman and her expectant eyes. Her question was artificial like everything else at the funeral. She did not care how Mom died. She was testing me to see if I would divulge those indiscretions of my mother—if I would tell her secret. I smiled and said, “She died on her knee’s praying.” And that was the truth.
Chapter 2 – Accidental Discovery
I remember screeching. That is what everyone remembers of a car wreck. It is a horrid sound that pierces the ears and assaults the attentions of spectators who otherwise move fluidly through their daily activities. It is a surreal experience that unhinges the coherence of what is normal and suspends it for moments after the collision. Like most other spectators, I stood doing nothing, an outsider looking in, unable to interpret the event. Without the acknowledgement that I was a part of this intrusion, I would have remained an outside observer and nothing more, but fate would have it differently. God wanted it differently.
It was the spring of my senior year of high school. I had my first job working at a burger shop not far from the house. Though it wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs, it was a source of money and for me that meant a source of freedom. Just having something to occupy my time, other than home, was a nice reprieve from the usual responsibilities I took upon myself. It was an escape of sorts or so I thought, but soon I would know there would be no escaping. Like always, my home life would crash into the rest of my life, leaving me to deal with the consequences. I would never be normal.
The comprehension that something was wrong came long before the collision. The car was moving much too fast, much too conspicuous. The sight of it was an irritation, like a sliver prickling the senses. My stomach tensed and heart beat faster. Though I was viewing the accident from behind the counter of the restaurant where I worked, I felt a part of the event as if I were riding in the car. It was a sickening sensation of dread and fear.
As the cars approached each other, time seemed to stretch to fill every sensation that was about to erupt. First was the screeching, which quickly faded as the explosion of impact struck me like the beating of a snare drum and then the crumpling and whining of metal that had been compressed beyond its capacity to give. The metal folded into rough angles as shattered glass scattered across the road. The random shrieks of evasive cars poured out their last objections to the abhorrence. Then, a silence settled like the slow exhalation of breath. A few more beats of the heart and time sped up again.
I gasped as the realization to breathe came back. I stood a few moments longer trying to realize what had just happened. My manager took action first, rushing to call the police while the rest of the patrons and I continued to flow around this minor interruption. A few customers glanced subtly at the accident, trying to satisfy their hungered curiosity while others gawked blatantly, feasting on every sensual enticement of the anomaly. The accident presented nothing more than a minor distraction that filled the otherwise stale conversations of the patrons with a new freshness.
“I just witnessed that accident,” I said. “What should I do? Should I go out and tell the police what I saw?”
“No, there were plenty of witnesses,” the manager replied. “They don’t need you as much as we do. Your job is here. Just take the next order.”
I nodded in agreement. Taking a few short breaths first, I then took the next order, but something still seemed out of place. Despite my attempts to focus on the customer, my eyes continued to wander to the scene of the accident. I had a clear view of the car wreck from the large bay window of the restaurant. My scattered attention had nothing to do with curiosity; it had to do with a feeling. In the back mechanisms of my mind, I was still processing the accident.
Something had triggered a thought that was now constraining my attention. I could no longer resist. I looked at the cars, which now rested some distance from each other. The police had arrived and were approaching both vehicles. One of the cars had a female passenger who seemed to be slightly dazed. It was then that I recognized what had been plaguing my thoughts. The feelings of the accident rushed back like a tsunami. The woman in the car was my mother.
“Stand back, Miss. No one is allowed beyond the sidewalk,” one of the police officers said.
“But that’s my Mom in the car,” I said. I had rushed out the door, leaving the customer without his order. The thought that I might lose my job, which I had only just started a week prior, never crossed my mind. The sight of Mom replaced all other thoughts with a single imperative: I had to take care of her.
“You’re her daughter?” he asked.
I nodded my head.
“She’s not talking clearly. We can’t understand what she’s saying, something about your father. She has sustained some serious injuries and we need to get her to the hospital, but she won’t let us touch her. We think she might have a concussion.”
“I can talk to her,” I said. “I can get her out for you.”
The officer looked at his partner, who was trying to coax Mom out of the car. He turned backed to me and asked, “Is she on any medications?”
This question alarmed me. “The doctors have prescribed her a lot of different medications,” I said. “I am not exactly sure which prescription she has taken. If you let me talk to her, I can get her into the ambulance for you.”
The officer directed me to the car where his partner was still trying to talk to Mom.
“Mom,” I said, “Are you okay?”
“Tiffany,” Mom said. Her voice was slow and lethargic. “What are you doing here?”
“I was at work Mom. I saw you hit the car in front of you and came out to make sure you were okay.”
“I was going somewhere,” Mom said. “You’re father’s going to be mad. He’s going to leave me. Please don’t tell him about this. I don’t want him to know.” She was pleading like a scared child.
“Dad’s not going to leave you, Mom, you just need to get checked to make sure you’re okay,” I said.
“No, I need to go. You’re father’s going to be mad at me.” Mom pointed to the police officer standing beside the car. “He won’t let me go. I told him I need to go, but he said I couldn’t.”
“Mom, he’s just trying to help you. You can’t go anywhere in this car. You were just in an accident and you totaled it.”
“I didn’t. I was just going somewhere. Where was I going? I can’t remember, but you’re father will be angry with me when he finds out.”
“Mom, the police are trying to get you out of the car and if you don’t come, they are going to be mad at you.” I tugged on her arm. She resisted. “Now, come on, before they get really angry,” I pleaded.
“Why are they mad at me?” Mom asked. “Did I do something wrong?” Her speech was still slurred, her eyes glazed, her mouth gaping, and her face void of expression.
“ Mom, you just need to listen to them. Okay.”
“Okay,” Mom agreed. “I’ll come, but your father’s going to be angry.”
By this time, Dad had arrived on the scene. Previous to my arrival, the police had called him at home.
“Vickie, what happened?” Dad asked. “Are you all right?”
“George, don’t be mad, okay. They wouldn’t let me go. I’m sorry. Please, don’t be mad at me.”
Dad reassured her that he wasn’t mad but Mom continued with her pleadings long after she was placed in the ambulance.
When she arrived at the hospital, blood tests had revealed elevated levels of narcotics and her stomach was pumped. Mom’s demeanor changed also and she lashed out violently at the doctors. Because of her erratic behavior, she was admitted into the psychiatric and behavioral unit. After two days of evaluation she was discharged. I waited for Mom to be brought out, not knowing why this was happening and hating her for allowing it to happen.
“How could she?” I said.
“Now, lets not jump to conclusions,” Dad said.
“How can you say that? You know this whole thing is her fault.”
“Let’s just wait and see what the doctors say.” This was not like my father, he should be angry. He was a good man, but patience was the least of his virtues. He knew something, he was not telling me. Why?
“Mr. Young?” An older woman in scrubs stood above my father, a clipboard in hand. “George Young?” she asked.
“Yes,” my father replied. “That’s me.”
“You’re Vickie’s husband.”
My father nodded.
“Vickie was admitted to the behavioral unit for psychiatric evaluation.”
“Yes. They told us.”
“I have some news about her condition.”
“Is she alright?” I asked. Although I was angry, I was still concerned.
“Your mother is fine,” the doctor said. “She sustained only a slight concussion.”
“Why is she under psychiatric evaluation then?” I demanded.
The doctor looked at my father, who was extremely calm given the circumstances. He knew why?
“What’s going on Dad?” I felt alone and confused.
My father nodded and the doctor turned to me. She paused as if to collect her thoughts. “We believe your mother has Dissociative Identity Disorder. She seems to be a classic case, although our diagnosis is somewhat preliminary.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“When a person experiences severe trauma, there are several different ways the mind copes with it,” the doctor explained. “In your mother’s case, when she was forced to deal with the trauma of her father’s continual molestation, her mind dissociated with reality and created a separate persona, or alter, who would deal with the trauma for her so that she didn’t have to. For this reason it is called Dissociative Identity Disorder. In the instance of her father’s abuse, your mother dissociated from the situation and Sam, a three-year-old boy, came into being. From that time forward, Sam was the one who faced the abuse and suffered through it.”
I stood saying nothing. The words revolved in my mind, Dissociative Identity Disorder. It seemed surreal. I had known about my grandfather sexually abusing my mother and that it had caused her irreparable trauma, but I had no idea how much. Mom often jumped from one mood to another erratically, like a flickering light. We thought she might be bipolar, but her mood swings were more than just the bounding between limitless depressions to heights of manic excitation. They were even more random and often contradictory.
Mom rarely remembered what she had done during the episodes and was often disoriented. At one moment she would be a loving caretaker, while at others she would become violent and angry. She often acted as a small child forcing my sisters and me to take care of her. Though the diagnosis fit, it was still difficult to accept that she had multiple alters. The thought of each of these moods being a distinct person seemed absurd.
“How many alters are there?” Dad asked.
“We are not sure of the number, but we know there are at least three: Sam, Bill and Vickie, your wife. Our main concern right now is Bill. He is extremely violent and we had to restrain him. We believe there are even more residing in her body, but Sam doesn’t talk much and all Bill does is make threats. We are sure that through extended psychotherapy, we can interview more of them, but it will take time to draw them out. That is the problem.”
“What do you mean? What is the problem? Why can’t you help her?” My father became agitated.
“Normally a person with a disorder like this one would undergo several months—even years worth of evaluation and treatment,” the doctor continued. “The diagnosis itself, and identifying the individual alters could take several months. Unfortunately, your insurance will not cover it. If you would be willing to pay the…”
“I don’t have that kind of money,” my father said. “I’m just a mechanic. I’m working two jobs as it is.”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. She placed a hand on my fathers shoulder. “Without further treatment, there is nothing more we can do. I am more than willing to work with you in getting her treatment. As I said, she is a classic case and I would love to work with her and learn more about the disorder, but this will require funding.”
“But what if I can’t come up with the money?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Young, but my hands are tied,” the doctor said. “Without proper funding, I will not be able to treat her. I truly am sorry.”
“Then what will we do?”
“The hospital has decided to release her into your care.” She handed the clipboard to my father. “I will need you to sign these papers. By signing them you acknowledge that I have talked to you about her condition.” She began to walk away, then paused. She looked at my father. “I really am sorry.” The doctor left Dad and me sitting alone.
My father remained despondent, looking at the clipboard. While the news came as a shock to me, it was not completely unforeseen. I knew mom was mentally ill. I just didn’t have a name for it.
As a family, we had faced mom’s alters, even the violent one, many times. Though we did not call them by their names, we knew when they were there, like haunting specters lurking behind her eyes. We had dealt with mom’s problem for many years, but somehow giving them a name made them new and more foreboding to us. The question remained between my father and I: How were we going to take care of her?
I was angry, just angry. There was no meaning to my anger. It expanded until it filled everything and with it came hate, hatred for my grandfather, the doctors, even my own father, but mostly toward my mother. Although this news changed my perception of her, I still could not keep myself from hating her. She was the object in which my anger took shape. I hated her and, yet, I cared for her. They were two opposing emotions struggling to sustain the same space within my heart.
I felt guilty for hating Mom now, in the face of her illness, but I could not help but blame her. In my head, I felt that somehow she had given up being a mother and allowed this to happen to her. I believed that God gave everyone the option to choose to be or not to be who they were. Such an idea is easily accepted by many, but when we are confronted with those who fall outside of that perception we are faced with a dilemma: Do we blame them for being the way they are or do we accept the fact that sometimes things remain outside our control?
I already faced a world outside my control and needed the hope that somehow we all have control. I hated my mother for what she represented—helplessness and the possibility that every effort I made to change, even control my life might be worthless. Was I like her, just a creature of fate, unable to break the cycles that bound me to this existence?
As the nurse wheeled Mom out, I found no words to say to her.
“I’m sorry, George,” Mom said. Her pleas of forgiveness were as a little child who had just broken their parent’s favorite vase. “I won’t do it again. Just don’t make me stay here.”
“You’re not staying here any longer, Vickie,” my father said. Though he seemed tired, he spoke lovingly.
“Are we going home?” she asked.
“Yes, Honey, we’re going home.”
She smiled. “Thank you. I really am sorry.”
“It’s okay. Let’s just get you home.”
“You’re mad at me,” she said. “You hate me, don’t you?”
She often acted like this. I would learn later that my mother had many child alters. One of them was Vicki, a seven-year-old girl. She spelled her name without the ‘e’ because she said she hated the ‘e’ at the end and voiced her opinion every time she saw it. When Vicki came out, Mom acted like what Vicki was, a child. She was always very negative and constantly saying we hated her. With the exception of Bill, none of the alters bothered me more than Vicki. Like many of Mom’s alters, I hated her.
“We don’t hate you, Mom,” I lied. Though Mom had many alters we called them all Mom, except for one, the violent one. He made sure we knew his name. He struck fear into our family and for that reason we spoke little of him.
“Did the doctors talk to you, Vickie?” Dad asked.
“Yes. I don’t like those doctors.” She yawned. “I’m tired. Can we go home now? I want to go home.”
“I have to sign some papers then we can go,” my father said. “Did the doctors tell you why they were keeping you here?”
“They said I was sick.”
“Did they tell you what that sickness was?” my father asked.
She hesitated for a moment. “They said I had other people inside of me,” she said, “but I don’t believe them.”
“What do you mean, you don’t believe them?” I asked.
Mom looked at me as if to be offended by my question. “I don’t think they know what they’re talking about,” she said.
“They’re doctors, Mom, I think they know what they’re saying.”
“Why are you upset with me?” she asked.
“You wrecked Lydia’s car,” I exclaimed. “Do you remember that?”
She looked at me confused. “You hate me,” she said. She looked at my father. “You both hate me.”
“We don’t hate you,” Dad said. He handed the clipboard to a nurse sitting at check-in, took the handles of the wheelchair and directed Mom to the car.
I followed a distance away, still thinking of the doctor’s words. They did not want to care for her. My father didn’t even want to care for her. He would go back to working his two jobs and then who would be left to care for her, my sisters and me. Until my sisters left home, then it would just be me who would take care of her. That was my job. That had always been my job.