*Thank you to Amber and Co for allowing us to share this piece. You can see more of their content here.*
Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of dissociation, dissociative identity disorder (DID), and trauma.
“When are you going to get married?” “When are you planning on having kids?” These are questions that many couples face. For us, when people find out we have dissociative identity disorder (DID), the question often becomes, “But how does that work?” “Can you even be in a relationship?” “Is it safe to have kids?” It’s interesting that the questions immediately change to this when there is no one who cannot have a successful relationship or kids solely because of their diagnosis. If you have a mental health diagnosis and feel that way about yourself, read that again. There is no mental health diagnosis that negates the possibility of having successful and happy relationships or building a family together. If you learn to work with your diagnosis, and are at a stable point yourself where you can contribute to a relationship, there is no diagnosis that can stand in your way.
For us, we are diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder - which you may have already noticed is why we say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ sometimes. Dissociative identity disorder is a disorder that results from severe childhood trauma, where parts of a child’s personality does not end up integrating to form one personality around the age of 8 or 9. This means that we live our day-to-day life with separate parts, which are referred to as ‘alters.’ Different alters are different ages and genders, and have different likes and dislikes, very much the same way you’d normally expect different people or personalities to. There are also amnesia barriers between the alters, which means we all have different memories, which can make our life hard without proper communication in place between us. For us, this meant in order to be at a point in our lives where we are able to contribute to a healthy, stable relationship, we had to do a lot of therapy to understand our disorder and how to work with it.
We think that is the key for anyone struggling with a mental health diagnosis that makes them fear they are ‘too much’ for a relationship - therapy, and finding a way to work with it instead of against it. For us, that meant learning to control our alter switches more by learning our triggers so we could be present in our life and provide reliability for our partner. This meant working through our triggers and trauma so that we could start living our life instead of just surviving our life. This meant talking through boundaries with our therapist so that we know how to explain DID to our partner, and how to talk about boundaries together when it comes to things like our younger alters, or parts that maybe don’t know our partner as well. This meant working with our therapist to get to a point where we knew what to look for in a good partner, what healthy relationships are like, and what we deserve in a healthy relationship. This also meant knowing we were at a point to have the capacity to provide that love and support back to our partner.
We struggled for a long time with the big ‘but are we there yet?’ question that I know many people who have been on a mental health journey ask themselves. “Are we stable enough yet?” “Are we too much, too complex, for someone to love?” “Is someone going to love us even though we are still healing?” At the end of the day, we learned that you don’t need to be completely healed or perfect in order for someone to love you unconditionally, and to have a healthy relationship. We are still working on a lot of our trauma, we still aren’t working as we need to process more trauma and control our switches a bit better, and we still have ongoing health issues separate from our mental health. We still have things going on, but even then we found the love of our life and got married last June and have never been happier. Healing is a continual journey, it is almost never linear, and even people with no mental health diagnosis will have things to continually work on in order to have a healthy relationship. You know yourself better than anyone, and if you know you’re ready to be in a relationship, no diagnosis should stand in your way.
For us, there are a million different questions that people often ask us once they know we have DID and are married: is it a polyamorous relationship? How does your wife date different alters? What happens with your child alters in this relationship? Can you have kids one day? etc., and the list goes on. To be honest, neither us nor our partner, Andrea, knew the answers to all of these questions right away and we still talk things through as they come up. But when you find someone who wants to get to know all of you, who loves you unconditionally, and who has open communication, things fall into place rather naturally. Andrea took the time to get to know different alters and form relationships with us individually, but also learned how to date us as one big system that could be a big part of her life. This meant we got to talk about boundaries we discussed with our therapist before, like with the younger alters for example. She is very aware and supportive of the younger alters being BFFs instead of in romantic relationships and supports that boundary. This was something we struggled with in previous relationships where our partners did not understand our diagnosis or we were not at a place to set healthy boundaries around it and is a prime example of where you have to work with your diagnosis and partner to make the relationship work.
Our relationship was one that grew from friendship, into different alters developing feelings for Andrea when finally one of our younger alters (Doe) outed these feelings to Andrea. Thankfully, those feelings were reciprocated, although we all suspected the feeling was mutual long before we said it. We started dating and took things day by day, and slowly more and more alters decided they wanted to be in a relationship with her - she calls this ‘joining team Andrea!’ As of today, in a romantic relationship with Andrea is alters Amber, S, Tammi, Mel, Charlie, Phoebe, Danial, Ethan, Shadow and others are testing the waters, so to speak. Because we have been open about our DID, we have a great relationship and got married this past June. We feel very lucky to be in love with someone who frequently reminds us that she gets, “Extra of us to love,” and sees our diagnosis as something unique about us instead of something negative. While we often say we would prefer to not have DID as it complicates life and comes from trauma, she says she loves us exactly as we are and would only wish it to be easier for us, or not have trauma associated with it. We are still on our healing journey, we are recovering from some medical procedures and working every day on our mental health so we can continue to build our future not just for ourselves, but with our wife. We are looking forward to the day we can go back to working again, and eventually start a family with our wife that is more than just our pink cat. The same way we worked through starting a relationship and getting married when those things felt big and new, is how we will approach having kids. In fact, Andrea often points out that we are better with kids than her and how she is grateful to have that in a partner and future mum to her kids, a perk of having child alters around a lot is that we are good with kids! Any DID-related things that come up we know we can openly discuss and make plans for so our kids have a stable and happy childhood - with 2 plus parents.
So the moral of the story here is this - there is no question that you can’t find answers for, and no diagnosis that can stop you from having the healthy and loving relationship you deserve. There are inappropriate and personal questions that people will ask you in any relationship, regardless of your mental health diagnosis. There will come a time in your healing journey where you know your own cup is full and you can pour into someone else’s, as the mental health professionals love to say. There are days your mental health will make things harder, but there are days when the skills you’ve learned because of it will make you an even better partner. There will be someone out there who fits into your life and loves you not in spite of your diagnosis, but loves YOU and wants to work with that diagnosis with you. Don’t let anything stand in the way of your love story.
-Amber and Co
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