What I know about multiple or “split” personalities is just what I have seen in movies such as “Sybil” and “The Three Faces of Eve.” I do know this can happen when a traumatic event occurs and the person just cannot deal with the pain and so retreats within their mind. Somehow, outwardly, they become a whole other person. No, I really don’t know that much about it except that I think this is what happened to me. Not literally but that is what it feels like.
The year is 1996. It is a beautiful spring day in April. We are not out enjoying the sunshine, however. We are congregated in a small family waiting room at a local hospital. A doctor comes to the door. Snatches of words find their way inside my head. “sorry”, “nothing more”, “all we could do”, “nurse will take you.” He begins to grow smaller and smaller – the incredible shrinking doctor. No, wait. It is my vision. Slowly I am pulling back inside my head – farther and farther away. Deeper and deeper inside. Burying myself deep inside the gray matter pulling it around me like covers from a bed. Mmmmm comfortable and comforting… think I will stay there until… until…. just…. Stay…. there….
My survival mechanisms are triggered. The brain acknowledges I am now off-duty and sends for reinforcements. A new “me” is sent to the front lines and begins immediately to take over. There are certain arrangements to be made. Phone calls must be placed to friends and family members. Children to be comforted.
Time passes. New Me is adequate but has limitations. I no longer belong to any civic or educational committees. The children are not in many extra-curriculars. Friends call to go out for lunch. It is difficult to get New Me to go out anywhere. The bare minimum of laundry and housework are accomplished. Meals are adequate but never anything new or complicated. New Me can only handle so much – she is far from being a Super Mom or a Type A.
Flash forward several years. A roller skating rink. Music. Laughter. Skaters everywhere. One child struggles to keep on his feet. Around him skate his peers – some fast, some slow, some in circles but he clings to the wall in desperation. One false step and down he will go. He is scared, almost in tears.
New Me sits watching, a small fake smile on her face. She has just participated in a little motherly chit chat but the other mothers have left the table and she has an opportunity to watch the children skating. She focuses in on the child who cannot skate. Her heart begins to pound fast and hard. Deep inside her brain is a stirring. The original person she once was sits up and takes notice of the boy. Reluctantly but with determination she lets herself remember. She remembers other little boys who could not skate. She remembers being their mother and finding ways for them to learn to skate. By the time they were the age the boy is now, they were whiz kids on wheels. They never suffered through the humiliation and distress the boy now feels. She realizes that she let the New Me carry on for far too long. It is time to go back…
It feels strange, being back, having a physical body once again. Looking in the mirror is a shock. The hair is a mess – might as well shave my head and start over! Too many meals of fast food and convenience. Too many snacks in front of the TV. New Me liked her food and loathed exercise. It shows. Aging and stress have taken their toll. Sigh… time enough later for getting back on track. First I need to address the needs of my family.
I feel as if I am awakening from a deep sleep. Everything looks a little different, a little “off.” I don’t feel comfortable – the world no longer fits. It is so weird, so strange. I want to back inside my brain. I don’t want to be here. It hurts too much. Out here I have to face the fact that Shawn is dead. I have to go to places I went with him. I have to do things with the younger boys that I did with him. I have to see his former classmates now almost grown as he would be, too, if he were still here. Oh, it hurts, it hurts so bad. It is SO much easier to crawl back deep down inside. But I can’t go back. Shawn’s younger brothers deserve the same maternal attention that he received. It isn’t fair that that should die along with him. For too long it was missing because New Me just couldn’t do what I could do. New Me was an adequate enough temporary substitute but not a replacement.
It is hard to know where to start. I flit from one thing to another trying to do it all at once. Trying to make up for being “gone” for years. Every room in the house needs a complete heavy duty cleaning. Junk has piled up everywhere.
There are those who no longer write letters to me as it has been so long since I have written to any of them. Every year New Me would get out the Christmas cards, get as far as addressing some of them and then put them aside. All my plants are gone. There used to be beautiful greenery everywhere that was carefully tended. All gone. The pets need haircuts, there is a pile of mending that reaches the ceiling, and there are boxes of clothing that need to be sorted through for possible donation to charity. I am grateful New Me got my physical body through the worst of the years after Shawn’s passing but there was so much New Me did not do. It is very hard to try and juggle these things while dealing with the emotional aspect of returning to myself.
I try to focus on the positive side of coming back. It is so nice to see the progress I am making on the house. I think about getting some plants to fill the sadly empty planters. No, I sigh in frustration, I can’t do everything at once. It took years for the world around me to reach this point; hopefully it won’t take years to put it back into order.
The date approaches that marks the day Shawn left this world. Some call it the angel day, others the heaven day. Nice enough euphemisms. It doesn’t matter what I call it. Things don’t change because I don’t use the words dead or died. Funny how we avoid them – we are more likely to use a four-letter word than those. In any case, that day was once again in front of me.
I think of the day he died and how I tried to escape from my pain by hiding inside myself. If my family did not need me to be completely myself again I could easily have remained that way the rest of my years here on earth. As it is, I still feel somewhat strange and out of place. Even though I have done everything just as before something has changed. And then I realize that, along with Shawn, part of me died that day, also. Things will never feel “normal” and comfortable again. I found strength, though, in those years that I “hid” and so I can handle this new life. The coping mechanism I employed for the years right after Shawn’s death was necessary to get me to this point in my life. Now, however, I have to assume my rightful place as the mother of my children with all the trials and tribulations that come with that role. And that was fine as now I could handle it but I need to do so with the understanding that things have changed. Outwardly, there are no changes to be seen. All appears to be just as it was. I am often exhausted from just getting through the simplest day. And I know it will be tempting on so many days to crawl back inside that safe zone.
My strength, too, comes from seeing how grateful my family is to have me “back” and, in their eyes, seeing things returning to normal. They don’t quite understand where I went or what was happening but they see the difference. Sometimes I feel badly and beat myself up over the time I wasn’t there for them but in the end that serves no purpose. I did what I had to do to survive at the time. No, things are no longer the same but how can they be? Anyone who expects that is in for a sad awakening at some point. We will move on together now and do the best we can. And that is okay. We have each other, we have our faith and we have our memories. Life goes on. So will we.