Bearing Witness to Pain and Suicide


Between Rose and myself, today has involved touching base with or trying to arrange supports for 3 suicidal people. We’re home now, the doors are locked, the phones are off the hook, and we’re sharing dinner. Rose has cooked using these beautiful little tomatoes from our garden. Someone stole our trowel and I got paid today so I bought her another one. It’s become a project we love working on together, a little hub of abundance in the middle of our busy, at times tiring, lives.

We both know what it’s like to be in that place, how dark, lonely, and desperate it feels. Sometimes there’s concrete things we can do to help, linking people to resources, taking people to hospital, going around and giving them a hug. Sometimes there’s so little we can do except bear witness. To find some way to say “I see you. I hear your pain. If you should die tonight you will be mourned.” I told a friend today that working in mental health with a system that doesn’t support people in ongoing crisis, at times I feel like I am standing at the gates to Auschwitz, helpless to intervene, marking a tally of those who enter and will never return to us. Sometimes counting the dead is all I can do, and it kills me inside. I’ve written about bearing witness before:

These are people, who get thrown out of hospital for being a nuisance, who get turned away from services for being too sick, too suicidal, too much hard work. These are people who are dogged by the impact of chronic trauma and abuse, who fight so hard to stay alive through so many dark nights and simply run out of fight, people who want to live but can’t bear the pain any more and who sometimes want to die, whose ambivalence is misinterpreted as manipulation, whose suffering is disregarded as attention seeking. They are real people. Under the labels like Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, under the other labels used (mostly) when they’re not in the room – asshole, stupid, FITH ‘fucked in the head’, bitch, waste of space, they are humans. They are dying. And if they die, they should not die unloved. If they die, we shall mourn them. If there truly is no hope (a common reason services withdraw help, because they’re ‘probably just going to die anyway’) we should not throw them out of services but move them to compassionate palliative care services. That’s what a caring society does for people who are dying.

I’ve seen this too often. I’ve had to contact media to force a hospital to admit a friend who had been left, untreated, without food or water, in the ER for ten hours with her arms lacerated by self harm. I’ve had to coax a friend into drinking activated charcoal to absorb the poisons that were killing them from a suicide attempt, because they had been marked a chronic complainer with behavioural issues and the entire state public mental health system had been closed to them – even sympathetic doctors could no longer admit them. I’ve myself turned up to ACIS, our crisis support service, homeless and acutely suicidal and been turned away because “we don’t treat people with DID very well, you’ve got a better chance of surviving on your own”… and that doctor was right. I did. I’ve supported people to increase their level of dissociation to survive the night when distraught and suicidal and unable to access any kind of support. I’ve visited people dying of self inflicted harm in hospital. I’ve sat on their bed and held their hand and shared ice cream with them. If I had a dollar for every email from a person with multiplicity who was confused, suffering, lost, and being more harmed than helped by the mental health services, I wouldn’t have a lot of debts left. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and supported others grieving after losing someone they loved to it, and shared poetry about it, and exhibited artwork in exhibitions to raise awareness. Since I was first suicidal at 10, it’s been part of my life.

So today – please bear witness with me. I’m not breaking any confidentiality, I’m not exposing anyone. I’m telling you that people like me stand at the gates and we tally the dead. Everyone we lose is a loss to all of us. A book too short, tragically ended, a life cut off. This is not the way people are supposed to leave us. Each loss makes the world a little darker, the night a little colder. We must find ways, together, to see people in pain. To bear witness to their lives. To sit with their pain. To mourn and to scream and to find ways to live. To burn brightly. To bring warmth.

If you are feeling suicidal yourself, or care for someone who is, you might helpful:

Understanding Emotional Flooding

Oh, the joys. I’ve been wanting to write this for ages, but it’s large and complex. I haven’t entirely done it justice here and I’ve touched on some areas that I’ve covered in other posts in more detail so I’ve linked instead of repeating myself. A lot of us with troubles with flooding get diagnosed with things like Borderline Personality Disorder, and although having a word for it can help, it can also leave us feeling very powerless and different from other people, which in some ways can hurt a lot worse. I don’t think we are either powerless or even particularly different. I think we are experiencing powerful things that our culture isn’t good at handling, and often convinces us to respond to in the worst possible ways.

What do I mean by emotional flooding? That place in which you are drowning. Emotions are so intense, so deeply felt, and so long lasting that you feel like your very identity is dissolving in them. You can’t clearly remembering not feeling this way and you start to lose hope you will ever feel differently again. We have a term for this when the feelings are really good ones – mania. But for the black depths of emotional pain or the anguished hypersensitivity of the chronically triggered, we don’t have a lot of words. Which doesn’t help! Decompensation is one way of putting it, but it’s not pretty and describes the effect of it, not how it feels on the inside.

I call it flooding. It’s the opposite to numb. It’s breaching containment. It’s not just taking the lids off boxes full of strong feelings and painful things you don’t like to think about, it’s falling in and having them snap shut on you so you can’t get out again.

Flooded can be an enduring state or a temporary crisis. I’m really familiar with it because I’ve spent a lot of my life flooded. It’s the state of being without ‘skin’ described by people trying to recover from trauma. It’s the ‘highly sensitive person’ label used by those who flood easily but don’t usually identify trauma. It can be hell. Exhausting, overwhelming all your resources to cope, and rapidly getting you to the point where you hate yourself and your life. It often leads to a state of frantic agitation which can be dangerous. People feeling frantic distress may resort to self help measures that seem crazy to those around them, and often to themselves once the crisis has passed.

I can only really describe flooding from my own perspective and much of this may be fairly unique to me, but I’m hoping there’ll be points of recognition and useful ideas for others too.

I flood quickly under certain circumstances. The first is when I’m chronically triggered. That might be a particularly bad week where a lot of big triggers happened to line up, or it might be that I’m particularly vulnerable at the moment and triggers I could otherwise handle are setting me off. One big trigger can cue a level of sensitivity and vulnerability that make me exquisitely attuned to all other triggers around me – I lack psychological ‘skin’ and can’t buffer the world anymore. Everything gets ‘under my skin’, everything feels personal, I can’t shrug anything off, and the littlest things feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’ve touched on these issues before, you can read a little more about them and my coping strategies:

The opposite process can also flood me, not triggers from outside but the result of internal processes. When you’ve come through anything that causes big feelings and intense thoughts and questions, most of us learn that to get out of bed in the morning we have to contain them. We put them in a mental box (or the cellar, or walk away from the big pit, or however our mental landscape works) and go focus on the rest of our day. This is a really useful skill. However it has a couple of risks. One is that triggers can set off a really huge reaction if they breach this containment. That’s why I can go from completely fine to a panic attack or overwhelmed with tears about baby stuff at the moment. My miscarriage is fresh and I have a lot of big stuff in boxes that can flood out and overwhelm me. The second risk is that, once we’ve boxed up the big stuff, we can find that walking back towards it voluntarily takes a bit more courage than we can coax up. Worse, our culture of ‘move on and get over it’ and our warped ‘recovery oriented’ mental health supports – when they think recovery means not feeling big stuff, can punish us for opening those boxes and warp our mindset to a point where we think that being in pain is sickness, failure, or us doing something wrong.

At that point we can shift our focus from containment – a highly necessary skill! to suppression. Where containment boxes stuff up so we can focus and be safe and do day to day things until we have a safe and appropriate time to feel and think and open the box back up, suppression coats the box in concrete and drops it in a lake. We box things up with no intention of ever going back for them. When they rattle and howl and start keeping us awake at night, we concrete the lake too. The trouble with this is that this stuff has buoyancy. The deeper we push it down, the harder it pushes back up.It also contains key aspects of our self. Little bits of us gets boxed up too. The reason the stuff wants to come back up is because we need it. Like iron filings trying to reach a magnet, it tries to come home. But we have split off from it and don’t recognise it as ourselves anymore. It’s like your lost cat turning up on the doorstep in a storm, wet, covered in mud, howling like mad. We freak out and slam the door and shut the windows while it cries, growls, and starts to attack the door.

Suppressed material isn’t trying to torture you, it’s trying to finish a key part of a process that you started – reconciliation. When we never make space for it, it randomly ruptures through a thousand feet of concrete and bursts all over our life with the intensity – and sometimes the unseeing rage – of an abandoned child. When we finally get it back ‘under control’ we feel vindicated that of course this is the right way to deal with it, because it is completely irrational, intense, dangerous, and unmanageable. It is flooded. But the truth is, this is the outworking of our process.

In suppression, we often turn against ourselves with shame, rage, fear of this feeling of being out of control, and often harsh self punishment. This is what does the harm, not the flooding, but our misunderstanding of it and response to it. Intense feelings and confusing questions are a normal part of life. They are frequently but not always triggered by experiences of change, loss, or trauma – not always our own. They are not mental illness or weakness or brokenness. They are our responsibility to figure out how and when to deal with them. Being flooded is not an excuse for flooding or abusing those around us. But it’s not a bad thing, not something to be ashamed of. It’s just human. We need food and air. And sometimes we need to feel very big feelings and ask very hard questions. There’s nothing wrong with us.

Shifting from suppression and self loathing (I hate myself) back to containment is possible. When suppression has been used a lot, initially the mind fights all forms of containment. Even putting aside little feelings can become impossible because you have broken trust – your mind no longer has faith that you will come back for anything you manage to compartmentalise. In an effort of elf preservation, it tries to stop you adding anything at all to the massive, growing collection of suppressed material you already have trying to break back through into awareness. Basically it doesn’t want you to feed the volcano any more. As you start learning how to safely let out small amounts of contained stuff, without blowing up the whole volcano every time (it’s not always possible), your mind shifts gears. It gets that you’re back on board and starts working with you to contain things. You have to coax and prove that you’re trustworthy, but it can turn around surprisingly quickly. This can simply start by inviting your mind to help you put aside your reactions to a trigger until you can get home, and then promising you will make a cuppa and sit in the back yard and let the feelings and thoughts come up – or however it is you prefer to feel big things.

For those of us with multiplicity, parts can be flooded, that can be their role. We often hate the part instead of hating and dismantling the role. In fact, whole groups of parts can be flooded. While they can feel like the worst thing imaginable, and impossible to let out or connect with, they are probably what stands between you and a lot of big stuff. They flood so you can feel sane and think straight. For me, I have taken on the idea that my job isn’t to reject them but to start to figure out how to look after them. If my most likely to self harm part comes near the surface I push her away until we’re home safe, and the she can sit in the bath or write in the journal or paints inks on our skin as she needs. (Wrist poems)

Another common trigger for being flooded is approaches that treat the flooding itself is useful. Ideas around catharsis, ‘letting it all out’, the need for big ’emotional releases’, and some approaches to anxiety use flooding  because on the other side of flooding is some outcome they want. A common example is people who have a perfectionist approach to therapy or self improvement and try to ‘process’ all their feelings or triggers all the time. I explore this more in

Flooding can activate attachment and makes us bond to others nearby. This can be a very valuable experience of being safely supported and connected with when we are overwhelmed. It can also be a form of dangerous trauma bonding in which attachment figures are sometimes experienced as safe and sometimes so frightening or intrusive that we flood – and in response to that flood they shift back to being caring so we bond. Some parenting approaches teach parents to deliberately induce flooding in children using methods such as restraints, because the resulting bonding is thought to be helpful – however, most therapists argue that bonds created under such duress are problematic and that the experience of being so intruded upon and overwhelmed that you are pushed into flooding does long term harm to a child’s perceptions of safety and autonomy that the trauma bonding merely conceals for a time. When this occurs without good intentions on the part of the adult the same process may be described as ‘child grooming’.

Some approaches to phobias also deliberately flood people ‘Flooding’ is in fact another name for ‘exposure therapy‘ where someone is deliberately overwhelmed with triggers to try to break the link between the trigger and the flooded state. Forced to confront what they would far rather avoid, for some it may reprogram that link so that trigger no longer evokes panic. It can be a powerful way to reality check a broken internal alarm system – see, you were so scared, but nothing bad actually happened. For others they may simply snap from being flooded into being dissociatively numb. The way exposure therapy is timed – some therapists take patients beyond the point of hysteria, while others move extremely slowly and practice relaxation and calming skills through the process, and the way it is handled – if the patients wants it or is being forced into it, possibly impact which outcome occurs – a genuine changing of the trigger or simply a dissociative break.

We ourselves can trigger these same dynamics with rapid changes of approach to our own triggers and vulnerabilities – going from extreme avoidance to extreme confrontation of triggers is common for those recovering from trauma. It often sets off cycles of being flooded and numb. We also feel deeply frustrated that ‘no matter what we do’ we still feel out of control and overwhelmed.

We can cycle between numb, ‘normal’ and flooded. This makes us feel chaotic and crazy! We can also get stuck in a flooded or numb space. For those with multiplicity, this kind of cascade switching can be a system desperately attempting to self regulate by giving each kind of part some time out. (Multiplicity – rapid switching) The problem is that you don’t get to choose when it happens and feel horribly out of control. You also probably use all the times that you’re numb or feeling okay as ‘proof’ that you’re not ‘really’ needing extra care or having big feelings, you’re just kind of faking or being weak and need to try harder – ie need to suppress more. Self care becomes suspicious self indulgence in your mind, especially if it acts as a trigger and the mind assumes that self care means its an appropriate time to let out some big feelings. It doesn’t work, we think to ourselves. It just makes me weaker and sicker! Being mean to myself is much better, it makes me stronger.

Other people being kind to us or praising us can have the same effect – sudden flooding can be cued simply by feeling slightly emotionally safe. This can make you try to self regulate by maintaining a chronic feeling of being unsafe. Over time you exhaust as well as emotionally starve and your containment starts to fail. Flooding becomes a regular part of your life and you are at constant war with your mind to keep it at bay, using what has always worked in the past – punishment, self hate, chronic anxiety, and staying away from people who treat you well. Traumatic replay of horrible events can easily be part of this dynamic too. These approaches make complete sense but they take you nowhere good in the longer run! Bits of them here and there aren’t the end of the world on bad days, but if this is how you always approach flooding you are in for a rough time.

For me, being pushed for intimacy instead of invited into intimacy can also trigger flooding. Some situations (eg therapy with someone I don’t trust yet, or a relationship where connection is being demanded) will inevitably flood me. If we are being asked for things that are currently in our mental boxes, being contained – whether that is ‘be more vulnerable with me’ or ‘I need you to show me how you feel’, my mind will open all the boxes  if that is the only way to be obedient or to have a connection. That isn’t the end of the world unless I or the other person don’t cope with the flooding or I get stuck in it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times and ruin friendships. These days I’m a lot more careful of this dynamic. People who have empathy for your vulnerability will usually cue it just by being attentive. Those who demand it are often those who are least equipped to cope with it.

Good trauma therapists are familiar with these dynamics and don’t panic if someone floods, but they also don’t try to open all the boxes at once. I recall a great example given by Barbara Rothschild where she uses the metaphor of carefully opening a shaken bottle of fizzy drink bit at a time, so you don’t get yourself covered in drink. Here’s a talk by her about this idea with a couple of easy to understand examples like that one:

It takes some practice to learn containment again and work with your mind when you’ve been using suppression and feeling intense fear or shame about your flooding. It’s especially challenging when your social network doesn’t get these ideas and supports the suppression-and-shame approach without realising what that’s costing you. A lot of the ideas around phase-oriented trauma therapy is giving people time and support to really learn, experience, and trust this different approach before opening the really frightening boxes. Of course, you don’t need a therapist to change how you think about and respond to flooding, and many therapists will actually make this process worse. I know of one locally who would insist that any client who wept must leave the room and stand outdoor the closed door. They were not permitted back until they ‘had themselves under control’. Bad therapy frequently confuses obedience and suppression with ‘recovery’ and would make this process of turning towards yourself, tuning in to yourself, and working with instead of against how your mind is trying to work, much more difficult.

It can be done. You can normalise flooding and have compassion for yourself in this state without just being overwhelmed by it or fighting it. You can learn how to open and close boxes again – not perfectly, not always exactly the way you would like, but enough to be both human and able to function. You can find value in the intense states and learn with experience that you do pass through them. It’s not fair that some of us have a much rougher road and a lot less skin and we build up huge amounts of intense stuff to deal with. But it’s also part of a more profound experience of life. Intensity isn’t just about mania or despair or depersonalisation. For myself at least, there are also experiences of deep connection, spirituality, the profound, the sublime. I envy the undisturbed a lot less when I realise how deeply connected to my own heart I am, the passion with which I have lived my life. It is precious to me that I can feel, even that I can be stripped of name and self, that I can find myself at 3am naked on the cliffs before the void in my own soul, in a kind of utter freedom. That I can sink so deeply into love, contentment, peace. I have lived deeply, and I would not have it any other way. I have suffered, but my heart has also been made larger. The size of the cup that brings pain and bitterness to my lips is the size of the cup that brings joy. Even in pain there is something of value, something human. To be deeply moved, to know passion, to know life. To know and recognise and be able to sit with flooding in others without being swept away. It takes courage to live in hard times, to live with an open heart. It can be a thing of great beauty.

The Void: dissociation, amnesia, and identity

Dissociative amnesia is not often spoken of. It doesn’t have the fascinating glamour of other forms of dissociation such as ‘multiple personalities’ or fugue states. It seems at times that there’s little to say of the losses of memory, of how frail our sense of the world is when we can’t recall it. It’s subtle but insidious, far more important and powerful than people think.

Some people with multiplicity also have very high levels of amnesia, a form of dissociation in memory. In this case, memories are laid down and stored in the brain, but the dissociation between different parts prevents access to them. So people can live in this surreal twilight world of ‘coming to’ and trying to figure out from context where they are and what has been happening. Life is a bewildering series of changes, something that slips through your hands as fast as you try to grasp it. Other parts live according to their own values, needs, fears, and understanding of the world, and you return to inherit their choices. The world of cause and effect can become brutal when you cannot recall the causes but must live with the consequences. Between skips of memory can pass hours, days, or years. Like Rip Van Winkle, you can wake to find your whole world is unfamiliar.

Other people experience amnesia without multiplicity. Sometimes it gets forgotten that this is very possible. People are told that if they cannot remember great chunks of their day – or their life – that they are probably multiple and other parts must have been living them. It’s actually very common to have amnesia without dissociation in identity, trauma both physical and psychological will often affect our capacity to remember, as can a massive collection of physical illnesses and injuries. Emotion is a key aspect of memory, so dissociation or disconnection in emotions can also affect our capacity to remember. Our ability to remember is also linked to our awareness of the passing of time. Memory is very complex and not particularly well understood.

We’re familiar with the challenges of minor memory loss, the scattered way of life when you’re constantly looking for your shoes, keys, car, phone. It’s not hard to extrapolate that to bigger, but still tangible losses – having found my car at last in the shopping centre car park, I can’t remember where I live. Standing at the checkout desperately trying to remember my PIN number, crying with frustration because I’m 19 but it feels like I have dementia. Trying to fill out welfare forms and having to ask other people what my birth date is. These bigger gaps are like black holes in the world, only in your world. Other people walk over an unbroken path, I fall through, into an emptiness. I float in a void and hope desperately I’ll find the other side of it, pick myself up quickly, dust myself off and keep walking, hoping no one notices my lack of normal functioning.

Other losses can be profound, harder to imagine. People who recall nothing of their lives before the age of 35, except small scraps. People who find that amnesia follows them, at a distance, like a stray dog, eating recall of all memories older than two years previous. People who wake in the morning next to their partner of 20 years and find they don’t recognise them. People who look in the mirror and are bewildered and surprised by who looks back at them. That moment of panic as a stranger approaches you in the street with an easy smile and greets you by name. For some there’s an overwhelming sense of shame, of being damaged and desperately trying to pass for human. For others the loss takes even the grief of loss, there’s a shrug, or a little wistfulness, or even relief. For some, behind the shield of amnesia, dreams and nightmares and all the things they once felt deeply about lurk in their shadows, haunt their sleep, beat against glass walls in their mind, evoking terror.

Without memory, it is difficult to have a stable sense of self. State-dependent memory cuts off a sense of connection to other parts. Each part has their own memories of life and draws their own conclusions based only on their own experiences. Mood dependent memory is the way we recall with ease our happiest moments when happy, and drown in all our saddest when sad. For people in the grip of intense, flooded emotions, such as some who are given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, their whole lives and sense of self changes with each feeling. We sparkle when happy, and our whole world is beautiful! We are generous, kind, loving, full of good humour and good will. We bathe in the milk of human kindness, nothing is too big to forgive, too much to ask. When sad, the world is black, bleak, dark, terrifying, choked with misery, full of bad omens and evil portends. We radiate despair and flood everyone near them. We are preoccupied, desperate, overwhelmed by a sense of doom, like prophets who understand the world is ending and shake our warnings at people too blind to stop their partying and take up the ashes and sackcloth. When threatened we are sharp toothed, short of temper, we jump at shadows and see danger everywhere. We bite hands that come too close and nurse the aching wounds of all the wrongs ever done to us. We see the world as violent, unpredictable, deceptive. We look for the trick in every gesture, the hidden meaning in every word. We live with our teeth bared and bite before we’re bitten.

There are a thousand shades of emotion that people don’t even consider, like shades of colours. We are swept from heights to valleys, through quiet contemplation, deep sorrow, burning rage, cheerful spring mornings, restless wild moods, agonising pain, mischievous playfulness. When these states are split off from each other, people’s sense of self changes with each of them. Our sense of the world completely changes, our values and goals change, our expectations of the future changes, our approaches to our relationships change. The thread of consciousness that gives us our sense of stable self is snapped and chopped into bits. What has the potential to be a deeply lived, vivid experience of life becomes fractured, tormenting, and without growth.

For people with parts, fractures along these lines are common – one part will remember all things wonderful in life, another all things painful. When switching and trying to understand the self, multiples get lost in the many versions of self that leave evidence in their lives, the many handwritings in their journals. As a child I sometimes asked other people to describe me, feeling devoid of clarity about myself and seeking to use their eyes as a mirror. There’s an empty feeling beneath shattered memory that can make people feel like they don’t exist. Switching can be like forever walking into a room at the moment someone else walks out.

I once watched a documentary about Clive Wearing, who suffers from chronic severe amnesia due to a virus that damaged his brain. He has almost no recollection of his past (although he has what is called procedural memory, that is he can still do things he once learned to do, such as walk, dress himself, and play music). Clive cannot hold onto to new memories for longer than about 30 seconds. He lives entirely in the moment. He has a diary that moves me deeply. Each previous entry he crosses out, as he cannot recall having written it. Each new entry is achingly similar.

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.

There’s an agony here, an awareness of loss and a claiming of life that turns out to be without permanence or meaning. It’s deeply painful to see his distress and be unable to knit back together the damaged areas of brain that leave him in the void. The process is familiar to me, I recognise echoes of the same voids in myself and others.

For those of us with multiplicity, even when co-conscious, the emotional distance of watching but not living all our lives can create subtle breaks in our sense of self. Disconnection in emotion can fragment our ability to emotionally process our lives. Switching can be our own version of suddenly feeling awake. We sweep aside all the knowledge of other parts, sometimes even of our own previous memories, with this sudden conviction that now, I am truly awake. That now, I am really alive. This time, I understand. That this time, I’ll make it work. We do the same things, with the same tools, from the same values, backed by the same seeping aside of our history, and are horrified, surprised, and devastated when we get the same results. We cut ourselves off from our own wisdom, learn nothing from our history, disregard all previous insights. We make abrupt, unsustainable life changes, that change only the names and places, but repeat the same crisis dynamics over and over. When we are briefly aware of this sense of being trapped in a cycle, we feel so helpless and ashamed that it’s a relief to let amnesia or switching sweep it all aside. It’s like having an internal reset button, we go back to the start of the maze and go looking for the cheese all over again, often with the support of people around us and mental health staff who are pleased we’ve stopped being paralysed by our awareness of our futile cycles and are tackling our lives with vim again.

Health and recovery is sometimes sold to us as stopping this process. Limiting the extremes, preventing the switching, shutting down the states. A single part is chosen to be the ‘real’ one, a single emotional state or small collection of them are selected as the ideal, calmest and most rational. All the knowledge in the rest is discarded, all the wildness that gives life deeper mythic meaning, the wrestling with angels and demons, the being moved by things we can’t name are suppressed instead of connected. The goal becomes staying still instead of learning how to dance through them. Life becomes staid, the suppressed grow wilder and stronger, we find ourselves fighting not only with our weaknesses but also our strengths. We dissociate more and more from ourselves and our experience of life.

These processes are not unique to multiples. We all use dissociation to contain memories and feelings, to compartmentalise our worlds so that we can function. Not enough dissociation, being unable to contain emotions and memories can be just as destructive. It can be very difficult for any of us to step back and see the whole, to watch our own patterns and honour our history. We are all partly dependant on the stories we’ve told through which we understand ourselves and the world, and the perspectives of others. Sometimes they help, something they make us blind or tell stories that do us harm. Step back too far and we become numbed observers. Remain forever utterly in the moment, and we fall into the void. In that place, we run to anything that makes us feel better, calmer, safer, no matter how crazy. We self destruct with passionate, spectacular indifference. We search for a sense of self that the search itself destroys. The experience of the void can induce a sense of absolute panic, a desperate, frantic need to DO something, anything, to feel like you exist. Even blood, agony, the fireworks from your whole world being destroyed can feel better than the void.

For me, my journals – and now this blog, are the trail of breadcrumbs I leave for myself to help me see my selves. I write, and then I read, and re-read, seeing my selves through different eyes, charting my life. I find causes for effects. I learn about those people who have the most profound impact upon my life, but whom I have never really met – my other parts, the rest of ‘Sarah’. I am startled by the complexity of life, all the things I do not see that they do, the vast spectrum of colours I cannot perceive, of feelings I know only as words. There’s a sense of being blind, but learning life and self by its feeling in my hands, its taste in my mouth. Sometimes someone comes out who is missing so many threads of information, so much of what we have learned and how we have changed. Sharing our history connects them back to us, to the present moment, to all the gains and losses of our life.

I reconnect the thread of self by honouring that I am alive now, and that I have always been alive. All the parts are real, all the emotions are meaningful, all the experiences are important. I look for the common ground between all the states and parts, and I also learn to celebrate such wildly diverse ways of experiencing the world. I find the things that stay the same no matter what – a fear, a value, a need, a tiny chip of identity. I look for ways to carry them with me through all the changes, I notice the way that feelings or switching changes a value like kindness, the way different light sources make a gemstone look like it’s a different colour. Ideas are refined. A sense of self is not so much found as created. The void remains, but it no longer consumes everything, and my life is no longer spend running from it in fear and back to it in need.