Entering Bangkok airport I feel into my bag. I feel again. I lurch my hand into the pocket in my rucksack. It was there this morning now it’s gone. I go to a bench, travellers everywhere, the airport a symphony of conversations, and I rifle through my bag. Not only my passport but my wallet has evaporated out of my bag.
I have lost my money, my credit cards, my picture of my son, my identity. My identity. How do I prove who I am?
The above isn’t true. I have never been to Bangkok sadly, although it is on the list, I haven’t stood in any of the world’s airports rifling through my bag desperately searching for my documents proving who I am.
I have, however, been in a frightfully busy accident and emergency department falling to pieces in the waiting room desperately in search of my identity. In the height of 3 month long mental health crisis I lost my passport. That thing in your brain that makes you you. I lost my personality.
It seems inconceivable that a personality can just go missing. Passports make a lot more sense. They are small, slippery, covetable. A desperate person can steal it in order to create a new identity, to conduct criminal activity, to escape a life of misery and obtain a new one.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I quite literally felt like I was in a movie watching someone else. I could feel myself sitting on the ceiling watching this woman in obvious distress crumble beneath me and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. The NHS response? Put me in a locked ward as a voluntary patient.
There I was met with kindness and compassion. A nurse gave me a pile of Mind printouts about dissociative disorders and depersonalisation. I had no idea. I had lost my personality and dissociated from myself.
I was sitting in the communal room with this pile of paperwork on dealing with distress wondering how to get my personality back.
I only needed to be in hospital 3 days. Whilst losing one’s personality is distressing it isn’t a mental illness. It’s a psychological one. No support, no medication, an unceremonious discharge back into the “community”.
I sat at home for weeks on end only leaving for essential trips. I lost my job. Having a job is a key part of having identity. I lost my relationships with several friends as I couldn’t relate to them as I had lost the thing that makes me me.
I could barely relate to my mother who travelled all the way from Tasmania as I needed her, but I didn’t know her because I wasn’t me. I was like an empty vessel of memories but with no identity. The only part of my identity I retained was that of mother. Joseph, as always, my anchor.
I remained under psychiatry for a time but the answer wasn’t there. I didn’t fit their categories. I wasn’t in psychosis, I didn’t have bipolar, I wasn’t schizophrenic, I wasn’t depressed. I couldn’t be depressed as I didn’t have a personality to be depressed.
I did some research and together with the psychiatrist the finding was that there was something wrong with me due to childhood trauma. So I made the brave decision to unpack it.
I finally got a brilliant psychologist and I set to work with the brilliant book Breaking Free and dissected my childhood bit by bit.
I had to shelve the bits that made me me when I was being abused. I couldn’t be there for that, it was too painful, too frightening. I used to sit on the ceiling and watch this monster devour the object beneath me, but it wasn’t me so it didn’t hurt.
Until child abuse hit the news, I could be completely objective about what had happened to me. It was seeing other people distressed about what had happened to them and feeling upset for them that made me realise that actually I had to be upset for what had happened to me. I had to grieve for the childhood that had been damaged by the monster.
I went to see a police officer locally and as I calmly explained what had happened to me his colour went white and he swallowed as if he had been sick. Actually, the stuff I deemed to be minor would get 7+ years in this country. This was serious. I had been abused for years by a monster. That took some getting used to.
I realised to get my personality back I had to stop being a survivor. I had to become a victim. This sounds counterintuitive. It was a dear friend in Australia who shared a piece by a doctor talking about his patients with chronic illnesses that wouldn’t get better as they wouldn’t rest, take their treatments and allow them to work. They insisted on being well people when actually they were sick.
To be a survivor you first have to be a victim. The process of acknowledging what had happened to that girl, allowing me to remember, to feel sick, to feel afraid, to be repulsed was the key to getting better. To realise that my parents had been totally unaware, that they weren’t to blame. To realise that safeguarding procedures, such as they were decades ago, completely failed me.
I had to be a victim and it was horrible. I have always identified as a survivor and a fighter, but that is what did me in, albeit temporarily.
Slowly I pieced together the things that made me me. My positivity, my kindness, my ability to talk to people and make them feel better about themselves and their situation, my creativity and my daftness. All the things that had been under the spotlight as possible symptoms of a psychiatric disorder were just the bits of me, that in isolation appeared weird but in the package of my personality completely fit.
I will never forget the brutality of being admitted into hospital, the first admission I had was so frightening that it deserves a post of its own, however that second admission brought me to a place of healing, of self acceptance and to realising what I had lost.
I’m not entirely sure it has completely returned yet, but bit by bit I am coming back into myself to be the person I was created to be.