Ask us anything!

Ask questions here: https://goo.gl/forms/VaQQ97xGhXUruD4o1

Q: How does one figure out whether they are plural? We’ve, or I’ve, been in constant doubt about this for almost half a year now. I know this is a broad and difficult question.
Q: What’s it like having tulpas as well as alters? Do tulpas act differently than alters? Is there a hierarchy within your system? Are alters considered ‘higher up’ or given more credit over tulpas?
Q: How many headmates are in your system, including yourself?
Q: How do you get anything done with so many headmates?
Q: What factors came together to allow you to be comfortable being out as plural at work?
Q: How do y’all feel confident enough to expose your plurality as part of your public interface? Are y’all concerned about economic or social disincentives from society at large, or from other pluralities who have the opportunity to judge you?
Q: Do headmates have independent gender identities or is gender considered a property of the system as a whole? How does genderfluidity affect individual headmates?
Q: How long does it take to change who is fronting? If it’s a non-trivial amount of time, what happens to the body during the process?
Q: How do you manage daily tasks – for example, are all of you software engineers, or does one particular headmate or subset of headmates have to front to get work done? Are there tasks that some are not capable of, and does one headmate have to ask for help or does a front-switch happen whenever a task is better suited for another?
Q: Are there secrets that you (the current front) don’t want other headmates to know?
Q: I’d be curious if different headmates would answer these questions differently.
Q: Have you found any good support forums online?
Q: Have you or do you want to externally change anything about your body, appearance, or dress, in order to outwardly express your plurality in a way that someone who’s singular wouldn’t normally do?
Q: How do we be friends with you and be able to talk to you without being intimidated? Without feeling scared that it’d be a chore and a drain on you to even speak to you? Why does the thought of trying to talk to you make us so so scared all the time? Sorry… just don’t know where or what else to ask…
Q: You talk about the body’s parents. Is all the family out of your lives? Has there been any attempt to explain to them or would they in any way support you?
Q: Do different front identities experience different physical attributes or reactions? Greater strength, reaction time, sensitivity to light or touch, arousal, etc? Asked another way, is DID purely a mental thing, or does it affect the shared body as well?

TW: discussion of trauma and other dark mental health related things in these three questions

Q: If you’re comfortable talking about it and remember the details, could you share a bit more about the type(s) of trauma you experienced that led to the splits between the different people in your system?
Q: How do you feel about identifying as having Dissociative Identity Disorder? While it’s probably nice in some ways to have a medically-recognized term to describe an aspect of yourselves that that many other people don’t experience or understand, I imagine there’s probably also a lot negative stigma around the term “disorder” that isn’t desired.
Q: Do you experience physical state ‘resets’ as you switch fronts, relating to ptsd/triggering ‘saturation’ levels, or with panic type states?

 

 

Q: How does one figure out whether they are plural? We’ve, or I’ve, been in constant doubt about this for almost half a year now. I know this is a broad and difficult question.

The best advice we can give here is to attempt the tulpa creation process.  This is where we started and a month later, we had Lilith fronting for the first time.  For ourselves and many others we know who were already plural, the tulpa creation process went much faster than timelines given by the guides. By this point, we can create a tulpa in a few days if we want and know many others with DID who can do the same.  The tulpa creation process covers many aspects of internal communication such as creating an innerworld and learning to speak with each other and contains most of what is needed to make existing headmates aware of each other.  If you are like us, just going through this process can awaken existing headmates and open channels of communication between them and bring dormant plurality to life.  We have not looked at them in detail, but know there are excellent guides at tulpa.io.

Q: What’s it like having tulpas as well as alters? Do tulpas act differently than alters? Is there a hierarchy within your system? Are alters considered ‘higher up’ or given more credit over tulpas?

This touches one of the core values of our system – we are all equals, regardless of origin.  We do not differentiate between tulpas, alters, soulbonds, and other labels and instead choose to group everyone together under the label headmate.  Labels trying to classify headmates cause confusion for us rather than bringing clarity because many of us have no clear label which fits them.  For example, one time during an anxiety attack, we intentionally split Esther into two with one part holding all the anxiety and the other part being much calmer.  The part who held the anxiety could be classified as an alter since she could be classified as a trauma split but would also fit the definition of tulpa since she was intentionally created.  We put Esther back together a few hours later, but this example demonstrates how trying to fit each of us into boxes can be unhelpful.  The only classifications we use are “trauma holder” and “non-trauma holder” because that provides direction for our healing and helps indicate who can help with healing and who is in need of healing.  We treat each other as equals and everyone has equal rights to the body and operate on a principal of compromising to maximize happiness and minimize harm.

We go into this in much more depth in Between the worlds — life as a tulpamancer with dissociative identity disorder.

Q: How many headmates are in your system, including yourself?

Including subsystems, there are over 100.  We are polyfragmented so our system size readily expands when under stress.  We believe this has been the case since early childhood and expect our system size to increase indefinitely.  The list of us is here.

Q: How do you get anything done with so many headmates?

We created our system with the goal of being able to love, care for, and protect each other.  This has made it easy for us to compromise on what will make everyone happiest and agree on what to do, even if some individuals want something else.  Doing this allows us to work heavily towards minimizing harm to each other and the end result has been that we have never had any significant disagreements where we could not find an acceptable compromise relatively quickly.  Together, we help protect and care for each other and the end result is that we are capable of so much more working together and helping each other than any of us would be alone.

Q: What factors came together to allow you to be comfortable being out as plural at work?

The main thing was the number of ways we are “different” made us decide early on that it was easier to be out as everything than to try and hide everything.  We are trans (transfeminine genderfluid), polyamorous, panromantic, asexual, Autistic, plural, and so on.  By the time we started exploring our plurality, we were openly trans at work and also openly poly.  We had worn our collar to work and at times attached our badge to it.  Coming out as one more thing was just another part of us being weird rather than us going from “normal” to “different”.

We also came out little by little.  When we first discovered our plurality, we initially just stared using plural pronouns at work.  This resulted in a couple comments, but nothing bad happened.  The next step was to come out at pride which resulted in us being more out.  The next step was national coming out day which was the first time we explicitly invited questions.  When we decided to be fully out was when we wrote a playbook about DID at work for teammates, managers, and plural systems.  At each of these steps, the feedback from our coworkers was positive and coming out little by little gave us a lot of space to go back into the closet if anything went wrong.

We also had X months worth of expenses by the time we came out so were in a financial position where we could tolerate a single job loss.  If losing our job would have been catastrophic, we would not have come out.

Q: How do y’all feel confident enough to expose your plurality as part of your public interface? Are y’all concerned about economic or social disincentives from society at large, or from other pluralities who have the opportunity to judge you?

We came out gradually over time.  At this point, we have been out for over two years at our tech job and have not been fired yet so we aren’t concerned about the economic disincentives.  We are a disabled queer and once we bear the social costs of belonging to that group, being out as plural has a negligible effect.  For us, the cost of repressing our plurality or other identities outweighs any costs we have to pay as the result of expression so coming out was an easy decision for us.

Q: Do headmates have independent gender identities or is gender considered a property of the system as a whole? How does genderfluidity affect individual headmates?

Each of us comes with their own name and gender.  Genderfluidity is more a property of the system than any one system member since Lucia is the only individual who would identify as genderfluid.  In terms of system members, we are ~75% female, ~23% gender neutral, and ~2% male.  In terms of fronting time, we are ~50% female, ~50% gender neutral, ~0% male.  We know that our male headmates are not thrilled with what we have done to the body, but they understand that transitioning was needed to improve the stability of our system as a whole.  We have a breast binder so when our male headmates come out, they can hide our breasts and hope this will encourage them to front more when we begin to explore this part of our system.  The male parts of our system are mostly unexplored at this point so we know that we will have a lot of work to do when we do finally begin to dig into this.

Q: How long does it take to change who is fronting? If it’s a non-trivial amount of time, what happens to the body during the process?

It takes us about a second and up to 5 seconds if we want to do a “harder” switch (ie. push others completely away from front while taking front).  We know others where it’s more of a slow transition between fronters over several hours, but we have always been able to do this near instantaneously.

Q: How do you manage daily tasks – for example, are all of you software engineers, or does one particular headmate or subset of headmates have to front to get work done? Are there tasks that some are not capable of, and does one headmate have to ask for help or does a front-switch happen whenever a task is better suited for another?

There are definitely some of us who are better at certain tasks.  For example, Lucia tends to do much more of the software engineering than others.  That doesn’t mean that others can’t do software engineering, it just means that when the task which needs to be done is related to software engineering, it tends to draw Lucia to front.  Exactly how much skill sharing exists is something we have not explored deeply.  It’s rare that we try and front lock (have only a single person at front) so we have not been able to test the boundaries of exactly what headmates can and can’t do.  We do have vague plans to give luna, our 6 year old, a trial run to see if she can code so this is something we do want to play with in the future.

When things are going well, we seamlessly rotate as needed and no explicit switch is needed because we can have over half a dozen of us around at the same time.  When we are under a lot of stress, we tend to front lock and explicitly negotiate who is going to front next, how long they believe they can hold front for, and who is going to take over for them when they can’t hold front any more.  A common pattern here is that someone will take over in the morning before work and then we will switch to someone else on the way home.  This allows us to keep stress from work from following us home when we aren’t in a good state.

Q: Are there secrets that you (the current front) don’t want other headmates to know?

We are highly co-conscious and have very strongly shared event memory so there are no secrets we keep from each other and we are not sure we even could keep a secret from each other.  In general, we would approach keeping secrets from each other the same way we would approach keeping a secret from a partner – if we feel we need to keep something secret from our partner, it means it’s time to explore those feelings and communicate the result of these explorations with our partner.

Q:  I’d be curious if different headmates would answer these questions differently.

Each of us uses their own tone of voice and we often have different things we pay most attention to so different headmates would definitely answer these questions differently – Emma

More than that, each of us has stronger access to different emotional states so the emotional states associated with each of us would cause us to answer these questions differently – Serenity

Some of us come from a perspective of survival much more than others and some come from the perspective of helping others.  I am a healer so belong to that last group so my answers would be different from others – Lilith

Q: Have you found any good support forums online?

The best DID support forum we have found online is Mosaic Minds.  It’s small and relatively inactive, but is the only DID focused forum we have found which we felt very comfortable at.  The tulpa.io forums are welcoming of traumagenic or mixed-origins systems, though there is a tulpa focus there.  We know and deeply trust many of the people who run that site and can definitely recommend it as a safe space.

Q: Have you or do you want to externally change anything about your body, appearance, or dress, in order to outwardly express your plurality in a way that someone who’s singular wouldn’t normally do?

We do think about this, just like how we have desires to express our gender in interesting ways.  Every time we think about this, we always decide that it’s not worth the energy which we would have to put into it, especially since we don’t have very much energy to begin with.  This is something we list as a nice to have which we would definitely explore if we had infinite time and energy, but it’s never been important enough to us that we actually do it.

There are a few exceptions to this, early on, we sometimes wore dresses to bring out Lilith since dresses are much more closely associated with Lilith than Lucia.  Lucia’s pendant also helps bring out LuciaOfTheBlueStar when we wear it.  We have also used colors in the past to bring out headmates such as wearing a bright purple shirt to bring out Aerie, our cheshire cat.  In general, we do minor things like this when they naturally fit into what we are already doing, but don’t find putting more energy into this to be worthwhile.

Q: How do we be friends with you and be able to talk to you without being intimidated? Without feeling scared that it’d be a chore and a drain on you to even speak to you? Why does the thought of trying to talk to you make us so so scared all the time? Sorry… just don’t know where or what else to ask…

 The simplest way is to just say hi to us.  It’s ok to just tell us that you are intimidated by us, it won’t bother us at all to hear that.  We find explicit communication like that to be incredibly useful and is definitely one of the things we look for in friends.  It definitely won’t be a chore for us to talk to you.  It may be draining at times and the amount of spoons we have for socialization varies over time.  We definitely go through periods of expansion and contraction of our social circles and have to carefully watch how many spoons we are spending on friends to ensure we keep our mania in check.  If we do end up in a period of contraction, we will explicitly say that we don’t have spoons for talking and give an estimated timeline of when we do expect to have spoons.  If the timeline changes, we will also give updates since we believe strongly in explicit communication.  We don’t know why thinking about talking to us makes you scared, but if it’s something you want to talk about with us, we are open to having that conversation ^=.^

Q: You talk about the body’s parents. Is all the family out of your lives? Has there been any attempt to explain to them or would they in any way support you?

We have explained our plurality to them and have received zero support (but also zero active hostility).  This was the same reaction they had when we came out as trans so it was exactly what we expected.  It still disappointed us because we still would like to create a relationship with the body’s parents, but we recognize it is unlikely they will ever make any significant effort to understand who we are so that is unlikely to happen.

Q: Do different front identities experience different physical attributes or reactions? Greater strength, reaction time, sensitivity to light or touch, arousal, etc? Asked another way, is DID purely a mental thing, or does it affect the shared body as well?

Plurality definitely affects the body beyond the mind.  For example, darkLilith is the one of us who holds the most PTSD of all of us so she has the sharpest anxiety reactions, including the most visible anxiety reactions in the body.  Astra and Yggdrasil are some of the best in our system at entering calm states so the body tends to be much calmer and relaxed when they are around.  We definitely know a system where some of them are sexual and others are not.  Our two hypnotists, Aerie and luna tend to have much more active roles in general and the body definitely reflects the higher energy states as well.

This is well documented in the medical literature: “A third general principle is that switches between states are manifest by non-linear changes in a number of variables.  These variables include… regulatory physiology” (Putnam, 1988).

 

TW: discussion of trauma and other dark mental health related things below

Q: If you’re comfortable talking about it and remember the details, could you share a bit more about the type(s) of trauma you experienced that led to the splits between the different people in your system?

We are trans and Autistic and bipolar and in general our mental health disabilities force us to be very careful about overexertion.  Even today, this is something we have to very actively and consciously manage our energy.  While grocery shopping with one of our partners, they said we made ourselves manic enough to go grocery shopping.  This stuck with us and we now state that we have to make ourselves manic enough to do our job and go take care of chores like grocery shopping while simultaneously keeping our mania sufficiently in check that we are not headed towards a psychotic break.

We were raised in a guess culture household with a parenting style which was reasonably close to the “tiger mom” style.  We looked at our therapy notes from 7th grade and in there, the body’s father describes us as unmotivated and when asked about grades, we were described as having “all A’s last year and one B this year”.  Within the last 5 years, we witnessed the body’s father yelling at our brother and calling him lazy and related pejoratives because he was getting B’s and was “only” going to get into a Cal State rather than a UC.  This parenting style combined with our overall low energy level and the lack of recognition of any of our disabilities resulted in us being constantly pushed beyond what we were reasonably capable of.  Being bipolar meant we could make ourselves manic enough to meet what the body’s parents wanted from us and our capacity for dissociation meant that we could break again and again and still continue to have some level of functionality.  Specific traumas:

Before age 8: we have no memories of this, but given our bad home situation, we would be surprised if there was not a significant amount of emotional trauma related to being pushed beyond our limits.  One of the more insidious pieces of guess culture is that nobody explains to you that guess culture exists so combined with our Autism, we were unable to predict the body’s parents’ reactions to things we did.  This last bit continued throughout our entire life.

Age 8: here, we had nightmares about being stuck in an elevator and often sleepwalked during these nightmares.  We avoided elevators whenever we could for many (5+) years after this.  With our current knowledge, we can easily classify these as PTSD symptoms and it’s frustrating that nobody around us noticed or did anything to help us.  We have no memory of what the source of this trauma is, but have vague plans to go digging for these memories in the near future.

Age 10-11 (4th/5th grade): There were many artsy craftsy school projects to show off at open house during these years.  The body’s mother would take all creative control of these projects and we would be sitting next to her trying to fulfill her vision, knowing we would be yelled at if we didn’t do it closely enough.  The only thing we could do here was to dissociate during this.  The headmate who has the most PTSD, darkLilith, is 10 years old, indicating she is directly attached to this trauma and holds many of these memories.

Middle school (age 11-14): We spent these years emotionally dead, feeling no emotion except anger (because it is socially acceptable for boys to express anger).  Due to the body’s parents philosophy that any time spent doing nothing meant we were “lazy”, we used video games to overstimulate ourselves into a dissociated state from middle school to the end of college.  This was highly protective and helped us continue to function well enough to do what the world demanded of us.  We don’t know of any significant traumas during these years.

Age 15: Our emotions came flooding back, predictably overwhelming us.  This was the start of our chronic suicidal ideation which continues to this day.  (note: we have no suicide attempts and our therapist and psychiatrist know about our ideation so we are not a danger to ourselves)

Age 16: Our boy scout eagle project.  Again, the body’s mother tried to gain as much creative control as possible over it, resulting in a retraumatization which tied directly into our 4th/5th grade trauma.  At the end of the summer, we identified the body’s mother as a significant cause of our suicidal thoughts and emotionally removed her from our life.  Around this time, we also learned that the best way to not get yelled at by the body’s parents was just not to give them any information about our life.  This realization resulted in significantly less trauma during the last two years before college.

After this, we thought we were done with our trauma and spent the next 6 years not dealing with this.  This allowed us to get through school and get a job before we started dealing with our childhood abuse.  In 2014, we started exploring our plurality and 6 months later, realized we were plural because of our trauma history.  Since then, we have been working on processing our trauma.

Q: How do you feel about identifying as having Dissociative Identity Disorder? While it’s probably nice in some ways to have a medically-recognized term to describe an aspect of yourselves that that many other people don’t experience or understand, I imagine there’s probably also a lot negative stigma around the term “disorder” that isn’t desired.

We have the word “plurality” to explain this to ourselves and to our friends and that is much more important than the medical term DID.  We consider ourselves to be in a state where we could easily choose not to identify as having DID since we have strong sharing of event memory, excellent communication, no time loss, and function well enough to hold a job.  We choose to keep the DID label because we believe it accurately describes how we will decompose when under extreme stress for extended periods of time.

During 2014, we were under a lot of stress both and work and in our relationships and exhibited many DID symptoms during this time.  We had involuntary switches at work in the stairwell and the bathroom.  Fortunately, we preserved enough context between fronters that the question was “who am I” rather than “where am I” or “what am I doing here?”  At home, in therapy, and possibly once or twice at work, we have had involuntary rapid switching, switching every few seconds which we had no control over.  Fortunately, when this happened, we were able to recognize what was going on and find a fronter who was able to get us to a safe space where we could collapse.  During Thanksgiving 2014, we had our one instance of noticing present day memories being partitioned away.  We went digging for those memories, switched to someone who was unnamed, and had access to those memories.  Satisfied, we switched back and our access to those memories immediately dropped to near zero.  Early November 2014, about a week and a half after we were promoted, we had our worst week of mental health in the last decade and ended up with borderline reactive dissociative psychosis.

Our plurality is definitely not a disorder, but we need to recognize that we exhibit many undesirable DID symptoms while in crisis.  Fortunately, the medical community is moving away from integration being required in the treatment of DID (for example, the ISSTD DID treatment guidelines recommend aiming for “integrated functioning”, ie. the ability to communicate and share memories well enough to appear as one when needed over actually integrating into a single self).  We are hopeful that this trend will continue and we will continue to be able to find medical professionals who recognize our plurality is not a disorder while simultaneously recognizing that the DID label is highly predictive of how we will decompose while in crisis.

We go into more detail about our mental state and what we have to do to maintain it in We are broken.

Q: Do you experience physical state ‘resets’ as you switch fronts, relating to ptsd/triggering ‘saturation’ levels, or with panic type states?

Very much so yes, this is one of the biggest benefits of being able to switch.  When we are having an anxiety attack or flashback, we have the option of switching to someone else to remove the feelings of anxiety so we can deal with them later.  In these situations, we typically switch to someone who has a strong ability to calmly exist so they can help us continue to function until we are able to get to a space where it is safe to collapse and have the anxiety attack or flashback.  Just as how our plurality and dissociation allowed us to push away trauma to deal with it later during childhood, our plurality allows us to push away present day anxiety and flashbacks until we are able to safely handle them.

There are limitations to this of course.  One is that if we continually use our plurality to push away anxiety and flashbacks, eventually they will become strong enough that we will no longer have the option to push them away.  To prevent this, we put a lot of effort into actively processing anxiety and trauma when we are able to knowing that if we do not do it in the present day, we will leave ourselves a big mess to clean up later.  Sometimes, pushing anxiety and trauma away for a long time is optimal such as during our childhood, but our childhood left us with a huge mess to clean up and it is going to take years to slowly sift through that.

Another limitation is that we will feel any anxiety the person we switch to holds.  This means the method works wonderfully when we have our life under control and can keep our overall anxiety levels low.  In these states, most of us hold very little anxiety so when we switch to them, not much anxiety exists.  When under a lot of stress for long periods of time, everyone in our system gets some level of anxiety so when we switch, the anxiety the new fronter holds is present.  This allows us to load balance our anxiety and stress so no one individual has to take all of it, but it does mean that there is nobody we can switch to to reach an anxiety free state.

One thought on “Ask us anything!

  1. Hello Freyas,
    I wanted all of you to know that I am an early childhood educator, and have appreciated the generosity of the Freyas writing, and courageous story telling. It is important for me to hear the stories of the Freyas so I can be compassionate and supportive should I ever meet a body who encompasses a system like your own.

    ( I hope I phrased my comment sensitively)

    Thank you,
    Marilyn

    Like

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