Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is a condition in which a person has two or more distinct personality states, each with its own way of thinking and behaving. It is believed that DID is usually caused by severe trauma in early childhood. During times of increased stress, including illness or injury, a person with DID may experience an increase in symptoms. For instance, when I’m sick, I’m more likely to experience memory problems, trouble focusing, anxiety attacks and uncontrollable switching between personality states (often referred to as alters).
Remember You’re an Adult Now
Pain or other symptoms of illness or injury, like nausea or difficulty breathing, may remind people with DID of the traumas they experienced as children. This can be disturbing or even frightening. It’s important to remind yourself that the pain or other symptoms you’re experiencing now are not the same as what you experienced as a child, even if it feels similar. Remind yourself that you’re an adult now and you’re safe now.
If you need to see a doctor or have some sort of medical procedure done, try to have an adult personality attend the appointment. Have an adult personality take any needed medication, as well.
Treat Pain and Other Symptoms
Treat your symptoms. Contact your doctor if over-the-counter pain medications or other remedies aren’t doing the trick. If pain or other symptoms are triggering to you, it might be helpful to talk to your doctor about that before you get sick or injured and are experiencing pain and an increase in your dissociative symptoms. When I had to have surgery to biopsy a lump in my breast, I talked to the surgeon in advance about my need for really good pain management afterward in order to avoid triggering anxiety attacks and other symptoms.
Taking medication to treat illness or injury can present a number of problems for people with DID. Sometimes different alters respond differently to medications. For instance, one personality may seem to be unaffected by pain medication, including experiencing no pain relief, while another personality may experience severe drowsiness. Some alters may have trouble swallowing pills or be frightened of taking medication. People with DID may have trouble remembering to take medication or may forget whether they’ve taken it or not, which can lead to taking extra doses by mistake.
Set an alarm if necessary to remind yourself to take medication. Use a checklist so you know when you’ve taken medication or get one of those medication boxes where you lay out each dose you’re meant to take and that way if a dose is gone, you’ll know you’ve taken it. Ask your doctor about medication options that require fewer doses and about liquid or chewable options if swallowing pills is difficult. If liquid medications taste bad, ask your pharmacist if flavoring can be added to improve the taste. If you’re simply unable to take medication as prescribed, let your doctor know and discuss your options.
Seeing a doctor or other health care professional can be scary. I get very anxious when I have to go to the doctor. Going to the emergency room or having some sort of surgery or other medical procedure is even scarier. Establishing a relationship with a primary care physician in advance can help a lot. You can schedule an appointment when you’re not sick or in pain, talk to the doctor about any special needs you might have, and make sure you feel comfortable with him or her. I see my primary care physician whenever possible instead of seeing specialists. For instance, my primary care doctor does my routine gynecological care. That makes those things a little less scary for me.
Taking a friend or support person with you to appointments can help. Take someone that can advocate for you if you are unable to advocate for yourself. You can also write down problems you’re having, questions you have, and information about your condition or special accommodations you need in advance and take that with you to appointments. Write down any instructions you’re given by the doctor to make sure you remember them later.
Web MD. Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).
Alderman, Tracy and Karen Marshall. Amongst Ourselves: A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. 1998.
Also by this Contributor:
Getting Medical Treatment when You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dealing With Child Alters When You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder Coping with Dissociative Identity Disorder