Tammy, age 38
Tammy said, “I don't let anyone behind the wall, even those closest to me.” Yet this fascinating interview with Tammy gave me a glimpse of her life, even though I only saw the public side of that metaphorical wall. Tammy lives with depression, anxiety, dissociative disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), and schizoaffective disorder, as well as a traumatic brain injury (likely caused by Tammy banging her head out of frustration). She endured a series of sexual abuses, by men she knew, starting at age five. Her step-father was verbally and mentally abusive as well. Life worsened for her after another molestation at sixteen.
In high school Tammy described herself as a loner, but also a troublemaker to get attention. She just wanted any attention to help her feel better. Schizophrenia was diagnosed during this time. She attended an alternative school, but over time she couldn't stay focused and was transferred to a state hospital.
I didn't ask when each identity began. But dissociative disorders typically develop as a way to deal with long-term traumatic events. Tammy has five distinct personalities:
Gumic—she is five years old, the least powerful physically, but the most stable about what is healthy, understanding good vs. bad.
Damian—he is 18 and the only male identity, thinks he's the most powerful, very controlling, and the cheerleader of doing bad things.
Tazlee—she is an 18 year old drug addict, manipulative and demanding, but her influence is very small now.
T—she is a teenager, about 16, very quiet, the innocent caretaker, and is the identity present about a third of the time.
Tammy—she is the dominant personality, outgoing, and the identity I interviewed for this project.
To cope with emotional pain and to quiet the voices and “the guy” (Damian), Tammy will sometimes self-mutilate her arms and hands, often with a lit cigarette. The visible scars, old and new, serve as a visible testament to her lifelong emotional pain.
Tammy feels that she didn't make any real progress in life until she began her relationship with her partner. Her emotional support helps keep Tammy on the straight and narrow. Tammy also takes her meds regularly, has social support, and sees a counselor. She also expresses herself beautifully through poetry.
Tammy wants you to understand that, “I may look fine on the outside, but inside I feel like I melted and died.” Also, “Not everything you see or hear about mental illness is true. How mental illness is misjudged. People think they know everything about it, and that's not true.”