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What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

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Tiara performed in front of two hundred people. There were accolades everywhere. She is a trained classical dancer and no one can beat her steps. She even got the first prize.

Jeena hit a man right in the middle of road. He was eating at a roadside eatery where Jeena too wanted to grab something for lunch. The fact that the man was served before Jeena did not go down well with her. She failed to realize that she had ordered masala dosa and that man was eating idli which had already been prepared in the morning. When she hit him, the man tried to fight her off but he couldn’t. With her immense strength, she knocked him down.

Things were bad for Violet when she was in school. Though she studied in an all-girls convent, she failed to adjust herself with her peers. It got worse in college and she dropped out.

I have narrated experiences from the lives of three women. But do you know they are all one person? One single person who had three personalities. Do I need to give her a name? Does that matter anymore? No need. Perhaps you’ve already guessed—I am talking about Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID.

Previously known as Multiple Personality Disorders, this is also a psychiatric problem where an individual has multiple personalities; two, three, four, even more.  Sometimes the afflicted person may have a ‘main’ personality but that may be dormant, controlled or depressed. The alternative personalities take turns being in control and are often exhibited depending on moods, age, and gender. The fatal part is when one personality takes control, and it completely overpowers the others. Like in the case of Violet, where the individual cannot relate one incident with the other.

Studies have revealed that DID stems in early childhood where the child had been a victim to emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Even a neglected child can develop the disorder. It worsens as the child grows up, and if not treated, it can be fatal.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Confusion,
  • Forgetfulness,
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Obsessive Compulsive rituals
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations.

According to WebMd other symptoms include headache, amnesia, losing sense of time, trances, and “out of body experiences”. Some people with dissociative disorders have a tendency toward self-victimization, self-sabotage, and even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed). As an example, a persons with DID may find themselves doing things they wouldn’t normally do—such as speeding, reckless driving, or stealing money from their employer or friend—yet they feel compelled to do it. Some describe this feeling as being a ‘passenger’ in their body rather than the driver. In other words, they truly believe they have no choice.

Childhood abuse is the root cause of this disorder. This is the grim truth. According to research by a Washington-based group, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Hence the sad fact remain that females are more prone to this disorder. Thus, when a female child grows up with this disorder, she is also at the receiving end of Intimate Partner Violence. And our misogynistic society has no business but to increase the trauma of a woman by blaming her instead of treating her with empathy and also providing medical intervention.

A still from the movie “Sybil”, starring Sally Fields as a young woman with DID, and 17 distinct personalities. Based on a real story, the portrayal of Sybil Dorsett brought DID into public view for the first time.

Though there is no specific medication to treat this ailment, psychotherapy (talking process) can help make the person aware of their condition. The aim of this treatment is not to eliminate all the personalities in one shot but to stop the increase in the number of personalities.

Now, let’s go back the real life case I began with. It was found that the girl, during her growing years, suffered tremendous physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Having lost her mother at birth, she was under the care of her rich alcoholic father who sexually abused her, making her emotionally vulnerable. As a child she was also neglected. Initially, she suffered from depression and struggled through college. She was treated by a local psychiatrist who sent her home after diagnosing her with clinical depression. Over the next several years, she suffered her extremes when she reported hearing several voices in her head urging her to self harm. She even tried committing suicide but managed to pull through. Being trained in classical dance she almost managed to get a job in the local music college but could not make it because of the voices in her head. They would each turn into a personality which she couldn’t control. It was the cops who ultimately saved her after a failed suicide attempt when they took her to the hospital therapist. She has been under treatment for two decades and it was found she had developed 35 different personalities.

The good news is that she responded to therapy under her counselor, and is still under counseling. She understands that she suffers from DID. Today, she is a strong advocate of this disorder. Being a classical dancer she has opened her own dance school and also provides help to people suffering from this disorder.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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