What It's "Like" to be Multiple
First of all, my name is Jade. Formally it’s J8, but Jade is what evolved and Jade is what my friends call me. My very close friends call me J, but since it’s not my legal name, at this point I’m like a stray dog…I answer to anything remotely similar or directed at me. Currently I’m the leader of a poly-fragmented system. We’ve been in healing for about eight years now, though not all of that time has been spent focusing on healing, nor pursuing it. Suffice it to say that we’ve been aware of our multiplicity for about eight years. The biggest question I get most often is, “What’s it like, to be a multiple?” This is an interesting question. You could probably no more imagine what it’s like for me, being multiple, then I could imagine what it’s like for you, being a singleton. Which is not to imply that I’ve always known about the multiplicity, but the symptoms were there, whether I understood what they were or not. We tend to think that our reality is everyone’s reality, until we discover otherwise. It wasn’t til my mid-20’s that I finally – by accident – discovered that not everyone has all the conversations going on in their head that I have. Such a small, seemingly insignificant thing led me to the journey of becoming aware of the multiplicity, and nothing has ever been the same.
So…here’s the best I can do, in attempt to answer the question. I decided to answer this in bulleted list form. As always, these things are only particular to me and my system and are not meant to be representative of multiples everywhere. Every system is different.
1) First of all, it’s very similar to sharing a house with a whole lot of people. (I know this because I’ve done it before…though not on the scale we’re talking about with inside people.) An important difference is that multiplicity does not offer separate physical space from others because you only have one body. You can have separate mental space, to some extent, depending on how your system is designed, but for us, there’s just not a lot of privacy between those of us who know each other unless we really seek it out.
2) It’s never quiet, ever. For us there seem to be groups of people who are active during the day, as one might expect. But then there’s another group that seems to be entirely or at least partially nocturnal. So no matter what day or what time it is, there’s always someone around. For the social alters, this is heaven. For us less sociable people, it can sometimes be a nightmare. 😛 Being the leader, I imagine it’s a little bit like the old woman who lived in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. Someone always needs something. Someone is always unhappy about something, usually as a direct result of someone else being super happy about the exact same thing that’s making aforementioned person sad. There’s not necessarily bickering 24/7, although certain kids do have their moments, but there is a LOT of noise. Even happy kids are noisy kids.
3) Every decision is up for debate. Every. Decision. From what to eat to what to wear to where to go on the weekends to what to do during down time. Take mealtimes, as an example. The little people like hot dogs and macaroni. The teenagers like pizza and soda. The adults like salad and water. For a snack, the little people howl for ice cream, or Cheez-Its, or graham crackers. The teenagers want French fries. The adults prefer a fruit or vegetable. This happens three times a day, 365 days a year. And it stretches far beyond food. Everyone has a different opinion on music, how they want to wear our hair, how to decorate the bedroom. When we actually do have free time (which isn’t often), the little people ask for things like a viewing of The Secret Garden or Lassie, etc. I have several budding artists on the inside – who collaborate, so they can all participate in group projects – and free time is always well-spent letting them have free reign. There are others who enjoy playing instruments or writing scripts for dramas. I, personally, tend to fall asleep whenever I have an extended period of time where I’m not working my ass off at something or another. 😉 How do I manage all these differences? Compromise. Compromise, compromise, compromise. Whenever possible, take turns choosing things. Some things cannot be compromised. No matter how much they might beg or whine, I’m not letting any 4-yr-olds drive the car. And even though the little people (and teens) would love to eat junk all day, every day, I do draw the line at some point and try to maintain a diet that’s more appropriate for our physical age and state of health. Others on the inside do not always understand this, and control is not always so easily defined. But usually I can cajole them into being satisfied with what’s happening.
4)Time and memory are very fluid concepts. Since I don’t know how it is for other people, this may not be as big of a difference as I think. I can’t really be sure. But for us, the passage of time is an unpredictable thing. “Losing time” is an infamous occurrence for multiples – meaning when another inside person is in control, the person who is usually in control sort of blacks out and doesn’t remember what happened during that time. For me it just means that the rate that time goes by is hugely unpredictable. Just this morning I got lost in my head while I was trying to take a shower. On workdays I’m typically much better at staying focused, but today, for whatever reason, somewhere between shampooing my head and washing my face, I fell into the void and “woke up” after awhile, staring into space. I panicked – I have a limited time to get ready for work – thinking that I’d been in the shower for a really long time. Turns out it was only about 5-10 minutes longer than usual. But I had no idea how long it had been until I checked a clock. Things like this are commonplace. Memory is also different. There’s scientific research that can prove that those who have grown up with repeated trauma actually store memories differently than people who haven’t undergone trauma. Sometimes I remember things in pieces, and they float up like debris in the wake of a ship’s passing. I have no idea what the pieces are or what they’re referring to. Sometimes “memories” are sensory and bizarre, and the timing is random. This has gotten better over the years, but it used to be more extreme in the beginning. I’ve had times when I’d have an olfactory (smell) flashback, such as being overwhelmed by the smell of a specific cologne along with a panicky, choking feeling. Other times I will randomly feel like I’m being smothered and hear drumbeats pounding in my ears. Sometimes memories will pop up that do not specifically “belong” to me.
5) Sensory perceptions are off. Since I started out as a guardian, I do not feel things – neither physically or emotionally – as keenly as other people do. I used to be in charge of handling physical pain, so my specialty was being able to endure things a lot of other people couldn’t. I can do this because I have turned off pain receptors (or at least turned them way down). This can sometimes be a wonderful thing; I have handled car wrecks, injuries, etc, calmly. It takes a lot for me to seek help simply because something is painful. I can handle it. But on the other hand this can be problematic. I tend to be the last one to realize when I’m truly sick or seriously hurt, because I just don’t feel it. People around me (whether they know I’m multiple or not) who know that we have a high pain tolerance tend to forget this and assume I’m okay even if there are other signs that I’m really not.
These are all the things I can think of, off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others. But this is a decent starting point as to what it’s like. Cheers. ~J8