Stepping Stones to Hope

A life worth living! The story of my recovery from mental illness and the steps I have taken toward hope and empowerment, using wellness tools, and a symptom management plan called WRAP, which I share in the hope that it may help others with similar experience of mental illness. I dedicate this page to Mary Ellen Copeland.

I grew up in a small New England town, the oldest of several children. We had a wonderful place to play: woods, fields, a place to swim nearby. When I was 13, my father took a new job, and we moved to a small town in another state, where I finished high school. I attended college, specializing in a pre-med program, but had to leave school in the beginning of my junior year because of serious psychiatric symptoms, mostly depression and anxiety. Almost ten years later I was able to finish school in a special adult degree program, where I worked full-time as I attended school.

My name is Martha Roberts. I have lived with some form of psychiatric symptoms for most of my life. At the age of 13, I had my first major depression, which lasted several months. I didn't know what it was. I called it "the grays," because that seemed to fit, and I guess I thought that it happened to everyone, so I didn't tell anyone about it.

I continued to have symptoms of severe depression, anxiety, sleep problems, dissociation, self-harm and suicide attempts over many years. I was hospitalized many times, twice in state hospitals. I had many jobs, but was unable to hold them for long. I felt hopeless and despairing. I took many different medications, mostly neuroleptics (anti-psychotics) and anti-depressants, none of which seemed to help. I had many years of therapy, from caring and competent professionals and I received good support and help, but the underlying problems and the severe depression never went away.

Finally an Answer

In the fall of 1992, I was having flashbacks, some visual hallucinations, strange compulsions. I had had some of these symptoms off and on for many years, in and out of therapy, but never with this intensity. I had been working with a new, younger therapist in the summer of 1992, and in January of 1993 she diagnosed me with Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as DID, Dissociative Identity Disorder).

This condition is characterized by an extreme degree of dissociation, in which a person separates or splits off parts of their personality to form other personalities or identities. A person may or may not be conscious of these personalities. This happens in childhood, to children up to about the age of 9 (after that age children have learned to develop other coping mechanisms), who experience repeated severe trauma and/or abuse - sexual, physical or emotional, usually by someone who is a close relative, neighbor, teacher or some other trusted adults(s).

The personalities, called alters, (people, parts, fragments) are present and conscious and undergo the abuse and experience the pain and fear that otherwise the child him or herself would have to experience in his or her situation. Usually another element which contributes to the development of DID is that the child does not have someone they can trust to tell about what's happening. (This is a reason given for the observation that although children in wartime situations do sometimes develop DID, it is much less common than in abused children, because in a war situation a child usually has others, children and adults, who share her or his situation and with whom he or she can share feelings. It is not hidden and secret in the way that abuse is.)

Creating this "system" of alters or other personalities is a wonderfully creative coping mechanism for a child, probably saving them from a real or psychic death. But it becomes difficult in adulthood, when the personalities, typically unconscious, forgotten or not recognized until then, begin to become conscious, along with the memories and feelings that they carry with them. And along with this, coping behaviors that got someone through tough times are no longer appropriate or effective.

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This page was last updated Tue Jan 25 13:18:55 2005 Pacific time