Owl's Nest

My Plural Journey

I've been through a lot in the realm of identity. I've been many people, one person, and everything in-between in the course of figuring myself out and working through my issues. It's been a long process of learning and relearning myself, and it's a process I don't think I'll ever finish. I don't want to finish it. I think that growth necessitates change, and that I will continue relearning myself for the rest of my life. If I never change, then I won't grow. It's a good thing in my eyes.

This whole process of figuring myself out starts back in the fall of 2015 or 2016, back when I was in high school. I had the habit of staying up late even then- I guess the insomnia started early. I usually spent my nights writing vaguely angsty poetry or thinking about weird philosophy questions. One night, the thought train turned to questions of self and mental structure, and it sparked off an unusual conversation in my head. At some point, the voices in that conversation realized they weren't each other, and that's where this whole journey began.

It was a very different situation then. I used to be many people inside the same brain. To those of you unfamiliar with the concept, that probably sounds weird, but consider that no one knows how anyone develops a self in the first place. Where most people had only developed one, I'd developed several. I thought this was normal. Everyone always talked about how part of them thought one thing and part of them thought another, or about how their work self was different from their home self, and how they talked to themselves sometimes. It seemed pretty standard to have multiple selves inside one's head. What I didn't realize is that it was a metaphor for most people and not a literal experience, let alone a constant one. I was never the only voice in my head, and my sense of self changed much more significantly than the norm. I also didn't realize that most people didn't struggle with dissociation. At that time, I didn't even know what dissociation was, but it was near-constant for me. I never felt real and grounded in the world.

That night in 2015/16, I started to realize that these experiences went far beyond what most people had going on inside their head. Three of my voices figured out that they were more than just voices- they were other people entirely. We speculated that they were somehow the soul of my twin, who I'd absorbed in the womb, or that they were imaginary friends that took on a life of their own. Ultimately, no one knew what was going on. Everyone did know that this was abnormal, and possibly even dangerous. None of us had a good understanding of how the psych system works, and we thought we'd be institutionalized if anyone knew. How else would people react if we told them, "I hear voices that can control my body sometimes while I watch?" Our saving grace was that a different person handled our daytime life, and they didn't seem to be aware of the rest of us or share much of our nighttime memory. It made it easy to bury the memory of the conversation and go back to the way things were.

Somehow, the secret of my plurality managed to stay buried until the summer of 2017. At that point, the person that handled daytime life came across the tulpamancy community and was intrigued by it. The idea of sharing a brain with someone was oddly fascinating to him, and there was a magnetic draw to the idea. It felt right somehow. After thinking about it for a while, he decided to try to make a tulpa. He stumbled upon a group of us while poking around inside in the process of trying, inadvertently breaking down a mental wall hiding everyone else from him. The secret was out.

He'd been so excited to share his head, but finding people already there terrified him. Suddenly there were many more people in his head than he had wanted, all acting without his input or consideration, and he felt out of control of his own mind and body. He felt like he'd gone crazy. For a while, he was convinced that he was schizophrenic, and that others were just delusions that could be forced out of existence by ignoring them and telling them that they weren't real. He destroyed the notes and records everyone else had made and did his best to shut them out. When schizophrenia failed as an excuse, he kept trying to find some sort of explanation that would allow him to get rid of the others- anything other than plurality. He was desperate to be alone in his head. Even after learning about DID, he refused to admit that it matched up with his experiences, especially given the link it had to trauma. Admitting he was multiple would mean admitting something had happened to make him that way. It was safer to assume the others were all him and that he was imagining it all.

He was convinced that if he ignored the others enough and looked for other explanations, they would go away and he would be normal again. This didn't work at all. Being ignored and insulted constantly didn't make anyone happy, and people began to lash out. Some of the others tried to be gentle and persuade him, but it was like talking to a wall. Others decided that if he was going to ignore them, then they were going to force him to pay attention by acting out. Everyone had gotten along decently well before they'd known the others existed, but the actions some people took ripped that fragile peace apart. People were angry at each other, and for good reason. The daytime person came across the exclusionary end of the DID community during this period, which only made things worse- people became paranoid that any positivity between them meant they were faking their own existence, and that suffering meant they were allowed to exist. This only encouraged the fighting. Through 2018, constant internal conflict made it difficult to function. Everyone experienced memory blackouts, near-constant dissociation, and struggled to get through the day.

Click to show hidden text. Content warning: self harm mention (no details).

It all culminated in someone hurting the body repeatedly in an attempt to punish everyone for behaving like this. They hated the others at the time, and they wanted them to suffer, so they made a point of hurting the body to exert some control. Everyone was absolutely horrified. This kind of intentional harm had never happened before, and it made it impossible to hide what was going on. Something had to change. Either this was dealt with, or we died. The person harming the body was locked inside of a room in my head in hopes of stopping them, but that turned out to be a bad idea. When they broke out of containment, they were even more upset and did as much mental damage as they could, putting everyone out of commission for almost a week. My brain was fried. It was enough to make even the daytime person confront the reality that the others existed and had to be worked with if he wanted to survive.

Somewhere in the midst of this, one of us finally came across the inclusive plural community. In contrast to the exclusionary end, everyone was welcome, even those that weren't constantly suffering or didn't see themselves as disordered. The idea that plurality wasn't inherently a bad thing was a core concept of this community, and it felt like my people had permission to exist in peace for the first time. It was being told that being plural didn't mean I was doomed to suffer for the rest of my life. It was hope.

Instead of fighting and stepping on each other, my people began trying to get along. It was a challenge at first, especially given how bad the situation was. Almost everyone was in pain and holding grudges. It took time to relearn how to get along, and even more time to start resolving the deeper issues at the core of conflicts. Eventually, it became easier to function as a team. The dynamics were imperfect, and there was still a lot of arguing, but it was a major improvement over how it had been before.

As things continued to improve, the structure of my mind began to change. I went from a multiple system of 19 people in February 2018 to a median system of 5 in December as people came closer together. The reduction in size didn't last very long, but it was a sign of progress. What followed was a rapid expansion of my system. Now that it was safe, more people began to come out of hiding in my head. Many of them had been around since early childhood and had been avoiding detection out of fear. With the improvement in internal relations, they felt safe enough to come out and ask for help.

Five people turned into dozens, and a simple situation became steadily more complicated. Many of these new people turned out to be simple and single-purpose, making them fragments. Others were part of subsystems. As more newcomers were encountered, people began to passively wonder what was going on. With all the complexity showing up, something felt off about the way our mind was modelled. There wasn't a good explanation for any of it.

Subsystems and fragments continued to show up through November of 2020, making it almost a year and a half of finding people. Some of these people would show up once and never again, making it hard to figure out what was happening. It didn't help that emotional issues were at a peak. It was getting hard to make it through the day again. Things came to a head when two critical mistakes were made one after the other, pushing everyone into full crisis. After pulling out of that, a third mistake sent everyone right back into survival mode. More and more people popped up in response to the stress, and some of the old-timers felt like they were going mad. Others struggled with feelings of shame because aspects of their existence were the subject of considerable online discourse, and even the safe experiences were uncommon enough to be isolating. Stress continued to build, and many people were questioning the way the system existed while simultaneously feeling that they weren't allowed to deviate from any norms in the plural community.

"We're a revolving door of bowling pins that get knocked over and changed out," one person wrote in early December, "but the pins are made of plasma and they blur together in a rotating mass that vaguely resembles the pins that make it up. Sometimes we name the 'pins' but it's hard to say where one starts and another ends sometimes. The best we can do is name patterns and hope it clears things up somewhat, but is it worth the effort? All the attempts to categorize something like that are exhausting and by the time we name all the pins, they've been changed out. ... We are a seething mass of bodies and voices seeking to understand ourselves and the task is so herculean that I doubt we ever can, and simultaneously I know we can in the same way one knows that they will return to the ground when they jump. ... The more I try to figure myself out, the less of me there seems to be."

At the end of November 2020, someone wrote a long piece about identity, fluidity, and fragmentation. The piece proposed that everyone was constructed from fragments and that no one in the system was separate in the way the plural community usually conceptualized plurality. The others saw it the next morning and plunged into full denial. The idea confronted their notions of personhood in a way they really didn't like the possible implications of. If they were just fragments in a trenchcoat, did that mean their personal identities meant nothing? Did it make them not people? What were they? What was going to happen to them? It was easier to shut the idea out and deny it in order to stay comfortable in the idea of being entirely separate people. The denial fortunately didn't stick around for more than a few weeks, and the first attempt to form a new model was on the 16th of December 2020. There's a journal entry from that period that sums it up well:

"We are certainly more than one person, but more in the sense of a dissonant hivemind than of distinct people... the consensus reached was that we would not be discrete or clearly divided into people, would not try to name ourselves for the benefit of others. We would be fluid and nonspecific, let ourselves exist without names or faces most of the time."

That idea didn't last long. It turned out to be too chaotic, and there was no real sense of identity. There was an attempt to create archetypes of self as a way to recognize patterns and traits without individually picking anyone out, and that gave everyone enough stability of identity to get by until January, at which point someone realized the new model was just as bad as the old one and decided to try another model. Some people were reconstructed out of the fragments to create some sense of self while still acknowledging the fragmentation within those people. At the same time, people were thinking about what had been going on before the shift in identity.

"I also think that our past experience of being separate people wasn't actually incorrect. We did experience ourselves that way- but then we experienced a gradual disintegration and a sudden reintegration under one collective identity rather than several. We're still separate under that one identity... but the center of the shared identity is different now. It's why we can communicate better- there are different walls now than there were before."

Thought on what words to use and how to conceptualize these experiences continued for some time. By February of 2021, there was the beginnings of an understanding: the system was made of fragments, and those fragments worked together to create people. There were fewer system members that identified as people as a result. We noticed that merges had happened between many of these people during the identity crisis of 2020, which wasn't asked for but wasn't a problem either. In a way, it made things easier. There was also the realization that the handful of fictional come-and-goers were soulbonds, which explained a lot. Somewhere during this time, the decision was made to leave Twitter, which relieved a lot of stress and created room to think about things more freely. There was no reason to fear harassment for it.

Over the course of the next year, everyone continued to explore and redefine their experiences by what felt most helpful. As time went on, people felt closer and closer to one another, and the boundaries between my people progressively broke down. In August or September of 2021, two people realized there was no clear distinction between them anymore, and they began to wonder what that meant. Over the next few months, noticing this became a pattern. In November, someone noted down in the offline journal that the kids had mostly merged into one of the adults, becoming primarily a regressed part of them, and that the identity boundaries between most of the others were very weak. Everyone worried about the potential loss of their identities.

If you're not plural yourself, being afraid or worried about merging together might seem weird to you. After all, being a unified person is what's presented as normal and healthy. The thing is, it's possible to be healthy and plural, and it's scary to face such a major change when you've been plural your whole life. It's even scarier if you didn't seek out that change. Imagine realizing that you're losing everything that makes you who you are to become part of someone else. There will be no individual you, just whoever you're part of. Losing who you are is a common theme in some psychological horror movies for a reason. The idea of losing your unique identity is terrifying.

Worrying about it didn't make a difference; like it or not, integration and fusion were happening. It took some time to come to terms with that, and the plural community's attitude towards integration didn't help matters, but becoming closer to one another slowly became something to celebrate instead of fear. The decision was made to start adapting to what was happening instead of fighting it. Whatever happened was going to happen no matter what was done about it. At that point, most people decided to be called parts, and the process of letting go of individual identities began. It was a gradual process that took several months, but it felt surprisingly natural and comfortable. By the end of 2021, there were only two distinct people left in the system, albeit relatively fragmented people struggling to relearn their mind. To make the adjustment easier, artificial separation was enforced, keeping those people apart until they could figure out what they wanted to do. It wasn't hard to maintain some degree of separation for a little while. After about a month of thought, those people decided to stop enforcing their separation and allow themselves to merge together in part or full. That merge began in earnest in January of 2022. It took several weeks before all of my parts began to share a self for the first time in their lives.

They were too afraid to embrace it yet. They hadn't come this close together before, even during the brief stint of medianhood in 2018, and there was a deep fear of losing their place in the plural community. They worried about not being "plural enough" despite not lining up with singlet experiences of self. This led them to think more about why they were afraid to interact as a unified "I" rather than a "we"; they started to wonder if it was more for the sake of others than themselves. They began to realize that while the plural community had helped them before, it was now starting to hold them back in some ways. The overwhelming emphasis on separation was getting in the way of growing together.

On January 15th of 2022, the decision was made to start trying to present in a more unified way while still prioritizing my parts over my whole self. A few days later, on the 19th, I realized I needed to emphasize the whole over the parts. I'd been thinking about how I'd made my plurality a cornerstone of my identity for so long, and whether that was a healthy thing for me to do. I noticed that I was more worried about whether I had a place in a community than about what was best for me as a person, and I realized that I needed to find my own way forward. By the end of the month, I was seeing myself more as a person who had parts than as the parts themselves.

The process of relearning myself in a more unified way continued through February. I still had parts and voices, but they were increasingly my voices. I didn't feel that I was more than one person anymore. I still found I didn't align with the experiences of those who had always been unified, as I was more aware of my parts and experienced them as having agency, but I felt I was closer to being a singular person than I was to being plural. I came up with the word "singtuple" to describe that middle zone. Median, a pre-existing word, wasn't a bad option either.

Through March, my parts continued to come closer together. They stopped feeling like they made their own decisions or spoke separately from me, and I felt like I was in full control of all of myself for the first time. The only hang-on was a single extra voice that sometimes showed up when I was stressed or lonely. Eventually, even that voice chose to fully integrate.

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