Our Discovery Journey

Content warning for this article: self harm and suicide.

Late at night in 2015, two or three of us finally realized that it was not normal to have "other me's" in their head, and that they were at least somewhat distinct from one another. It had been a regular night of failing to fall asleep, with plenty of thought chatter to pass the time. The conversation inevitably turned philosophical. At some point, two of us were talking and recognized the other as a separate entity for the first time, kicking off a long process of discovering the rest of us. Our self-understanding has changed a lot over the years, and there's been a continuous process of relearning who we are.

Before 2015, we thought that constantly talking to others in your head and dissociating was the norm. Everyone talked about parts of self, being of two minds, arguing with themselves, having different selves in different places, being forgetful, and so on- things we interpreted as "everyone else is like this too." It certainly seemed that way from the outside. The people around us tended to change on a dime without clear explanation and acted extremely differently at different times. For a kid, it's not much of a leap to assume that other people have the same brainweirdness going on. It was easy to assume that these experiences were nothing more than unusually pronounced mood swings and a bad memory.

Somewhere in late 2015 or 2016, that excuse began to break down. We were starting to realize that this wasn't how most people experienced themselves, and that phrases like "I'm of two minds about this" were just figures of speech. When a late-night conversation led to the first realization that we were not alone in our head, we didn't know what to make of it. We struggled to form our own understanding: we'd absorbed our twin in the womb, so maybe the twin had stuck around as a brain sibling; or the others were weirdly independent imaginary friends; or it was all in our imagination; or any other sort of explanation we could come up with. We'd never heard of plurality or dissociative disorders, so there was no outside framework to go off of. It was confusing and scary to realize that this was not a typical experience. We worried that we'd end up in a psych ward if someone else found out. 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. They couldn't betray us if they didn't know. We resolved to keep our existence a secret from everyone, and eventually we became a secret even to ourselves.

The secret didn't last very long. In the summer of 2017, the person that handled our 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. He decided to try to make a tulpa and set about the beginnings of that process. About a week into his attempt, he stumbled upon a group of us while poking around inside and inadvertently broke down a mental wall separating him from us. 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 the rest of us were just delusions that could be forced out of existence by ignoring us and telling us we weren't real. He destroyed the notes and records we had and did his best to shut us out. When schizophrenia failed as an excuse, he kept grasping at straws and trying to find some sort of explanation that would allow him to get rid of us- anything other than plurality. He learned about DID and researched it as though it were a taboo, keeping it at arm's length and denying our existence all the while. He was desperate to be alone in his head.

We didn't disappear like he'd thought we would. We got louder. We were still free at night, but during the day we were yelled at and blocked out. It was deeply upsetting to be told that we didn't exist and be locked out of daytime life like that, especially after we'd just gotten access to it. Some of us took that time to lash out in an attempt to get the daytime person to stop treating us like this, which only widened the rift between us. We'd gotten along decently well before (albeit with constant insulting and internal abuse), but the actions some of us took and the strain of being told we didn't exist by someone inside our own head ripped that fragile peace apart. People were angry at each other, and for good reason. Some of us came across the exclusive DID community during this period, which only made things worse- those people became paranoid that any positivity between us meant we were faking it, and that suffering meant we were allowed to exist. This only encouraged the fighting. Through 2018, constant internal conflict made it difficult for us to function. We experienced memory blackouts, near-constant dissociation, and struggled to get through the day.

It all culminated in someone lashing out and hurting the body repeatedly in an attempt to punish everyone for behaving like this. They hated us at the time, and they wanted us to suffer, so they made a point of hurting us to exert some control. We were absolutely horrified. This kind of intentional harm had never happened before, and it made it impossible to hide what was going on; our own parents thought we were nuts even as they patched us up. We had to do something. Either we dealt with this, or we died. We locked the person that was hurting us away in a room inside of headspace and tried to forget they existed, which was a horrible idea. When they broke out of containment, they were even more upset at us and did as much mental damage as they could, putting us out of commission for almost a week. Our brain was fried. It was enough to make even the daytime person confront the reality that the rest of us existed and had to be worked with if we wanted to survive. Something had to change.

In the midst of this, we finally came across the inclusive plural community and were exposed to the idea that our existence wasn't inherently bad. We'd only seen the tulpamancy community and exclusionist DID community before, which were respectively not really applicable and outright harmful to us. The former wasn't our situation, and the latter taught us that plurality was inherently suffering with very little upside, that any differences from a textbook case were a sign that we were faking it. It painted a picture that we were either doomed to suffer or that we were horrible mockeries of people doomed to suffer, neither of which were true. When we came across the inclusive community, we saw a very different picture. There were people like us that were happy with their existence. We saw systems that supported each other, that did their best to be kind and accepting regardless of how their system worked, and it showed us that there was hope. We didn't have to hate each other or worry that we were unconsciously faking our own existence. We could just exist and work to support one another. We could learn to get along. It was eye-opening.

We started working on accepting ourselves and unpacking internal problems. It was a slow process given that we'd been hurting each other for quite some time by then, and we had to relearn old habits. Our first attempts were clumsy. We did our best with the resources we had, and we gradually made progress. Instead of lashing out or ignoring people for being dramatic, we tried to help them, and repairing damaged internal relationships became a priority. People were angry and hurt. They had a right to be upset about how they'd been treated, and getting their trust back was difficult. It took years for some of us to come around and work with each other, and there are still one or two holdouts that we're trying to get through to.

Through the process of working with each other, many of us merged together. We went from a multiple system of 19 in February 2018 to a median system of 5 in December. The small size didn't last long; as our internal environment became more supportive, more people began to show themselves to us. They'd been hiding all this time. It hadn't felt safe for them to be seen by the rest of us because we were hurting each other, but when we began working on improving our internal situation, they saw that they would be welcomed and supported. 2019 and 2020 were years of people and fragments trickling in as they felt comfortable enough to do so, and our headcount quickly rose. When 2020's pandemic hit, we were left with a lot of time to process things and work on ourselves, and even more people revealed themselves over the course of the year and were written down. "We've found at least five 'new' people this year alone, most of which are previously-hidden sysmates from our childhood," we wrote. Five people turned into dozens.

Our system size exploded as more and more of us began to come forward; we still have a little book full of names and information from this period. Eventually, it started to become clear that many of these newcomers were very limited and simple in identity and capability, and by April of 2019, we'd begun to categorize some of us as fragments. We'd also begun to uncover that many of our people were subsystems, further raising our headcount. As more of us were encountered, we began to passively wonder about our structure. Some of us started to question whether the typical notion of plurality as entirely separate people was truly right for us- parts of us would show up that challenged that model, and while we forced them to fit, it wasn't authentic to who they were.

By September of 2020, the first mentions of a fragment sea began to crop up. "They're many, yet one at the same time," we wrote about them. "A frothing mass of brainstuff that can somehow act as both singular and plural at the same time, that plural me and singular we. They're simultaneously one and many." This was a significant deviation from experiences of self we'd had before. Prior to this, everyone had been self-contained and singular, even within subsystems. This was something else. It was complicated, and messy, with a lot of overlap and crosstalk. We hadn't made contact with it before, but the sea would soon become a core part of our internal experiences, and later it would push us to change.

We continued to find subsystems through October and November. Emotional issues were at a peak, and we were struggling to get by. We made the mistake of telling our mom about us in an attempt to get help- she reacted well, but that later came back to bite us. We made another critical mistake halfway through the month that pushed us over the edge into full crisis mode for a week or two. After pulling out of that, we were pushed straight back into crisis a week later by a series of unpleasant events in our life. Several new people appeared during this period as a result of overwhelming stress. Some of us felt like we were going mad, given how fragments and people just kept appearing. Others were on edge because the perpetual online discourse we were exposed to left us feeling as though having so many new people was somehow wrong despite it being out of our control. Stress continued to build, and many of us were questioning the way we existed while simultaneously feeling that we weren't allowed to deviate from plural community norms lest we be told we were faking it for existing weirdly.

"We're a revolving door of bowling pins that get knocked over and changed out," we 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, one of us wrote a long piece about identity, fluidity, fragmentation, and a different notion of how separate we were; then they posted it to Dreamwidth. The piece proposed that we were all constructed from fragments and that none of us were solitary, separate people in the way the plural community usually conceptualized plurality. The rest of us saw it the next morning and plunged into full denial. The idea confronted our notions of personhood in a way we really didn't like the possible implications of- if we were just fragments in a trenchcoat, did that mean our personal identities meant nothing? Did it make us not people? What were we? What was going to happen to us? It was easier to shut that out and deny it in order to stay comfortable in the idea of being entirely separate, enduring people. The denial fortunately didn't stick around for more than a few weeks, and our first attempt to form a new understanding of ourselves was on the 16th of December.

"We are certainly more than one person," we wrote, "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 we lacked an identity within it at the time. We tried to create archetypes of self as a way to recognize patterns and traits without individually paring anyone out, and that gave us enough stability of identity to hold us together until January, at which point we realized we'd boxed ourselves in and decided to try another model. We decided that we would reconstruct some people out of the fragments to give us some sense of self while still acknowledging the fragmentation within us- in other words, we would create people out of our parts. Shortly after, the fragment sea called us out on suppressing the opinions of some of us, and we had a conversation on January 3rd amongst ourselves to work through the ongoing identity disagreements. Notably, one of us wrote something about changes in identity and integration:

"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 whether we wanted to be defined as people continued for some time. By February of 2021, we'd begun to settle into an understanding that was one of archetypes made up of aspects; functionally, people made of parts. There were much fewer of us that identified as people as a result. We noticed that merges had happened between many of us in the identity crisis of 2020, which wasn't asked for but wasn't a problem either. In a way, it made things easier. In March, we began to uncover a middle layer of people and fragments that would form to handle an issue and then dissipate once it was dealt with, explaining why some of us came and went. We redefined our remaining fictional come-and-goers as soulbonds, which felt much more accurate to our experiences with them. We also managed to quit Twitter at long last, which removed a lot of toxicity from our life and took away some significant fear of harassment.

Over the course of the next year, we continued to explore ourselves and redefine our experiences by what felt right to us. We began figuring out what was most helpful rather than what made the most sense to others, which let us make significant progress processing personal issues. As time went on, we felt closer and closer to one another, and the boundaries between our people progressively broke down. In August or September of 2021, two of us realized there was no clear distinction between them anymore, and we began to wonder what that meant. Over the next few months, noticing this became a pattern. In November, we noted down in our 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 rest of us were very weak. We worried about it.

We gradually realized that we had been integrating. 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. At the end of 2021, we began to publicly call ourselves median and accept that like it or not, we needed to adapt to what was happening. We were left with two people rather than the many we'd had before, and that was okay. We decided that for the time being, we would intentionally create separation between the two of us to make it easier to interact, but that otherwise we would allow whatever integration happened within those two selves.

At the very end of 2021, we began compiling records of our system from as far back as we could find them. We put these into a document and began looking for patterns. We noticed that we'd experienced the same thing three times: the gradual emergence of collective members over the course of a year or two, followed by a period of re-evaluating our structure and a wave of fusions. We began to wonder if this was a significant aspect of our structure but lacked any sort of proof to confirm this. If it was part of how we worked, it would explain why our headcount fluctuated so much over the years. We resolved to keep an eye out and see what happened.

Through January 2022, we continued to come closer together and began to share a self-identity for the first time. A feeling of an "I" with parts began to develop, but we were afraid to embrace it fully. We hadn't come this close together before. We worried about not being "plural enough" despite not lining up with singlet experiences of self. We were still many parts with autonomy, just operating as parts of a shared identity rather than our own people. Even Kaz began to shift towards being a part of that self, albeit a more elaborated one than the unnamed masses. There was some sadness with this, but also comfort in being closer. More than ever, we had each other. January 15th, 2022, we decided to start mixing up our language choices and using singular first-person pronouns more often when referring to the whole of us, and to openly be parts of a whole.

As of now, we're still in the process of perpetually rediscovering ourselves, improving internal relations, healing old wounds, and working on our problems. It's a long process and one that we're probably never going to finish, but that's okay. Life is a journey of growing and learning. What matters is that we keep trying to move ahead and become better than we were before.

Last updated January 15, 2022