Ramblings of an Ex-Multiple

My Plural Journey


Discovery

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 I plan to 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 started 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 from how my mind is structured now. 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. "A little voice inside my head" doesn't refer to independent voices with their own senses of self, let alone voices that take control over your body. 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. Everything felt fake and removed from me.

On that night years ago, 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 the twin that 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 if others found out about it. None of us had a good understanding of how the psych system worked, 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. They were blocked off from the folks having that late-night conversation; they didn't seem to be aware of the rest of us or remember what happened at night. It made it easy to go back to the way things were. It was too dangerous to know we were different at the time, so we forgot the conversation happened at all.

Somehow, that conversation managed to stay forgotten 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. After a week or two of effort, he stumbled into a group of people that already existed inside his head: the same people that had that late-night conversation a year or two before. The secret was out.

He'd been excited to share his head, but finding out that people were already in there terrified him. He hadn't created those people. He certainly hadn't taught them how to control his body. He went from feeling mostly normal one day to hearing voices and watching his body act out of his control the next. He felt like he'd gone crazy.

For a while, he was convinced that he was schizophrenic. After all, he was hearing voices inside his head. That's usually considered a hallmark of schizophrenia. He concluded that the other people in his head must be delusions, and therefore he needed to make them go away. If he didn't believe they existed, then they would stop existing. He decided that he needed to stop encouraging his belief in these experiences, so he destroyed the notes and records that the others had made and did his best to shut them out. Sometimes, he'd yell back and tell the others they didn't exist when they tried to reason with him.

The others didn't go away despite his best effort. Instead, they got louder and more intrusive. The more he tried to block the others out, the harder they worked to make sure he knew they existed. In hopes of figuring out how to fix what he thought was wrong with him, he started to research schizophrenia properly. To his dismay, it didn't fit his experiences at all. While the voices inside his head could count as hallucinations, he matched none of the other criteria for the condition. He had no disorganized speech or behavior. He had no negative symptoms. There had been no prodromal period, nor were there any fluctuations in his experiences. He'd even been wrong about the definition of delusions. Delusions are beliefs that can't be changed even when there's clear evidence that they're false, not an experience that goes away if you deny it. Delusions also don't have their own identities, behaviors, or memories. They're just beliefs.

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. 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 only imaginary.

Crisis

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 everyone took ripped that fragile peace apart. Folks were angry at each other, and for good reason.

Browsing the internet for solutions didn't help. While looking for advice and support, the others stumbled across the more discourse-y end of the DID community. That side of the community is notorious for claiming that any experiences that aren't pure suffering are fake. Folks became paranoid that any positivity between them meant they were faking their own existence. Getting along therefore implied that they were bad people for mocking a disorder. This only encouraged infighting. Through 2018, constant internal conflict made it difficult to function. Everyone experienced memory blackouts, near-constant dissociation, and struggled to get through the day.

It all culminated in someone hurting the body repeatedly in an attempt to scare the others. They felt like no one would listen to them or show them compassion, so they settled for negative attention and made a point of hurting the body to exert some control. Everyone else was absolutely horrified. This kind of intentional harm had never happened before, and it made it impossible to hide what was going on. They kept escalating the harm. Something had to change. Either this was dealt with, or we died. The person harming the body was locked inside of an imaginary room in hopes of stopping them from controlling the body. It worked for a little while, but then it went wrong. When they broke out of containment, they were even more upset and did as much mental damage as they could in one burst, believing that they would be locked up forever afterwards. It took weeks to recover from that. Things were bad. It was bad 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.

Change

Instead of fighting and stepping on each other, 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. 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 being 19 people in February 2018 to 5 people in December as folks came closer together. The reduction in size didn't last very long, but it was a sign of progress. 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 hiding out of fear. They'd thought they would be hurt because of all the infighting before. When folks began to get along, they felt safe enough to come out and ask for help.

Five people turned into dozens. Many of these new people turned out to be very simple; they weren't much more than a scrap of identity attached to a memory. Others had complex relationships with each other, making it hard to understand how my brain was structured. Things only got more complicated. As more newcomers were encountered, people began to wonder what was going on. Something felt off about the way my mind was modelled. There wasn't a good explanation for any of it.

Complexity

Newcomers continued to show up through November of 2020, making it almost a year and a half of finding people and memories. It was getting very crowded. It was also unclear how many of these people were real. Some of them would show up once, then never be seen again. Did they still exist? Who knows? It didn't help that emotional issues were at a peak thanks to life circumstances. It was getting hard to make it through the day again, and all that complexity only raised stress levels. There was a lot to make sense of at once.

Life only got harder, and two serious mistakes pushed us into a mental health crisis. After pulling out of that first crisis, a third mistake sent everyone right back into survival mode. No one could get a break. More and more people popped up in response to the stress, and some of the old-timers felt like they were going mad. Everything was too much.

At the same time, we felt like we weren't fully welcomed in the plural community anymore. Our experiences were changing in ways that didn't match community norms. Folks struggled with feelings of shame because they didn't belong anywhere. People just like them were harassed for existing by internet strangers, and even the safe experiences were uncommon enough to be isolating. Life stressors and community issues came together and kicked off an identity crisis.

"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 in my system wrote a long post about its structure. They claimed that everyone was made of tiny identity pieces that weren't fully separated from each other; they thought that these pieces could fall apart and form new people as needed. They didn't think we had fully persistent people anymore. Everyone was turtles all the way down. It was an earthshattering idea.

The others saw that post the next morning and plunged into full denial. They didn't like that it made them question what it meant to be a person when you share a brain. If they were just fragments in a trenchcoat, did that mean their identities meant nothing? Did it make them not people? It was easier to shut the idea out so they didn't have to think about it. It took a few weeks for them to really consider the idea, and they eventually decided to try to make a new model of how our mind worked. 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."

Integration

That idea didn't last long. It turns out that it's really hard to exist without an identity! Folks tried organizing themselves by archetypes instead, and that gave everyone enough stability of identity to get by until January. At that point, someone realized the new model was just as bad as the old one and decided to try making another model. Folks decided to see themselves as people again, but they made a point of paying attention to the identity pieces that made them up. That felt more right than before. 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."

People kept thinking about how they described themselves. By February of 2021, things began to make sense. Our people were made of parts. Those parts were the simple newcomers from before: identity scraps attached to memories. Understanding that gave us a much more accurate headcount! We'd been counting every single part before when we'd wanted to count people instead. We also 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. Having fewer people made it easier to work together.

Fusion

Everyone kept reworking their identities over the next year. As time went on, people felt closer and closer to one another. It became easier to talk to each other and trade control, and there were fewer and fewer memory gaps. The walls between people got thinner. In September of 2021, two people realized there was no clear distinction between them anymore. They couldn't tell each other apart! Over the next few months, noticing this became a pattern. It got harder and harder to know who was who. The walls between people were very weak. Everyone worried that they might lose themselves or merge together (fuse).

If you're not plural yourself, being afraid of fusing into one person might seem weird to you. After all, being a unified person is considered normal. Being multiple people is considered weird or unhealthy. It is possible to live a healthy life as multiple people, though, and it can be scary to think about giving up your own identity. When you've spent a lot of time as one of many people in a body, you get attached to being yourself. The thought of not being yourself anymore is terrifying. Fusion looks like you're being asked to stop being you. There will be no individual you, just whoever you're part of. Losing who you are is a horror trope for a reason.

Worrying about it didn't make a difference. Like it or not, fusion was happening. It took some time to come to terms with that, but folks decided to allow fusion to happen instead of fighting it. It was scary, but whatever happened was going to happen. It was better to be curious about where we'd end up. At that point, most people decided to be called parts, and the process of letting go of individual identities began. It took a long time, but it felt surprisingly natural and comfortable.

By the end of 2021, there were only two distinct people left in the system. It was looking like the entire system might fuse if they allowed it. Those people still weren't sure if they wanted to fuse, though. That would be a major change. They wanted to know they were ready before letting that happen. Those two people agreed to stay separate until they could figure out what they wanted to do. It wasn't hard to maintain some separation for a little while, especially since those two people were fairly different from each other. After about a month of thought, those people decided to allow themselves to fuse into a single person. It felt like the right time to take that step.

Singularity

That final merge began in earnest in January of 2022, and it took several weeks before all of my parts began to share a self for the first time in their lives. "We" became "I". While this happened, I thought a lot about how being a system had been a very important piece of my identity for all those years- the plural community had been my main way of finding people that understood me, if not my only way. My ability to find support had relied on my being plural. I wondered if that had been healthy for me. I'd been more worried about whether I had a place in that community than about what was best for me as a person, and I realized that I needed to find my own way forward. I needed to focus on my whole instead of my parts. It was time to leave the plural community behind.

The process of relearning myself 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 was more aware of my parts than the average person, but I felt I was closer to being a singular person than I was to being plural. 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.

As far as I can tell, my plural journey has ended. I'm one person with one voice and one identity. I don't switch, lose time, or experience thoughts that aren't my own. Everything in my mind is me. It's an enormous change from where I started out years ago.

I feel whole. All of my parts came together to create me, and they've given me so much strength in my life. I'm more confident and capable than any single part of me was on their own. I can be all of myself at once. It's been a long and difficult ride to get here, but I'm happy with where I've ended up. I'm ready for whatever life wants to throw my way.

To whoever happens to read this: Change is okay. Everyone on the planet changes as they grow, and that's a good thing. We wouldn't become better people if we didn't change over time. Don't lock yourselves into one shape. Let yourselves grow. See where life takes you.


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