Could you imagine what it would be like to suddenly realize that you have absolutely no idea what you’ve been doing? To be smack in the middle of something, and you don’t really know what that something is or why you’re doing it? People living with dissociative identity disorder (DID) experience this on a regular basis; indeed, life with DID can be full of confusion and absent memories. DID is a mental illness in which someone experiences disruption in his/her identity involving the presence of two or more distinct personality states. People switch from one to another involuntarily, and because they’re unaware of what an alternate identity is up to, coming back to awareness can be disorienting and frightening. Twenty-Four Shadows is a novel about Isaac Bittman, his wife Reese and son Dominic, and Isaac’s best friend Max. Isaac is newly diagnosed with DID (it can be surprisingly difficult to spot). In this scene, Isaac has suddenly realized that he’s had absolutely no idea what he has been doing. Here’s what it’s like for him:
He felt hands on his shoulders pulling him upright. What was happening? “No…” He trailed off in a fit of coughing. He thrashed against the hands, but he stopped resisting when he heard a kind and soothing voice. “Isaac. Sweetheart. It’s okay. It’s just Reese. I want you to breathe into this bag for me, okay? It will help.”
He looked at Reese as he coughed and wheezed and struggled to breathe.
“Look.” Reese held up the bag for him to see. “It’s one that Dominic decorated, and it is going to help you breathe.” Tentatively, he reached out with a shaking hand and took it from her. He placed it over his mouth. “That’s it, Isaac, hold it there and take a few breaths.” After several breaths, Reese gently pulled it away, then she put it back for another few. Gradually, his breathing returned to normal. He sat back on his heels and looked at Reese. Max and Elise joined them on the floor. He again started to shake his head. “Something’s not right. It’s not safe. I don’t think Marion will keep Dominic safe outside. She won’t protect him. Go get Dominic!” He started to chew on his thumbnail again.
“We will. Max and I will get him. But first we need to make sure you’re okay.”
“I don’t know if I am.” He paused and shook his head slowly. “I don’t think I am.” After another pause, he hung his head and whispered, “I’m not.”
“Oh, Isaac. We’re going to help you be okay. Max and I both.”
He looked at Reese. He looked at Max. He looked down at his lap. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he flinched, but he relaxed a little bit when he heard Max’s voice. He didn’t sound gruff. He sounded gentle and nice. “Yep. We’re here for you, buddy.”
He was overcome with a strong desire to hold Reese and just be held by her. He leaned toward her, and she took him in her arms and pulled him in. She stroked the back of his head as she rocked him slightly from side to side. He closed his eyes in relief.
He opened his eyes. Reese was embracing him and rubbing his hair. As much as he loved that, he was a bit confused. As if she sensed it, Reese pulled back. Keeping her hands on his shoulders, she studied him. Isaac watched her eyes narrow while she bit her lip in apparent concern. He followed her gaze when she looked over at Max. Isaac sat up straight and glanced at Reese, then at Max, then at Elise, then down at his lap. He was on the floor. They all were. Why? Maybe they were playing with Elise. He looked at the baby again. She was sitting there with the doughnut elephant in one fist and the other fist in her mouth. It didn’t seem that much was going on with her. For some reason, he didn’t want to look at the adults in the room, so he continued to stare at the baby.
“Isaac?” Reese asked quietly.
“Hmmm?” His gaze remained fixed on Elise.
“You seem a little confused right now.”
“Not really, no.
What would be confusing about this?” He made a sweeping gesture. He attempted to stand up, but winced when he braced himself with his arm.
“Hey. Let me help you up.” Max rose to his feet, then bent down and helped Isaac. He propped him against the island.
Isaac felt crushed under the weight of the silence in the room, but he didn’t know how to break it. He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know why they had been on the floor. He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know why he was soaking wet. He didn’t want to admit that he felt off. And he didn’t want to admit that the noise in his head was making it hard to think and to talk. He sighed.
Could you imagine what it would be like to suddenly realize that you have absolutely no idea what you’ve been doing? To be smack in the middle of something, and you don’t really know what that something is or why you’re doing it? Through Isaac in Twenty-Four Shadows, we get to imagine just that, to see what DID is like for real people. Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities.