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Alice Jamieson: Multiple personality disorder

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 Alice Jamieson: Multiple personality disorder

This is a sort of strange but true situation, real people real lives, a scenario of a lady, Alice Jamieson who developed multiple personality disorder as the result of years of abuse by her father as reported in the Times by Penny Wark (11 05 09).

According to Alice Jamieson, meeting new people as a very stressful prospect (not her real name). More specifically that when particularly stressed, her alternative personality would emerge It is of little surprise to the writer that when she meets with Alice there is little evidence of a 40 year old person about to embark on a PhD. ‘In her place is a ten-year-old boy called JJ who hangs his head, dangles his arms and talks in a slow, high-pitched voice.’ according to Wark.

Wark follows the little boy to another room; the wooden letters on the door spell JJ’s Den, ‘“I can come here and be on my own,” he explains.

Sitting down and mindful of the situation and wary that she was talking to a 10 year old boy Wark comments on how good Alice’s book is. With the blink of an eye so to speak Alice is back, shakes Wark’s hand with no knowledge of what has just happened.

Moving on, a background will now be pertinent in order to have a better sense of understanding in relation to Alice. When Alice Jamieson was 24 she was told that she had multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition that is associated with abuse in childhood. At one point she had about 15 alternative personalities, many of them children with specific memories of the abuse that she suffered, largely at the hands of her father, although at times he sanctioned the involvement of other adults, too.

Indeed DID is both complex and elaborate as a mechanism enabling victims of abuse to cope with what has happened to them. The thought processes are if a bad experience is dealt with by a separate person, then good experiences — perhaps with the same adult to whom attachment is imperative — can be preserved.

Today I’m Alice is a fascinating detail of the strategies used inoder to survive two decades of horrific sexual, physical and emotional harm.

Indeed Wark stresses that this book is not comfortable reading but a valuable insight into a form of mental illness that is more pervasive than we estimate.

Moreover Work suggests that this is pertinent as health and social care professional’s debate how best to identify the abuse of children. It is estimated that nine out of ten abused children remain silent about their damaged past, even as adults.

It is at this point that the reading becomes decidedly more uncomfortable. Alice grew up with her parents in a big house in suburbia. Her father was a respected professional who enjoyed golf, and she had an older brother, though this was a family in which there was little communication. When she was six months old her father started to abuse her. Throughout her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood he raped her hundreds of times. “There was no perversion my father didn’t inflict on me,” she writes.

To Alice the child, this was all she knew and therefore it was normal. She told no one because her father said that no one would believe her, and as “Daddy’s little girl” she craved his attention. Yet by the time she was a teenager she was anorexic, numbing herself with alcohol, a compulsive runner, and had obsessive compulsive disorder. She also began to hear the voices of various characters who told her that she was useless and urged her to kill herself. She has since overdosed more than 100 times and the forearms she has cut repeatedly are patched up with 600 stitches. She has also suffered from drug addiction.

What is a startling reality is that Alice’s story is conveyed like that a curtain being pulled back. It has been suggested that Alice as a child was aware of disturbing dreams, equally and through a process of time she also became aware that these were repressed memories based on real events, this was her way of disassociation form the ongoing abuse.

Alice says, “Creating personas in my head was my way of coping,” Alice says. “They would take on board the abuse and I’d not remember what had happened. JJ is the main person who comes out. I think he represents the childhood that I lost. It’s important to have that ability to sit and play.”

JJ reappears a minute later. He giggles, asks my name again, then says: “I’m getting in the way. You’ve got questions to ask.” I will meet him five times.

Wark points out that the bigger questions need to be asked, ‘why her abuse was not picked up? Her mother and brother knew nothing about it until she told them as an adult, though at the age of 2 she had an anal fissure and as a small child she was repeatedly treated for cystitis in hospital. Part of her mission now is to ensure that all professionals who work with children recognise the signs.’

Alice goes on to state, Why it didn’t ring alarm bells with somebody at school, I don’t know. I was depressed at 14, 15. I’d fall asleep in lessons, yet nobody asked questions. When I was a teenager a child psychiatrist asked me outright: ‘Have you been abused?’ What are you meant to say when you’re living at home with your parents? You’re not going to say yes because the fear of God is put into you — no one will believe you.”

It is a known fact that in the seventies there was little consideration in relation to sexual abuse. For Alice this meant her father got away with it. So horrific that at twenty-one she confronted her father, his response was to rape her at knifepoint and beat her up so badly that she needed hospital treatment.

Finally in 1999 she did eventually report the abuse to the police, who investigated — but her father, who denies the allegations, was not prosecuted, largely because Alice’s mental health was poor at the time. The abuse has, however, been validated by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, which carried out a two-and-a-half-year investigation and awarded her more than £400,000. She also has a letter from her local police force confirming its belief that she has told the truth.

Much of her life has been lonely. Not knowing how to have a loving relationship, she avoided them. Her recovery has a lot to do with Alec, whom she met three years ago when he was a churchwarden. A jovial man in his sixties, he spends hours playing with JJ. “He was unconditional,” says Alice, “never judgmental. He didn’t say anything about belief or disbelief; he wasn’t fazed by what I said. If I hadn’t made that bond I’d be dead now.” The book has also been cathartic: “Almost more so than any therapy I’ve had, because I described what happened.”

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