S.M. Scaife

Writing with Dissociative Identity Disorder

writer musician teacher advocate


Mental Health

An Important Note About Dissociation

Dissociative experiences are common and are not necessarily symptomatic of having a dissociative disorder. An often-cited example of normal dissociation involves driving a car and arriving at a destination without memory of traveling along the route.

However, dissociation can also be symptomatic of a dissociative disorder. If you believe that dissociation is happening because you’ve had an extremely troubling experience or you have a mental health disorder, you may need to seek professional help.

Dissociation is a psychological process often found in people seeking mental health treatment and if you have any concerns, I highly recommend contacting a skilled therapist. Note that clinicians require skillful clinical approaches to help build confidence in a person’s ability to tolerate their feelings, learn, and grow as a person. Not all therapists have the training and experience required.

If you would like to find a therapist with specialist training in dissociative disorders, the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) can help you locate one:

Writing with a Dissociative Disorder

We all have different parts of ourselves – daughter, mother, worker, cook, athlete – and we use these parts to provide a rich source of literary inspiration. Communicating with parts of ourselves is normal and enriching, but can be challenging too. Writing with a dissociative disorder further complicates the experience, bringing both positive and negative influences over which words make the page. 

The positive: sometimes I wake my computer to find a chunk of writing I have no memory or knowledge of typing. These segments typically employ a voice very different from the one I typically use. Sometimes this is exciting – particularly when the segments are well-written and usable. At other times I’ve found segments so fragmented and confusing that I’ve deleted them, or found paragraphs that mention a memory I don’t know to be true.

The negative: it’s not uncommon for me to wake my computer intending to work on something I’m excited about, only to find my prior work deleted and gone. This is infuriation – obviously!

After several months of playing tug-of-war with my story, I employed an editor/coach to help me find a way to structure myself and my work. Margaret Kingsbury has been my editor, coach, friend and ear throughout the process. This project could never have been accomplished without her support and guidance.

Background Information About the Novel

The novel Moscova’s Child begins prior to Maria – the protagonist’s diagnosis, during a time when she believed her experiences to be no different to anybody else’s. Maria had no knowledge of dissociative disorders and no expectation that her ability to compensate would begin to unravel. Sure, she knew there was an inside world, but both she and I grew up knowing that nobody talked about it. She certainly didn’t talk about the ‘imaginary’ people who lived within her head, or about the voices she heard and the conversations she had. Had either of us known the extent of our dissociative inside worlds, we may not have taken flying lessons. Note that this is an autobiographical novel and that while our personal experiences are written as accurately as possible, the characters and storyline differ. I took this approach for several reasons, but mostly to offer myself some distance and to make Maria’s experiences clearer for the reader.

Flying with a Dissociative Disorder

The first question a reader might ask after reading Moscova’s Child is: how did the I manage to fly while switching between parts of myself? 

My answer is that I didn’t know I had a dissociative disorder. I just thought I had extreme mood swings, with one mood bringing a sense of confidence and an intense love for the skies, and another mood bringing a conflicting sense of anxiety and a near-crippling terror of the air beneath the plane and the ground. That these emotions could fluctuate so quickly and while airborne didn’t strike me as unusual or concerning. 

Further questions might involve questioning the safety, legality and wiseness of flying with a dissociative disorder. Her answers are:

  1. Safety: 

I was thirty when I started flying and by then, I’d learned to compensate for the internal switching I experienced. Since learning about my dissociation, I have not flown though I continue to drive. Even while I remain confident I could fly, I elected to to take the risk, feeling the need to make better internal communication my priority. I continue to work on stability with my therapist and hope a day will come when I feel able to return to the skies. 

  1. Legality: 

While mental healthy disorders don’t prevent a pilot from flying, there are certain medications that are disallowed by aviation authorities.

  1. Wiseness: 

Whether flying with a dissociative disorder is wise would depend on the extent of a pilot’s dissociation and level of stability. To be diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, a person needs their dissociative experiences to cause distress. If this distress is evident, it’s my opinion that the person doesn’t need to be taking an airplane into the skies. This may change once a person reaches a level of integration and stability, though I would recommend any pilot, or pilot-in-training, to talk to an expert.

How I came to Live and Work in Cyprus

I was sipping tea in a fancy cafe not long after the failure of my first marriage when an advert seeking a deputy headteacher for a school on Royal Air Force Akrotiri, Cyprus, caught my eye. I jumped up from my seat and ran home to write and submit my application. After making it through the first round of interviews in London, I flew with two other candidates to Cyprus, and after a week-long series of trials and interviews in Cyprus, the head of Cyprus schools offered me the job. I dropped my sandwich and accepted.

Where are the British Armed Forces in Cyprus?

Cyprus is situated in the saltiest part of the Mediterranean Sea, near the eastern countries of Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Greece lies to its west, Turkey to its north, and Egypt to its south. Cyprus’ location has made it a political hotspot throughout history, which explains why the British armed forces have maintained several bases on the island.

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