Being Myselves

Original artwork by the Garden System

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“Nice to meet you, what’s your name?”

“Hi, I’m . . . uh . . . Le . . .I mean Ky . . .uh Tiffany.”

Cue the laughter and awkward glances thrown my way. Telling people your name isn’t supposed to be overly difficult to do. Everyone knows their name. Even my cat responds when his name is called. It’s not that I don’t know my legal name. It’s not that I don’t know my preferred name. It’s that I have too many!  Not everyone can grasp the difficulty of establishing a single name to use when meeting acquaintances when your pronoun you is plural.

There is no I in this body. Having dissociative identity disorder means having more than one identity sharing a single body, and each identity has their own preference for how they want to be addressed by others. Choosing just one name to use seems rather unfair to the rest of us in this body, and a consensus was reached for a collective name that means all of us, which has become what our close friends, fellow members of the DID community, and our social media followers know us as Garden System.

Yet, when walking around the grocery store, being addressed by such an unusual name garners more attention than we like. Starting a new activity, such as a new gym class, with “Hi, I’m Garden System,” initiates conversations and questions that we may not necessarily feel like answering or explaining, despite the fact that we are out about our diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder.

It is not a secret that we are a we in our professional circles as well as with our friends and family. Our heart still hurts when we think of the stories we have heard about others not being welcomed and even being ousted in the mental health professional community once someone caught wind of their diagnosis. Dissociative identity disorder still carries much stigma and is often the brunt of jokes, especially around having multiple names that one body goes by. We knew that if we were going to start graduate school and get into this field that there was no way we would sit quietly and listen to others talk about our diagnosis. There was no way we weren’t going to be our authentic selves and bring all of us to the table.

Our legal name is attached to our school, our assignments, and after graduation in December, it will be attached to our degree. It’s not really Tiffany’s degree because there is not a single identity in this body that goes by Tiffany. It’s a name our mother gave us at birth and that we have all learned to respond to, but there is no Tiffany. Our classmates and professors call us Tiffany because we haven’t shared any other names with them. Being out with lived experience of dissociative identity disorder does not include an all access pass to everyone’s names, even though we really want to be addressed as such. It creates some internal conflict.

Yet, as time progressed through the semesters and we came to know our cohort and professors on deeper levels than just acquaintances, we realized that being called Tiffany just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. All of us really wanted to be called Garden System. It wouldn’t matter who was fronting. It wouldn’t matter if we had switched. It was an all-inclusive name that acknowledged our multiplicity. 

A lot of people with dissociative identity disorder have a collective or system name that they go by or they choose to go by the host’s name. Some even use the + or & after their name to signify that they are more than one. We, however, don’t identify as having a host and have found trying to use just one of our many names to be ineffective. We switch a lot, despite being co-conscious, which can make it hard to keep up with who is out, even for ourselves. Since no one part of us uses the legal name, Tiffany was always a possibility to use to mean all of us, but no one inside seems particularly interested in using that name. Ideally, everyone just wants to be called their own name or to be called Garden System.

How would this be received in the professional community of mental health providers? Maybe we could dip our toes in during a training being led by someone else with a system of parts that we could trust, and that’s exactly what we decided to do at Dr. Jamie Marich’s Deluxe EMDR training. Legal names had to be up as we were on Zoom to ensure appropriate record-keeping, but preferred names were written in parentheses after and we happily typed in Garden System. How refreshing and validating it was to hear our true chosen name used naturally in conversation! It wasn’t weird. People just addressed us like any other person with a normal sounding name. We felt comfortable, seen, and validated.

A lot of work gets done around establishing safety and stabilization during trauma treatment. Choosing to disclose information about ourselves requires a process to ensure that we maintain our safety out in the world. Not everyone can feel safe enough to show up in a professional forum and use a name like Garden System. It is hard to know how accepted we would be and how would we respond to potential negative comments? Having faced numerous traumas from a young age, the idea of coming face to face with potential conflict in the professional world over our name was terrifying. Being in the space provided by ICM and Dr. Jamie Marich gave us the opportunity to stretch ourselves, face our fears, and boldly show up as Garden System. Will we show up in future professional trainings held elsewhere as Garden System? We haven’t decided that yet. What we do know is that we get to choose where we show up. It is how we decided on our graduate school. We weren’t going somewhere that had a problem with our diagnosis. Maybe we won’t attend or pay for training events that can’t hold space for all of us.

We are grateful to Dr. Jamie+ Marich for providing a space that is safe enough to be our authentic selves in a world where even singletons often have to mask and pretend in order to belong. We don’t have to pretend. We get to choose for ourselves. Not everyone with a system of parts or alters or other selves will choose the same path as us, and that is okay. Only yous can decide what is right for yourselves. We choose to be Seidi on Instagram. We choose to be Leanna on Facebook. We choose to be Garden System. 

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