Fourteen of whom are highly successful artists with distinct styles. It was -- difficult -- to accept.
After four months in Arbours, which felt to me like a fortnight at most, my money ran out. I'd hoped that by the time we reached that point my health care provider would have stepped in, but they had been utterly intransigent, which is a polite way of saying they were complete bastards about it. There was no way they would pay. After all the places they'd locked me up in against my will during my life, now here I was showing some interest, yet they wouldn't lift a finger.
At least my house was finally ready to move back into, after the insurance company had paid for some redecoration and repairs, and the fire brigade had given the all-clear. And finally I could get going with my weekly meetings with Valerie Sinason and monthly appointments with Dr. Hale at the Portman Clinic.
The meetings came and went very quickly, like so much of my life. I was sure Valerie said she worked in fifty-minute blocks, but I barely seemed to arrive before I was home again. The conversations while I was there seemed the weird end of bizarre, as well. I didn't really know what the therapists' agenda was, but I quickly got the feeling they were trying to nudge me down a particular path. I couldn't put my finger on it, so one day Valerie came out and said it.
According to her I shared my body with dozens of other people.
I waited for the punchline but it never came.
Even so, I think I still must have laughed in her face. Anyone would, if a so-called professional came out with nonsense like telling me there are other people who take control of my body sometimes.
If this is what your research is for, I'd pick another career!
Obviously I accused Valerie of being crazy, but I didn't exactly storm out of the room. People had always spun me the most fantastical lies. Every so often, like with the acid and the fire, the stories seemed to be based in truth. But this one was too ridiculous for words. Valerie was testing me somehow -- I just needed to work out how.
The next time I saw her she was pushing the same line about strangers sharing my body. I was disappointed when Dr. Hale started going down the crackpot road as well. According to him I had something called Dissociative Identity Disorder.
"I've been diagnosed with dissociation before," I said. "And that was wrong as well."
Dissociation is different from DID, he explained. Lots of people -- people you'd consider "normal" -- suffer from dissociation to varying degrees. People who block out pain or bad memories by forgetting or compartmentalising their problems are dissociative.
"What you have is far more extreme," he said. "Your dissociation is so great you actually have different personalities living inside one body. Your body."
It was too ridiculous for words. Yet I couldn't just walk away. I owed it to Dr. Hale to listen, even if I couldn't see the point.
"You're telling me there's someone watching me when I go to the bathroom?"
My old experiences of Warlingham left deep scars.
"It doesn't work like that."
"No, it's not like that," Dr Hale said. "You are not here all the time. Other people take control of your body. They have their own separate lives, just as you do."
Ridiculous as it all sounded, I couldn't help asking questions.
"So where do I go then?"
He shrugged. "It's as if you go to sleep."
"Why don't I fall over then?"
"Because someone else is awake and keeping the body going."
We went round in circles like that for ages every time I saw him. Sometimes I played the game. On other occasions I wished he'd call it a day.
Seriously, man, change the record!
I don't know what he expected me to say. "Oh yes, I get it, I'm just a figment of my body's imagination. I don't really exist!" But I didn't mind. I'd been accused of anorexia, bulimia, depression, attempted suicide, schizophrenia and so many other things I couldn't remember, and I'd managed to prove all those wrong. So what difference did it make if he accused me of having multiple personalities as well? It was just another name.
If they keep this up, I'm going to pull out of the sessions. Deal or no deal.
But I didn't. I don't know if I was intrigued or amused or too offended to quit, but something made me keep returning to the Portman.
Despite his wild claims, I got the impression that Dr. Hale was worried about me somehow. Perhaps that's why I kept going back.
It was no different with Valerie. It didn't matter how long passed between sessions -- and sometimes it did seem like ages between our meetings -- we would always come back to the same sorts of circular conversations:
"How did you get here?"
"Through the door. How did you get here?"
Whatever the provocation, Valerie never rose to the bait.
"Do you remember coming through the door?"
That's a good one.
"No I don't. But who remembers boring details like that?"
"Okay, can you tell me what you did last night?"
"It's a bit fuzzy."
Valerie gave that smile that told me absolutely nothing.
"It's because you weren't around last night, were you?" she suggested.
Not this again.
"No, I was probably too drunk. Do you remember everything when you've been drinking?"
"You blame drinking for everything."
"I drink a lot."
"Do you? Because I don't think you do."
That was interesting. I'd been thinking for ages that I didn't really drink as much as I thought. But how else, then, could I explain the gaps in my memory?
And as for her other theory ...
According to Valerie's diary I attended her weekly clinic for just shy of two years. According to my memory, though, it was more like twenty or so sessions. No more than that. Predictably, Dr. Hale tried to blame the discrepancy on my not being around all the time.
"Obviously I wasn't around or I'd have made the meeting," I said. He'd have to be quicker than that to get one by me.
Annoying as the pair of them were sometimes, the day came after two years when Valerie announced their research project was drawing to an end. In other words, funding for my sessions was about to be withdrawn. Both she and Dr. Hale agreed it was not right for me to have no ongoing treatment, so Dr. Hale and the Contracts Manager wrote to my local Primary Care Trust.
Would the authorities listen?
I couldn't escape the irony that after years of trying to escape from the system, here I was now desperate to get a finger-hold back into it. The difference was, I was driving this treatment. This time I had asked for help.
So why wouldn't they give it to me?
Arbours put me in touch with a lawyer who said he would take my case to the authorities and paint a picture of me as someone totally unfit to live unshackled, someone who would benefit from the help of a trauma therapist recommended by the Tavistock and Portman -- at the council's cost. This wasn't the worst lie that had ever been told about me and, I figured, as long as it got what I wanted, it was okay.
I thought we were making headway. I really did. Big organizations like councils are always thrown when you play them at their own game. By bringing in a lawyer I was forcing them to show their hand. They didn't like it.
After several months of negotiations we had almost solved it. Then my lawyer rang me one day to say he was resigning from the case.
I was distraught. "What on Earth for? We're so close! Is it the money? I can pay you more, I'll find it somehow."
There was a pause.
"It's nothing to do with money."
"Then what is it?"
What would make him abandon me so cruelly after such a long fight together?
"Kim, it's my professional opinion that if we continue to portray you as unstable then it will harm any hope you have of winning your other case."
"What other case?" Another pause.
"Winning your daughter back."
This post is an excerpt from Kim Noble's All of Me: My Incredible Story of How I Learned to Live With the Many Personalities Sharing My Body.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.