The Feathers are back again with another podcast by, for and about people who are multiple — many minds in one body. This time, it’s body mismatches — when the you YOU know you are, isn’t at all like the body you reside in.
Also, how the daily life of a singlet compare with the daily life of a plural system. Next, is there such a thing as a spectrum of multiplicity, in the sense that there is an autistic spectrum? The second half of the podcast is devoted to an interview with the Nsashaell system, who help to run the Plurality Resources website at http://www.pluralityresource.org. Join their forum and share your views. As always your feedback is welcome at the Plural Activism discussion group, http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Plural_Activism/info!
Support us through our Plural Pride store at http://www.cafepress.com/plural_pride.
The transcript follows below.
Allie: You’re listening to Multiplicity 101, an educational podcast of Plural Activism, a group devoted to dispelling myths about multiplicity and plurality. These terms refer to the concept of more than one mind in a body.
Allie: Your hosts today are Allie (that’s me) and Annie from the Feathers system.
Annie: We’re always happy to hear from you and answer your questions. Please feel free to email us at email@example.com. We’ll try to answer questions in a later podcast.
Allie: This is episode 7 of the podcast, and I’m finally joining the show.
Annie: And we’re glad to have you!
Allie: Thank you! The funny thing is, we’re actually recording before #6 is released. We’ve been wondering, surprisingly, if we should actually release these more often.
Annie: Yeah. And the idea we came up with is maybe, for months we have time for more than one, we just make one that has a lot of basics info, talky stuff, no interview. For now, though, I think we’ll just try and stay ahead in case something comes up.
Allie: Yeah… and I’m pleased to be able to be on, too!
Annie: Glad you’re here!
Allie: Let’s get started!
Annie: As always, with this stuff, we want to emphasise that this is just our take on it, this is just one perspective. If you want to learn more about it, you should definitely look around on web sites or talk to other people, too.
Annie: So, first up on the 101 topics today, are body mismatches. This is when a member of a plural system doesn’t match the shared body in some way. It’s almost more of a 201 topic, but we’ll try to keep it easy.
Allie: And this is pretty common, actually. Neither of us look anything like the body we share.
Annie: Well, we look mostly human anyway, but looks can be deceiving…
Allie: I think the wings might be a giveaway.
Annie: They’re not always there.
Allie: Nope. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, I think.
Annie: So what all kinds of mismatches are there? An obvious one is gender. It’s common to have people of all different genders represented in a system. Sometimes, if they don’t match the body’s gender, they will identify as trans. Others don’t.
Allie: Mmhmm. And what I was talking about before, that some don’t identify as human, either. That could mean a lot of things. I see myself as fae, a fairy. The mythology kind, not the Tinkerbelle kind.
Annie: Well, sometimes the Tinkerbelle kind, too. <laugh>
Allie: <laugh> Okay, yeah, I bet she can dance.
Annie: I see myself as a celestial, or perhaps an angel of “the universe”, like when people say “the universe wants me to blah”. I’m the agent of your blah.
Allie: Heh. So yeah, people have different ways of coping for being in a body that doesn’t match their mental image.
Annie: For gender, they might change their presentation depending on who’s in front, or even decide as a group to transition the body.
Allie: Yeah, and for species, you can’t exactly transition, but there are little things you can do. Like for one of us, maybe we’d wear a wing pendant.
Annie: There are other mismatches, too. Ethnicity, age, height, hair colour, eye colour…
Allie: …fashion, accent, voice…
Annie: Some of those are easier to work past than others. Different people might have a different wardrobe. There are hair dyes and hair extensions, and coloured contacts.
Allie: And some people we know have their own accent.
Annie: Yeah, some people. Dunno who that would be. But anyway! It’s a theme we pick on over and over in this podcast, but if you’ve met five systems…
Allie: …you’ve met five kinds of body match or mismatch.
Annie: Everyone’s different!
Aisling: Aisling here! There’s a post we really liked from the Plurality Resource Forum by Carnation of Flower Kingdom, about differences between singlet and plural life. And we’ve dramatised it here with the permission of its author. Of course this is not every system’s experience, but it seems to be a common one for systems who switch often.
Aisling: I think the biggest daily life difference, depending on how a system works with switching and etc, is usually time management and the negotiation related to it.
Aisling: For example, a singlet’s day may be: get up, have some coffee and breakfast, go to work, do some shopping on the way home for dinner, make dinner, watch a few episodes of a show they’re catching up on, go to sleep when they want.
Aisling: A system’s daily life can be a little more confusing.
Aisling: Wake up– who’s out? Do they even like coffee? They do, so they start making it and–
Annie: WAIT, can we have it with more creamer–
Allie: NO, I hate creamer–
Aisling: Quick vote–
Allie: Okay fine creamer–
Aisling: And then turn to eat breakfast–
Aisling: Quick discussion over what to have–
Aisling: Get to work–
Annie: Ugh, we’re restocking, who wants to take over from me–
Allie: Ugh now we’re doing customer service, quick get someone with people skills out here–
Aisling: Then they get off work–
Annie: Do we haaaave to go to the store, I want to go play my new game–
Aisling: Nope, we need dinner–
Annie: Wait, what should we eat for dinner–
Aisling: Okay, dinner’s negotiated, everyone near the front pick your favourite treat WAIT NEVER MIND THIS IS TOO EXPENSIVE–
Aisling: Then they go home and–
Allie: Okay I did that restocking so I get to watch my show–
Annie: But what about MY new game I haven’t gotten to play it too much and I did the customer service–
Aisling: Quick negotiation–
Aisling: Wait, someone needs to make dinner–
Aisling: The person who makes dinner asks for some time to take a fancy bath in exchange–
Aisling: The fancy bath is had, the show is watched–
Annie: Wait, I never got to do my game, just a liiiiittle bit–
Aisling: They stay up a couple hours too late and still feel like no one had enough time before they go to bed.
Annie: Speaking of plurality versus singlethood, I thought it might be good to talk about plurality as a spectrum. Though it’s a bit less of a spectrum, and more of a sort of wibbly-wobbly ball of plural-wural… stuff.
Allie: That got away from you, didn’t it?
Annie: Yeah, it got away from me… But anyway, there are all kinds of places on this spectrum. And there’s more to it than we’re going to talk about today. But let’s start with the end that most people are most familiar with.
Annie: Yep. You want to take this one?
Allie: Okay. Well, “singlet”, or sometimes “singular”, refers to someone who is not plural. We talked a little bit about this a couple of podcasts ago. Things get more complicated from there.
Annie: Of course, just like in the GLBT world, there is a “Q” for questioning. That’s like, you’re wondering if you’re alone in there, and you’ve started looking at some plurality sites or something.
Allie: And I’d encourage people to look at WikiPlural or Astraea’s web, which is a really common starting place.
Annie: Yeah, good thought. We’ll put those links in the show notes. Median systems are a system where all the members are basically one person, with multiple facets. As I’ve heard it described, “We are all Annie”.
Allie: Mmhmm. And there’s separate people living together in a system, which is often called “multiple”.
Annie: That’s like us.
Allie: Yeah. There are some other axes, too. Like some systems have an origin in trauma. Others seem to have been born that way.
Annie: Related to that, there is a term in the psychiatric world, Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID. It’s a word doctors use to describe plurality, often in the context of a trauma origin system. But that’s its whole own topic we’ll have to cover some other time.
Annie: With all these variations out there, there’s a fair amount of divisiveness in the community. But I like to think we share an important goal, which is finding peace within the larger society, and better treatment for all of us.
Allie: However we got here, here we are.
Annie: Yeah… it goes back to the mission statement we chose for Plural Activism a little while back. You want to read this?
“Plural Activism will bring public awareness to the fact that multiples, no matter their origin, are able to live healthy, successful lives without integration.
We aim to change the narrative about this topic from one of illness and fear to an acceptance that being plural is another way of being, another way of living our lives. We are your friends, your family, your co-workers, that person you pass on the street; and we deserve to live as authentically and openly ourselves as anyone else.
Plural Activism considers diversity to be a matter of strength, and we welcome all viewpoints and ideas that work toward these goals, whether from plural systems or from our allies. We wish to learn from those who have tread these paths before, and we plan to forge ahead on new ones.”
Annie: If you’d like to submit your own suggestions for this section of a future podcast, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you’ve heard a term that you don’t understand and would like to hear more about it, feel free to do the same.
Annie: We have with us here today, the Nsashaell system. And can you give us a quick introduction to yourselves?
Shawn: Umm, this is Shawn, I’m from Nsashaell system. And we decided that for this podcast we’re going to have different people answer every question. So that should be kind of fun to have everyone’s different voices answering. An introduction to our system would be that we are twenty– twenty people at the moment. We’re almost evenly split male and female, plus we have a couple of non-binary people. We are extremely co-conscious, and have been for our entire lives. So we have very easy, smooth communication with each other in our mind, and we’re always aware of each other’s presences. We communicate through thinking at each other, and our thoughts have different voices and colours, and sort of elemental flavours, and that’s how we tell each other apart. We don’t have any core to our system, and none of us is a single owner of the body. We don’t have a central person, in other words. We consider ourselves to be equals and have equal ownership over our life. We do have one subsystem, and the only reason they’re really separated from the rest of the system is because, in our headspace, we can only have one of them in there at a time. And the rest of them will go into sort of a stasis. So, that’s probably the only sort of quirky thing. In our minds, anyway. <chuckle> But we consider even them, each one of them, and each of the rest of us, to be separate individuals, with our own wants, needs, talents, anti-talents, opinions, and different world views, and belief systems. So, yeah.
Annie: So, do you have an inner or other world? Can you talk about that?
Lila: Hi, this is Lila.
Lila: Umm… So, I’m supposed to talk about our inner world. And, umm, basically, it’s like, a really cool place we can go in our head. And the only people who can change it are Shawn and Susarin. But it’s really cool, ’cause we worked on it a lot, and like anytime someone wants something in there, they can like, have it added. And so it’s really, really swanky. ‘Cause we have… the middle of it is a castle. And it has three floors and two towers, and a library tower. And we have a barn. And we have… we have a really fancy garden with paths in it, and pretty stuff, and like… Each of us has a house in there somewhere, and my house is a little mini house with a cactus garden. And we have a big forest. It’s like really big and takes up a lot of the headspace, and a lot of people live in there, and there’s animals… and places to walk in… and standing stones… and it’s cool. And then the other part, the last part of the headspace, is a prairie, and it has really pretty fields with grasses and rabbits, and other stuff. And… and there’s a big lake. So yeah. That’s what our headspace is like.
Annie: That sounds pretty cool. <laugh>
Lila: Yeah, I like it. <giggle>
Annie: Okay, so– what’s your relationship to your body? How do you view it? Any good tattoos?
Arion: Hey, what’s up, this is Arion. So yeah, like… we don’t… I think like what Shawn said earlier, we’re not– we don’t really consider our body to be who we are. Who we are and what our body is are sort of separate from each other. It’s more like a vessel or like a thing that we, like, control. So like, we like to use the whole car analogy, like, we’re a bunch of roommates who share the same car. And basically, that means that, it’s like, you just sort of have to like divide up who gets to use it when, and stuff like that. It’s not like… we don’t consider the body to be us. But it’s like, it’s not just, like, any car, it’s like a car we really love and care about. So like, we take really good care of our body, and try really hard to like… eat right, and keep it healthy, which, by the way, is really f’ing hard to do, because… this thing is like, so freaking picky. Like… it has a ton of food allergies, it’s like super sensitive to temperatures, and like weather, and like all this other s– uhh, sorry, I’m trying not to curse. <laugh> It’s not working very well, but I’m trying! It’s just, like, it’s a pain, it’s a pain in the neck, like, our body is really hard to deal with. But we do as best we can, because we know that we have to keep it physically good, and, like, you know, we try to take care of it the best we can.
Arion: As for tattoos, basically, we have this rule where, like, anyone in the system can have one tattoo, if they want it. But like, basically, like, more than half of us don’t even want a tattoo, but, there’s still enough people who want them that we’re kinda covered in tattoos at this point, and probably just going to continue to get covered in them. <chuckle> So… basically, the rule is that it has to have at least, like, three different layers of meaning for you. So you can’t, like, like if Quille wants to get like a Hello Kitty tattoo just because she’s into Hello Kitty for this particular six months, then that’s not allowed. <laugh> It has to be, like, you know, a deep personal thing… like the one I have is a sun symbol that I’ve had since I was 14 years old, to represent myself. So it’s like… it has like meaning on several levels, and is, like, you know, something I’ve wanted for a long time. ‘Cause it’s like, its’ going to be permanent, so you have to like… put thought into it. So yeah, like, that’s kinda like the main thing is, we try to keep it regulated so it’s not like people getting random, like, My Little Pony stuff or something. Like, it’s that, whatever fad of the moment someone has doesn’t end up inked on our body that we have to share. So, it’s kinda like, we sort of see it as, like, taking what’s inside and putting it outside, where more people can sort of see it. And it gives us, like, self confidence, to know that when people look at our body, they see something about us now, which they didn’t before. We got tattoos, so, yeah, I guess that’s like the main thing about that question. I didn’t even curse that much, ha ha!
Annie: <laugh> Yes, you did very good. I don’t think we– we don’t have any tattoos, so that’s kind of interesting to hear about.
Arion: Yeah, it’s like, it took a while for me to convince them, ’cause I wanted one since I was 14. <laugh> But, uhh.. and we got our first one, I guess I should clarify, at the age of… 27? So, I had to wait a while. <laugh> Had to make sure we wanted them, you know?
Annie: Okay, so, how do you split up your day? How do the logistics of your system work out?
Erif: Hello, this is Erif answering this question about schedules and plans and things, ’cause I’m into that. Basically, the way we divide up our time, it’s no longer possible for us to front every single day, because there’s twenty of us now, so that would be basically impossible if anyone want more than like five minutes of time. So, instead, what we’ve done is that we’ve kind of split up into different teams that are responsible for different areas of our life. So, for example, for our classes, we’ll have teams of two that do each class so that there’s one person and someone with a backup. Usually it ends up split between someone does the homework, and someone else goes to the actual class, or does the actual class activities. Or sometimes it’ll be split up between reading and writing papers, or something like that.
Erif: Anyway, the class team, therefore, has probably the largest number of people to accommodate our classes. We have an errands team, people who drive, and go and grocery shop, or do whatever. That sort of thing. Or buy our clothes, so forth. We have a house chores team, people who clean and do the laundry, feed the dogs, take the dogs on walks. We have a driving team, so if we need to get somewhere, farther away, or we’re doing a road trip or something, or if we’re just running errands, sometimes those people will come out and take care of that. And then a cooking team, because we cook all of our own food. I think Arion mentioned that we have a bunch of food allergies, so we spend a lot of time cooking, and it has its own team.
Erif: So basically, the point is that, in the beginning of the day, we’ll sort of get up in the morning, and we’ll have a list of things that have to happen that day. And then we’ll sort of divide it up to make sure we know who’s gonna do what. And, at the very least, which team is responsible for which activity. And then the team members decide among themselves who is going to come out that day. And you would think that, without some sort of careful regulation, we would end up with it being unfair, and more people getting– some people getting more time than others. But whenever we’ve tested it out, by writing out every day who fronted, at the end of the day, and then comparing it and looking at everything, we find that everyone gets to front about twice a week, and it just sort of works itself out, which is kind of interesting. I think because, people who haven’t been fronting, if they want to front, will make an effort, you know, within themselves, to front without it being some sort of centralised decision of some kind. If that makes sense.
Erif: ‘Cause I think there’s sort of a misconception about multiple systems that there’s some kind of a centralised awareness that is basically keeping everything organised, like you, sort of like this idea that you have to keep track of everything in order for it to work out. And we find that usually, if we leave things up to everyone as a group, they sort of work themselves out, because each individual person is trying, and so there doesn’t have to be, like, one central organisational force. If that makes sense. I’m getting off track, but I think that I answered the question.
Annie: No, no, that’s good. Do you feel like your system has more of a metaphysical origin, or more of a psychological origin, or something else?
Susarin: Hello, this is Susarin. Basically, we are completely and utterly divided on that topic, as to the answer to that question. We have about half of us who believe in the one side of things, and half who believe in the other side. And our policy is to let each other be, and allow each other to believe what we will. We have quite a few people who believe that, perhaps, we had some sort of a predisposition to multiplicity, and therefore we just developed it as a child, just based on our environment, which I should mention, did not include any sort of trauma of any kind. But perhaps social forces of some kind have shaped us into adopting this kind of a structure in our minds. And there are people– quite a few people who believe that angle, and then there are other people, like me for example, who believe that we are spirits, who have been placed in the body before birth. Sometimes– some of us believe that we have appeared during our lifetime, and have not been born in the body. And it’s sort of up to each person to decide what they believe about themselves. But, at any rate, some of us believe that we– you could say that we have multiple souls, and that is why we manifest as being a multiple system. But like I said, it’s very much debated between the two sides, and I think we’re all content saying that our origins, whatever someone’s origin theory is, it is really up to that particular person.
Annie voiceover: Before we go on to this next section, we just wanted to give our listeners a warning that it talks about some sensitive topics, including suicidal thoughts, eating issues, and doctor abuse.
Annie: How did you discover your plurality/multiplicity? And I guess I don’t know which word you guys use.
Niara: Hello, this is Niara. You can call me Nia for short. I would say we use both words, actually, to describe ourselves. We think of plurality as sort of the larger term, and multiplicity as the more specific term, and so we sort of use them both to describe ourselves. Basically, there’s never been a time that we believe we weren’t plural or multiple, there wasn’t more than one of us in our head. And even as a child, we experienced many plural type things, like switching, we have memories of switching from very early on. We used to talk to each other, play with each other, and so forth, as children. But because it’s okay for children to have an imagination like that, it was okay for us to be that way, and so we had a very happy childhood for the most part, just being ourselves, and everyone just thinking we were an imaginative child.
Niara: When we hit adolescence, we started to realise that the rest of the world didn’t think that we should be the way that we were. We would get made fun of a little bit for acting like different people, or doing our pretend stuff at school once we got into the sixth grade. And so, we began to sort of hide it. We sort of internalised it a lot, and internalised the sort of stigma of the world around us. So we started to believe there might be something wrong with us, or at the very least that we shouldn’t be ourselves, and that we needed to hide who we were, so that no one would do anything bad to us as a result. So, for a while, we were only really expressed in stories and art. And we would still have our inner conversations and be friends with each other, but it was sort of hidden from the outside world, at that point.
Niara: We went through a phase in our teenage years of believing that we were ghosts or spirits that the body could communicate with, because that was really the only framework we had at the time. It was one of those “it makes sense at the time” sort of things– <laugh> Because we didn’t have any framework of being more than one person, we thought, surely the body was just communicating with other people. And because I was one of the main fronters, it was assumed that whoever was in the front, was Nia. And that caused a lot of confusion. I have had a lot of confusion about my own identity as a result of that time, of thinking that other people were me.
Niara: And that sort of began a long, rocky road of issues that we had for years. We were very depressed during high school, I think because we had pretty much completely internalised the stigma of being different and we pretty much realised that we weren’t going to be accepted as who we were in the world, and that sort of morphed itself into depression problems. Which were really hard to deal with. And we were afraid to get help for them because of our other things.
Niara: When we got into college, we decided, enough is enough with this whole spirit and ghost thing, it’s time to grow up. You know, we need to stop pretending to be other people, or, you know, pretending all this stuff was real and everything.
Niara: And that started a really, really awful time in our lives. That was really, really bad. We basically had a nervous breakdown for about a year straight, in college. And we ended up, because we were trying to sort of get rid of ourselves, like we were trying to become normal. And a lot of people ended up deactivated and pushed underneath, and made immobile, and a lot of people sort of got trapped in the back of our mind, and sort of walled off there. We started to have a lot of problems in our daily life with anxiety and just having trouble dealing with normal life things. And because we were worried about that, we ended up going to a psychiatrist about it, which was probably trying to get help for our condition was probably the worst thing that we’ve ever done.
Niara: We went, and, fortunately because we didn’t have a trauma history, our psychiatrist, who was very surprised by that, because we pretty much presented like DID. But he didn’t diagnose us with that because we didn’t have a trauma history. So to him, there was no way we could have that condition. And he also ruled out schizophrenia, because of an MRI being clean. And so we just barely scraped by without ending up on anti-psychotics, thank God. At the time we had no idea what kind of a danger we were in. But fortunately we managed to get away without that happening. But we did end up on a different medication because of a sleep study in which our brainwave readings were jumping all over the place and being abnormal. And they assumed from that that we had narcolepsy.
Niara: Once we were diagnosed with narcolepsy, we were put on a medication that was an experimental drug, and it slowly destroyed our life. We basically lost our communication system with one another, and our ability to control switching went with that. And so for three years, we couldn’t control our switching at all, and for the first couple of months we couldn’t hear each other anymore. We became suicidally depressed. But it was almost too much effort to actually attempt suicide, so we didn’t ever try. But we were just in a really bad place, in a really dark place.
Niara: Eventually, our communications started up again. We were able to talk to each other again even though we couldn’t control switching. And that helped us a lot, sort of got us out of most of that depression that we were having. We were also put on anti-depressants at the same time. So with this drug cocktail we were on, our body slowly began to deteriorate over three years until we were underweight, unable to eat very well, unable to sleep very well, and basically getting, we believe, fairly close to having our life be in danger. It’s very upsetting to think about because of how close we came to really destroying ourselves. And it was all in the name of trying to be normal. Which is a lesson we’re not likely to forget ever again. We were being encouraged by everyone around us to keep taking our medication and, you know, it was making us better, you know, as we slowly faded into nothing, physically.
Niara: Finally we decided enough was enough. And against the advice of our doctors and everyone around us, we got off our medication, and that was the best thing we’ve ever done for ourselves, was ignore the advice of our doctors. It took tremendous force of will to do that, and especially in the state we were in. But we slowly started to recover. It took years for us to physically recover, and even once we had our weight back, and we could eat again, and we were able to walk, and things, it was still really hard because we were exhausted all the time, and we had a lot of problems, a lot of emotional problems. And that was when we came across the concept of plurality and multiplicity. And as soon as we started to learn about it, we realised, this was us, you know? This was exactly what we had always been, and we just hadn’t realised that. So it was a complete revelation. We sort of reached out to each other, we realised who was there. At the time, there were eight, when we first rediscovered it. We came up with our system name, and we started to try to help to heal each other. Because we had been very emotionally scarred from all this happening. There were a lot of problems in the system, people having really huge rifts between them, really bad relationships, and we sort of tried to heal all of that. It took a long time to start to work together as a team. But as we were working on that, our physical health just completely came back. I mean, we ended up healthier than we’d ever been, within a few months of having so many problems that, you know, we could barely function.
Niara: And it actually really alarmed everyone in our life around us, because we went from being completely nonfunctional, to basically a normal human, within a few months. And it wasn’t something we could explain the truth about, so, it sort of alarming to people a little bit. But we said that we changed our diet and started exercising. And that pretty much worked as a good excuse <laugh> for what happened.
Niara: But anyway, after healing our relationships, coming up with system rules, sort of trying to get ourselves back to a functional state, we’re doing really, really well, better than we ever have, have before. At least since we were kids. And we’ve sort of learned our lesson, you know, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong for you to exist, or to not be you, because in our case, it nearly killed us. So we’re basically just extremely grateful to be alive and to have each other. So, that’s pretty much our story.
Annie: That’s quite some journey.
Niara: Yeah, also a bit long. <laugh>
Annie: <laugh> Well, thank you very much for being with us today.
Niara: You’re welcome, very welcome.
Annie: You can find the Nsashaell web site at https://sites.google.com/site/nsashaellsystem/. That URL will be in the show notes.
Annie: Thank you for listening to Multiplicity 101. And a big thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, including our interview guests, Nsashaell.
Annie: You can be a future guest on Multiplicity 101. If you’re interested, please contact us at email@example.com. If you have any questions or comments, please email us also.
Allie: This is an educational podcast of the group Plural Activism. Come join our discussion group on Yahoo Groups, called Plural_Activism. The URL will be in the show notes. [http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Plural_Activism/info]
Allie: This podcast was produced with Audacity, a community-built audio editor, and the music was composed in GarageBand. The podcast is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives licence, which means that you can copy it freely as long as you credit us and you don’t modify it. For all other uses, please contact us.
Annie: See you next time!