Holding Down a Job when You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder

by on January 5th, 2011
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Dissociative identity disorder (DID) used to be known as multiple personality disorder. It’s a condition in which a person has more than one separate and distinct personality state, each of which controls the person’s behavior at times. I was diagnosed with DID almost 15 years ago and over time, I’ve had to find ways of coping with the condition. One important issue is that of coping with work. Some people with DID end up on disability but others manage to work at a wide variety of jobs. Here’s what I learned about holding down a job when you have DID.

Choose the Right Job

There is no single job that would be right for all people with DID. When choosing a job, consider your needs. I used to work at a regular nine-to-five job but now I work from home as a freelance writer, and that’s a better fit for me. It allows me to be flexible with my hours, to take breaks when I need to or to take days off when necessary. Working from home makes it a lot easier to deal with child alters, too; they can hold a stuffed animal while I work on my laptop, which of course wouldn’t be appropriate in an office setting.

Set Some Rules about Who Can Be Out at Work

When I had a regular job, I was a social worker. Not all of my alters were capable of doing that job and some were not capable of behaving appropriately at work. For instance, I have a child alter that would sometimes get scared and want to hide under the desk. Obviously, I did not want my boss or my coworkers to see me hiding under my desk. We had to set some rules about who was allowed to be out at work. Other alters, including child alters, needed to stay inside during work hours.

One thing I found helpful was to make sure other alters had time to be out and do things they liked to do outside of work hours. If child alters got to come out in the evening and color, for example, they were less likely to try to come out and draw with my highlighters while I was supposed to be working.

Take Breaks

I found it was sometimes hard for the child alters to stay inside all day long. On my lunch break, I would go out for a walk. The kids could come out, look around and watch the birds. Sometimes I would walk to a nearby store and the kids could pick out some stickers to buy. Sometimes I would go to a nearby bakery and they could pick out a cookie.

Occasionally a child alter would have a really hard time staying inside and it wasn’t time for my lunch break. Sometimes I would just take a quick break to go to the bathroom where I could spend a few minutes alone to talk to or comfort that child.

Make a Plan for Emergencies

Regardless of the rules you set and the plans you make, sometimes problems occur. I was worried about an alter coming out at work that might not know where she was or what was going on. I was worried about a child coming out and not knowing what to do or how to get home. I had an emergency phone list that I kept on the refrigerator at home and I made copies to keep at work and in my car, as well. In addition to the name and telephone number of my therapist and a good friend, this paper had my name, address and telephone number on it in case an alter came out that didn’t know that information.

Because I was worried about a child alter coming out and not knowing how to get home from work, and because I didn’t want a child alter to try to drive the car, I taught one of my child alters how to take the bus home from work. The children also knew to look for an adult alter if they needed help.

Decide Whether or Not to Tell Anyone at Work

The decision about whether or not to tell anyone at work that you have DID is a personal one and one you should think about carefully. While federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities, including DID, the truth is that dissociative identity disorder is not well-understood and employers may believe the condition prevents employees from performing their jobs even if it doesn’t. I decided to tell the director of human resources that I had major depression, which is much more common and better understood than DID.


National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Dissociative_Identity_Disorder_%28formerly_Multiple_Personality_Disorder%29.htm. Dissociative Identity Disorder.

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