Ever since the movie Sybil came out in 1976, I’ve been fascinated by Multiple Personality Disorder. (Now more frequently called Disociative Identity Disorder.) The fact that a mind can fracture and various distinct personalities can coexist, often with no conscious knowledge of one another, tossed out everything I thought I knew about who we are as individuals. I was 14 then. For as long as I remember, I’d had what parents and teachers label an “active imagination”, which, for me, was a whole lot of voices in my head. No, I didn’t think I had MPD. But I wondered how much different I would be if those voices had the ability to control my behavior.
Now, my “active imagination” is considered normal, a fiction writer’s mind. Most, if not all, of us have an abundance of characters living in our heads, invading our minds, taking over and demanding their stories be told. But where do those voices come from?
I’m a pacifist. I don’t even like to kill spiders – and I really, really hate spiders. Yet, I get a weird thrill when one of the violent sociopath voices takes over and I write a murder scene. The person writing that scene is me, but it’s not me. The personality I know as myself would never, could never, enjoy ripping out another person’s fingernails. I get queasy just thinking about it. Unless one of those familiar voices takes over. Then I think long-nosed pliers would be the perfect tool.
I don’t hear these voices in the same way I hear other ‘real’ people talking. They don’t exist outside of my head. They don’t even have a distinct sound. The voices are wispy, like a shadow or rolling fog. I don’t hear the voices as much as experience them. The accent, the word choices, and the rhythm of speech all have the feel of a separate entity. I don’t control them, though, at times, they control me.
Once I tell their stories, the voices quiet and new ones take their place. I used to think telling their stories freed them – or freed me from them. Lately, though, I realize that’s not true. Those voices, those personalities, remain in the shadows. In any given situation, I know how one of them would react. I can still hear their chatter, if I let myself listen.
The truly troubling thing is now and then a phrase will pop out of my mouth that I know doesn’t belong to me. I wouldn’t say it, but Lucianna would. Or Skye would. Or, worse, Sean Riley, cold-blooded assassin, would.
By writing their stories, am I giving the characters the freedom to live in my mind forever? And, by doing so, are they changing who I am? Or maybe they’re getting strong enough to exist on their own…