Nov 15

Joan Baez: “I Am a Noise”–Anxiety, Trauma/Dissociation

As Kenneth Womack, Salon, has stated, the new documentary Joan Baez: I Am a Noise is “…one of the most intimate and revealing documentaries of its kind. In one sense, it chronicles Baez’s preparations for her final tour; yet at the same time, the film underscores the singer-songwriter’s lifelong search for the truth about the overarching depression that has marked her life.”

But depression is just one aspect of her mental health issues. Her anxiety and panic attacks began in childhood, leading to therapy in her teens. These conditions, moreover, continued to plague her throughout her career.

And that’s not all. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “(T)his intimate and painful documentary… brings us to the brink of a terribly traumatic revelation that it can’t quite bear to spell out.” We get just enough, though, to understand that she has disturbing childhood memories–“though she says she cannot recall definitively whether her father sexually abused her” (Deadline).

What Baez can be clearer about, though, are her experiences of dissociation. Matthew Carey, Deadline: “For the first time, Baez speaks in detail about experiencing multiple personalities, among them someone she describes as ‘Diamond Joan.’ The condition, known clinically as dissociative identity disorder, typically results from long-term trauma in childhood featuring abuse or neglect.”

The following are revealing quotes from recent interviews conducted with Joan Baez.

I. Scott Simon, NPR

“And my sister Mimi just called one day and said, you know, I think something terrible happened in our childhood. Do you want to look into it the way I will in therapy? And eventually I said yes. And we both discovered some very deep trauma from childhood. And we were – our bodies and brains were reacting to that our whole lives without our knowing it because it was all unconscious, subconscious.”

“And I believe with all my heart that he and my mom have no memory of it at all. The mind is an extraordinary thing to have blocking something out if you really don’t want to deal with it. I mean, I had blocked it out for 50 years. And then the journey was really quite something.”

II. Walter Scott, Parade

Regarding her dissociation, or DID: “[Mine] was many splits and each one had a reason for being there—each little entity that’s born is there for a reason—when I was trying to grow up. By recognizing these little entities and then nurturing them, that nurtured a part of me that needed that. I loved all the little people in there and they’ve held me together and taught me a lot.”

Regarding her son, musician Gabriel Harris, age 53: “That’s where this terrible sadness comes in that I wasn’t there for him. I didn’t realize the extent of it until I saw the film and I hear him talking. I salute him for being honest and loving and caring but saying what his truth was about growing up with a mom who basically wasn’t there. A lot of times I was there, but I wasn’t there.”

III. Bobbi Dempsey, AARP  

“First of all, I don’t think the ending in the film really, really shows the amount of peace that I came to. I’m not sure why. But all of that came through deep therapy. I put off deep therapy for half a lifetime. And clearly figured out why: It was too scary to deal with. But no, I don’t have those demons now. Occasionally there’s a little pop-up, but basically, no. Therapy is hard work and it’s a lot of emotional excavation.”

“If somebody [asked] what am I proudest of, I would say getting through that tunnel. It was pretty dark when I entered it, and I entered it on faith. And then by the end I was really back in the light — or in the light, in a way, for the first time.”

Jan 24

“Many Sides of Jane”: Dissociative Identity

Dissociative Identity Disorder is caused by severe, ongoing childhood abuse that begins early in life. It is thought that having many medical issues and surgeries growing up can also partly cause DID. Dissociation is an extremely effective survival tool for abused children, as it compartmentalizes the abuse, allowing them to live out their childhood as normally as they possibly can without becoming too overwhelmed. Jane Hart, the focus of Many Sides of Jane on A&E (Elephant Journal)

The writer of the above quote, Jane Hart, age 28, was diagnosed a few years ago with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), the condition formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.

And now A&E has premiered a six-part docuseries, Many Sides of Jane, about her attempts to deal with having nine different “parts”—including a child as young as six.

From A&E’s website, an excerpt regarding Jane and her mission:

…a 28-year-old loving mother of two, an author, a public speaker and mental health activist…Dubbing herself a ‘human information sponge,’ Jane has spent countless hours researching the effects of trauma on the brain as well as learning as much as she can about DID in the hopes of helping others.

Receiving her diagnosis was tough on Jane both mentally and physically, but sharing her condition with a close friend was a turning point for her. Despite their close relationship, her friend assumed Jane was dangerous; damaging their friendship and leaving a lasting impact on Jane. This pivotal point in her life has inspired Jane to shine a light on the cause to diminish the stigma of mental illness, especially those living with DID.

The trailer for Many Sides of Jane indicates, among other things, that her therapy goal is not to get rid of her parts but to learn how to work together:

Some quotes from Jane’s 2016 article on the subject of “What It’s Like to Live with Multiple Personality Disorder (& the Stigma Behind It)“:

The stigma surrounding mental illness—DID in particular—is staggering…

Stigma and the unwillingness to learn about mental illness are problems in part, because just hours ago I was in the middle of a therapy session when I “switched.” Switching is the term used when a DID patient transitions between identities. This process can lead to severe headaches, confusion, “mind fog” and painful shame, amongst many other difficult things.

…(I)n reality only about 6 percent of people with Dissociative Identity Disorder have noticeable switches.

...70 percent  of all Dissociative Identity Disorder patients attempt suicide, more than any other psychiatric disorder. These individuals are in such distress that suicide is a commonly chosen option for them. And I can tell you that, yes, it is that difficult living with a plethora of differing opinions all swirling around inside of your mind. It is that scary not knowing when you’ll “go away” and when another part of you will “come out.” It is debilitating to feel out of control in this way.

Our incredible human brains have the capacity to create different identities to hold memories that it knows the entire person cannot handle; placing amnestic barriers between these identities. fMRI studies have shown that when a DID patient switches between identities different parts of the hippocampus (the brain’s memory center) light up, giving us a clear image of the presence of amnesia.

If you’re interested in reading about a “typical day” in the life of Jane Hart, check out her above-cited article.

Tune in to Many Sides of Jane Tuesdays at 10 PM.

Additional info and help regarding DID is available at A&E under Resources.