This Sunday night is the premiere of The United States of Tara on Showtime. At 10pm, I will be surrounded by family and friends and watch as a series on television tries to bring awareness to the illness I’ve struggled with since the age of four. Writing that makes me want to jump up and scream in excitement and call everyone I know and cry in relief and crawl into the fetal position from anxiety and suck my thumb all at the same time.
Along with the voices of support, I’ve had emails and a few comments from people in the DID community that are angry at the writers of the series and angry and disappointed in me for being a part of it. To them, I say this:
I hear you. I really, really hear you. You would like it if the show was easier to watch and didn’t highlight the hyper-sexual teen alter or the cruelty of the male alter. You would like it better if they showed more about where Tara comes from and why she is the way she is. Me, too.
Stay tuned. Watch a few more episodes and see how the character of Tara is handled and how she evolves. There is both humor and drama, as it should be. My life has had its ups and downs and whether I like it or not, I had alters that were very sexual and took advantage of any man they could. I see in Tara’s kids some of the same things my kids had to deal with. I had a Molly-Homemaker alter and I now cringe at the thought of how hard she tried to make everything perfect and I feel sad that she was perpetually disappointed at the impossibility of perfection. And my husband at the time had to try and guess how to deal with me when I switched. I’m betting you have some of the same alter-types I did. And that the character Tara does. And yes, it’s hard to watch, being a person with DID. But for me, that’s because it’s accurate, not wrong. You call it sensationalized and maybe you are right. I don’t agree with you but I think that is a matter of personal opinion.
But what I love about the series is that it’s TALKING about mental illness and DID. It’s making people ask questions and have conversations and maybe, just maybe, creating an environment where people with DID aren’t thought of as freaks. Where they aren’t told to keep it all a secret and perpetuate the cycle of hiding and secrecy and lies. And that is what I’m excited to be a part of – moving forward. Removing the stigma attached to mental illness, or at least lessening the hold a bit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by someone I barely know and even people close to me to never talk about having a mental illness because it will hurt my chances at (fill in the blank). Just for telling people what I am. Just for owning what I am and how my brain works. The message is – if people really know you, they won’t think you are acceptable or good enough. They will think you are evil or weird and turn away from you. And that feels bad whether you are mentally ill, the ‘wrong’ color or sexual orientation or ethnic background or too fat or too small. No one should be discriminated against for being themselves.
I don’t feel the series is doing a disservice to DID or mental illness. I’m so THANKFUL that Steven Spielberg wanted to do a series about a woman with DID and I’m so THANKFUL that Diablo Cody read my book and asked me to be a part of it. And even though the character isn’t based on me, I identify with every personality that Tara has. In the same way I had to learn and accept that I was all the personalities that I was and own them and bring them together. And understand that everything I had ever done and everything that had ever happened had happened to ME. All of it.
So maybe you don’t identify with some of her personalities or the extent they are portrayed but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t. Let’s leave the door open for everyone with DID or any dissociative disorder to feel like they are being represented in some way. This is the maiden voyage. It’s just the beginning. If everything isn’t perfect, let’s not get too hasty and throw the whole thing out. Let’s wait a while and see the evolution. This is the first time this subject matter has been tackled on television. Let’s support their efforts and hope there is more to come.
For me, it’s a dream come true.
If you are looking for my book, you can find it here.