Planning projects for DID Awareness Day, which occurs 5 March each year, has been a goal of the Communication and Marketing Committee for over 2 years. We were delighted this year to hold ISSTD’s first ever webinar for the general public on DID Awareness Day 2021.
The Webinar was created to be a collaborative effort with other organisations which support people with DID and other complex trauma disorders and ISSTD was delighted to collaborate with some world leading organisations and experts with lived experience. The speakers were Cathy Kezelman (Blue Knot Foundation – BKF), Anne and Lexi (Beauty After Bruises) and Jamie Pollack (An Infinite Mind).
The webinar was well attended with 458 registrations, of which 300 attended live.
In order to make the webinar more accessible to the public, a small donation fee of $10 was charged, with options to make more donations. This was a great success and the webinar raised $6,200 dollars with the donations divided between the organisations, each of the organisations getting between $1,300 and $1,800. In addition, the ISSTD Board has also made a donation of $500 to each of the organisations involved!
The panel opened with Cathy Kezelman giving an overview of complex trauma and trauma-related dissociation. She outlined the services of the Australian organisation BKF including survivor workshops, a number of trauma helplines, training and supervision for professionals; and their well-known range of Practice Guidelines which are available here.
Cathy also spoke movingly about her own healing journey after a ‘breakdown’ following the unexpected death of a family member when Cathy was in her 40’s. She described this as a ‘harrowing and terrifying journey, that was ultimately a journey of self-discovery’. She spoke of the value of her therapist who walked along side her providing asafe space for her and her different parts which came to the fore over time. This journey is documented in her book Innocence Revisited – a tale in parts available here. She ended with the moving words, “Dissociation is real… and for me it was life-saving… Without it, I would not be alive to tell the journey… Recovery is possible and now is the time to honour our minds.”
Cathy also spoke about realising she had DID, dealing with flashbacks, and having to overcome the judgement and the shame, and as a doctor herself, found that many of her medical colleagues were and still are sceptical. She feels she now has a good understanding of how she coped, feels that dissociation explains a lot of her experience, has made her peace and accepted that this is how her mind coped. She now feels the process is about honouring the mind and part of the healing process is coming to realise how amazing dissociation is as an adaptive response. She said, ‘how clever of the mind to break things up into bite-sized chunks, when the whole thing would be too overwhelming.’
Anne Knisley and Lexi, from Beauty After Bruises spoke about the organisation they founded, which they called ‘The baby of the panel’ as they are the youngest of the organisations. Anne spoke movingly about how important this issue is to her and how she wants to honour survivors in her presentation. She came to the field after a family battle to support a loved one – a long journey where ‘nothing seemed right’ and they were constantly ‘hitting walls’. She spoke of the challenges and pain of ‘watching someone you love suffer every day without appropriate therapy’, when inpatient services did not work, were too far away or were very expensive. She described this as ‘having nowhere to go. And when you find somewhere to go you have to mortgage your home.’ She and her family ended up holding fundraisers to raise money so their loved one got the treatment they needed. After this she realised that while her loved one had a supportive family, many others on this journey did not have so much support. She wanted to try and make a bigger impact.
Anne teamed up with Lexi, who has lived experience of DID. Lexi spoke to her position to bring survivors and clinicians digestible, non-clinical and heartfelt education on trauma and dissociation, something greatly lacking in this space. She also addressed the importance of exercising personal boundaries in doing this public work, by appearing off-camera but still being deeply engaged.
Lexi and Anne spoke about the primary mission of Beauty After Bruises which is to bridge myriad gaps for Trauma survivors in locating skilled therapists & reputable resources. BAB not only provides grant funding for treatment within the USA, but also global trauma education, symptom management tools and guides, and works to connect survivors and clinicians with as many resources as possible to reduce additional trauma often experienced throughout the healing journey. (For more information visit their website: For more information, visit their website)
Jamie spoke about An Infinite Mind, which has been around for about 15 years and plays a vital role in supporting people with DID. Jamie has DID as a result of child abuse. Diagnosed in 2004 after a long journey of misdiagnoses, she also spoke about the long journey to find the right therapist, moving from one therapist to the next, being incorrectly medicated, and struggling. She reported that ‘therapists can make it feel like it is you that’s the problem … that you’re not trying hard enough, you get labelled treatment resistant’. She also spoke of the misunderstanding in the therapy community about hearing voices. She felt that once this is mentioned ‘therapists think you have schizophrenia or schizo affective disorder and it doesn’t always mean that!’.
Jamie reports that she didn’t really get help until she found a therapist who ‘asked the right questions.’ She also spoke about the diagnostic experience – feeling a sense of relief at first and then she ‘had a panic’ and began to recall movies like ‘Sybil’ and ‘Three Faces of Eve’. Her next thought was: ‘Is that what my future is going to be?’ She also felt worried about the safety of her career in the education sector and felt keenly the lack of positive role models of successful people living with DID. She has come to realise there are such positive role models out there, but due to shame, ‘we are all hiding from each other’. Out of that An Infinite Mind was born. They then began to hold their annual conference – Healing Together – which is now in its 11th year. Jamie spoke movingly of the joy of seeing people come along who initially would not share their name, to gradually sharing their name, and then to even present. She said it is an experience of seeing people come out of hiding and shame, to be seen. She also spoke about choosing not to integrate, as she still has a collaborative core group, and what it is like to live that way.
Jaime also spoke passionately about the need for therapists to not just be DID-aware, but also DID-competent. Spoke of the need for therapists to seek specialist training and supervision and become skilled in treating DID. This resonated with the chat room!
Participants had the opportunity to ask questions in the chat and the second part of the webinar was a lively question and answer discussion. It was a real joy to hear the questions as well as read the comments of people watching, who overwhelmingly felt the webinar was a positive and validating experience.
Not all questions could be answered and afterwards the panelists and myself answered these. This now forms a resource for participants.
There will also be a survey given out to those attending to help plan future events.
Special thanks to Mary Pat and Bethany for doing all the ‘background work’ for this amazing event, and also thanks to our moderator, who did an amazing job during the presentation, as well as answering so many of the questions for our Q&A resource.
For those who missed this wonderful experience, it is now available on YouTube here.