Seventeen personalitites and one harrowing life.
While treating Karen Overhill for vague physical pains and depression, Dr. Richard Baer discovered that she'd spent her childhood grappling with horror so unimaginable that it was only by "switching time" with alternate selves, as the situation warranted, that Karen had been able to function.
Switching Time by Richard Baer is one of those books that is frightening in its reality. Karen Overhill when through hell- in probably the most literal sense possible. Abused as a child and taken advantage of as an adult, Karen spent her time switching between her seventeen personalities. All born to help protect her in some way, each one comes out to take a bit of pain away. Each personality is unique- forming their own 'life' within Karen and expressing that outwardly when a situation calls for them. They have different names, friends, likes and dislikes, values, gender, race, religion, and even look different. Karen learned to cope by becoming a multiple personality.
An extremely rare disorder, especially at such a profound level (17! personalities), Richard Baer gives the reader insight into their worlds. The fear of "waking up" from switching time and not knowing where you are or what you are doing. The fear of integrating these personalities and breaking down the walls they built up to protect you. If you ever read Sybil, then this is a great book to pick up afterwards. Sybil tells the tale from her side- what it is like to be a multiple personality. Switching Time tells the tale of treating the disorder- from the doctors point of view. It is quite intriguing, learning how psychotherapy, coupled with hypnosis can help a person weave their personalities back to a whole.
I took a bit longer to read Switching Time... I mainly it had to do with the fact that the book goes into quite a bit of detail about Karen's abuse as a child and the subseqent abuse as an adult. I know terrible things like what happened to Karen happen all over, all the time. I know this because I work with the children who have had such awful things happen to them. Every day I try to help my students cope with the abuse in their lives, coupled with their psychological disorders. This book just hit a little bit too close for comfort. It was hard for me to process, when every morning I would wake up to go work with kids like Karen. I have never experienced a multiple personality in my professional career, but I have experienced the stories of abuse and the lasting effects it has on these children. I am by no means saying that this book is too hard to get through- nothing like A Child Called It where you can't even stomach it. Switching Time isn't quite as graphic as some other stories of abuse are, but because of my particular situation, it was pretty hard for me.
I would (and have) recommend this book to anyone interested in the main themes (psychotherapy, multiple personalities, etc.) but also to those who just want a glimpse at the human mind. Baer gives us an amazing view of how the mind works to protect us, and just how far it is willing to go to split off, compartmentalize, and 'switch' in order to save us from pain. Every human does some sort of this- remember that time when ___ ___ happened and you got so embarassed... well, you try not to think about it right? You compartmentalize it somewhere, hide it deep in your brain so you don't have to remember the feeling associated with that particular event. The difference for someone with multiple personality disorder is that the feeling can't be triggered to come back while functioning as a multiple personality. A smell or a sound might jog our memories to bring us back to that awfully embarassing moment. But as multiple personality, the brain wants to protect you so well, that it doesn't let the memory and the feelings flood your brain- it 'switches' to a personality that is more capable of dealing with it. Karen didn't experience all her emotions, abuse, or life in general, until Baer started to integrate her personalities. Her mind knew it had to protect itself until ready, and instead of functioning by using a coping skill of some sort, her mind created an internal structure of coping through the creation of multiple personalitites. It is amazing what the mind can do, and this book gives the reader that glimpse.
Really... go pick it up, now.
write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow