Over the last few days, I have been binge watching the series “United States of Tara.” I don’t even know how many times I have watched this series, since it came out; and yes, I binge watch it each time. Why? Simply, because it’s brilliant. Not accurate, but still brilliant.
What is “United States of Tara”? It is: “Suburban housewife and mom, Tara Gregson, sometimes just doesn’t seem like herself, and with good reason: She’s living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition that causes her to shift between multiple identities without warning. Her loving husband, Max, copes with the situation as best he can, but neither he nor their teenage kids, Kate and Marshall, can be sure who will greet them when they come home: Tara herself, or “T,” a flirty teenager; Buck, a beer-swilling Vietnam vet with a violent streak; Alice, a perfect TV mom right out of the 1950s; or other alter egos in this dark comedy created and written by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody (“Juno”).”
Now, firstly, I have to say that Toni Collette is BEYOND BRILLIANT in portraying the ever so dramatic switches, and sometimes, so abruptly so, between each of her DID parts. To portray the dramatic differences between each of them, and even within seconds apart, is by no means easy; Toni Collette, “hands down”, is by far the most brilliant actress that I have seen when it comes to portraying DID, as well as even on the pure basic requirement of acting out such dramatically different people. I am floored! “Oscar goes to… Toni Collette!” At this point, I even wonder, if Meryl Streep would even be able to outdo Toni Collette – I mean, Meryl Streep is a phenomenal actress, after all!
Anyway, this post is not to talk about acting skills or who gets the Oscar at the end of the day. I want to talk about the series, and several of my thoughts that flood my mind each time I watch it.
Now, I do applaud the humor in the series. Honestly, I do. Being someone, living with DID, even I can see the “bizarreness” or “weirdness of it all”. Even certain scenarios had me in stitches because, well, “Oh my gosh that’s so fucked up!” I laughed, and a lot too. The series was brilliantly written, with twists and turns that even I, as a DID person, did not see coming. Then came the complications and the reality of living with DID… that left me depressed and disheartened, sometimes to the point of even being in tears.
Now, as funny and as brilliant as this series is, it is also far from accurate, in a lot of ways; So inaccurate, that it leaves me thinking, “Oh great, this is what people think of DID people!?”
So, why is it inaccurate? Well, firstly, let me add that Hollywood loves to exaggerate; exaggerating makes a brilliant series, or movie, after all. I mean, if Hollywood had to portray someone living with DID in 100% accuracy, it would honestly be dull and boring. Yes, DID seems “odd” and “weird” but at then end of the day, life for us, DID people, is still pretty normal. Definitely nothing that would make a brilliant or even, somewhat of, an interesting series or movie.
Back to the question: Why is this series inaccurate? And actually, what is accurate, at least to some degree? Well, there’s a list, actually…
- Tara, played by Toni Collette, first develops her DID when she is a teenager. Wrong! You can only develop it under the age of 7. If you don’t, then it is completely impossible for you to develop it later in life, no matter how traumatic the scenario is that you might end up facing.
- Obviously, I cannot speak on behalf of every person, on this planet, who has DID but as for my own and those that I know, and have read about, DID parts don’t “wage war” in order to take over the person’s body. The primary rule, or function, for DID parts, is to protect and look after the original person. They are like “bodyguards”. So now, a silly example, can you imagine arguing and fighting with a bodyguard on what pair of shoes to wear? Or who gets to cook dinner? Nope. With even more vital parts of the day, none being traumatic, can you imagine fighting with a bodyguard as to who does your work for you? Who gets to kiss your partner? Nope. DID parts are there to “take over” if a traumatic scenario arises, one that the original person cannot, or hasn’t learnt yet to, handle. And if the original person has finally learnt to cope in said traumatic scenarios, then the DID parts do not switch at all. In fact, once the person has learnt to deal with trauma, those parts then start merging (aka. “Disappearing”).
- Causing havoc… Oh, my gosh! No one I know, nor myself, has had to deal with an issue like this. Making a huge mess of the house, bashing and breaking objects, burning things, causing fights, trying to seduce someone… Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but I have never had any of these issues. If there was havoc, it was me… Usually boiling down to a dumb idea to start with or, mostly, purely by accident. For example: Me and fire should not be left unattended together. Funny, to note, my birth star sign is fire. But I’ll touch on my star sign(s) in another post. My parts have never been the cause of any type of disaster, or chaos, in my life.
- DID parts seducing your partner, or others… This, I definitely cannot say is “only me” but the ONLY problem I ever encounter is having to be “co-conscious” with my partner. Basically, sharing my partner with my parts, even though I am the one that is fully in control of what is happening (not my parts). None of my parts have taken over, in order to have my partner to themselves, not even for a moment. Nor have any ever, so much as, even had a crush on someone else while I had a partner, nevermind anything more. Being co-conscious all the time can be a pain because, simply, I don’t want to share my partner. It would be like sharing my partner with another woman. But when it comes to my parts, I have had to accept that, at the end of the day, they are all part of me, so even though I am co-conscious (fully alert and in control), I am merely just sharing another piece, or part, of me with my partner. I do find, though, that most of the time, my parts have respected my dislike to “sharing” my partner with them, so much so, that they actually go into “hiding” at the back of my mind, so as to give us privacy and proper one-on-one time together.
- DID parts splitting off to become a professional psychiatrist or any other ALREADY skilled professional… Honestly, that would be really great if that did happen! But DID parts don’t do that. Parts will already have the odd minor skill, here and there, that the original person doesn’t have, or enhanced skills that the original person already has. The “odd” skills are there because different parts “live” in different areas of the person’s brain, so they have more development/knowledge of certain skills, including usage of the body (some have perfect vision, some not; some write left handed, some right handed; some have green eyes, some blue or brown eyes; etc). In my experience, it would only be parts who are more developed in my already existing skills, or they had learnt a new skill from an “outside person”. For example, for me: I never liked cooking. An hour behind the stove, to only have 10-15 minuses eating, and then stuck with a pile of dishes. I never saw the logic in it. Now, I’m basing that thought on when I had still lived with my parents or had lived alone. Why bother? Too much effort, honestly. BUT when I had lived with a friend, who refused to cook for her 3 young children, and being that I am protective and overly caring, I noted that when I would cook, I “somehow” was able to whip up “masterpieces”. One of my parts had obviously watched my mother, and maybe even cooking channels, in order to know what goes with what, and how it’s all done in the kitchen. I lived mostly co-consciously, by that point, so seeing myself go from utterly clueless to “master chef” was odd, yet interesting. When I moved out from my friend and lived on my own, that DID part was no longer needed (for the time being), so I would even, somehow, end up burning toast! (Added: I did eventually learn from this DID part on how to cook and then that part, ultimately, merged/”disappeared” because she was no longer needed). Parts come with enhanced skills, and skills learnt, along the way, in life. They don’t split off and automatically become ALREADY geniuses, in skilled professions, when the main person was not one already!
- DID parts do not appear in front of the original person (similar to hallucinations), when talking to them. It would be helpful, though, if they did. For those people, with DID, who are able to talk to their parts, it is merely similar to “voices in your head”. Yes, many will sway this off to being your conscience or some type of mental disorder but DID is far more complex, and the “way” in which parts talk is actually different to your conscience, or a disorder. The “dumbed down” explanation for a normal person to be able to understand this concept, is to relate it as “voices in your head”. But, I suppose, depicting different DID parts on the “outside” (in the series), does help the viewer know what is going on.
- Tara draws up a contract in order to get her DID parts to sign, in order to work WITH her and not AGAINST her. Now, personally, I have never formed a written contract but more like a verbal rule with my DID parts. This was in my early stages of learning to work WITH my parts. I had to learn to cope in the world, I had to learn to heal, and I had to learn to be strong… And none of this really progresses, if you have your bodyguard taking over for you all the time. Long topic for later discussion.
- Each DID part having different names, ages, likes and dislikes, and so on. Most definitely. But the other rule in DID is that every part has to “look like” and “seem like” the original person. So switching and dramatic changing of clothes, very obvious change in age, obvious change in ways of talking… Nope. Taking into account that each of these parts can be vastly different in age, and therefore “should” act “age appropriate”, there are rare incidences when you would see an adult suddenly act childlike; similar being to using slightly different words, so if the main person uses a lot of slang then another part could use “bigger words” that you might need a dictionary for… These are NOT supposed to be displayed to the “outside world” but, rather, only on the inside of the person’s mind. This is a long topic on it’s own. I do understand, though, why Hollywood would exaggerate these aspects, because how else would the viewer be able to tell when a switch happens? But this kind of REGULAR “dramatic” DID (being displayed to the “outside world”) is exceptionally rare. It does exist, but it is a mere 3% in the entire world, if not less. For the rest of DID people, these kinds of dramatic displays in switching is, simply, not done. To even notice if a DID person has switched, or even just co-conscious with other parts, you have to look very intently. Eye color can change, hand writing changes, and so on. Subtle, seemingly insignificant changes that most people will not notice. For me, I am co-conscious all the time, so my first, primary, indicator is that my handwriting will keep changing. Rarely, other indicators are there. Long topic, again.
- The way in which a switch occurs is not generally, from experience, the way it happens in this series. Tara has a moment of dizziness, closes her eyes, goes quiet, and when she opens her eyes again, she is a different person/part. Indicating when a switch occurs is fairly tricky most times. It can happen with the blink of an eye, literally. The person can blink once, and they have switched. Sometimes there is a bout of dizziness, but not a full moment of having to brace yourself before a switch occurs; a moment so obvious that even the “outside world” will stop and take note of what is going on. Sometimes, there are no indicators at all when a switch happens. But after the original person has “come back” from a switch, they can generally tell if a switch occurred simply by an onset headache all of a sudden, or something has changed in their surroundings.
- Opposite sex parts living in your body. This is somewhat common. For me, I have only had not more than 2 young boys amongst my DID parts. I have heard of people with older, opposite sex, parts though.
- Animalistic behavior with DID parts. Look, I have heard and read that this is possible. From my own experience, and those that I know, I have not encountered it at all. It is possible, but also possibly, fairly, rare. I have never had an animalistic part.
- DID parts talking and socializing amongst themselves, within your own mind/body… very true. I don’t know how common this is, but I would maybe go as far as saying 80% of people, who have DID. I definitely do have this. It sounds “bizarre” but it is what it is, and it is actually very helpful because in order to work in unity, discussions need to be had so everyone (parts) will know what to do, what not to do, and what is the “latest update” on what is happening, basically.
- Parts that become abusive towards the other parts or the main person… sadly, yes, this is possible. I do not know how common it is though. The only “closest” encounter I have to parts being abusive towards other parts, is that some are extremely anti social, so they do not like being bothered by any of my other parts. Nothing abusive. Just, “Don’t talk to me! Leave me alone!” type of scenario. But peace is a constant amongst them, simply, because my parts have respected the other part’s wishes. Now, with parts being abusive towards the main person… I have seen episodes on Dr Phil, and several others, where parts will start abusive behaviour on the actual person’s body, in order to punish them. The closest I have encountered to this, myself, wasn’t really abusive behaviour aimed at me, in order to punish me. It was merely parts who were suicidal and had self-destructive habits because of pain, so I would wake up with bruises on my legs, the odd cut mark, and in one incident, a serious overdose of sleeping tablets. None of these incidences were to punish me, but rather, just self-destructive, “wanting out of life” issues because of misery and pain. However, this only happened up until I learnt to create more unity and stability amongst my parts. Since then, there has been absolutely ZERO incidences and it has been several years now too.
Overall, United States of Tara is a brilliant series. Both funny and tearfully sad, at the same time. Amongst the laughs I had, I would probably say that it made me feel more discouraged and depressed than anything else. And, not to forget, the moments where I wanted to cry. It’s a more inaccurate, than accurate, depiction of DID. Highly exaggerated, and mostly, most of those things do not happen. So why did I feel discouraged and depressed then? It was probably a muddled up combination of knowing that I have DID and the storyline of the series. Why did I want to cry? Sometimes, scenarios in the series would trigger memories for me, from my past trauma, and other times, again, an even more mushed up combination of having DID, the story line, and now the added triggered memories too… And to add to that, simply, watching someone else’s trauma and pain.
Would I recommend it for people who don’t know what DID is? Yes, but not my first recommendation; and usually, a long verbalized list of what’s not true would be given before I tell someone to watch it.
Why have I watched it so much? Simply, because it makes me feel less alone in having DID. Even though it is highly inaccurate, it does, to a degree comfort me in knowing or seeing someone else with DID… even though it is exaggerated and a TV Series, as well, after all. I more than likely watch this series in moments of subconscious loneliness or simply, where I’m struggling with wanting to feel “normal”, like the “outside world”. So yes, watch it by all means. But please bear in mind that it is most definitely, HIGHLY, exaggerated. It DOES, though, at the same time depict clear enough as to why someone develops DID and, in all honesty, how the DID person feels on the inside a lot of the time.