Thursday, April 17, 2008

Herschel Walker and Dissociative Identity Disorder

US Football star, Herschel Walker, has written a book about his lifelong experience with Dissociative Identity Disorder .

Dissociative Identity Disorder - formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder - occurs in childhood. However, most cases aren't diagnosed until a person reaches adulthood. Be it abuse in the form of physical, emotional, sexual, or a combination therein, DID can develop to cope with trauma. There are no precise numbers on how many people experience DID. Many who have the disorder don't seek treatment for fear that they will not be believed. But Stanford University psychiatrist Dr. David Spiegel - who has been studying this disorder for over three decades - estimates that DID affects about 1 percent of the population.

In his book, Walker talks about coming to terms with his DID diagnosis, hopes to educate others about the disorder and address skepticism and stigma. Walker is a sports legend, holding many records, but feels that his greatest achievement will be "to tell the world about my truth".


~ Trigger alert: Comments expressed offer differing opinions about DID ~


Fallen Angels said...

The timing on this hitting the news was really interesting for me. Yesterday I presented my informative speech in my speech speech was explaining (briefly, obviously) what DID is. My points were continuum of dissociation, what those with DID have in common, diagnostic criteria, and treatment (ie. no meds, therapy)...and finally, those with DID are likely to appear "normal" to the general public and could be anyone. I gave examples, could be nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, football players or even the student delivery a speech in yor college class. It was a very basic speech, but it went pretty well and I think having someone that most of the people in the class have at least heard of, primed them a bit for my speech!

As an aside, I set the class up for my final speech in the class...persuasive. I plan to encourage/persuade them to report suspected child abuse, whether they end up working in fields where they are mandated reporters or not.

Alison said...

Ah this is great stuff Deb. I have one person in mind who will be so glad to hear of this book. This disorder is so misunderstood.

The UnMighty said...

Congratulating Walker on his book may be a little premature. We don't even know if he wrote it. It could have been one of his other personalities. Let's not count them out.

The Lone Beader said...

I'm always impressed when I hear a football star wrote a book!

psychiatrist said...

my heavens! What we're really talking about is a culture-bound phenomenon in a civilization that so overvalues individuality that we can't resist the temptation to be more than one individual. It's a narcissistic issue. This is a first in history. Anyone remember the last MPD movement! It was disastrous! Better read up folks, there are lives at stake. You see, it's not just about "authorities" wanting to stomp out a person's uniqueness. It's about the risks/benefits of diagnosis and treatment. Start with Joan Acocella's "Creating Hysteria"

Deb said...

Dear Fallen,
I am so moved by your presentation in your Speech class. And your final presentation sounds awesome. What a great idea. I have worked with DID and it is a real thing. I hope that the comments that come herein are respectful of that. Anyway, just wanted to send you a high five :^*^:

Dear Alison,
It is a very misunderstood, often dismissed or unrecognized as real. Anything that can help take stigma and skepticism away is awesome in my book.

Dear Unmighty,
I have not read it, but it looks as if he wrote it along with another writer. Time will tell if any alters helps contribute in the writing.

Dear Lone,
I think it's great when a high profile person can dispell myths about mental illness. I am looking forward to reading this one. Walker was a big favorite of my hubby's when he was on the Cowboys and the Vikings.

Dear Psychiatrist,
I don't agree with you, but to each his or her own. I do think that uniqueness is undervalued, but I have worked with DID and it is a real, complex disorder.


phd in yogurtry said...

Wow is right! Thanks for posting. I heard a snippet on the car radio, didn't realize he published a book. I'm dubious of DID claims, generally. The two cases I worked with ended up being factitious, but I don't rule it out as a legitimate diagnosis.

So has he written about early trauma?

One reason I'm skeptical of HW's story is because DID is often characterized by low functioning. It would be defying the odds to make it to the NFL let alone reach Walker's level of achievement within the NFL.

Deb said...

Dear PH.D.,
In my experience the person with DID was very bright, highly functional.

Dreaming again said...

I typed out a whole bunch.

Let's just say ... I'm proud of FA and agree with Dr. Deb!

Disillusioned said...

It's great that someone so prominent is coming out with this. A misunderstood condition is, in my experience, a correct analysis. It's also a very confusing condition. Anything that helps people to be aware has to bee good.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Deb.

I am intrigued by something that phd in yogurtry said and I wonder what your opinion or experience of it is: "One reason I'm skeptical of HW's story is because DID is often characterized by low functioning."

Do you find that to be true? I can certainly understand how it can cause low functioning, but at least for a time, could it not be possible that such divisions of the psyche might actually make a person appear a little more 'together' than what they are?

I ask because I know I am somewhere on the dissociative continuum, though I don't really write about that. I have never been a model of perfect functioning, but when I was a very young adult, walking around in a dissocaitive state was the thing that allowed me to work and function to a 'passable' level for periods of time. The problems came as I got older and had more opportunities to come into contact with different people and situations that triggered bizarre reactions. I was a basket case by the time I was 38. I've been working at things for a few years in therapy. I still have a ways to go. My function is low now and it has been since things started building toward the point of overwhelm. Before that, it varied. I wonder what your opinion is about the functioning issue. What have been your observations about functioning in the DID population and do you think a situation similar to HW's success in the NFL
could involve dissociation, followed by innundation by triggers, and 'post-traumatic decline'?

I am one of your blog pals. You might know which one, but I ask anonymously because I don't really want to get angry at certain opinions in the comments and then feel driven to waste my energy defending myself against strangers right now. Especially since some of those opinions used to be similar to my own and I have twice launched verbal attacks against individuals for saying things that seemed to me like they might be trying to lead into an 'accusation' of DID. You want to talk inner conflict? Um... yeah. I just want to be anon. At least I am finally at a place where simply encountering the topic does not set me off. Thanks, Deb.

OHN said...

I have often wondered if people that block out the bad things in their past have a form of DID. I don't even know if there are different forms or "levels" etc but I wonder if "zoning out" is a type of DID.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Good for him. I love it when people use their experiences to teach others.

If I was famous I would write a book.
(not too many people would buy it if they'd never heard of me)

MYSTI said...

Wow how very wonderful that he has had the courage to talk about this in his book. I am with you "Wow"

Psycgirl said...

Dr. Deb, while I am too skeptical to completely write off DID as a disorder, I think there might be a population of people (very very small - less than 1% of the population) who have something we now term "DID." But on the same hand, I also think that people who are suspectible to dissociation (i.e., the research on suggestibility and dissociation) might be more likely to create DID in themselves. I'm not very excited about the publicity this book will generated.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...psycgirl...More likely to create DID in themselves? People with DID absolutely do create it in themselves! This is a coping mechanism in response to repetitive, severe abuse in early childhood...the child does this themself.

I also believe that regardless of when, why or how IS created. The individual is still dealing with DID and may need help (*may* because many people never even realize their style of coping is different from others and never have problems with it either). If you have a blow-out on the freeway, run over a large nail, or someone slashes your tire...your tire is still still need a new tire. It doesn't matter when or how.

I'll stay anonymous today...but Deb, you probably know who this is!

Anonymous said...

Hi Deb :)

I've been interested in reading how people in general (and your blogpals) reacted to this news since the book's come out. I am totally not surprised that the diagnosis is a controversy, as seen in some of the comments here. It's interesting to see how some of the myths (low functioning and being a fake disorder) are showing up. I am soo not surprised. Living in the same area where Elizabeth Loftis is based, I've read a lot of the arguments for and against the realism of DID.

Having a very good friend with DID, I know for sure that "they" are definitely not low functioning. The fake disorder thing, I won't even get into. And it's certainly not narcissism. However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I gotta respect that.

Have a great weekend :)


Deb said...

Dear Dreaming,
We are of similar thinking :)

Dear Disillusioned,
I think I am going to put a trigger alert in the post as I am concerned that differing opinions could cause stress in visitors. DID is a real disorder. Hard for many to believe it is so.

Dear Anon,
*Any* personality disorder has the possibility of impacting one's life in mild, moderate and severe ways. Therefore causing low, medium or high functioning. And there will be varying qualities, degrees and timing of it all. I strongly believe, as do many in the health fields, that everything depends on the uniqueness of the individual. I teach psychopathology and the one thing I always tell my students is that nothing is static. Every person will have a unique and indivudal presentation of symptoms and an individual and unique way of coping. Cookie cutter labels never fit in my opinion. Hope this answers what you are asking - though I could go on. And I am glad that this subject didn't set you down a difficult path. I am going to put a trigger alert.

Dear OHN,
Dissociation is a defense mechanism. It is usually a very adapative defense. It can however become maladaptive. The range of dissociation experiences is very broad. We all detach and dissociate in one way or another. For a person with DID, it is very specialized.

Dear Barbara,
I would totally read your book. In fact, some of the most touching things I've read have been written by ordinary folks, like us!

Dear Mysti,
I am going to order his book and I look forward to reading it.

Dear Psychgirl,
The creation of DID is indeed something that occurs within the individual. Long ago, it was thought that the creation of alters was a result of a weak psyche. Now we know that, in fact, it is just the opposite. A person with DID has created a highly sophisticated, intricate and smart way to shielf him or herself from unspeakable, often unlivable experiences. There is much controversy within this disorder, and I want to respect the differing of opinions. But I have seen DID and know it is a real thing.

Dear Anon,
*May* is a very good word. Long ago, the treatment was to integrate the psyche and split off alters. No longer is that always advised. When something can't be seen, it is often easy to dismiss. Recently Fibromyalgia used to be a dismissed-as-not-real phenomenon. Now research has shown us that FM is an autoimmune illness. Sometimes people need to see something in concrete form to believe it.

Dear Donna,
I also want to be respectful. I know DID to be real. Have seen it, worked with it, and understand it. Sometimes it takes a long while before stigma and stereotypes fade. At least stories like Walker and Loftis work in memory and dissociation can help bring lit to this often dismissed issue.

Dream Writer said...

It amazes me how many of us really do have issues and truly in the end we are all the same. Some are open to share their illnesses and some are more secretive.

I've heard this on the news the other day...Here I have bipolar and feel that I cannot do much and then you have a Professional Athlete Player who has DID and is successful...go figure!

traci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traci said...


Yanno, I read these comments earlier and began a comment but had to delete it all because I was quite pissed off.

I'm back and on an even keel and am going to say something that I don't say to many people...I was diagnosed with DID back in 1995. It is a real disorder. It is not something that I made up.

I was raped repeatedly by my grandfather from the time I was 6 months old. Before you ask how that is possible, let me tell you he began with wire hangers and progressed to larger things as I aged.

If I had not developed DID, I would have died as a baby. It has been a painful, difficult and real road I've traveled towards wholeness.

While I am what I refer to as blended now, the dissociation that saved my life is still a part of my life. At times it is better than others however it is still there. I've learned how to manage the affects for the most part but do have difficult times every now and then.

When I hear people talk about DID being a 'made up' disorder, my first thought is "If only you knew" and my second thought is "I'm glad they really don't know". I work very hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt however what it really comes down to is this...we NEVER know what someone else has been through and to unequivocally decide that something is "pretend" or "made up" because we do not understand it is, well, the nicest word I can think of is unwise.

about jenji said...

As we know, it takes tremendous courage for an individual to go public with their personal struggles, no matter the subject.

Especially for a big, rough and tough man such as Walker, as the uninformed individual may write him off as weak. Yet, the informed knows better.

No matter one's opinion about DID, one must recognize that this man has written a book that avoids rumination and exploitation; instead, it offers hope to those with mental illness to face and deal with their condtions, period.

Kudos to him.

Great post, Deb.

I hope you are doing well.


J.D. said...

Ordering this book now!

Deb said...

Dear Dream,
We all have strenghts and weaknesses. All of us are different. Celebrate what you can do and hope that what is hard might not be in time to come. That's what I do. Hope is a good thing.

Dear Traci,
What horrifying and traumatic things you experienced. Indeed, DID saved your life, and it is a real thing. Of that I know. It is very hard when others dismiss or question something that can't "see". But know that there are many who understand the dissociative disorders personally and/or professionally. I hope that sharing your very personal story will help others understand. And I hope that your brave disclosure offers you healing and not a negative trigger.

Dear Jenji,
I hope you are well too. It is always a great thing when a high profile person helps to shed light on *anything*. Especially, mental illness.

Dear J.D.
Mine should arrive next week!

Awake In Rochester said...

Therapy - What works? That's my question. Please about it at my blog. I would love to get your opinion.

jumpinginpuddles said...

DID disovered over here adn im not into conmvincing anyone anymore that DID exists we would much rather learn new stratedgies on dealing with our diagnosis and let the debaters debate, all we can say is thank god we have a therapist that has brains enough to know what DID is and how to work with people with it.
I pity anyone who says DID doesnt exist for they are denying themselves a wonderful opportunity in life in getting to know people with DID becasue it scares them :)
Guess it shows psychiatry has bigots rampant as in anywhere else in the world hey

Jaime (An Infinite Mind) said...

It is so great to see all the postive comments from survivors with DID and their supporters. I have DID myself and I have been working hard to dispel the stigmas and myths associated with DID. We are highly creative and very functional people with amazing brains that helped us to escape the unescapable. I now travel the country speaking to all different groups of people educating about DID. You can check out my new non-profit organization I started ( for resources and additional information. This is how change happens.

~Deb said...

Hi Deb,

This is going to sound so close-minded and possibly ignorant, however, I've always had a hard time believing that this disorder, or the description as I know it as, "multiple personality disorder" was 100% real. I do believe in schizophrenia and the mind hearing voices, etc., however, the concept of changing into different people just baffles me. I do believe that people's moods change and they become more of a bitter person, or become chipper one day and then sad the next - which would make them possibly manic depressive, or bi-polar as we know it.

Coming from someone who has never studied psychology, please take my comment with a grain of salt, because I know how any disorder of any kind is a struggle to live with. This particular one always fascinates me - just as it would if aliens came down to earth. Is it real? Are there aliens? Is there life out there? That kind of thinking.............

Janes Insane said...

I am with you on the "Wow!" Going public with this takes real courage. I'm a huge advocate of talking about everything that ails us. Who knows how many people he'll help by talking about this & undoubtedly thousands will become educated, myself included. I am definitely buying this book.

For PhD in Yogurty, I don't know if you've ever read Cat's blog, she has DID. Her url is:

Dr. Deb, I hope you don't mind me putting her link up here, if it's not okay, I will totally understand if you remove it. I know Cat personally and she was on a talk show & interviewed about DID/MPD.

Janes Insane said...

I have got to say that I applaud those of you who have DID & are openly discussing it here, anonymous or otherwise.
I have openly discussed being bipolar on my blog, but also have another diagnosis which I will not discuss openly on my blog because of the stigma attached to it.
I've gotten similar reactions from my family, to the skeptics here ~ it feels like that want to invalidate what I have. That's frustrating because while I don't need their acknowledgment, what I would have liked would be for them to share my relief in finally getting a proper diagnosis so I may begin the healing process, or at least walking down the correct path.

It's posts & comments like this that remind me how it was before blogging, and how fantastic it is now. We aren't alone anymore and while some disbelieve, that's okay. We can pick and choose what blogs we visit, who we associate with, thus surrounding ourselves with supportive people.

Dr. Deb, thanks for writing about this.

Janes Insane said...

Yes, this is my 3rd comment, sorry. I just wanted to say my 2nd comment was written after I read all the comments.
That's all.

IntelligentLayPerson said...

I'm having trouble posting. If I had three identical posts come through here please delete them.

IntelligentLayPerson said...

All I can say is wow.

I haven't been able to respond with much up to this point due to the simple fact I want to be very careful.

Some of the things I read here upset me. Not because I have DID, but because I find it awful that any human has to suffer so much trauma that they shatter and divide inside.

Then I have to see people doubt or not validate them.

Traci's use of the word 'unwise' was simply brilliant.

Gaaaaaaaaah okay I got this yell out of my system and I don't want to attack Yogurty, but... and here is a very big but...I just want them to listen to what they said. I want them to repeat it slowly to themselves and then understand what a disservice to the patient this train of thought can be.

Yogurty says "One reason I'm skeptical of HW's story is because DID is often characterized by low functioning."

I suffered for years with depression misdiagnosis because I did not display classic symptoms of narcolepsy.

I'd love the last twenty years back. I really would. The effects it had on my relationships, my career choices and my ability to function like a sane human being have been life lasting.

As you can imagine, I don't care for your style of medicine. It's that very train of thought that kept my condition untreated for years.

For the poster named 'psychiatrist'

Please drop the arrogance and treat each of your patients with dignity and on an individual basis. When you do this, you will truly become a 'successful professional' until then I do not envy your patients.

Anonymous said...

To PHD in Yogurtry,

People with DID have already "defied the odds" by surviving in this clever way - just wanted to note to the contrary that people DID often have HIGH IQ's and can have some alters with extraordinary High functioning - also a survival tool - defense mechanism - reading many of Walker's earlier interviews will reveal much amnesia for events - particular those prescribed to a single alter's purpose - thus not remembered by others (just as abuse "not remebered by all). I am very thankful for Herschel's "outing himself" and writing book - and hope mental health profession is able to sensibly and sensitively treat the feared " MPD explosion publicity may bring. it is hard for society to accept that terrible things do happen to children - and if they can deal survive it with the use of alters, we, as professionals, had best be prepared to listen and tolerate hearing their stories.

Cat said...

I certainly have had times where I was low-functioning but overall I have been high-functioning and have tried to be very open about my experiences.

I felt like, as I read HW's book, he had read my blog and took most of my opinions and put them into a book! It's amazing how many of his opinions and my own mesh.

I feel this, as a coping mechanism, doesn't need "fixing" but can be used for positive things in my life. I'm working hard to balance things out WITH my personalities so that I can continue to function but with a higher drive and more organization than some of the 'singletons' that I know.

Hey, wish me luck! I'm trying, and during my struggles I've found I'm healing those parts of me that felt they were useless.

Thanks, Jane, for mentioning my blog. I wrote about HW's book release as well a few months ago and recently when I purchased his book.

Great to see so many aware of DID. Even if you don't "believe"'s all in MY head, right? I'm perfectly okay with someone not understanding how it can be possible. It's very very internalized.

heiresschild said...

i agree, WOW! i'd like to read his book.

Marj aka Thriver said...

I had to think about this one for a while. I believe that raising awareness, reducing fear, and erasing stigma is always a GOOD thing. I will definitely get this book. I haven't read much about dissociative disorders from a male perspective.

Jaime (An Infinite Mind) said...

If you want a great book by a male perspective, read A Fractured Mind. Robert Oxnam is an amazing man.

Anonymous said...

Herschel Walker is one of the most kind hearted southern boys that have ever graced the television. Herschel, I will forever be a devoted fan. Keep up your faith in the Lord, and you will find He is on your side.