The Hide-And-Seek Lady.
Susan was in her late 20s and happily married to James. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia 4 years earlier when she had what appeared to be a psychotic break, and was hospitalised for two weeks. She also suffered from depression, and was prone to suicide ideation. It was on one of these occasions after an overdose, that she was referred to me. She was an extremely intelligent and motivated person, with rare entrepreneurial skills that surfaced during her teen years. Immediately after her high school, she opted for the polytechnic route in her college education, majoring in business management. She began her own online business portal while still in college, and started marketing an assortment of products, from jewelry to clothes and its accessories, and rare vinyl music records to gourmet coffee beans. She supported herself through her studies. She had been on medication prescribed by her psychiatrist, but confessed she was more often than not, delinquent in taking them, as their strong side effects interfered with her running her business.
In the three years she started counselling with me, her husband always accompanied her and was very supportive of her progress. Except for her depression, supportive therapy was extended for her psychosis. She claimed that she never had a relapse even though she missed her medication regularly despite the ups-and-downs in life. I was intrigued, as this was rather unusual for someone in her diagnosed condition. One day, in our fourth year, as we were talking about her younger days, which we did a number of times previously, she suddenly stopped in the middle of her sentence and stared at the floor. I called out to her, but she remained unresponsive. I looked over at James, and he shrugged his shoulders and looked puzzled. Then suddenly, Susan let out a shrill scream and scrambled to a corner of the room, hiding behind a large armchair. James bolted up from his chair in shock. Immediately, I signalled him to retake his seat and to remain quiet. I walked over to Susan. The moment she saw me, she screamed and squeezed further into the corner, whimpering in fear. I reassured her quietly and then went back to my seat, and waited. Ten minutes later, Susan crawled out from her hiding place, with no memory of what happened earlier. She had an abreactive reaction to earlier traumatic events in her life. Through our following sessions, these previously repressed traumatic feelings reoccurred, much to our consternation, until she learned to ground herself as we moved at a snail’s pace in helping her stabilise. It had taken three years for Susan to realise that she was in a sufficiently safe environment to get in touch with her deepest traumatic feelings.
Although schizophrenia can co-exist with dissociation, in Susan’s case, she took the decision to stop taking her psychosis medication. She remained in counselling for another three years with no discernible psychotic relapse.
Susan was brought up by an elderly aunt until she was about 12 years old, when she went back to live with her parents. Her hyperactive temperament soon took its toll on her with her overly strict parents. There were constant physical and emotional abuses: she was denied food and affection, threatened with abandonment, locked out of the home or in a dark storeroom for 7 to 12 hours at a time, punched and slapped incessantly, her favourite soft toys were purposely shredded before her, chilli rubbed into her eyes, and other cruelties. These atrocious abuses formed her dissociated memories.