The Midnight Driver

The Midnight Driver.

Alice was in her mid 20s and it was her aunt, Gladys, who referred her for counselling. Alice had been living in Canada with her father since her mother passed on, when she was very young. After completing her high school education, she arrived unannounced in Singapore and appeared at Gladys’ home, requesting that she would like to stay with her aunt. Six months later, she enrolled at a local university. Into her first semester, Gladys began to notice her niece’s behavioural changes. Initially, she thought that it was just Alice adjusting back to life here, and learning to cope with her new stresses as an undergraduate. But as time passed, certain events began to alarm her.

There were certain days when Alice closeted herself in her room and refused her meals, and other days when she snacked non-stop. There were days when she complained of insomnia, and at other times when she skipped classes and slept through the day. On weekends, Alice spent the evening partying till the early hours of the morning and returned home tipsy. But she denied all of it! When challenged by Gladys, she insisted that her aunt must have had her mixed up with someone else. These denials included several appointments missed, and promises made earlier but totally forgotten. On some days, Alice sat by her bedroom window and was totally lost in her own world, despite Gladys calling out to her at the doorway. Again, Alice denied making any appointments and promises that she had forgotten.

Gladys was particularly foxed over a couple of months, when she noticed that her vehicle’s fuel tank gauge seemed to be near empty on certain mornings, when she distinctly recalled refuelling them the day before. Although Alice would use her car from time-to-time, she always asked Gladys’ permission beforehand. Gladys concluded that perhaps she was getting too forgetful. Then one early morning, she thought she heard the front gate being engaged. She got up to check it out. She found Alice was walking through the front door. Gladys called her, but Alice just walked right past her, as though she had not heard nor noticed her presence. Gladys became really unsettled. She went to check on her car, and noticed that the bonnet was still warm and the fuel gauge registered a lower volume. When confronted with her night driving, Alice became offended and denied using the car. In actuality, she could not remember. When Alice, in a fugue state, continued to use Gladys’ car usually past midnight, she would be non-contactable for at least 3 to 4 hours, and Gladys did not know where she would be. Thankfully, Alice returned safely on each occasion.

Dissociative amnesia is not uncommon is most cases of dissociative identity disorders, but dissociative fugue is rare. A fugue in progress is often difficult for others to recognise, because the person’s outward behaviour appears normal. A few of their symptoms may include a sudden and unplanned travel away from home, an inability to recall past events or important information from the person’s life, confusion or loss of memory about his or her identity, possibly assuming a new identity to make up for the loss, and possibly experiencing extreme distress and problems with daily functioning due to the fugue episodes. Gladys knew that Alice’s parents had a stormy relationship, due largely to her brother-in-law’s volatile and violent temper. Although, she did not address with Alice, the reasons for her sudden appearance at her home, she suspected that Alice had probably ran away from her overly strict upbringing by her father in Canada. Was Alice abused by her father? Gladys could not confirm. But from the symptoms she described, the likelihood of emotional and mental abuse were fairly high.