I just finished reading “Switching Time” by Dr. Richard Baer. It Blew. My. Mind. Do not read this if you are afraid of course language. I don’t mean to be graphic, but in retelling this true story there is no way to convey the story any other way.
People who suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD, have normally suffered something tragic in their lives that cause them to split mentally in order to protect themselves. Don’t we all do that when we are in stressful situations? We become someone who we aren’t, sometimes only momentarily, but for a brief moment we don’t even recognize ourselves. The difference is we are aware of this behavior when it happens, but what if we were suddenly forced into extreme situations repeatedly – how would we handle it?
In the book “Switching Time” Karen, the patient with 17 multiples inside her has suffered in ways that I am not sure any human can bear:
1. Gang Rape by people in her neighborhood and the priest at her church
2. Satanic rituals which involved extreme physical torture
3. Pins stuck into her body from the time she was 1 year old
4. Forced to eat excrement
5. Molested by her father and grandfather
6. Prostituted out for money
7. Forced to watch pornography
8. Fish Hooks stuck in her chest
9. Face burned with curling iron
10. Forced into ice-cold water with blood in it and then stuck in a coffin for hours
11. Multiple items inserted into her body cavities including hammers, hangers and waterhoses
12. Religious torture and brainwashing
13. Electrical shocks
14. Tied to the bed naked and beaten
15. Forced to steal and then punished for stealing
I read this book in 3 days and could not put it down. I’m amazed at the mind’s ability to protect itself. Each of Karen’s distinct personalities had traits of their own. Some were crippled, some had allergies and vision problems and when she’d take medication it was effective on some of the personalities but not on all of them. One of the personalities claimed to be able to make Karen’s body temperature rise at will and for rashes to appear.
Each personality had a function that helped Karen to cope with her life. One personality handled school work and one could draw while others would cook, clean or drive. The personalities were not limited to female either. Karen had 4 male personalities along with her 13 female personalities.
When we were growing up my family was very spiritual. We were Christians who believed in demons and demon possession and we were taught that MPD was a form of demon possession. After reading this book I’m not so sure this is true. I’m sure that in all of our lives there are things of a spiritual nature happening that we do not understand, but are all multiple personality disorders demon possession?
In Karen’s case she did not turn against God despite this ordeal. She was told repeatedly that she was evil and her tormentors played Choir hymns while they tortured her. At her communion her father took her into the back room in her white dress and stuck a cross into her vagina. A priest molested her and forced her to make child pornography films.
What is astounding throughout this story is that Karen was able to fool people into believing that she was okay. She protected her attackers and one of her personalities was always happy and played dumb when she was asked about her injuries. Even with a child denying how she was injured, you would think that her teachers would have suspected foul play and done something to intervene and help Karen.
At the end of the story, Karen writes a brief message to the reader telling us to watch out for children that have a glazed look in their eyes and seem to be disconnected from society. When a child feels that they can’t talk to someone about their problems they have no where else to turn but inward.
Dr. Baer’s story is a compelling and despite the dark topic you are carried on this emotional wave of hope. Despite Karen’s constant desire to kill herself, which is something I think many people would have done in her case, she presses on and after 18 years of therapy finally becomes a whole person.
I’m impressed by Dr. Baer’s patience and as someone who wants to enter into counseling, I found this book very educational. Sitting all day and listening to problems can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Dr. Baer gets a divorce during the time that he is treating Karen and despite the fact that he rarely mentions the toll his therapy with Karen is taking, it is evident that is must be destructive on multiple levels to his own emotional health.
I recommend Switching Time to anyone who wants to further understand the power of the human psyche and the impact we can have on people when we are willing to work with them and be patient. As Americans I don’t know many people who could suffer through 18 weeks of intense listening and understanding let alone 18 years. I have a new respect for all counselors after reading this book and I can’t help but applaud both Dr. Baer and Karen for this remarkable recovery.