Robert B. Oxnam became a prominent China scholar and head of the Asia Society, despite a constant struggle with alcohol, bulimia, depression and mysterious blackouts. He later learned that his problems stemmed from a rare illness: multiple personality disorder.
His psychiatrist first diagnosed him when an angry boy named Tommy emerged during one of their sessions. Through therapy, Oxnam was able to work through his 11 personalities. Today, three still remain. "A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder" is Oxnam's account of how he pieced himself and his life back together.
Below is an excerpt of Oxnam's "A Fractured Mind."
Bob: "I Always Thought I was 'Real.'"
On a cold, cloudy afternoon in March 1990, driving my black Honda through the spiderweb of highways north of New York City, I had no idea that this day would change my life forever. I was in a funk of a mood, dark and irritable, loathing the meeting with my psychiatrist that lay ahead. Seven months earlier, when I first met Dr. Jeffery Smith, I had real hope that he could cure my spiraling depression and anger. But now, after enduring extensive therapy sessions and a month in a rehabilitation clinic, I felt worse than ever. It was time to break from Dr. Smith.
But I realized that cutting off relations with Dr. Smith would be a challenge. He seemed like a genuinely concerned colleague, professional but approachable, a very hard man to dislike. Working from a simple office in an unpretentious modern building, he certainly was not the sort of shrink who siphons off patients' money to pay huge overhead. He dressed in a casually professional way -- button-down shirt, plain tie, sport jacket -- never offering an imposing image. And, unlike any other therapist I had encountered, he conducted our meetings in an easy but attentive style: listening carefully with sharply focused eyes, letting me talk without interrupting, then offering cogent insights rather than "psychobabble."
I resolved to come right to the point. "Hello," I said as coldly as possible, "we've got to talk."
"Yes, Bob," he said quietly, "what's on your mind?" I shut my eyes for a moment, letting the raging frustration well up inside, then stared angrily at the psychiatrist.
"Look, I've been religious about this recovery business. I go to AA meetings daily and to your sessions twice a week. I know it's good that I've stopped drinking. But every other aspect of my life feels the same as it did before. No, it's worse. I hate my life. I hate myself."
Suddenly I felt a slight warmth in my face, blinked my eyes a bit, and then stared at him.
"Bob, I'm afraid our time's up," Smith said in a matter-of-fact style.
"Time's up?" I exclaimed. "I just got here."
"No." He shook his head, glancing at his clock. "It's been fifty minutes. You don't remember anything?"
"I remember everything. I was just telling you that these sessions don't seem to be working for me."
Smith paused to choose his words very carefully. "Do you know a very angry boy named 'Tommy'?"
"No," I said in bewilderment, "except for my cousin Tommy whom I haven't seen in twenty years..."
"No." He stopped me short. "This Tommy's not your cousin. I spent this last fifty minutes talking with another Tommy. He's full of anger. And he's inside of you."