Years after her death, the controversy still rages regarding my friend, Shirley Mason. It’s those who believe in the validity of dissociative identity disorder versus those who don’t. It’s those who think she was taken advantage of versus those who consider Dr. Wilbur, Flora Schreiber, and Shirley to be more interested in selling books than the truth.
I know this to be true. Shirley Mason believed in the validity of her diagnosis. She shared that with me in a parked car near Rio Grande shortly after the book came out. Yes, I know that she wrote Dr. Wilbur negating her alternate selves, but that was also when she was still in therapy. Desperation leads us to do odd things and to seek any portal of escape. At the time Shirley wrote to Dr. Wilbur, she was overwhelmed and just wanted to be done with what she had started.
When referring to Shirley I usually put her name first, then "aka Sybil". I did not do that with my book title because I wanted to reflect that Shirley lived a relatively good life for many years after the book about her was published. To me, Shirley was simply my good friend and only secondarily the fictional Sybil. My Shirley was a teacher, an artist, a business owner, and my mentor; so many things that did not involve dissociation, alternates, therapy, or the anguish of her life as a multiple. I did not dwell on who she used to be, but embraced the Shirley who loved to laugh and had so many ongoing projects I couldn’t keep track of them all. We talked about art, teaching, travel, my family, so many things that interested us. She thanked me for that and for not dwelling on her past. I saw her as normal instead of the conflicted Sybil.
Since I went public with my friendship with Shirley, I have come in contact with many who are living with dissociative identity disorder. Each one has a unique story although all have the usual signs of the disorder. Some have chosen not to integrate and for very good reasons. Others have done the opposite. There is no one solution fits all. As I told Shirley, I saw her alternates as siblings and she agreed. She did not view the integration process as killing them off; rather it was allowing all her various selves to make up the whole of who she wanted to be. When others choose a different path, who is to say that decision is wrong? Who among us can truly choose for others when we haven’t walked in their shoes? As I listen to their stories, I remind myself that my job is to be a sounding board. I do not ever give advice as I am not a therapist, far from it. I am someone who cares. I am someone who believes that by sharing someone else’s burden, maybe I can make that load lighter.
Happenstance, fate, fortuity put Shirley and I together. I like to think it was for a reason; that reason being to help others if only indirectly. I like to think that my sharing the details of my friendship with Shirley will perhaps enlighten those who are seeking knowledge. That it will perhaps encourage those who are seeking hope. That it will allow Shirley to be seen in a different light. She would be happy about that.