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A Fractured Mind

By Robert Oxnam (Hyperion, 2005)
Review by an anonymous contributor

A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder by Robert Oxnam
Hardcover ISBN: 1401302270
Publisher: Hyperion (October 1, 2005)
Price: 16.29 at Amazon (14.97 used)

A Fractured Mind starts off horribly, meanders into excruciating boredom, before turning out to be a surprisingly decent book. It’s the story of a very successful business man who was slowly destroying his life through drinking and bulimia. One day in therapy, the stereotypical angry alter comes out, shocking the therapist and leading us into the MPD diagnosis. Unlike most DID novels, the patented hidden child abuse memories do not compose the majority of the book. In fact, they’re only described in a brief, disjointed passage and referenced in a few other cases. The book is primarily about the people in the system and their memories of learning about each other. At the end of the book is a trite, vomit-worthy explanation from their therapist.

The book should be interesting for multiples. For the newly diagnosed, it will provide some positive things that they need to learn but could also be misleading. For singles, the book combats some stereotypes but creates and reinforces others.

The Good:

  • Robert Oxnam is an extremely successful man. They managed to be fully self-sufficient before, during, and after therapy. He completely blows apart the image that all multiples are women incapable of doing anything but falling apart.
  • Integration isn’t the happy ending. Robert Oxnam is three people working together as a team. They call it collaborative multiplicity.
  • The person who initiated therapy voluntarily withdraws from using the body to allow someone else to be in charge. There are discussions about the hosts having changed over the years. There is no integration into the original person.
  • There are sections of the book written by each person in the system from their point of view. The author does use the phrase "personalities inside me" but the book is clearly about a group with no one person being more real than anyone else.
  • It was nice to read about a group learning how to communicate with each other. They do a good job of describing their inner world to the general public.
  • MPD is an explanation, not an excuse." Page 165
  • "I feel my achievements may not have been in spite of MPD. Instead, they may be because of MPD" Page 169
  • The Bad:

    Multiplicity is not the same as having different sides to your personality even if you throw amnesia into the mix. There’s no reason for the author to have bought into this idea so heavily. Very few of them were one dimensional.

    The first chapter is so boring! Bob goes into way too much detail about his family’s history of overachieving and his scholastic career. The rise of his career is equally dull but at least his work with New York’s Asia Society was relevant to the story-line. We did not need to know that Tom Brokaw used to call him to ask how to pronounce "Deng". Name dropping continues to be a theme throughout the book.

    Integration isn’t the story ending but it does play a heavy role.

    They end up working together but there is still a lot of talk of suffering from MPD and being fractured. Multiplicity is never shown as anything other than an illness.

    Why must everyone reiterate how rare multiplicity and/or MPD is?

    The Scary:

    This was Oxnam’s second attempt at writing a book about his experiences. News of the first book leaked out revealing publicly that he had MPD. He almost lost his job because some people were upset over him being multiple. It took the threat of lawsuit to secure his position.

    The Puzzling Integration:

    Supposedly Oxnam started as eleven ‘personalities’ and integrated into three by the end of the book. The claims of integration don’t really add up with the rest of the book, though.

    The first integration supposedly took place after an alliance was formed between three people. The main person wanted to retire into their inner world and the other agreed to take over with the third helping him. Somehow they progressed from an agreement to share skills to Bob and Robbey having integrated into Robert.

    Several of the chapters are from Bob’s point of view. Bob even states that he finds it very strange to be writing again after so long. This doesn’t really fit with the assertion that Bob integrated into Robert. Other supposedly integrated people also have sections from their point-of-view.

    Robert continually refers to the Bob-inside-him. "[I let] the Bob-part-of-me focus on the annual dinner while I gave new attention to working with Bobby." It is unclear whether Bob is still performing certain actions but doing so through Robert without taking physical control of the body. The other possibility is that Robert began referring to anything he associated with Bob as coming from his Bob part.

    At one point they state: "Baby wasn’t dead. Baby had just told his horrible story and had retreated back into the Castle." But later they claim that Baby was integrated into Robert. They also claim that Bob and Robbey still have their old places in the Castle.

    The therapist decides that Robert is a seven-sided merger. His logic is that two of the people linked with Bob and Robbey probably integrated with them during the alliance. He also assumes that the Librarian and Baby must be integrated because he doesn’t think anyone in the system will see them again.

    Towards the end of the book another integration via alliances takes place but the people who supposedly integrated appeared during an argument some time later. One is left to wonder whether any integrations occurred at all. Perhaps what they are calling integration has more to do with people withdrawing from the day-to-day life and agreeing only to act through certain people?

    The Therapist:

    I really believe that Oxnam was able to pull their group together in spite of their therapist rather than due to his help. When they started therapy, a lot of them were unable to communicate adequately with each other. Instead of teaching them ways to reach each other, he made them dependant on him to act as an intermediary. Some of the people were abusive of each other but he blamed this all on their hidden trauma. Even once they’d produced this memory, he never worked with them to stop the abuse or to teach them how to respond to situations better. All cohesion as a group was developed by themselves. He taught them this distorted view of normal people and what it means to have different sides to your personality. He continually pressured them to integrate even once they’d made the decision against it. That’s not even mentioning his stupid explanation about DID at the back of the book.

    "Bobby," said Dr. Smith, "why can’t you see that life could be even better if you linked up with Robert?"

    "Sure. Lots better. Robert gets my energy and fun. And I get to be in my late fifties. I get forty years older in one day."

    "But otherwise," Dr. Smith said, "the two of you are often at odds. No one wins."

    "Okay," Bobby said to Dr. Smith. "I’ll integrate! But only if Robert integrates into me. We can be called Bobby and we’ll be, like, in our early twenties. Now that’s cool. I get old-man abilities. You know, like experience, reading, and writing. See if Robert’s willing to do that."

    "You see, I said to Dr. Smith, "Bobby’s absolutely hopeless. He knows we can’t change outer age, but he just won’t give up. He becomes more stubborn each day."

    "I love everything about Bobby," Dr. Smith replied, "But I know integration is the right path. It would be good for all concerned. Without it, both of you will be frustrated. And I’m not sure what we do next."

    "Right now," I replied, "it’s an absolute dead end. Bobby believes in separate but equal. I suppose it’s not right to say we’re totally separate. I guess it’s something like ‘collaborative multiplicity.’ Bobby won’t budge and inch beyond that. He’ll work together when it suits him. He stays apart the rest of the time."

    "Whatever your term," Dr. Smith said sternly, "I still call it multiple personality disorder." Pages 226, 227

    pavilion @ karitas . net
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