Cuckoo by Madison Clell One woman's true stories of Living with Multiple Personality Disorder


Paperback: 291 pages Publisher: Green Door Studios (1 Sep 2002) ISBN-10: 0971182205 ISBN-13: 978-0971182202

As I live in the UK, and as Dissositive Identity Disorder (previously know as Multiple Personality Disorder) seems to be a diagnosis confined to North America, I have never had a patient who displayed its signs, and know of no collegues who have seen it either. That is not necessarilly to say that it may not exist: anthropologist would point out that there are many culture specific diseases, and it is listed in the DSM IV. There is, however, some controversy surrounding the issue.
Clell has a story of suffering and confusion to tell, and she has done it in the medium way that comes most natural to her. There is certainly a lot of work gone into this work: 291 densly packed pages, starting with an explanation of the disorder, using the metaphore of a virus-infected computer, and going on to cover Clell's symptoms, diagnosis and subsequent therapy. The artwork is very distinctive: dark, inky and scribbly. Clell seems to have made this book (a collection of shorter self published comics) out of a need to express what she was feeling and a hope that she might help others. The book covers similar ground to Daddy's Girl and A Childs Life: horrific sexual abuse, post traumatic stress. The book also raises some interesting questions about differing perspectives of disease and illness. Doctors are often criticised for reductively "classifying" and "medicalising" life, imposing diagnoses and therefore labels and power structures onto others who then become their "patients", yet there are diagnoses, such as DID, ME, Fibromyalgia etc whose very existence seems championed by sufferers. The sufferers strive to convince skeptical doctors of the existence of their problem, and rage at doctors who do not accept the "syndrome" as a specific disease entity.
The book has recieved some acclaim from within the comics community but i have to admit that I found it rather confusing. The illustration is rather unclear, with small text scrawled over the drawings. I couldn't figure out what many of the illustrations were supposed to show and the narrative doesn't seem to hang together well (Franks "chaos narrative?/), although, to be fair this may reflect the original format of short stories in separate pamphlets. The story didn't really draw me in, although the same seems not to be true for Dr "Patch" Adams, M.D. who says in the forword that the work reduced him to tears. On the other hand, I now know much more than I did about DID, about "alters" and "multiples". It must be hellish. Clell's boyfriend Jacob comes over as someting of a saint in the book, her parents and sister fair less well.
I should probably re-read this book. Maybe I am too embedded in the health system and have come to the subject with ingrained medics attitudes towards a debated medical condition. I am judging Clells narrative against my ingrained "official" (biopsychosocial) narrative. If you have read it please let me know what you think.

key themes: Dissocitive Identity Disorder Multiple Personality Disorder Child Abuse PTSD


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