Editing is shift work. So is living.
Grocery store checkouts and the craft of splitting tasks (and selves).
There is a concept in the dissociative identity disorder experience that is colloquially known as being 'front stuck'.
A lot of folks with DID and their therapists refer to being in-control of one's body as being "in the front" or "fronting". This is likely because often, when clients are first trying to express the differences between parts of themselves, they start with a spatial awareness inside their head. This part is often very close, they'll say, or this part feels very far, based on how much communication they have with that part. The closer to "the front" a certain part of me is, the more blended our thoughts and memories can become, and there is a higher likelihood of them "fronting", or being the one consciously out in the body.
Part of my DID therapy journey has been to learn something called functional multiplicity: living a life in which I can allocate certain tasks to other parts of myself based on their skills. I think of it like shift work in a cashier position at a grocery store. Living my daily life is manning the checkout, but I, Sydney, don't have the mental capacity to be at the checkout 24/7. I have the longest shifts, but sometimes, other parts of me come in and work their shifts instead of me.
We've been doing this unintentionally for my entire life. I have parts who split off so that I could complete work without an awareness of trauma memories, and I have other parts whose whole existence is to hold those trauma memories.
Now, the shift work is intentional, based on what our strengths and needs are. Stephen usually handles our budget and appointment calendar. Wes likes drinking and meeting new friends at events. Me and several other parts split therapy sessions between us. This works well for the parts of me that I have good communication with. If a part is negatively triggered out, however, there is no intentionality.
To be 'front stuck' as someone with DID is like no one else coming to take your shift because you're the only one who knows how to do inventory, and you need to be at the checkout until its done.
This often happens to me when I'm working on a creative project that only I can work on. I'm editing my forthcoming novel Bird Suit right now, and none of the other parts of me can do that. I've been spending long hours in front of my laptop screen before and after work, using the majority of my mental energy to stay "in the front" so that I can get my work done.
This is an exhausting practice in a way that is difficult to explain. It feels like trying to keep your eyes open after being awake for 48 hours straight.
As much as I’m talking about a highly specific dissociative disorder experience, I think that the concepts of shift work and functional multiplicity can easily be applied to the editorial process.
It is easy to become “front stuck” in editing; so focused on the larger picture of getting all of the editing done that each individual editorial task sort of bleeds into the next, and there is no satisfaction, only exhaustion.
When I get like this, fixing my book’s structure doesn’t please me; rewriting paragraphs doesn’t please me; I don’t know if anything will please me while I’m in the deepest part of my manuscript edits. So I keep going, which is beneficial to the draft, but hard on my psyche and my ability to objectively identify whether or not a section of text actually needs editing.
To split up editing not just into the three separate passes (developmental edits, line edits, and copyedits), but into individual tasks with clear deliverables can give us the opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the craft of whatever that task is.
If it’s a particular paragraph, I now have the energy and focus to go word by word, syllable by syllable, and ensure that it sounds the way I want it to sound. If it’s structure, I can focus on the flow of pacing in the text while intentionally blocking out any worries about word choice or syntax until later. And when I’m done each of these things, I get to celebrate, and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Even people without dissociative disorders cannot hold every aspect of a text in their focus all at once. While the splitting of my tasks and selves is literal, many writers effectively remove their “writing hat” for an “editing hat”, and even further into separate writing and editing tasks. Not all writers are like this, but I’ve found it to be quite common.
Multitasking is dead to me—and honestly, I couldn’t be happier.
News from the Marsh
Writing Trauma: Craft as a Healing Practice 8-Week Zoom Workshop, Starts Monday, July 31st, 2023
Class will meet weekly on Monday nights via Zoom, 6PM - 8PM EST
How do we write about our traumas without becoming re-traumatized? In this course, we will use a variety of texts to establish a therapeutic framework for writing about our traumas and participate in holding space during writer-led workshops for personal essays and selections from memoir projects.
The authors we will draw upon for our framework include Alice Walker, Nicole Chung, Melissa Febos, and others. All text selections will be provided to students in accessible PDFs from the instructor.
Prepare for a variety of grounding exercises and group boundary-setting in our first session based on the needs of our particular group, and to complete the 8-week workshop with a polished essay or memoir selection.
I had an essay published in Earth & Altar Magazine . It’s called “The First Martyr”, and it’s about martyrdom, my father, and the impact of the Grateful Dead and their rarely-played-live song "St. Stephen" on my dissociative identity disorder.
I update my events and publishing things frequently on my website, so take a browse there if you’re ever wondering what I’m up to. And, of course, subscribe to Marsh Mail if you want more of these kinds of musings in your inbox.
Sydney Hegele is the author of The Pump (Invisible Publishing 2021), winner of the 2022 ReLit Literary Award for Short Fiction and a finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award. Their essays on life with Dissociative Identity Disorder have appeared in Catapult and Electric Literature, and featured by Lithub, the Poetry Foundation, and Psychology Today. Their novel Bird Suit is forthcoming with Invisible Publishing in Spring 2024, and their essay collection Bad Kids is forthcoming with Invisible in Fall 2025. They live with their husband and French Bulldog on Treaty 13 Land (Toronto, Canada).