December 16, 2019
Sexuality Superheroes: Bethany Killen
Bethany’s mission is dedicated to reducing the stigma surrounding Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and helping those who live with the condition. She aims to empower those living with DID, as well as those living with trauma, mental illness, and grief. Because of Bethany’s amazing work, she is the perfect person to feature as this week’s Sexuality Superhero.
How did you find yourself working in sexuality?
In 2014, I was sexually assaulted. Without going into too much detail, I had been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) the year prior, and my alters (Zache, Heinrich and Shoshanna) did what they were supposed to do – protect me. I reported the assault to the police, who investigated and charged my rapist. The police and the courts believed me, but I found myself without an advocate as social services did not. Their disbelief was more to do with my diagnosis than anything else. A forensic sex therapist offered her services pro bono when my diagnosis was released, unlawfully and without my consent, to the public. She helped me, and my alters come to terms with what happened. This had a fairly significant impact on me. So, I went back to school to become a forensic and psychiatric social worker and sex therapist. I never looked back.
What is the best part of the job?
I work a lot with the dissociative community, and these individuals are at higher risk of being abused; roughly 70% more likely than a person without a Dissociative disorder. Often this results in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), gender-based violence and sexual abuse. So, whenever a client resurfaces after some time to tell me that they’ve left their abuser or toxic living situation, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. And when they leave, I do a little celebratory happy dance! Excuse me while I gleefully and haphazardly moonwalk to record this fantastic event!
What is the most challenging part of the job?
I have been to too many funerals because my clients couldn’t get out, or their abuser found out about their plan to escape, or in a couple of situations, suicide was the only way out. Whenever this happens, I always think; did I do everything I could? A futile question, because there isn’t a sufficient answer. I know I did, but grief is a sadistic mistress. And I think the second challenging piece of this work is not letting the sadness and anger turn you into stone. Practising radical softness when dealing with crippling self-doubt and despair is probably the hardest form of growth.
What is your most important piece of advice that has the potential to revolutionize relationships?
DATE YOURSELF! I’m not joking! Yeah, it’s great to have a relationship that has communication, pleasure and respect, but have you ever done that one thing that your partner has no interest in doing? Do you regret it? I bet you didn’t. Do that more often. It does not mean you don’t love your partner(s) or spending time with them. Sometimes you need to treat yourself in a way your partner(s) can’t quite satisfy.
What do you do to decompress and take care of yourself, given that you spend so much time helping and caring for others?
Due to my DID, my ability to decompress is a unique one! The foundation of DID is that it’s a coping mechanism that our brains developed as a result of repetitive levels of extreme trauma as children. As it stands right now, I share my body and life with five additional people – I affectionately call them ‘headmates’. And we all have our hobbies that we love doing, but the fascinating thing is that when an alter has been doing their self-care routine I experience a benefit. For example, my Deaf alter Roux loves to play the drums. So, after he’s been jamming and I become present*, the effects of the self-care are still there – I feel less stressed, my shoulders aren’t up to my ears. I genuinely feel better, and so does Roux. We all have our self-care routines to soothe ourselves individually, but the body benefits the most.
I play the flute, and I write novels. I’m not very good at either of those things, but it allows me to have creativity and imagination. I have not been brave enough to share my creative writings.
*in the DID community we call these switches. And often the metaphor of driving a car is used to describe it; so, the body is the car, and the driver is the one that is in control of the body. So, if Roux is playing the drums, he’s driving the car and not me.
What do you want people to know about your work as the founder & CEO of The Mad Social Worker?
A couple of things: firstly, any information presented on any site that is affiliated with me is not a replacement for therapeutic or medical advice or therapy. What works for me may not work for you. And if it does work for you, great! If not, that is okay. What I write about is mine, and my alters’ experiences. And our life is not like Hollywood horror tropes.
Secondly, I’m very passionate about what I do. Despite the laws around FOSTA/SESTA forcing me to rebrand from Canadian Sex Therapist to the Mad Social Worker, I’m still committed to living my truth as an individual with a highly stigmatized and complex disorder, as a social worker, and a sex therapist who is an autonomous sexual being. It’s a very nourishing ecosystem of ethics, advocacy and authenticity that works for us. By living my truth, I’m able to show people in my community that you can thrive with this disorder in relationships, dating, sex, and work. We don’t have to be confined by societal expectations borne out of discriminatory stereotypes.
Where can we learn more about your work?
Interested in learning more? Click here.