First Published 1974 by Penguin.
Sybil, a young woman living in America in 1945, describes her situation to a doctor thus - 'Ever since I was a little girl, I've been sick but not sick.'. Throughout her life Sybil Dorsett has been losing time and is beset by fears and feelings she does not quite understand. She cannot even cry. Finally she seeks help in the form of Dr. Wilbur. What follows is a true story of the psychoanalysis of a woman who has 16 separate personalities.
I've not read any other books about multiple personality disorder (now apparently more properly referred to as dissociative identity disorder) but I've seen it used many times as a device on television. The difference here is that Sybil's story is based on a real person and the book does not cut corners to dramatize it. Sybil is in therapy for 11 years and we follow her through that long and complex journey. The analysis peels back the levels of Sybil's story as her therapist does . We discover Sybil as she discovers herself - haltingly.
Having read the Wikipedia article about this book, I understand that there is some question about the accuracy of Dr. Wilbur's findings. However, according to Schreiber, when Sybil read the book she said 'Every emotion is true' and that's how it felt when I read it. Sybil's fear of what her loss of time might mean and her reluctance to confront certain facts feels very real to me. Imagine the fear of coming to yourself in front of a car with an angry driver asking you to pay for a broken window or even just finding a dress you never bought in your wardrobe... Sybil, and parts of Sybil, are even afraid of getting better. Will she lose something when/if she achieves the longed for 'integration'?
If you've seen any of those television programs that I mentioned earlier then you'll know, as I did before reading, that these kind of disorders are associated with childhood trauma. So, to a certain extent, I was expecting some of the revelations of the second part (entitled 'Becoming'), however, I found the details horrific and they are fully described. I don't think the writing is trying sensationalise these events but I'd avoid this book if descriptions of abuse are a trigger for you.
I was concerned when picking up this book (on the recommendation of L.) that it would be either filled with psychological terms that made it unreadable or lurid descriptions of horrific things. There were psychological terms and there were shocking events uncovered. However, in the end, the concern of both Dr. Wilbur and Schreiber seems to honestly be to tell you the story of their friend Sybil and her emotional journey. Perhaps other readers would prefer an account that focused less on the therapy and more on the events that led up to it - but for me this was an absorbing and thoughtful book that I will think about for a long time.
01/50 (Starting date 01/08/2010).
Also posted to my journal.