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Mysteries of the mind unfold at program

POSTED: 10-06-2006

The Purple Lady was obsessed with her namesake color. Retrace Lady would go miles out of her way to avoid retracing her steps. Strawberry Girl was immature. Jane was a compulsive reader.

They and other personas were all Bobby Sizemore’s mother, all fighting for dominance in a single body the rest of the world knew as “Eve” -- one of the most famous psychological case studies in history.

"Eve," whose real name is Chris Costner Sizemore, and her son, Bobby, spoke to Stetson University students recently at a special program that included a lecture, slide show of Chris’ artwork, a frank question-and-answer session, and a reception. Chris talked openly of her struggles with Multiple Personality Disorder, which in her case had manifested itself in more than 20 personas over several decades. She has been healed for 30 years. Bobby discussed what it’s like to grow up with a mother who had personalities so distinct that he could tell, by looking at her eyes, whenever a role-change had taken place. “That’s how real they were to me,” he told the rapt audience of about 100.

Chris was the subject of the 1957 book by Drs. Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, “The Three Faces of Eve” (Kingsport Press), and of the subsequent movie of the same name. Actor Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for her portrayal of Chris, who is depicted in the book and movie as having three personalities and eventually as being cured.

That wasn’t the whole truth, Chris explained in response to a question about the accuracy of the book and movie. She said that Thigpen diagnosed her MPD, and he and Cleckley treated her for a few years, but didn’t tell her full story in their book. A page in the publication describes the book as being a “complete account” of the case the psychiatrists had presented in a 1954 article for the “Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology.” The problem, Chris said, is that a few months after she was proclaimed healed, her disorder resurfaced.

The movie also fell short, Chris said. “It didn’t tell what my real life was like,” she said, while also noting that she and her family weren’t consulted about the book or movie, and didn’t earn any money from either product. Chris went on to co-author, with her cousin Elen Sain Pittillo, a more comprehensive book about her life, “I’m Eve,” in 1977, and then wrote “A Mind of My Own,” in 1989.

During more than 40 years of psychotherapy, primarily under the care of Dr. Tony Tsitos, Chris grappled with numerous personalities who existed in groups of three. The total number included seven artists, 10 poets and a talented seamstress.

Bobby’s favorite was the Retrace Lady. She was “the one I considered my truest mother as I was growing up,” he said. “She went away during the integration (of the personalities into a whole).” His least favorite was Strawberry Girl. Bobby said that, once, while grocery shopping with the Retrace Lady, he briefly left the store to go to a nearby drugstore. Upon his return, he found Retrace Lady had disappeared and Strawberry Girl had taken her place. She had filled more than three shopping carts with every strawberry-flavored food item she could find in the store.

Despite such incidents, Bobby said that the only sacrifice he made growing up was the inability to invite friends to his house. He felt safe among all the personalities he met, although he favored some more than others. He said his older sister Taffy and his father provided family stability. “I give my sister and father all the credit in dealing with the situation,” he said. “My sister raised me many times and deserves the majority of the credit for the way the family dealt with (the situation).” His father as breadwinner assumed a burden of expensive medical treatment. Together, they coped as a family in an era when people facing mental challenges were routinely placed in asylums.

“I see myself as a product of a family that stressed education and values,” said Bobby, a graduate of George Mason University who is a guidance counselor at Fort Myers High School. The idea for the Stetson presentation bubbled up from the interest of Stetson students who had been counseled by Bobby in high school, said Dr. Dan Hale, Stetson professor of Psychology.

One questioner asked Chris why the personality changes stopped. “I think of it as a healing,” Chris said. Tsitos “helped me to heal myself,” she said, by letting “each personality solve her own problems and let the others know.” In the past, severe headaches accompanied the personality changes. Chris said that when she gets a headache now, the doctor tells her to take an aspirin.

One student asked how Chris deals with people who challenge that MPD isn’t a real disorder. “That’s their problem,” she joked, before saying that Duke University researchers analyzed the brushstrokes of paintings created by her seven artist personalities. Each had a distinct brushstroke.

Chris said her many personalities arose in response to “hurtful events” during childhood. Today, “I don’t need them,” she said of the personalities. “As a whole person, I can face my realities and deal with them.”

Photo: Bobby Sizemore and his mother, Chris Costner Sizemore, hug after being presented plaques of appreciation for sharing their story with Stetson University students.

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