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Kansas City artist explores connection between mental health and expression

Zee Evans and her dog, Rafiki.
Carla Eckels
Zee Evans and her dog, Rafiki.

An artist with dissociative identity disorder, sometimes called multiple personalities, uses art to help put her mind at ease.

Art can be very therapeutic. It boosts energy and can provide a great level of satisfaction. Art can also alleviate anxiety and stress. An artist with dissociative identity disorder (DID) — sometimes called multiple personalities — uses art to help her cope.

Zee Evans, who goes by Zee, is sitting on a friend's back porch. She's in Wichita down from Kansas City visiting an old roommate for the weekend. Zee is scrolling through her phone showing images of her art projects. For about two years she's been creating resin art from her home office.

"So, between calls, I can do little projects and stuff," she says. "So, I do that sort of thing like resin. The Perler bead art is really easy to do because I can set it down. I also do puzzles, and then I glue it, and then I hang it up in my house. I've got like almost 50 puzzles hanging throughout my house that I do between goals at work."

Zee says working on puzzles helps to put her mind at ease.

"I do struggle with, depression, anxiety as well as a dissociative identity disorder," she says.

"With those different diagnoses, comes different challenges and my work is very stressful, so I need something to calm myself down and art has definitely helped that because it gives me something to change focus away from the technology because I work in IT. So just to get me away from that computer screen for a minute and just refocus on something else, that's not stressful."

And eliminating stress is important to Zee as she navigates what's going on — in her mind, transitioning between identities.

"It used to be referred to as multiple personality disorder, but they've discovered it's more of a dissociative disorder rather than like different personalities. It's an issue developed during childhood and usually it's trauma-related."

Trauma-related, from when she was very young…

"One of my headmates developed when I was four years old. A big traumatic event happened then and that was the original split. That was, my headmate that I call 'Little Lindsey' and my headmate that I called 'Big Brother.'

"Those were the first two. And then later more trauma happened and there was another split. Then another split — and then another…and another…eventually… a collection of headmates…

"I have 11 altogether. Some of them are children, some of them are adults, some of them are fictive. So, they're based on, you know, characters or different things that I developed growing up. Some of them are there to protect. Some of them are trauma holders."

Zee was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder about a year and a half ago.

"It's so helpful to have a diagnosis and know what's going on in your own mind because all these years, like, I've been going to counseling for years and I've been trying to figure out what's, you know, what's wrong with me? Why am I different? And once I got that diagnosis, everything kind of fell into place," she says. "It really helped me deal with my trauma in my past and be able to move forward in a new life."

Zee says understanding has made it possible to manage her 11 headmates.

"It's kind of like, I'll describe my headspace for you, and it's not the same for everyone but my headspace is like a house, and everybody has their own room and then we have the public spaces, but then we have what I call the control room," she says. "It's where whoever is fronting, whoever is presenting to the public is the one that's in there."

Zee says dissociative identity disorder is viewed by some as off-putting or scary.

"The media has a tendency to skew DID. Like they made the movie 'Split,' where they follow a serial killer who had DID and how he switched and didn't remember and they tend to portray us in a very negative way and portray it like it's dangerous and scary but it's not once you understand it and most of us, we may not remember what happened but, in my case, like none of my headmates are untrustworthy. I know all of them and like my friends know them."

When asked if she finds coping with her disorder exhausting, she emphatically replies...

"Yes! It can be exhausting to manage basically my own household in my head," she says enthusiastically. "Being able to come up with an idea together, being able to cooperate together, is what brings me the most peace and to be able to create something that's beautiful that I love and that somebody else will love is what really calms me and makes it so that, the world around me isn't so bad and a big part of that is the fact that we all love art."

Zee hopes to develop her art to one day, sell online. In the meantime, she says she'll keep creating art for her own…piece of mind.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.