One thing is immediately apparent about Chris Costner Sizemore: she notices everything.
From the Beverly Hills palm trees with the naked, ostrich-like trunks, to a reporter leaving wide margins on a pad for notations, to an old, wooden, curved-top radio in a radio station lobby, nothing unusual escapes her comment.
That is because Sizemore, 62, considers herself 15 and believes she is seeing many things for the first time since she recovered from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) in 1974.
"I think I'm like a growing child when they first begin to observe," Sizemore said. "I'm a middle-aged woman, but I think some of my personality development is that of a teen-ager."
Sizemore's defense mechanisms formed the first of 22 alternative personalities at age 2 after she witnessed a trio of gruesome incidents. Within three months, she saw one man who appeared to have drowned in a ditch, another who had been sawed in half at her father's lumber mill and her mother badly cut by an exploding jar. She lived with Jane, the Turtle Lady, the Retrace Lady and 19 other personalities until psychiatrists cured her 45 years later.
After one supposed cure, she became the basis for Joanne Woodward's Oscar-winning performance in the 1957 film "The Three Faces of Eve." She continued slipping into other personalities, however, and recovered years later only after extensive work with new therapists on the little-understood neurosis.
Her new book "A Mind of My Own (William Morrow and Co., Inc.) details her life after recovery and "the peace this wellness has brought to my family."
But during a recent trip to Los Angeles to publicize her book, she said the road to wellness was full of potholes. As she grew healthy, new relationships developed slowly and painfully with family and friends.
"I was so excited about being whole and being me. Everything was real. It was permanent," Sizemore said. "My family just did not seem to celebrate that."
Her husband Don, her daughter Taffy, now a 40-year-old Fredericksburg, Va., homemaker and her son Bobby, now a 30-year-old high school counselor in Ft. Myers, Fla., had after all endured numerous failed cures.
Before they accepted her recovery, they had to know she had ended the changes that could transform her IQ, skills, appetite, handwriting and facial expressions between the time they left home in the morning and returned at night. Until they were sure of that, her embarrassed family would keep her neurosis a secret and refuse to appear with her if she discussed her illness with audiences.
Her quiet, hard-working electrician husband once told friends: "It's just hard to forget that, for years, Chris could change at any minute. Whether doctors said she was cured or not. So being told again that she's well doesn't make my fears go away. Not overnight, anyway. . . . "And I couldn't tell a soul. Not for 23 years. That's what made it so hard. . . . No man at work had problems like mine. Over lunch . . . guys would talk about their wives running up bills on three or four credit cards. Or kids getting into trouble.
"But how was I going to slip into talk such as that with a line like, 'Yeah, I know troubles, too. My wife is three people right now.' "
The recovery also troubled Don, who married an alternate named "Jane" in 1953 and had to get to know Chris 20 years later.
Don told Chris he thought that once she recovered, she would function as a wife and mother without medical help and without heavy doctor bills. He also hoped that for a change, she would be able to help him.
Those hopes were not realized for years because Chris' fragile, new personality still needed expensive treatment and medication.
"I was unwittingly vacillating back and forth," Chris recalled, between multiple personalities and health. "Some days (my doctor's) counsel and my daughter's encouragements beckoned me toward deeper commitment to the realm of normalcy; but most days I was living with, or by, memories that beckoned from that other world."
Amid the tensions of his hopes and her reality, the couple lived silent lives, neither disturbing the other, for many months. He worked days and stayed to himself at night. She did housework and took preliminary steps on a book during the day and spent weekends with other family members.
When Don raised the possibility of divorce, saying he had taken care of her during her illness and had the right to live his own life, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. Her son, 14 at the time, came home from school to find her crawling on the floor slipping in and out of consciousness. He called a cab and rushed her to a doctor who saved her life.
In the following therapy, she wondered whether her abnormalities would ever cease and realized some startling things about her sex life.