Busy Inside tracks two women dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder. Marshay Smith is a biracial musician whose numerous personalities manifest in different artistic mediums – one paints, one sings, etc. Her therapist Karen Marshall suffers from the same affliction, having no less than seventeen personalities. While writer-director Olga Lvoff’s documentary is brief, at only 70 minutes, it is nevertheless a profound exploration of how childhood trauma often leads to DID and how those suffering from it, and those around them, deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
Oscillating between interviews and naturalistic observation of their daily lives, Busy Inside foregrounds the overlap between Smith and Marshall’s divergent personalities. When Smith is coherent and able to contextualize her disorder, she gives voice to the myriad personalities inside her head fighting for room. Lvoff wisely identifies these personalities around monikers that speak to her interests, particularly artistry. These other people living inside her diverge in regards to speaking patterns and how they relate to the outside world – one personality is particularly outgoing, while most are introverted. A fascinating subject, Smith is constantly aware of how DID affects outsiders’ perceptions of her but continues to live a fulfilling life.
“…a profound exploration of how childhood trauma often leads to DID…”
Similarly, Marshall, who has dedicated her life to working with individuals suffering from DID, has an overwhelming amount of personalities within her being. Some take on childish characteristics, while others are hyper-aware of the effects of DID. One, appropriately named Ant, takes on animalistic traits. Yet as Marshall works with Smith through her insecurities surrounding her rapid mood and personality swings, she also struggles to adopt a normal routine. This includes a marriage where her significant other is forced to contend with her shifting personalities.
Busy Inside wisely allows its subjects the room to articulate their struggles. The observations gleaned through this verité approach is that Marshall and Smith are never crippled by the disorder but are forced to contend with the constant shifts as each new personality emerges. Filling in these margins, Lvoff interviews Smith’s mother and Marshall’s partner, who contextualize the root cause of DID for both of them. While the reasons for all their personalities are made bare, and, to an extent, given explanations, namely some type of childhood abuse, they are never reduced to metonyms for an entire community. Instead, Smith and Marshall are presented as fully realized individuals, capable of navigating the world for themselves.
Unlike other documentaries that explore psychological trauma, Busy Inside never foregrounds what Marshall and Smith have gone through. Instead, Lvoff focuses on their ability to cope with what, on the surface, could be debilitating. Neither woman is limited in their lives, as Smith explores her artistic impulses through various mediums, and Marhsall runs a successful practice using her knowledge of DID to help others. The film is complex in its treatment, humanizing the oft-parodied disorder, showcasing the horrible root cause, and the prevailing sympathy and humanity from those who suffer from the affliction. Marshay Smith and Karen Marshall help destigmatize DID and showcase the artistic and therapeutic possibilities of such a busy mind.
"…allows its subjects the room to articulate their struggles."