Podcast: The Sum of Her Parts With Olga Trujillo
In this episode, Trevor talks with internationally renowned speaker and author Olga Trujillo. Olga bravely shares her story, including the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she endured as a child, significant events which led to the development of dissociative identity disorder.
Olga explains how she retreated within her own mind each time she experienced trauma and discusses her dedication to helping others who are struggling.
- Olga shares the way she retreated within her own mind every time she experienced trauma (29:57)
- As her book was about to be published, Olga experienced extreme panic over what people would think about her story (37:41)
- It was Olga’s panic attacks that led her to see a psychiatrist (41:55)
Trevor: Welcome to Mindful Things. Welcome new listeners, welcome back returning listeners, how is everybody doing? I don’t know if you can hear it in my voice, I’m very sick. There’s not going to be much of an intro today.
On today’s episode I interview Olga Trujillo. She wrote a book called “The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Olga and I have a very, very great interview. Yes, I said great, I’m proud of this interview. Excuse my behavior during the interview, I’m a bit fired up. It’s a really intense story about how Olga developed dissociative identity disorder from some severe, severe sexual, physical abuse she experienced as a child. I’m going to warn some people this may be triggering. It’s an intense interview. But we got a lot out of it and hopefully you do too.
I’m sick like I said. Do you take vitamins? Take your vitamins. I’m not again, not trying to pat myself on the back, but take some glutamine powder in the morning. I take a B6, a B12, vitamin D, something called methyl fol—, I don’t even know how it’s pronounced. It’s supposed to be for my brain, doesn’t do much obviously. I don’t exercise. I should. I don’t. I try the Beat Saver workout that I talked about a few episodes ago. Didn’t last long. I’m going to try and get back on it. But I take my vitamins every day. If you don’t like taking vitamins, eat your fruits and vegetables. I do that every day too.
Again, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but you got to do something. Your body needs nutrients. It’ll assist with your mental health. I swear it will, because a fast way to sad town for me is when I eat like crap. That usually happens back in the day when I used to shoot films, because food on low-budget films is garbage. It’s usually just pizza or pasta, and after eating that stuff every day, for three to four weeks, it’s just the worst. I got into the habit many years ago of just taking my vitamins. You don’t have to take all the different ones that I take, take a multivitamin, but it’s really important to get your nutrients.
A bit hypocritical that I got sick anyways. Yeah, okay, I was on a flight earlier this week. Everybody around me was coughing. I really think I need to start wearing one of those face masks on flights. I don’t care how ridiculous I’ll look on the flight. I need to start doing it. Take your vitamins. Do I sound like your mom yet? Do I sound like your dad? Take your damn vitamins. Take your vitamins.
Okay, here we go. Interview with Olga, hope you enjoy.
Olga: You heard of Kramer books? Well, so it’s again a bookstore with a café.
Trevor: I’m trying to read more actually, made a point of that the other night. I need to stop playing more video games, and watching movies, and watching TV, as much as I do, and read more books.
Trevor: The problem is I read depressing books.
Olga: Yeah, me too.
Trevor: I’m reading a diary right now. It really happened of a woman that woke up in a hospital. She has no idea how she got there. She was involuntarily detained, so she can’t get out.
Olga: Oh wow.
Trevor: She doesn’t know what’s going on. She doesn’t know if the doctors who are treating her are real.
Trevor: The only thing she has is a pocket dictionary and some paper, so she wrote a diary.
Trevor: She’s talking, she’s addressing it to some friends, but I don’t even know ... I can’t tell so far if the friends are real.
Olga: Wow. Reminds me a little bit of DID.
Trevor: Yeah, it’s pretty scary.
Trevor: I’m a huge fan of her.
Olga: Who is it?
Trevor: Her name is ... She’s wild. Her name is Amy Bingaman. She goes by the name of Bingo, and her husband is Doug Stanhope, the famous comedian from Worcester.
Trevor: They travel together. They live in the middle of nowhere. They live in this town called Bisbee. Bisbee has now been invaded by their fan base.
Olga: Oh wow.
Trevor: In the last 10 years, Bisbee went from this very conservative town on the border, to a town full of ... I’ll just be straight, a town full of mentally ill people. They’ve all gone to Bisbee. He openly publishes and gives out his address. Fans just go in.
Trevor: Fans have killed themselves at their house.
Olga: Oh my God.
Trevor: All of his fans are ... They either struggle from addiction, alcoholism, suicidal ideation, mental illness. I mean I’m such a huge fan that I’m driving six hours to see him.
Trevor: Like that, and Bingo, and so, I knew about Bingo’s book, and I started reading it this past week. It makes you want to jump off a bridge. It’s crazy.
Olga: I mean just the description of it is frightening.
Trevor: Yeah, her name is Amy Bingaman, and I can’t remember the name of the book right now.
Olga: Okay, I’m sure I can find it if I ...
Trevor: Yeah, and I hear the audio book is even better.
Trevor: Because it gets her voice and a bunch of other people’s voices on it. The most interesting thing is they have a weekly podcast. It’s very un-PC, and it’s not like I searched for it. It’s just they’re always on the edge of suicidal ideation.
Trevor: If I listen to an hour of drunk people talk, it would be annoying. It’s just annoying. We’ve all been around drunk people.
Trevor: It was cool in our teens and our 20s, but you get tired of it. When they do it, it’s just a ... Everything just falls out.
Trevor: They’ve built up such a huge fan base. There is this one ... I can’t remember her name. This woman is a hero. This mentally ill woman who is a sexual assault survivor, who is a lawyer, and what she does is that ... This is something I never even thought of. She defends immigrants coming over the border that are mentally ill, that are detained in mentally ... Don’t even know what’s going on.
Olga: She’s in the U.S.?
Trevor: She’s in the U.S.
Olga: And coming over the U.S.-Mexico border?
Trevor: Yes. Those are her clients.
Olga: What’s her name?
Trevor: I can’t remember.
Olga: I feel like I should know her.
Trevor: I can’t remember.
Trevor: She’s incredible.
Olga: Wow. I can’t picture who that is, but you’re describing me, with the exception of defending people.
Trevor: Right, that’s what she does. She, she, she—
Olga: I feel like I should know her.
Trevor: Yeah, let me dig up her name, and I’ll get it to you.
Olga: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Trevor: Yeah, she’s wild. I want to back up to something.
Trevor: You worked with the DOJ for a while?
Trevor: What was that all about?
Olga: For 13 years—
Trevor: I’m sorry that came out the wrong way.
Olga: No, no, it’s actually ... I mean nowadays that’s a fair question.
Trevor: I ask because I did ... I can’t say the ... I’ll tell you off the air, but I did six years with a certain institution.
Olga: Oh okay, oh yeah. I’ve been there.
Trevor: My mental illness was treated as a national security risk.
Trevor: Whereas I saw alcoholics and drug addicts get total free passes.
Olga: Totally. I worked in the Department of Justice for 11 years. I worked on Capitol Hill for a couple of years.
Trevor: With Mathias?
Olga: With Mathias,
Trevor: Mathias, okay, so I got the two screwed up.
Olga: Yeah, Mathias would’ve been if it was a Latino name, but Senator Mathias from Maryland a long time ago.
Olga: Who was actually a Republican who was pretty liberal because he was from Maryland compared to like ... He was more liberal than some of the conservatives out in the Midwest.
Trevor: What year was this?
Olga: When I was with Mathias? 82, 83.
Trevor: Even though those were the Reagan years.
Trevor: I remember, I’m 43, I vaguely remember that ... There was an era that I think a lot of people don’t know that there were conservatives that were kind of liberal, and there were liberals that were kind of conservatives.
Olga: Right, because it was the difference between being a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. That’s what he was. He was socially moderate/liberal, but he had strong feelings about our fiscal. I was there during the Reagan administration, and that’s when everything started to change. So people don’t —
Trevor: Well, that’s when everything got sold to Wall Street.
Olga: Exactly. Also, that’s where ... I think it happened before this, but it was really clearly ... Racism was really clearly part of his campaign. For example, they had this whole big campaign around a woman who was on welfare. That’s totally racism playing out. If you vote Republican, you won’t have to worry about black people basically. Everything did. He closed a lot of the mental health, ended some of the benefits for that, closed a lot of institutions.
Trevor: Notice after he did all of that, then what happened? Crack came in.
Olga: Yep, and homelessness went over the top.
Trevor: There was no support network, and then strangely enough there’s a little epidemic going on today, and ...
Olga: I wonder why.
Trevor: Yeah, and, and ...
Olga: That was, not just dealing with mental health, but then that was pharmaceutical people trying to make as much money as they could.
Trevor: Oh yeah.
Olga: By pushing medications that were addictive.
Olga: I mean it’s basically the tobacco industry all over again.
Trevor: Right, and I’m not saying one is better than the other. Now I’m saying that corporate greed knows no color lines now.
Trevor: Before corporate greed was racially motivated, now ...
Olga: Right. Now it’s exploiting ...
Trevor: Right, everybody.
Trevor: Right, because the only important color is green.
Olga: Right, yeah.
Olga: Yeah, totally. I went to the federal government ... When I first graduated from law school, I worked at a large law firm, on the wrong side of labor and employment. I was management side.
Olga: Because I didn’t have ... I wasn’t focusing ... I just wanted to make a lot of money, really honestly.
Trevor: Let me ask you a quick question?
Trevor: How did your family feel about that? Did they feel that you were betraying your people? Or were they like, “Hey she’s trying to get money to make a better life.”
Olga: My family has always been pretty conservative.
Olga: First I felt kind of like my family wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to me. It wasn’t like my mom had aspirations for me. I felt like I was on my own all the time. But my extended family saw my being able to go to law school, graduate, and pass the bar as really positive things. They were proud of me. I didn’t know that at the time because no one is really telling me stuff like that. I’m just doing it.
Trevor: Was there a period of your life where you were convinced nobody cared about you?
Olga: Oh yeah, oh my gosh. I think I didn’t think ... Well if I let myself think it, which was kind of like part of this coping mechanism because I wasn’t paying attention to my thoughts, but I felt alone almost entirely, until I started going through a process of healing for DID.
Trevor: I hear what you’re saying, and I’m not trying to counter what you’re saying.
Olga: Yeah, yeah.
Trevor: Did you feel alone even in the process of healing? I know you said you—
Trevor: Okay, okay.
Olga: If you think ... Surviving really significant abuse as a child. You got to—
Trevor: Let’s clarify physical, violent abuse, and sexual abuse?
Olga: Yep, physical, and sexual, and psychological and ...
Olga: ... Emotional.
Olga: When you survive that the way I did, which is creating parts. You’re in your head all the time. You’re not sharing stuff with people because it’s not safe. I learned that if I said things hurt, then I would get hurt more. If I said things about what was happening, I would get hurt. I called the police when I was in second grade because I learned about them.
Trevor: You called the police why?
Olga: Because my father was beating my mom up, and I was scared because they were in the kitchen, and he was holding a knife.
Trevor: What did the police do about it?
Olga: Well in 1968 they couldn’t communicate with my family. They couldn’t understand my mom because my mom spoke English with a Puerto Rican accent. My father didn’t speak English, and my brothers were upstairs hiding. At seven years old, I’m the person that they can understand.
Trevor: Are you the oldest?
Olga: The youngest.
Trevor: The youngest, interesting.
Trevor: How many sibs?
Olga: Two older brothers.
Olga: The police, they’re talking to me. One there’s no violence against women act, so there’s very little they’re going to be able to do to my father. I don’t know if —
Trevor: Was your father an intimidating man?
Olga: No, well to us, but not to anyone else. No my father was 5’5”, really slender. I think he might have weighed 125 pounds. He was really scary to us, but I don’t think anybody else. He was very charming like the way that people who use violence and get away with it are.
Trevor: Did you, or your brothers ever finally knock his ass out?
Olga: No. My father died when I was 11.
Trevor: Oh wow.
Olga: He had a heart attack. He was a lot older than my mom. He was 50 when I was born.
Olga: Yeah, it’s a lot to unpack there.
Trevor: I got a rough question.
Trevor: Do you think you were born out of consent?
Olga: No. I know I wasn’t born out of consent. I was born because my father raped my mom.
Trevor: How about your brothers?
Olga: I don’t know that. My mom told me that I was ... The only reason that she had me was because my father raped her. That was her way of being emotionally abusive as well. I don’t know about my brothers because she never said that to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Trevor: Was she trying to hurt you, or was she trying to ... That’s a lot for someone to carry. You’re hers, but you came from this situation. No offense, I’m trying to empathize with your mother, I would think like, how do I love this, if it comes from this?
Trevor: I can’t say the words. I’m sorry I just can’t.
Olga: Yeah, no, no, yeah, yeah.
Trevor: I’ll start crying.
Olga: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of the stuff that happened with my mom, like stuff that I experienced from my mom, the way my mom was in our home, was with my brothers. I think all of that was trauma in one way or another. I think she was doing the best she could with us, but was pretty limited by the time that I came around. Because my mom ... And also I think culturally my mom kind of favored my brothers more. You know how like when you have kids, and you have a son, you’re continuing on ... They used to think about is continuing on the family.
Olga: I think that all kind of came together ...
Trevor: Well that’s kind of gender politics, not that I’m trying to justify it, but they go back to scripture.
Olga: Yeah, exactly. I feel like the way that I came about was really hard for my mom, and my father sexually abusing me, and my mom knows it. I think that made it harder for her to feel close to me. There were times when I would feel really ... I adored my mom. There were times where I would feel really close to my mom, and then lots of times where I didn’t.
Trevor: Did she love your father?
Olga: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean by the time that my father died I don’t think she did anymore. By the time that my father died, I mean she was having an affair with her boss, and she’d been having an affair with her boss for about three years. I knew because I was always home.
Trevor: Did you blame her?
Olga: No. It scared me.
Trevor: Did you cover for her?
Olga: I did to a point.
Trevor: Hold on, that’s just a question. I don’t blame —
Olga: No, no, no, yeah I wasn’t going to say anything, but my father ... Here’s what happened. I knew it was going on because every so often my father would leave and go somewhere. He was supposedly working, or visiting his family, but we never really knew. Then my mom’s boss would visit more and stuff. I knew something was going on, without really knowing what was going on, because I’m eight years old. I also knew that it was really scary. I didn’t want my father to know, but I think my father suspected at one point, and then made me tell him, and at that point ... Because he was like, “I know this is happening.”
Trevor: He made you tell him?
Olga: Yeah, because my father was very, very scary.
Trevor: Yeah, no, I know.
Olga: That was a turning point for my relationship with my mom because my father beat her up really bad and said that I had told him. My mom made it really clear that she was ... The only word I can think of, she didn’t say this to me, but it felt like she hated me after that. She didn’t stay there, but ... There’s that, and then there’s some things like my father—
Trevor: Why did she hate you?
Olga: I think it’s probably everything. I think ...
Olga: Well, I think the way I came about. The sexual abuse that she didn’t, couldn’t deal with. Then my father—
Trevor: I’m going to go out on a limb here.
Trevor: Do you think it’s also because she may have thought ... I’m not saying you did this. I’m saying she may have thought that you kept taking away the men in her life.
Olga: I don’t think my mom would think that way.
Olga: I know women do think that way, but that’s kind of ... That was never really my mom.
Olga: That would be like a proactive thing. I think really honestly, out of nowhere, I think my mom was probably a lesbian.
Olga: My mom never felt to me ... It never seemed to me that my mom enjoyed sex. It seemed to me that my mom had to do that, in order to have what she wanted in her life. The only thing I —
Trevor: Going through the motions.
Olga: Yeah, yeah, and I think what really my mom wanted in life was to be comfortable.
Trevor: That comfort you think she could find with someone of her gender, or someone that identified as the same gender as her?
Olga: Well, I think so. We weren’t socialized to think that way.
Olga: My mom—
Trevor: Especially in the 60s.
Olga: In the 50s, and 60s, yeah. My mom is ... The reason I think that my mom was lesbian—y mom had two relationships with men in her life.
Olga: My father—
Trevor: that’s it—
Olga: My father and then the guy who was her boss.
Trevor: Real quick, was she abused as a child?
Olga: I don’t know. I tell you what was really powerful for my mom as a child. Her mom died of tuberculosis when she was 10. That I think was the trauma in her life because that’s a long sickness and then death.
Trevor: Yeah, TB is no joke.
Olga: Yeah, so I think that was the trauma in her life, and then her father was an alcoholic, but she was always very close to her father. That’s how she described her relationship. I don’t know if she was ... I imagine that she grew up in a rough home.
Olga: But I think ... My mom always, always, always had a real good woman friend, always. Then after my father died, and ... She was then in this affair, just really openly, but she didn’t really want to marry him. I think what he provided her was some ... He helped her out with money. He helped her think through things. She just kind of needed somebody, which makes sense. I mean she’s a single mom at this point.
Trevor: Security, but at a time when women weren’t even allowed at the table so that they could secure themselves.
Olga: Right, because my mom worked from the time that I was three until ... She worked for 30 years and more at the same place. She was the consistent breadwinner. She started off as a secretary in the international department of a bank, and she retired as a senior vice president of that ... Yeah, she’s really smart.
Trevor: That’s no joke.
Olga: But I mean she never ... She made an okay salary, but my mom ... I think my mom had impulse stuff. My mom would spend a lot of money that she didn’t have. My mom just never had enough money.
Trevor: Well, I mean, that seems trauma related.
Olga: Yeah, exactly.
Trevor: I would not chalk that up to irresponsibility.
Olga: No. I think that trauma started when her mom died.
Trevor: I need this because I don’t even know if there’s going to be a tomorrow. So live for the day.
Trevor: Who cares if I can pay this off, because I don’t even know—
Olga: Well, she would never even go there.
Olga: She would never even go there. It would just ... She always ... That’s what I mean. She always kind of wanted to be comfortable, and I think my sense of her ... I could totally be wrong about this, but I mean spend a lot of time thinking about my mom. My sense of her was ...
Trevor: Too much time?
Olga: Oh I’m sure, I’m sure.
Trevor: I’m sorry, the sense of your mom, you were saying?
Olga: My sense of her was that this was ... Like men, and relationships with one of these two men is what she’s supposed to do, but where she seemed kind of happiest was when she would be with this one woman friend that she would have. It wasn’t always the same person. It wasn’t anything more than that. But there was just something in it, that I could feel her be relaxed, and enjoying their company. This other thing, she would enjoy it, but it was different.
Trevor: Do you think that gave you maybe a natural or innate feeling knowing that ... I’m sorry. Let me rephrase that. Do you think it gave you an innate feeling that you could go to women for comfort? If she found comfort in other women, I’m not talking about sexually, I’m just talking about comfort.
Trevor: That if you saw it in your mother, maybe you could do that as well?
Olga: I’m not sure. It’s possible. I think it’s kind of a little bit broader than that for me.
Olga: All the men in my life abused me when I was a kid. So, my father, my brothers, and my brothers’ friends.
Trevor: Your brothers’ friends?
Olga: Yeah. On the other side, my mom was the person who I could connect with, and then when I’m three years old, and I’m spending time with my next-door neighbor who is like a walking hug. I mean she was amazing. I think what I found really early on was that men weren’t as safe as women, and that I would get ... I think it had more to do with my next-door neighbor, than my mom. I think my mom, and seeing her, and feeling that sense of happiness in her with women is something I recognize now because I know what it feels like.
Trevor: Do you ever think you would be talking about this openly?
Olga: No. When I was growing up?
Olga: No, never.
Trevor: Think there would ever be an outlet for this?
Olga: No. In fact, when you go back to the working at the Department of Justice … when I worked at the Department of Justice I had a top-secret clearance because I was an employment, labor lawyer. That’s the one way that I could —
Trevor: I laugh because I remember all that stuff.
Olga: Yeah, right. I knew the one way I could lose my job is if they took my top-secret clearance away. I had to ... When I was diagnosed, I knew that’s how they could take it away. I mean what could be ... Because they’re looking for how you could be blackmailed. What would be more stigmatizing than having dissociative identity disorder? Yeah, that was ... I never, ever thought when I was diagnosed that I would tell anyone I had it. Yeah, and not to mention all the other things that we’re talking about.
Trevor: Right. I’m going to walk myself through the process, and I’m going to need you to correct me along the way.
Trevor: I’m doing this to kind give some background for the audience.
Trevor: Sorry to take you back to this place, but I just need to clarify. You’re in the process of being abused.
Olga: Okay, when I’m a kid, right?
Trevor: When you’re a kid. This is what I’m imagining. This is a quadrant in your mind that you draw out. That quadrant is somebody else, another life, another place, anywhere but here.
Trevor: You find a way to dissociate from the person who is in this situation, having this inflicted on them at this moment. You go to somewhere else and become somebody else in a different ... all in your mind, in a different place, in a different time, whoever you want, whatever you want.
Trevor: You stay there through the entire act, or do you come out after it’s done? A couple of hours? A couple days? A couple weeks? I mean we now know you have the disorder. You never come out of it? I mean that’s what eventually happened. Am I close?
Olga: Sort of. Let me describe how I remember it.
Olga: Okay. Probably the most pivotal experience of it for me when things changed was the first memory I have of being abused by my father. I’m three, and I feel a sense of panic when I realize what he’s about to do. Then I feel numb. I don’t feel like I’m in my body anymore. I feel like I’m in the ceiling, in the corner, and it doesn’t feel ... Yep, behind. In the ceiling back behind me so I’m further, far away from what’s happening as I can be.
Trevor: Okay, are you watching it?
Olga: I see it happening.
Trevor: You’re the person up in the corner of the ceiling, and you’re witnessing what? You’re a witness to your own ...
Olga: What I’m doing is ...
Trevor: I can’t say the words. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Olga: No, no, it’s totally.
Trevor: I can’t. Come on, I can’t.
Olga: I’m witnessing it, and what I’m doing is collecting it up but not feeling it at the time. I don’t feel any emotion, and I feel some of the pain but not all of the pain. I’m able to numb most of that pain.
Trevor: Are you feeling pain because you are sympathizing with the person you see in front of you?
Olga: It’s the ... I wasn’t able to dissociate enough to not feel any of the pain.
Trevor: But enough to dissociate?
Olga: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was fully dissociative.
Olga: Does that make sense?
Trevor: Are we saying ... Is it dissociate, or dis-associate?
Olga: I think it’s dissociate.
Trevor: Dissociate, okay.
Olga: That’s the way I’ve been saying it for 25 years.
Trevor: Yeah, somebody will tell me if I’m saying it wrong, and I don’t really care at this point.
Olga: Yeah, I think you’re really close.
Trevor: Okay. Stupid question. I’m just going to say it’s stupid. It’s a stupid question.
Trevor: Was there an end goal to dissociating? Did you want to witness? Did you want to be the witness to your ...?
Olga: No, no, no, not at all. There was no ... That first memory of it … there was no planning or anything of it. It was, I cannot live through this in my body. It was so traumatic that the only way I could survive it was to be outside my body. So, then what I do is I’m still collecting it because it’s happening to me. But I can’t really feel it and then after it’s over, and my father, and my mom was in the room when it happened, they leave the room. I get up, and I basically am still out of my body. I’m going through the motions of cleaning up in the room and then going to the bathroom and cleaning myself up.
I’m still not in my body, so I can see myself doing it, and I’m kind of coming closer to my body, but I’m going through the motions of it. Then I crawl under my bed, and when I crawl under my bed, that’s the first time that I’m back in my body. At that point in time I’m not distracted by anything else. I’m not distracted by the room, by cleaning myself off, by anything. It’s the first time that I could consciously think to myself that just happened and the impact of that at three years old. I might actually go there, but instead my eyes start to flutter uncontrollably.
Trevor: To flutter?
Olga: Go from side to side.
Trevor: Like a rapid conversation?
Olga: I don’t know. I never thought about it that way.
Olga: I could not hold my eyes open. I could not keep them open. It’s what I think of as a dissociative sleep. I’ve heard people also describe that experience when they’re watching something that is triggering or when they’re reading something that’s triggering. Their mind just shuts off. When I crawl under the bed, and my eyes start to uncontrollably flutter, I then fall asleep. Then the next morning I’m in my bed, and I don’t remember any of what happened the night before.
What I did was ... For me it was an imaginary house, and I think it was an imaginary house because I would play with, not really dolls, but I would play house basically. This was really easy, and for me it wasn’t crazy imaginative because it was just me at three year old that I created. I separated out that experience of me at three years old.
Trevor: Did you take out your anger, your frustration, your aggression in your dissociative, dissociated world?
Olga: Yeah, no. You mean did I take it out, like did I ...
Trevor: Yeah, were you able to cathartically ... When you were dissociated was that the place where you could cathartically process it, or were you just not able to cathartically process it?
Olga: Not able to cathartically process it.
Trevor: Not that the victim should have to, but ...
Olga: No, no, I’m three. All I’m doing is surviving. That’s all I’m doing. That little room ... I had this little ... That little room then had a door that was locked, and that’s where that part would stay so that I didn’t know that happened or could happen to me. Then when my father would come in to my room and want to sexually abuse me, then that part of me would come forward and take it. Then I just kept creating more and more rooms, and more and more parts. The reason it’s hard to say ... When the abuse changed, or got more violent, or involved other people, then it wasn’t just one part in the room. The parts were objects that I would be looking at when I was abused.
Then there would be ... There’d be a room, and when you open the door, there’d be a rug, and under the rug would be a big old hole. The idea would be, is when I walked into that room, that hole was going to ... I’d crawl through and die, rather than know that this happened to me. That’s the level of imagination I had to come up with, to make sure that I never knew this was happening.
That part of me that played the rug was the part of me that had all kinds of suicidal planning. There were different ways that I was going to kill myself if I started to know that this happened to me.
Trevor: What were the ways?
Olga: Well, all the ways that I’ve seen, or heard of, that I would have access to. I tried to kill myself twice that I remember. Both were with pills.
Trevor: How old were you?
Olga: I was 16, and I took I think a bunch of Tylenol is what I ended up taking.
Trevor: What year was it when you were 16?
Olga: It would’ve been 19 ... Wait a minute. I was born in ‘61. I always have to do the math.
Trevor: So ‘77?
Olga: ‘77, yeah.
Trevor: Yeah, okay.
Olga: Then again right before my book came out, so in 2011.
Trevor: Okay, you’re going to have to explain that one.
Olga: I know, right. It was one thing ... I had spent all this time only telling a few people I had dissociative identity disorder.
Olga: Then I wrote this book, and I knew it was going to be published, because the publisher came to me, because I had written an article about having dissociative identity disorder.
Trevor: Article for who?
Olga: For the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Just to test out, is this going to be something I can have out there? Then somebody who worked for this publisher found that article, and reached out to me, and asked if I would take that article and create a book. Anyway, I worked on the book, and it was done, edited, I was just waiting for it to come out. Then I started to panic about people knowing that I had DID and knowing what happened to me and meeting ... seeing what it was like to live with it and —
Trevor: Correct the timeline for me. At this time, isn’t DID still classified as multiple personality disorder?
Olga: When I was diagnosed in 1993, they were just starting to talk about it as dissociative identity disorder. I was diagnosed with DID.
Trevor: Right, right.
Olga: But all the books and stuff were about multiple personalities.
Trevor: Multiple personality disorder, okay.
Olga: In 2011, when I’m writing about dissociative identity disorder, or when my book is about to come out, I panic.
Olga: The thing is, the tricky part is that ...
Trevor: I’m not trying to be insensitive, but panic about what?
Olga: About people knowing. About having revealed too much about myself.
Trevor: People who? Everyone?
Olga: I know, right, Yeah, everyone.
Trevor: I’m not challenging you. I get it. I’m more afraid of what people think of me than the people that know me. That’s why I make enemies with the people who know me, because I’m more concerned about the people who don’t know me. It’s literally flip-flopped.
Olga: Yeah, it’s everyone, and anyone. I now no longer have control over who knows about this in my life. People close to me, people who aren’t close to me, but who I know, and know me.
Trevor: I want to back up to what you said. You never had control of this. Let’s cut a bit of that sentence out. You never had control.
Olga: Yeah, all of a sudden it didn’t feel like I had control over what people were going to know about me. Even though I was the one that wrote the book and went to the editing and everything. I had lots and lots of control over the book.
Trevor: Let’s break it down even further. You didn’t have control. We’re not talking about just what people ...
Olga: Right, that’s what it tapped into.
Trevor: Without identifying there’s somebody who’s very close to me, who has the same exact history as you do.
Trevor: This person needs to be in control 1,000% of the time. I’m not talking about 100% time, I’m talking 1,000% of the time.
Trevor: Every second, every micro second. If that person feels even the most slightest bit out of control, the world is ending. The reason this person needs to be in control is because it keeps the ghosts of this person, this person, this person, this person, this person, this person from attacking her.
Trevor: Is that kind of ...
Olga: Not as much so much anymore.
Trevor: Not as much.
Olga: Let me ... Because of the process of healing that I went through, like I still ...
Trevor: You were lucky enough to have the process of healing.
Olga: Exactly. I went through a really extensive healing process. In 2011, I’ve gone through a really extensive process of healing.
Trevor: What was the process?
Olga: From 1993 to 1998 I saw, consistently saw a psychiatrist, whose name is Rich Sheffet, who is really well known in this work now. I was just lucky to find him. I went through and opened those doors in the house that I created, and met the parts, and learned what happened to me, and have a consistent narrative across parts and myself. I had a lot of integration. I still have parts, but it’s like we’re in a huddle. It doesn’t feel like I’m all separated, or I just have learned how to move through the world like I’m one. If I don’t pay attention to what’s happening in my mind or what’s happening in my body, I can struggle pretty significantly.
But because I know how to manage my life, and the things that I’m managing are the things that are a part of like post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m managing anxiety. I’m hypervigilant. I’m managing that. I’m all those things that come from that is what I’m learning to manage, and I have to pay really close attention, because if ... I move through the world cohesively, and if I do something that doesn’t feel safe inside, I can really struggle. I’m writing the book, and I’m writing the book, and I’m not paying attention ... I’m not thinking about ... I’m just thinking about getting it done. I want to accomplish this, I want to be able to do this.
It wasn’t until it was all done, all the editing, everything was all done, that all of a sudden it occurred to me that people are going to read it. It tapped into the lack of control I had when I was being abused. The thing is, as much healing as I’ve done, and as much as I kind of get my experience, there can still be times where I’ll struggle. It’ll happen really fast.
Trevor: Let me give you a scenario. Let’s say after this interview, of course I would ask, this is just a scenario, I’d say let’s hug, and we hug. Let’s say I’m wearing a watch, and I pull away, and the watch maybe catches on to the button, and it rips the button off. Would you see that as an accident?
Olga: Yeah, for sure.
Trevor: What if I went up to, and just grabbed a button, and pulled it off?
Olga: Oh yeah, that would not be an accident. Well first —
Trevor: Yeah I know it’s not an accident.
Olga: ... You have to be really careful.
Trevor: No, but —
Olga: Sorry, I was trying to make a joke.
Trevor: Now that I know that you’re like me, and you can find humor in the dark places, we can play. I always assume when it comes to this stuff.
Olga: You have to.
Trevor: Yeah, even my closest friends, and I’m very close to my office mate. I leave them out of that side of my life. My family and I, the ones that I’m close with, I mean our sense of humor is sick.
Trevor: But that’s ... You have to find comfort somehow.
Olga: Yeah. Pretty much everyone in my life knows that I have DID.
Olga: I was doing this training last week in DC, and after we were done, we all went out to dinner. We were joking around and stuff, and I said something like ... We were all really laughing and stuff about the difference between people in the Midwest, and people on the East Coast, and people in New York, and talking mostly about why I live in the Midwest.
Olga: I was like, “It’s really hard for me like how kind of ...” like in your face people are in New York. Where in the Midwest, somebody might say, “It’s okay if you don’t want to do that.” You know what I mean, it’s kind of like a sideways comment. I said something at dinner like, “In New York City, somebody might say just shove that bitch.”
Olga: Everybody at the table was shocked when I said, “Just shove that bitch.” Because they don’t ever see that in me. They all were like, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen you do that.” I’m like, “Yeah there’s a lot going on inside.” We all just broke out laughing. But I’m constantly ... I see the humor in it. We’re doing a training, and we’re talking about someone is standing there that doesn’t have DID is talking about ... We’re talking about intersectionality, and racism, and intersectionality. They say, “I don’t just walk around as a Latino. I walk around ...” This person is saying, “I don’t just walk around as a Latino, I walk around, I’m also gay. I have these different identities.”
Every time I hear that I want to say, “Oh, wait a second if you’re going to talk identities, then you got to talk to me, because I really do have ...”
Trevor: Interesting question. Well, first let me back up. Before treatment, if I went and ripped a button, just ripped a button what would happen?
Olga: I would dissociate.
Trevor: Okay. You’d go to your house?
Olga: No. I would be right there, and I would have a stare, and I would feel really slow, like a little bit ... I would have trouble thinking because my processing would slow down, and it would feel really foggy in my head. I would dissociate, because that’s what ... That was my only ... Whenever anyone stood too close to me, for example, that would always happen before I would be sexually abused, so then I would dissociate. I went from someone who would initially fight back to someone who would freeze. That would feel threatening to me, so I would freeze.
Trevor: I’m not trying to sound like a science fiction film. Would you lose track of time?
Olga: Yes. I would lose track ...
Trevor: If you slowed time down ...
Olga: In my 30s ... Yep, I would lose track of time. I would be in a bit of a trance. I would not track the conversations that were going on. I wouldn’t lose the whole day. I might lose an hour, but I wouldn’t notice it.
Olga: Which is different than other people. If I had a part that came up that the other parts didn’t know about then ... But I’m not ... But that wasn’t my experience, except for when I was abused. Does that make sense?
Trevor: Yes and no.
Trevor: But I don’t know, I don’t know what you went through. I don’t know it.
Olga: Some people ...
Trevor: What I’m saying is I think you can tell this to me nine different ways from Sunday.
Olga: Oh and you wouldn’t know.
Trevor: I’m never going to know.
Trevor: Well, I don’t know never, I still got a life to live, who knows.
Trevor: But you know what I’m saying?
Olga: Yes, totally.
Trevor: I’m saying this for the men out there. For the non-victims out there.
Olga: Right, because a lot of men have been sexually abused.
Trevor: Yes, yes. Let me apologize for that.
Olga: Right, no, no, yeah, totally.
Trevor: For the victims out there. You don’t know. I mean sorry for the non-victims, you don’t know.
Olga: You don’t know, right, right. The way that my DID worked is I created parts of the house where the doors were closed and locked. I actually have a visual of them being black. The door is painted black. Then I had parts of my house in the front where the rooms stayed open, and were bright colors, and a lot of light.
Trevor: Hold on. Were you raised in religion?
Trevor: Interesting. Keep going.
Olga: So, that three-year-old part that I created went to the back of the house, and the door was locked. I also created another part when I was three years old because I had these amazing experiences with my next-door neighbor, and I wanted to feel the way I felt with her at other times. I created this three-year-old part, and I created this room in the front of the house, and I left the door open because that’s the only way I was going to be able to feel what I felt there when I wasn’t with her.
I created communication between parts that were functioning in my life and not being abused.
Olga: That’s why I say I wouldn’t necessarily ... Only when I was abused did the parts in the back of the house come forward, and I wouldn’t remember, and I would’ve lost track of time if I were tracking time. But, by the time that I was ... The time that I realized ... Well, I started what I thought were panic attacks. I started having panic attacks, and that’s what took me to see a therapist, and then ultimately to my psychiatrist. By that point I wasn’t being abused, and I wasn’t losing track of time. I didn’t notice how I was different from other people. Does that make sense?
Trevor: Okay. You said something interesting before we started. You’ve got this notebook in front of me, which I want to note isn’t a normal lined notebook.
Olga: Oh yeah, so this was given to me by a really good friend of mine who I’ve been training with for the past few months, because he knows I love to take notes, and cartoons.
Trevor: Right, but I want the audience to know, this isn’t line paper. You have a very nice notebook of graph paper.
Olga: Graph paper, yeah.
Trevor: Why graph paper?
Olga: Well it’s just .... Like I said … I didn’t pick this out, but I love it because it’s very contained. Then I can write really neatly and stuff, and it kind of appeals to the doodler in me, but I didn’t ask for a notebook, or a notebook with graph paper, but he gave this to me, and I was thrilled to have it. I take it with me now wherever I go.
Trevor: Do you prefer graph paper now?
Olga: Yeah, probably.
Trevor: The structure of it?
Olga: I like the structure of it. I like the narrower lined than the larger lined.
Trevor: Sure. You told me, you said, “Hey don’t ...” I don’t want you to be offended, but I may start doodling during this ... Not only was I not offended, I gave you this look like, oh, please do.
Trevor: You’re doodling right now, you’re drawing ...
Olga: I’m drawing a little cartoon.
Trevor: Yeah, and it’s actually ... Not that I’m the arbiter of good art, but it’s really good.
Trevor: It’s very cartoon-like.
Trevor: Not something you’d see in a comic book, but something you’d see in a cartoon, or more specifically something that I loved as a kid, comic strips.
Trevor: My question is, no offense, are you disassociating when you do that?
Olga: I don’t think so. It’s a really good question. I don’t think I’m dissociating. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’m staying here, and what I think it ... What I like about this is sometimes ... When I’m in a lot of meetings, or I’m getting ... We’re having a discussion around some of the stuff. I at times can lose focus. I just drew this because we were talking about it. This actually isn’t one of those situations where I’m losing focus.
Trevor: Oh no, I didn’t think you were losing focus.
Olga: Yeah. If I lose focus, then I’m not paying attention. It’s one of the things that I learned really young that enabled me to stay in the room so I could listen to what was going on at the same time that I was doing something else. I can’t tell really that ... It’s a little bit like ... When we do trainings, we put out color pencils, and markers, and coloring-like strips of paper that people ... I forget what those are called, those adult coloring books, and lots and lots of people use them while they’re paying attention. I feel like it’s a little bit of that. For me, it keeps me in the room more, then kind of like my head starts to ... I start wandering like, oh what am I going to do tonight, or grocery list, or wherever our conversation takes me.
Trevor: Let’s talk about advocacy.
Trevor: I’m going to circle back to something, but it’s the direction is eventually going to add in to the direction of advocacy.
Olga: Can I ask you a question?
Trevor: Yeah, go ahead. Hit me.
Olga: How do you keep track of all of it? Because you don’t have a pad in front of you. I’m envious of the fact that you don’t have to ... I can feel you, which is unusual when I do stuff like this, but you don’t have to take notes and stuff, but you’ve got kind of ... You know what kind of things —
Trevor: This is going 90 million different directions at all times.
Trevor: It’s just my head is white noise all the time.
Olga: Yeah, it’s exhausting.
Trevor: It’s literally that.
Trevor: I am tired right now, and after this interview I’m going to want to take a nap.
Olga: Yeah, totally.
Trevor: But no, I have to go back to work don’t I Lauren?
Lauren: Right. Absolutely.
Lauren: I thought that immediately as soon as you said that. Well, you’re not going to.
Trevor: Yeah, the whip has been cracked. Advocacy.
Trevor: I heard you, and everything you have to say, and I’m glad ... I think you asked your question at the right time, because of the 90 million things going on in my head, I’m not always perfect because I’m processing and all this stuff.
Trevor: I want to go back to the house.
Trevor: You built a house, right?
Olga: Right in my head.
Trevor: In your head.
Olga: I have to say it’s imaginary.
Trevor: That’s fine.
Olga: Cause there’s something in me that is afraid people are going to think I actually did.
Trevor: No, no, but hold on to that. In your advocacy work, how many victims, and how many houses have you run into? I imagine that there’s a whole world of houses.
Trevor: Not just a suburb, not just a major city, a whole world. That is not to imply that your situation isn’t unique.
Olga: Yeah, no it’s way more common than we think.
Olga: I think ... I remember when my book came out in 2011, people ... Ms. magazine did a review of it, and a psychiatrist or clinician that wrote the review said this is extraordinarily rare. I thought to myself, well no, what’s rare is that somebody would probably do ... one, could afford the level of therapy that I had, would tell people they had DID, and would write a book about it, that’s rare. But if you think about what conditions need to be in place for someone to develop DID, that’s actually sadly way so much more common than we think.
It doesn’t have to be physical and sexual abuse. It’s trauma over childhood, up until the ages of seven or eight, or maybe a little bit older depending on a child’s ability to create imaginary friends. It’s that —
Trevor: That’s when you’re most imaginative.
Olga: Right, and that’s what you use. You use that creativity to survive, and that’s what you’re creating in your head. Not everybody has a house. Some people have a bus, or their other parts are all in the different seats, or they have boxes like a library card catalog, old library card catalog. You know the ones that used to be ...
Trevor: The old Dewy Decimal System.
Olga: Right, exactly.
Trevor: Yeah, yeah.
Olga: People have all sorts of creative ways. Some people that I’ve met don’t have parts that are people. They have colors, or they have colors and animals. People have different gendered parts. It’s way, way, way more common. There’s a lot of people that don’t ever tell me, but I can tell from the conversations that we have that they know. They know, and they have it, and they just don’t want to say, if that makes any sense.
Trevor: Oh yeah.
Olga: Yeah, it’s way more common than we think.
Trevor: I’ve been using ... I’ve talked about this enough in this podcast. It’s going to make the listeners sick, deal with it. I’ve been using virtual reality a lot lately.
Olga: Yeah, that’d be cool.
Trevor: Because I can go into another world that has dictated me to me a very direct set of rules, and as long as I stay in those rules, I get to win.
Olga: Wow, that’s awesome.
Trevor: It’s great.
Olga: It’d probably make me sick, like that motion sickness kind of thing.
Trevor: Yeah, maybe, but it’s pretty awesome jumping off a building and then having ... No it’s not a suicide thing —
Olga: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I just can’t imagine it.
Trevor: Yeah, yeah, no, there’s this Spider Man one where you literally, on top of the tallest, and you jump off, and it’s incredible.
Trevor: Just before you hit, you shoot out a web, and then you swing across the city. It’s nuts.
Olga: Oh my God.
Trevor: But I go into this other world.
Trevor: So I can live, not even on my own terms, but on a set of terms that won’t fall victim to human imperfection.
Olga: Right, yeah, it’s an escape. I mean it’s actually ... it fits, like what I created in my head was an escape.
Trevor: Because when you describe it to me, I’m not ... I wasn’t equating it to virtual reality. I was equating it to this thing that I ... I’m not educated enough to delve into it, but I think we need to start talking about reality, and how there is this reality that is built on social norms so civilization can grow, and we all operate in it, but there are other people that live in self-generated realities, and for so long, that was automatically a label to crazy town.
Olga: Right, right. Yeah.
Trevor: The thing is, reality is only generated on what is your everyday normal experience.
Trevor: If your everyday normal experience is what you went through, then what the hell is going to happen?
Olga: Yeah. I mean if I ... When I think about that, and I kind of operationalize that. I think about being on Facebook and seeing the CDC study that says that one out of 16 girls, first sexual experience was rape. I think to myself, that’s who we know about, one out of 16 is what we know about. What I know is ... I never reported this as a crime. I never put this down in a survey. I wrote a book, and I talk about it now, but there are so many people that don’t talk about it, that aren’t surveyed, or the surveys aren’t in their language, or they’re not literate. I mean on and on and on. That’s the tip of the iceberg.
That, to me, is, we have numbers, we have a society, a sense of what’s happening in society. It reminds me of a matrix. We have a sense of what’s happening in society that’s not real, and we’re starting through the Me Too Movement, we’re starting to see how prevalent this stuff is. We discuss in our pre-interview that this is the next kind of ... We’re realizing how many people were sexually abused growing up.
Trevor: Do you find it interesting now that the creators of the matrix now identify as women?
Olga: Oh no, I didn’t know that.
Olga: That’s actually really interesting.
Trevor: Yeah. They’ve changed their names. They’ve both physically transformed.
Olga: Wow, I had no idea. That makes a lot of sense.
Trevor: Larry and Andy are now Lana and Anna I believe. I think it’s very fascinating that you brought up the matrix.
Olga: Yeah, because I mean that to me is like exactly this.
Trevor: Yeah, and the fact that they themselves who wrote it and directed it now have a different identity.
Olga: The other way that I see this is, not to be political, but in our society today.
Trevor: Be political. It’s fine.
Olga: Okay, great, well then, I will be political. Right now, what’s happening ...
Trevor: You can be political. I, I, I have to stay in the middle. You can say what you want.
Olga: So racism is something that people are like discovering now.
Trevor: That makes me sick.
Olga: But Native Americans, Latinos, people of color, black people in particular have been dealing with racism for hundreds of years. As a society, we’re starting to see it in our social media. I mean, not in our social media, that’s ... I mean we are seeing it in our social media, but we’re seeing it on television. We’re seeing it on the news. We’re seeing in our movies.
Trevor: All media.
Olga: Yeah, all across the board, and so now people are shining a light on it. I feel like people are shining a light on it because we have some awareness, and we have a president that’s basically saying that certain things that are happening are not happening. We’re all being basically gaslighted, and it’s really, really triggering for people. Our main culture, the white people in our culture are being like, “Oh well this is racist, and this is ...” Those are the people who are like, “Well we can’t have this.” This has been happening for a really long time.
I’m really excited that people are starting to see it. But I’m worried about it at the same time, and I’m going back to the capitalist thing. I’m really thrilled that we’re talking about it and seeing it. I’m also worried that we’re starting to go into ...
Trevor: Keep coming.
Olga: Colorism and the exploitation.
Trevor: I can’t say it, but keep coming, yeah.
Olga: The appropriation of it, the exploitation of it. I mean and I love that one of the first commercials that I saw on Facebook after the election, I loved it. I absolutely loved it, but it’s also an exploitation of it, is that this group called ... Oh, I can’t remember now. It’s a Mexican group called something Batman. They were singing a very traditional American song, “This Land is Your Land, This Land is Our Land.” It was a Johnnie Walker commercial. They were clearly, obviously not like stereotypically Mexican, but clearly, obviously Mexican singing in Spanish, and in times in English “This Land is Your Land, This Land is Our Land.”
It felt like a really important ... I loved that. I kept playing it over and over again after the election because I was like, “Well here’s a company that’s from Kentucky, that’s based in Kentucky, that is saying, “Hey, this is our Land, that Mexican Americans live here too.” At the same time, wanting people to not stop buying Johnnie Walker.
Olga: Yeah, so it’s layers upon layers of it.
Trevor: You can keep going on this. I’m not going to stop you.
Olga: No, no, it’s okay. I mean that’s what’s really hard. That’s what’s really mixed up for me, because we are recognizing racism, but I’m not sure that we’re doing it, because really, if we dealt with racism, like the way race ... Racism, like against black people. If we dealt with that, then everything else would come with it, but we’ve been parceling it out. We’ve been parceling out the gender violence and the misogyny from the immigrant bias, from the ... But all this falls under racism.
If we made this country safe for black people, it’d be safe for native people, and it’d be safe for Latinos, and it’d be safe for transgender people.
Trevor: But why won’t that happen?
Olga: Yeah, because people ... Yeah, I don’t know actually.
Trevor: Oh, I do, but I’m not going to say it.
Olga: Okay. Yeah, I think people are racist. I mean when I think back to ... I mean people just aren’t comfortable with it, and the strategies to keep us apart, because together, we might actually be more powerful than mainstream society.
Trevor: Oh yeah, that’s true. I see you’re involved in our Deconstructing Stigma campaign.
Trevor: How did that come about?
Olga: Well, I’ve been doing a little bit of work with the Hill Center. I do presentations and stuff around dissociative identity disorder. There’s a Healing Together conference that McLean Hospital sponsors and is actually having here, which is a conference for people with DID, they’re supportive partners and clinicians. It’s a really one-of-a-kind kind of experience. I’ve been working with them, and I was invited to do this as well, to be part of the Deconstructing Stigma campaign. I talk about DID, having it, the process of healing, and what it’s like to live with it.
Trevor: When did you get involved with DS?
Trevor: Deconstructing Stigma.
Olga: Oh, thank you.
Trevor: That was my bad. We just call it DS.
Olga: About a year ago.
Trevor: When you heard of it, when you heard specifically “Deconstructing Stigma,” what did you think?
Olga: I thought it was awesome. Yeah, I thought it was really ... One, I thought it was a really great name. Two, I had just sent a video. I was part of a ... The Minnesota Science Museum did an exhibit on mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month a year ago, 2018 in May. I sent the video to the folks here for the Healing Together conference. We were thinking about public education around DID. That’s what the connection was. It was like, “Oh this fits perfect with our Deconstructing Stigma approach. Yeah, I thought it was awesome, because I think ... I could be wrong, but I think DID is probably one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions that you could have.
Trevor: I don’t know that, but I’m not going to deny it. I don’t know. I find the ones that are talked about the least are usually the ones most stigmatized because nobody wants to talk about it because it’s so stigmatized.
Olga: Right, exactly, and also what we see in our media is that they’re serial killers. I think of the movie “Split,” or I think of the movie “Sybil,” where she’s really, really broken. We don’t see the really high-functioning people that is really the more the norm with DID.
Trevor: Right. Are you high functioning?
Olga: I think so.
Trevor: Yeah. Have you —
Olga: I guess what’s your definition of high functioning?
Trevor: I have no definition. It was just a question.
Olga: I move through the world as though I’m one. I travel across the country doing trainings and stuff. I travel internationally. I’m trained as a lawyer. I do pretty well for myself.
Trevor: You’re pretty awesome. I looked at your background and was like ... Even if you didn’t have DID, even you didn’t have your experience … I was like, “Who has time for this?”
Olga: What’s really interesting to me is that I ... I was the youngest general counsel at the Department of Justice. I wasn’t a political appointee. What’s really interesting to me is I didn’t feel like I was very smart, or accomplished, or anything until I went through this process of healing and realized that I was able to do that despite the fact that I had this incredibly awful childhood.
Trevor: This is weird. This is my thinking, so feel free to throw it right out. But have you ever met somebody with DID who is more high functioning than you are and been like, “I’m jealous.”
Olga: Yeah, yeah, for sure, yes.
Trevor: I would totally do that.
Olga: Yeah, it was totally like ...
Trevor: It’s like, “Oh you’ve got it too, and you’re better at this than me.”
Olga: Well, it might be in a different way, it’s ... Yeah, I do that quite a bit.
Trevor: Yeah, the level of competition among the mentally ill is a real thing.
Olga: Yes, it totally, totally is. I try to let it go because I’m like ... I’m better at it now, like, “Wow I wish I could do that.” There’s this artist Kim Noble. I think she’s in Australia, yeah. She’s amazing. Her art is so amazing, and I’m like, “I really wish I could’ve done that.” Then there’s Robert Oxnam.
Trevor: Who I interviewed here.
Olga: Yeah, who is amazing.
Olga: I’m always jealous of him.
Trevor: Yeah, well get in line, I’m jealous of him too. He’s pretty awesome.
Olga: Yeah, and his artwork is beautiful, beautiful, yeah. This is a huge passion thing for me.
Trevor: DID, sure.
Olga: Talking about it and making it more accessible in the whole stigma thing because I feel like I move through the world pretty easily for someone that has DID. But there’s a couple of things that were really important to me. One is that there are hardly any books about this in Spanish. I had my book translated in to Spanish, which came out last week.
Trevor: Oh, awesome, congratulations.
Olga: Thanks. It took about two years to do it.
Trevor: Could you say the title in Spanish please?
Olga: Oh let me see if I can —
Trevor: Okay, and in English?
Olga: “The Sum of My Parts.”
Trevor: Okay, and that’s available at all retailers?
Olga: Yep, you can get it online anywhere, and you can download it for any device.
Trevor: Okay, great, great. Can we put that in the show notes, please?
Lauren: I already put a note for that.
Olga: That was really important to me because of the whole issue of access, because if people have access to information, then they can find themselves in people’s experiences and then they can do something about it if they want to or need to. That’s one big thing that I wanted to mention. The other thing is something that I’ve been struggling with a bit lately, which is people kind of comparing their experience of healing to mine or their ability to move through the world to mine. Going through that process of healing and working in particular with Rich Sheffitz is the best thing I’ve ever done, and it changed my life, but it’s not for everybody.
I mean, one, not everybody can afford it. Not everybody needs that.
Trevor: Well, that’s a problem.
Olga: Right. Not everybody needs it. That’s a mainstream way of healing, and there’s all sorts of other ways that people can heal that might be their own thing.
Trevor: So, wait, did you try other things that didn’t work?
Olga: No. I did that. I had panic attacks —
Trevor: I’m not challenging you.
Olga: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Trevor: But how do you know if it doesn’t work for ... We all know it doesn’t work for everybody, but how do you know?
Olga: Right, how do I know? Because I adapted to a mainstream model, but I do trainings all the time with people in migrant communities. People, tribal nations like sitting down and talking.
Trevor: So, a Western approach?
Trevor: And specific indigenous cultures, it’s going to clash.
Olga: Right, and what I did was a healing that didn’t incorporate cultural identity.
Olga: I’ve been spending a great deal of my time since 2007 trying to retake my culture because trauma doesn’t happen outside of cultural identity. It happens, and it’s all intertwined. I had to take back, and still trying to take back, my language because most of my abuse was in Spanish. I had to take back my foods, because most of the things that I smelled in my home were Caribbean foods when I’m being abused. It’s that garlic and onions and olive oil that’s cooking. I had a really hard time eating that kind of food, and I had to take that back.
Trevor: It was all triggering.
Olga: All triggering.
Olga: And then not feeling safe with Latinos. Not having ... My view was so skewed of who we are as a culture. I had to take all that back. Recognizing that this isn’t part of our culture, this is something that happens across the world. I think a cultural healing is really important for anyone that’s experienced something like this, on top of whatever else they need. But that Western philosophy, that Western psychosocial therapy, talk therapy, isn’t for everyone. It totally saved my life, but it isn’t for everyone.
Trevor: Did you find that a lot of doctors, or so-called professionals or leaders in the field, do you think they don’t consider that—that the Western approach is the approach?
Olga: I don’t know. I know that ... I can say like Rich at least tried to incorporate that as much as he could into my healing. He incorporated all kinds of ... He would adapt some of the movement therapy with what I was interested in. He would add and suggest acupuncture, body work, art therapy, all these different ways of getting it out, but I wasn’t bringing to him the fact that ... It took me a lot of healing to even notice that my cultural identity was so caught up in the trauma and that I needed to undo that. The way that I did that was to go work for a program that worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence that were Spanish-speaking.
Trevor: It sounds like by using acupuncture, it sounds like Rich’s approach was a little East and West. It came from different cultures. I kind of like Rich because it sounds like he wasn’t trying to, whether inadvertent or not, I find doctors who are too stringent with their Western approach don’t realize that when they’re treating somebody of culture, they are ... Whether they mean to or not, are colonizing their mind.
Olga: Exactly, yeah. I don’t feel like ... I don’t know for sure. I don’t feel like that was his approach.
Olga: His approach was really holistic, which I loved.
Olga: I think it kind of enabled me to do more with that.
Olga: But yeah, but a lot of people don’t notice that, because they’re focusing on this really significant stigmatizing disorder and trying to help someone survive the healing process.
Trevor: Well, I mean, let’s just be honest. A holistic approach is not a business model for big pharma.
Olga: Right, exactly.
Trevor: I can’t finish that sentence. I’ll let the audience finish that sentence in their mind.
Trevor: Let me ask you a potentially uncomfortable question.
Trevor: Did you dissociate at any point during this interview?
Trevor: Did you want to?
Olga: No. I thought I was ... I was worried about it though.
Trevor: You were worried about it.
Olga: I was worried about it beforehand. I was like ... Well I was worried about two things beforehand. One, I heard the room was small, and I knew it would be for the soundproofing, but I’m used to flying on planes.
Trevor: Flying sucks.
Olga: This isn’t small.
Olga: Yeah, and then two was, because we talked about more specific abuse stuff on the pre-interview, I was worried that that would be triggering, but ...
Trevor: Listen, in the pre-interview I wanted to make sure ... Call me a hypocrite, I don’t care, I wanted to make sure exactly where the lines were.
Olga: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Trevor: And where to stay.
Olga: Yeah, I appreciate that.
Trevor: Yeah, no problem. I don’t want to stop.
Olga: I know. Me neither.
Lauren: We do have to stop though.
Trevor: We do have to stop.
Olga: Oh yeah, because I’m going to ...
Trevor: Thank you very much.
Olga: Yeah, it was great meeting you.
Trevor: Are you ever going to be back in the area?
Olga: I’m sure I will.
Trevor: What I’m going to do is that I’m going to give you ... You already have it, but I’m going to write down my cellphone in your book because I want it in your book.
Olga: In my book, yeah.
Trevor: If you’re back in the area, hit me up, find somewhere in Boston that has good Caribbean food.
Olga: Oh, awesome.
Trevor: Let’s finish this conversation the right way.
Olga: That sounds great.
Trevor: Thank you so much.
Olga: Yeah, thank you.
Trevor: Well, what did you think of that? You still here? Mopping up the tears? Mopping up the puddles of tears? Angry? You fired up? It’s an emotional one. Kudos to you if you could get through it, and kudos to you if you couldn’t. You recognized your limits, and you practiced self-care, good for you. I really like Olga a lot. I hope we have some of that Caribbean food someday. I sound pathetic, don’t I? It feels so bad. I really feel sick. Okay, I’m out of here. Two weeks, two weeks, two weeks. Take your vitamins. Thank you for listening to Mindful Things. The official podcast of McLean Hospital.
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