Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD
Olga was a young, successful lawyer in DC when she suddenly started having inexplicable panic attacks and episodes of blank stares or rapidly moving eyes. She sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with a moderate case on DID. On the spectrum, she has multiple parts but not exclusive personalities and still has a central core. These parts have kept the memories of her extraordinarily violent, abusive childhood from her consciousness thereby allowing her to function, but just barely. In her memoir, Olga tells what she has now remembered of her childhood and how she has now discovered she managed to function and be surprisingly resilient. She then delves into her long-term therapy and how she has come together into mostly one part and usually no longer dissociates.
I always find memoirs by those with DID or dissociation completely fascinating. Even just the ability to write the book and explain the disorder from the insider’s perspective is a remarkable achievement. I previously read When Rabbit Howls, which is written by a person much further along on the spectrum where completely different personalities wrote the different parts. Since Olga has a centralized part that has integrated most of the other parts, she writes with much more clarity and awareness of when she dissociated as a child, the process through therapy, and integration and her new life now. This ability to clearly articulate what was going on and how dissociation was a coping mechanism for her survival makes the book much more accessible for a broader audience. I also appreciate the fact that someone with a mental illness who is Latina, first generation American, and a lesbian is speaking out. Too often the picture of a person with a mental illness is whitewashed.
Olga offers up a very precise trigger warning of which chapters could be dangerous for fellow trauma survivors. That said, I found her reporting of what occurred to her to be respectful of herself as a person. She never shirks from what happened to her, but is sure to couch it in concise, clinical language. I respect this decision on her part, and again believe it will make her book more accessible to a wider audience. People can see the results of the trauma without finding themselves witnesses to the trauma itself.
The book right up through about halfway through her therapy is clear and detailed, but then starts to feel rushed and more vague. Perhaps this is out of respect for the people currently in her life, but personally I wanted to know more. For instance, how was she able to make a drastic move from DC to the middle of the country without upsetting her healing process? How do the phone sessions with her therapist work? I think many advocates of those with mental illness would appreciate more detail on how she is able to have a healthy, happy relationship now, especially since we witness the dissolution of her first marriage. Similarly, I wanted to know more about her coming out process. She states that she knew at 12 she was a lesbian, but pretty much leaves it at that. I’m sure it was easier to embrace her sexuality the more integrated her parts became, but I am still interested in the process. She was so brave recounting her early life that I wonder at the exclusion of these details.
Overall this is a well-written memoir of both childhood abuse, therapy for DID, and living with DID. Olga is an inspirational person, overcoming so much to achieve both acclaim in her career and a happy home life. I recommend it to a wide range of people from those interested in the immigrant experience to those interested in living with a mental illness.
4 out of 5 stars