Home > Genre, Length - average but on the shorter side, memoir, Reading Challenges > Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD

Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD

Olga at a young age.Summary:
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

Length: 258 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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  1. Doc
    November 28, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I am usually not a fan of biographies wherein the writer was abused as a child. I think I overdosed on the genre when it was in vogue and every other non-fiction best seller was just such a book. But this one sounds very interesting. Thank you for the review.

    • November 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      I read a lot of the genre due to my medical librarian work, and this one is definitely *different* from the others. It’s a stand-out!

  2. November 28, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Interesting. I currently work with people with severe mental illness, but I’m not sure if anybody is dissociative (we don’t accept many people with “just” a personality disorder). When Rabbit Howls sound especially interesting – thanks for the recommendation.

    • November 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      My pleasure. I read When Rabbit Howls back before I was into book blogging. It’s one of those that I sometimes think I should do a retrospective review of just to point it out to people.

  3. November 30, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Sounds like an interesting read, this is not a disorder I know much about. Good to see some more MIA reading challenge reviews.

    • November 30, 2011 at 8:33 am

      I tend to read the different genres in spurts! DID is a really fascinating disorder. Maybe next year you can read about it. 😉

  4. ~Afrifemme~
    December 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you for this review. I too was left wanting more after reading Ms. Trujillo’s book. I am so glad for her blog on Psychology Today – she gives continuity to her story by sharing some more current information about her life and continuing struggles/healing, as well as providing an ongoing, much-needed and much-appreciated source of support for other survivors.

    • December 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you for letting us all know about Olga’s writing on Psychology Today. That’s great to know!

  5. bookzilla
    December 14, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I minored in Psychology in college, and one of my major papers was written on DID. Such a fascinating disorder, and one that is often sensationalized (Sybil, anyone?). I don’t know if the “trigger” portions would be too much for me, but this sounds like a well-written account. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • December 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

      Oh gosh, yes, it is unfortunate how often people sensationalize mental illness, even going so far as to convince a patient they have an illness they do not have (Sybil). *sighs* Real mental illness is painful enough without sensationalizing it. That’s why I value books that are so honest about the experience, like this one.

  1. December 15, 2011 at 1:04 am

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