I’m really grateful that I made the decision to address the issue—and to keep going
Of all the big decisions Olga has made in her life—going to law school, getting married, becoming an advocate for victims of assault and abuse, writing a book—the most important decision was to get help for her dissociative identity disorder (DID).
When I started having panic attacks, I knew that I had to get help. There was no other option in my mind. I had to make these panic attacks stop. So, I started to see a therapist. That one decision changed my life so dramatically.
Olga didn’t know she had DID until she was in her early 30s. While working as a lawyer at the Department of Justice, Olga was triggered by a scene in a movie she was watching, an experience that brought up memories of the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she had suffered when she was younger. She started having panic attacks. Although she reached out to mental health professionals for help, she was reluctant to talk about her issues publicly.
Initially, I didn’t want anyone to know. When I was first diagnosed, I was the youngest general counsel at the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Being a woman and so young in a high position, I was constantly challenged. I felt like I had to prove myself all the time. I didn’t think I could let people know. I felt like it would undermine my credibility and my position.
Over the next few years, Olga engaged in treatment for her DID. At the same time, she built her career, first at the DOJ, then as a consultant, author, public speaker, and advocate. Eventually, she reached a level of success that enabled her to start disclosing she had DID and create a platform to help others understand what DID is and to understand the people who have it.
It took a long time before I decided to talk about having DID. Now, I bring it to my work all the time. Doing this work for 25-30 years, I recognize how much status I have in the field. I understand that there are people who have DID but don’t feel they can let people know, people who are uncomfortable talking about it. I’m hoping to make it easier for people to disclose that they have it and to make it easier for people to respond to people with DID.
Olga works on many fronts to help those with DID and to educate individuals who engage with those who have mental illnesses. She provides training on the impact of physical and sexual violence to law enforcement, judicial, and governmental organizations across the country and around the world. She has shared her story through video, articles, and many public speaking engagements.
In addition, Olga is one of the founders of Latinos United for Peace and Equity (LUPE), a project of Caminar Latino, a nonprofit focused on domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in the Latino community. Her 2011 memoir, The Sum of My Parts, has been translated into Japanese and Chinese. Soon, it will be published in Spanish.
As a Latina, it’s important to me that my book come out in Spanish. Very little on DID is available in Spanish. I know that when people have access to information, it can change their life.
Today, Olga is proud of her accomplishments and pleased that she can make an impact.
I’ve managed to move through the world and be successful while managing what most people would consider a disability. It’s pretty remarkable that I’ve been able to do so well for so long. Sometimes, I feel that having DID is like a superpower!