Tremaine Ake is a writer and podcaster fromNew Zealand living with Dissociative Identity Disorder and Complex PTSD, who has been in and out of the mental health system in New Zealand since he was fourteen. We’re talking about what it’s like to experience disassociation, hallucinations, delusions, what it’s like to have other personalities, and how colonial trauma has affected Tremaine’s mental health as a person of Maori descent.
Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 59 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
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Transcript of Episode 59: Dissociative Identity Disorder and Colonial Trauma with Tremaine Ake
SULLIVAN: Welcome to the Neurodiverging podcast, Tremaine! It’s good to see you again. How is your day going?
AKE: It’s going well, thank you. How’s yours?
SULLIVAN: Going beautifully. We were talking, before we started recording, about [how] we’re going into Fall here in Colorado, so lots of crunchy leaves and hot chocolate and that kind of atmosphere. And you’re on the other side of the world from me, so…
AKE: Yeah, we’re going into Spring, so the pōhutukawa flowers are starting to flower, the cold mornings are gone. We’ve gone off daylight savings, so we’re no longer getting long nights, which I am very upset about.
SULLIVAN: We’re going into long nights very soon over here, on this side, which I am upset about so, you know.
AKE: I prefer them, because then I can go walking when there are no cars out.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah. But it does make a big difference. Out here there are coyotes in the evenings, and so I don’t want to go walking with my children.
AKE: Oh. (Laughs) You go walking with a rifle I guess.
SULLIVAN: Well, yeah, or you know, if you’ve got a dog or some large friends. But yeah, it’s definitely different.
AKE: Coyotes, Jesus.
AKE: We, yeah— obviously this isn’t the topic of the thing, but because New Zealand is an island, we don’t have any natural predators.
AKE: That’s how our birds are so exotic-looking.
SULLIVAN: Lovely.. Yes.
AKE: And so we brought the predators to… I say “we.” The Pākehā brought the predators to… (Laughs)
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah, I… Coyotes are native to here, and they’re wonderful, and they’re appreciated, and they’re needed. But they also make walking in the evening a little bit more challenging sometimes, so we’re just careful.
SULLIVAN: Well. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your background and what you’d like to talk about today? I know we can go in a lot of different directions.
AKE: Yes. Because this is obviously a Neurodiverging podcast, it’s clearly about… and since I’m not a doctor, I’m clearly a… patient, rather than a professional… but…
Alright, yes. I’m Tremaine Ake. I have been diagnosed with DID, PTSD, and a few other fun little things that I experience. And I also host a podcast that Danielle has been on. I think the episode will be out before this one is, so go check that out as well.
SULLIVAN: If it is, I’ll put a link below, yeah.
AKE: We talked about… We didn’t talk about sci-fi, but we certainly talked.
SULLIVAN: (Laughs) We tried. This podcast might be similar: we’ll try to stay on topic, but… We had a good conversation, though.
What is a DID person?
So, DID, for those of you who don’t know, is Dissociative Identity Disorder; it’s the child of multiple personality disorder. So I have 6 personalities, including myself, which doesn’t usually count as a personality, it’s usually just the core. But I count myself as one, because to be honest we don’t really know if there is a “real” Tremaine.
So what we talked about beforehand is [that] we want to talk about trauma and hallucinations. So, hallucinations occur for me because I have psychosis. Now, something that a lot of people get wrong is: “psychotic” [and] “psychosis” are not “psychopaths.” That’s not even in the DSM anymore.
SULLIVAN: That’s such an important thing to bring up. Thank you for mentioning that.
AKE: So, it’s not— When you hear someone is on antipsychotics or is having a psychotic episode, it doesn’t mean they’re going out and Hannibal Lector-ing people. They are experiencing a severe disconnect from reality. So, for example, the main illness people associate with psychosis is schizophrenia. Now, schizophrenia is not DID, as in there are not multiple personalities there. Schizophrenia means “split mind,” so it’s split the mind from reality.
A big part of psychosis would be your ability to grab onto reality. You’ll start to believe in conspiracy theories a lot, you’re a lot more prone to them. If you hear voices, you’ll be listening to them a lot more; if you see things, you’ll be believing them a lot more. If you are prone to delusional thinking, then you’ll be thinking some pretty wild things.
I, myself, prior to the COVID pandemic reaching New Zealand, was hospitalized after… Well, it’s complicated. It’s not as simple, with me, with who did what. But someone I call Tinfoil Man because of his conspiracy theories believed that, or he convinced me that, sparrows—so the Eurasian sparrow, which is very common in New Zealand—were spreading the COVID virus because of an alliance they had to the Chinese government after the [four] pests campaign in China. So that requires a lot of mental gymnastics to get through there. But because you’re prone to this thinking—this persecution, this grandiose thinking—you start to get really paranoid. Very paranoid.
And so, in terms of hallucinations, for me… I have hallucinations every day. The difference is, when I’m in a good space, I can cope with them. If you’re a person who has not been diagnosed, and you’re not being treated or you haven’t had therapy, oftentimes these hallucinations can cause issues.
Now, I should mention that, in some cultures, it doesn’t.
What is the difference between psychosis and spiritual experience?
AKE: Which is an interesting topic in itself, that some cultures manage it through using spirituality to deal with it. Unfortunately, in the West, we’ve severed our connection to the spiritual world, so. (Laughs) We have to rely on science for that one.
But, yeah. So, hallucinations— I mean, I could probably go on, but. What are some general misconceptions you can think of?
SULLIVAN: Oh gosh, so many.
First I’ll just say, there’s a really good book I read recently—that I’m blanking on the title [of], but I’ll put it in the show notes—on American Indigenous approaches to…
SULLIVAN: …diagnoses like psychosis, like schizophrenia, like bipolar disorder, like DID. And it’s written by an Indigenous woman, and I’m just not great with names. If you’re listening to the podcast, you know that with me. So if you’re interested in the topic, I can put a link to that book in the show notes. I haven’t read any based out of the Americas, but I’m sure they exist. I don’t know if you know of any, Tremaine, for other Indigenous groups.
AKE: Well, the Indigenous group I am part of, the Māori of New Zealand, we used to treat people with schizophrenia and DID and… not bipolar… but, [we used to treat] the hallucinations as a spiritual good. So they were often seen as sort of a shaman-like figure. And so what would happen is [that] the village elders would walk you through your experience, and it was sort of a more spiritual approach to dealing with the illness. And you became quite a prestigious member of the tribe. But unfortunately, (Laughs) unfortunately, not me, because Pākehā showed up.
SULLIVAN: Yep. Yeah.
AKE: Yeah, so, Māori [and] a lot of Polynesian cultures like the Māori, Samoan included, they used their connection with the gods and things like that as a belief system for why these afflictions occurred in certain people.
AKE: So, yeah, there is certainly different schools of thought, as there are in medicine in general.
SULLIVAN: Oh yes.
AKE: I mean, I know that the reason we test vaccines on different ethnic groups is not because we’re trying to target them, but because, for some ethnic groups, they can react terribly to the vaccine, whereas Pākehā or Asian or African cultures manage it fine because of different diseases they’ve had in the past.
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that; I know it’s a big question. I think it’s interesting to look at places where mental health conditions like these are a piece of an integrated society, and treated as a piece of an integrated approach, versus the white European Western approach of…
AKE: Well, what’s really interesting about it [is that] a lot of the time, if you’re not high-functioning, it’s very difficult for you to function in our society. In our white, European society. But if you are high-functioning, sometimes you can hit that sweet spot between totally off the rails and so in control that you just… I mean, I know stories from… My family has something called generational trauma that you may be aware of. For a lot of Indigenous people who experienced the hardship of colonization and cultural repression, we have a hand-down of a plethora of illnesses because of that. It’s usually to do with drinking, substance abuse, mood disorders, anxiety, depression, all that fun stuff.
And because of that, we often think about… alternatives, if you know what I mean?
What are the intergenerational impacts of Colonisation?
SULLIVAN: I think where I was going, or what I was thinking about when you were talking before, and also as you were talking about the… I’m trying to think of a better word than “social ills,” but colonization, racism, violence, right? Of colonization in many places in the world, right, from European colonization… Indigenous folks and other folks suffer from the stuff you were talking about. Alcoholism, substance abuse, and kind of that generational pass-down of a violent colonization process.
And it’s driven this huge wedge into… now we’re trying to apply European medical systems onto folks who have their own ways of dealing with things, and it’s not a 1:1, right? It doesn’t really work, I think is all I was getting at.
SULLIVAN: I’m sure you have a much better insight on that than I do as a, yes, very white American. (Laughs)
AKE: (Laughs) “Very white American.”
Well, the thing about Western science is—and this is a question I often pose to the different doctors I’ve seen at different times—is: Do you think we should have based psychology on science? And a lot of the time, the more older ones will say “no.” And they say that because they think we are moving in a different direction with psychology. What I would say [is] the traditional European approach to mental health was very much to lock people away.
AKE: To move people out of the community. Now the approach is to push them back into the community. There have been troubles with that because there’s some people who just can’t function in the community, because community is designed in a certain way that doesn’t gel well with who they are.
SULLIVAN: Doesn’t support what they need, yeah.
AKE: What I find interesting is [that] a lot of Indigenous groups in Africa, and Asia, and Oceania, and possibly in the North and South Americas, they had a different approach. It wasn’t scientific, it was spiritual. And the question I think about when I think about that is not— I don’t blame god, but what I think is: Is there a connection there with having that blind faith in something that will solve the issue more than having a dose of drugs that make you 50 kgs overweight, dull in the morning, and all sorts of effects of medication? Not to say that you shouldn’t take your medication.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Please take your medication. (Laughs)
AKE: (Laughs) Take your medication! Otherwise, they’ll put you in hospital, and that’s worse than taking your medication.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. But I think you’re also right, and there’s also this, you know… As someone who is white and who works with a lot of white folks, a lot of us are very divorced from natural life in any way. Like, we don’t go outside, we don’t get sunlight, we don’t… You know, there’s this kind of huge… I can’t think of another word besides “divorced.” But you know, we’re very separated from how folks used to live.
And we’re also separated from our communities. Like, we literally don’t know our neighbors, at least in the Americas. A lot of us don’t know the folks we live with. And so there’s not a social approach to handling mental illness, or any other kind of struggle really, because the socialness doesn’t exist, we don’t have a society, we have a bunch of individual people.
AKE: Well, that’s based off of your history of valuing the individual over the collective.
SULLIVAN: Oh, yes, it absolutely is, and it’s a hot mess. It does not work. (Both laugh) So.
AKE: Well! It worked for conquering the rest of us.
SULLIVAN: It… Yeah, and now we’re all screwed, would be my [response]… I mean no, you’re right, it worked for that group of people. It continues to work for a group of people who are still in the process of colonization, right? But it also leaves a lot of us without families, social structure, neighbors, you know.
What do hallucinations symbolize?
AKE: What’s interesting as well, just to move on to hallucinations, is [that] a lot of my hallucinations do revolve around some spiritual elements.
AKE: And that’s to do with my cultural tuku iho, or heritage, as you would put it. That we… My grandmother, who’s staying with me at the moment, she’s not diagnosed with everything but she used to have spirits of the ancestors come to her and ask for her to pray for them. Now, obviously, in a clinical setting, that’s psychosis. But in a traditional setting, it’s normal, and it’s a way of coping with grief.
AKE: Now, I have a similar thing with my Pākehā relatives who have passed away, and also with my Samoan and my Māori relatives that have passed away. They often will visit me in a rather… My visual hallucinations are very vivid, which is not entirely common. So if you’re seeing things, and you think, “Oh, they’re not that vivid,” it still means you’re seeing things.
AKE: But there’s actually caveats there. Make sure you talk to a doctor. Don’t…
SULLIVAN: Please don’t diagnose yourself via Facebook. Please go see an actual medical professional. This is just our experiences as non-doctor people, yeah. There’s your general heads-up.
AKE: I showed it to my psychologist, it said “Take this 5-minute quiz to find all your relationship problems.” I just showed it to him and said “Hah. I’m out of here. I’m outta here!” (Danielle laughs) And yeah, he looked and said, “You know what,” (Laughs) “I can’t believe I’ve wasted the past 40 years of my life.”
SULLIVAN: “…when you could just take this 5 minute Facebook quiz!”
AKE: Those don’t work. And the Myerrs-Briggs test doesn’t work either.
SULLIVAN: Agreed. Yes.
AKE: What else doesn’t work? (Laughs)
SULLIVAN: Oh, God. I think there’s too many things that don’t work; we’ll just fill up this whole program.
AKE: Even certain things that they still use in medicine don’t work. Like, you know that scene from Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal’s handed the questionnaires by Clarice, and he goes, (spoken with an affected accent) “Are you trying to pick my mind with these primitive tools?”
SULLIVAN: (Laugh) That was very a good accent.
AKE: He’s mocking her accent at the same time. And she goes, “No, no…” (Laughs) It’s like that with a lot of these… especially in the public system over here in New Zealand…
They hand you a lot of these questionnaires—I’ve got a few of them in here—and they ask questions that are very stupid. Like, (Reading aloud) “Rate from 0 to 5 how suicidal you are.”
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm, mm-hm…
AKE: Now… I don’t know about you. (Both laugh)
SULLIVAN: Sorry, I’m having a very big reaction. I’m like, “How! How… How??” That struck me very much.
AKE: And then, “The urge to quit therapy, 0-5.” “Self harm, 0-5.” So I’m thinking, “Okay, did I slash my wrist with a banana? That’s zero. I slashed it with a knife? That’s 5.” So, you can see where I’m coming from with these primitive tools trying to pick at our minds.
AKE: And they do it because they don’t have time to sit down and establish a rapport with you, because the hospital system, at least in New Zealand, is set up to try to get people out of it as fast as possible.
SULLIVAN: It’s the same here, yeah, in the United States.
AKE: We don’t— we don’t want too many people in that hospital, because God knows they may end up being cured.
But yeah, so, back to hallucinations. A story I have: So, I started experiencing hallucinations probably at the age of 6, but they were seen as… Because I was a child, I was too young to be diagnosed with anything. But I was always in the yard by myself, talking to things that weren’t there and talking to plants. Anyway. I’m a weirdo.
And when I was about 14 or 15, I was in my English class—I had a very terrible teacher; that may have contributed to what was about to happen—but she said to me, “Why are you staring at the curtains? Am I not interesting?”
AKE: Now, if I was in my right mind, I would’ve said, “No, you’re not.” Because that’s the way I am. But I wasn’t in my right mind, because I was looking at the curtain because there was a light shining through, and it was raining outside. I thought— So she was still talking to me, and I pulled back the curtain, and there was a man standing there shining a torch through.
Now, obviously, that man wasn’t real. But me at the time didn’t know that.
AKE: Myself at the time didn’t know that. And I was completely unaware that no one else could see this person. And I did what’s natural: I screamed at the man, ran across the classroom, jumped out the window, climbed down the roof, and then ran out of the school.
AKE: Now, you may say that was an overreaction. It was. But it was also a reaction to something that was threatening me.
AKE: Now, that’s the thing people need to remember. If someone is seeing something, and they’re believing they’re seeing it, there is no room in there for them to doubt it. If you see, for example, a coyote coming towards you, you don’t have time to think, “Is this real?”
SULLIVAN: There’s no rational response, yeah.
AKE: You have a fight or flight response.
AKE: So when I saw this man— and I called him the Puppetmaster for a while because I believed all the elves that were following me were because of this Puppetmaster. Actually there’s a story behind that, which is [that] I believed he was a time traveler sent back to stop me from becoming a dictator. So, you know. (Laughs) Again, grandiose thinking.
SULLIVAN: It’s interesting, yeah. Like, how you need a rationale, right? Like, it needs to make sense.
AKE: And because you’re a child when you’re doing it, they don’t make a lot of sense. If it was a time traveler, why didn’t he just kill me? You know, stuff like that.
AKE: It’s very basic stuff like that. But you start to develop these neurological pathways that then have to be undone in therapy.
Can trauma cause hallucinations?
AKE: And so the hallucinations have been also to do with the trauma I’ve experienced. Now, I don’t mind saying this, but I have been assaulted sexually by quite a few women. People probably think that’s unique. It’s not.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. I think it’s not as uncommon as…
AKE: We tend to think men think only with their penises. I can assure you that is not the case, because… There is no shame to your psyche more so than being told that the traumatic experience you’ve just felt is meant to be a good thing. So [being told that] having sexual attention from someone who is perceived as attractive should be a good thing. But if you’re not consenting to it, and if you’re too young to consent to it, then it’s not. And also, you know, if someone is saying no, then it’s no.
AKE: That’s a very simple rule that we don’t seem to be able to follow, for some reason.
But because I was abused in that way, a lot of my hallucinations during heightened emotions will be hands clawing at my mouth, hands touching my pelvic area, and things like that. So a lot of the hallucinations can also tie in with [trauma]. And what you would call that is, it’s part of PTSD.
AKE: It’s actually reliving the moment in time you were traumatized. I’m sure you’ve had someone on who’s explained how it works, with your rational brain being the frontal lobe and then your emotional brain being the center. Then, when during a fight or flight, they separate, and this (Gestures to indicate the center of the brain) uses all of its energy to do stuff.
And when your amygdala is overwhelmed, you can’t remember it—that’s a dissociation—but your body remembers it. Your body has pieces of that memory still in it.
AKE: So, for example, there was a particular perfume that one of my abusers wore. And when I was walking in a shopping center, I took a whiff of it from someone who walked past and completely shut down, because I was suddenly being molested again.
AKE: And it was… I mean, that’s debilitating in itself, because you can’t ask someone to ban that perfume. (Laughs) But it was a freak accident that then unlocked a memory that…
My psychologist said, “What happened?” And I said, “I don’t know, this perfume…” and I kept talking about the perfume, and he said, “do you know the perfume from anywhere else?” And that’s when we started to piece together this teacher, and started to piece together all these things. And suddenly, it came together that this thing had happened.
AKE: So what we have is a traumatic event.
Now, some of you who may be listening who think, “Oh, I haven’t had something as severe as that”—or maybe the opposite—“but I still feel traumatized.” That is not wrong.
SULLIVAN: No. Not at all.
AKE: If you have experienced something like bullying, something like… even verbal bullying. I mean, there’s horrendous things that people have been told to do by bullies. And there are horrendous things that they’ve done to people. Children are messed up. (Laughs) They do really messed up things.
AKE: They’re evil. (Laughs)
SULLIVAN: Well— As a parent, I would push back against the “evil,” but I can affirm that children do weird, messed up things. And humans in general, unfortunately, or fortunately, do weird messed up things. Some of them are positive, some of them are not.
AKE: Well, so, you may be thinking, “Oh, well, when I was in school, they…” I don’t know, the classic thing is “…they called me this, they called me that, they mocked me.” And you’re thinking, “Oh, but, you know, that happens to a lot of people.”
Now, in psychology as I’ve learned it, there is a thing where some people are just more sensitive than others. That’s not a bad thing, it’s not a good thing, it’s just a reality.
Why are some people more prone to hallucinations?
AKE: And that’s part of mindfulness, is that not everything needs to be good or bad. Not everything needs to be black or white. There need to be shades of gray.
50 of them. No, hah.
So, some of us who are more sensitive will develop problems with…
Now, we don’t know why people are more sensitive. At least, I don’t. There could be that there’s a genetic component, there’s a upbringing component. But some people are just born a bit more fragile than others.
And they also tend to be the people who are better artists, intellectuals, people who achieve a lot in life because they have a strong amount of empathy. So it’s a curse and a blessing, but it’s also… you know, nearly everything has a silver lining.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Empathy, as far as I understand it, is a very complex trait that, just like many other traits, can be grown throughout your life. That you’re born with a certain level, but then you can push it up or let it slide down a little bit. And different people are born with different levels, but you can grow it through attention to it and practice to it. Yeah.
But I think many of my listeners… I’m going to go out on a limb and say many of us are neurodivergent, many of us have experienced both capital-T traumas, like, you know, car crashes, people dying, really huge, dramatic things that change the course of your life. Sexual assault. And a lot of people have experienced the little-t traumas, like, you know… microaggressions, like racial or ableist microaggressions. But over the course of time, those can build up and really cause very complex post-traumatic stress and other symptoms, depending on who you are as an individual, and what’s going on in your life, and what kind of resilience and support structures you have, right?
AKE: Yeah. So, for example: my grandfather. He may not be the best example of somebody who is resilient, but he is someone who just gets on with it. I actually was talking about this yesterday with my psychologist, about the stories of people in concentration camps during the Holocaust. There were some people who just laid down and died in the first few days. Then there were some people who survived the entire thing. And you look at these two groups of people, and you think, well, many of them had heritage that was similar to each other, many of them had the same upbringing, they were in the same situation… why were they different?
We may never really know what the conclusion is there, but there are some people who can just… push past it and make do with what they have. And the older generation we think of having that—we think, “Oh, my grandma and grandpa lived through the depression, so why can’t I cope with this?”
SULLIVAN: I think that my older generation repressed every single emotion they ever had, and just pushed, pushed, pushed.
SULLIVAN: And— yes.
AKE: And the ones that didn’t were put into psychiatric hospitals and never seen again.
SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Yes. That was the option, right? Yeah.
AKE: There was a comedian called Johnathan Winters who used to do a lot of improv comedy in the old days, and he used to refer to… during his alien saucer routine, he said, “I better not say too much or they’ll put me in the zoo again.” And it very much is the case that if you started to get out of… not “out of hand,” but if you started to get a bit annoying, or inconvenient… especially if you’re a woman. If you were inconvenient to your husband because your body, once a month, decides to torture you, then. (Laughs) Sorry, you’ve got hysteria; you go to the psychiatric hospital while he goes and marries someone different.
SULLIVAN: And I think that’s an important piece, because a lot of the push… Like we were talking about, white European society, Western society, wants to push “science,” quote-unquote, as the way we solve problems. And I am an evidence-based practitioner; I believe in science. Science is also deeply problematic: It’s racist, it’s misogynist, it’s based in a system that is just deeply problematic in multiple different ways.
And so pointing to that history is really important, and acknowledging that we’re trying to look at science— at least a lot of white folks, and white liberal folks especially, look a at science as this pure argument for things. But the science is based in a history of dramatic oppression.
AKE: Well, yeah, it’s like IQs, for example, that we use to sterilize people.
SULLIVAN: Yep, mm-hm.
AKE: IQs were—and they still are—massively influenced by the white people that created them. Not to mention that they also were not intended for adults…
SULLIVAN: [They were not intended] to be used the way they’re being used, yeah. Most of our— Just like the test you pointed to, right, the “how suicidal are you” question? It’s like—
AKE: How do you measure intelligence, really?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. How do you… These are things that are not meant to be scaled like that. That’s not a useful approach to… yeah.
AKE: If you were intelligent enough to make that test, you’d know not to make that test.
SULLIVAN: Oh gosh, you wish, right?
AKE: Mm-hm. Well, the person who developed the IQ test, apparently it was a French guy, he didn’t intend to use it for adults. It was meant to be used for children in French schools— like, whether or not they needed—
SULLIVAN: It was a placement test. Exactly.
AKE: A placement test.
SULLIVAN: It was a placement test for, okay, should you be in quote-unquote “fifth grade” or “second grade”? Right, of your reading. And now we use it for, oh, so many things that it has no place being. Yes.
AKE: I mean, I was searching through Quora, because I have nothing better to do sometimes, and someone said they had an IQ of 161, and I thought, “No you don’t.” (Both laugh) One, no you don’t. Two…
SULLIVAN: So… so… so what. Like, what doe it mean? It’s a number, it doesn’t mean anything! It’s not usable in— yeah.
AKE: Not only is it doesn’t mean anything, but also because the internet has IQ tests that you could… I mean, I haven’t done an IQ test online, because I learned to get self-esteem through some other method, but… (Danielle laughs)
(Both laugh) Come on, you can’t tell me people who do IQ tests have high self-esteem.
SULLIVAN: I don’t understand, I mean… So, I’m very autistic, which means I don’t understand a lot of things that the general culture around me seems to understand. But when I think of IQ tests, I think of things like BMI indexes. You’re literally taking the smallest sample size possible, you’re making a scale to use in a specific circumstance, and then somebody else takes it and explodes it, and uses it everywhere.
Like, you know, IQ was just for this one school classroom. It had I don’t know, what, 50 kids that were maybe on the original one. And now we’re using it for everything. BMI, it’s just white European men in America in the 50s, and they were college students; they were, like, 20; they were skinny and ripped; and we’re gonna use that for every man in the whole world to say if you’re the “right size”—quote-unquote, whatever that means—or not?
I just think of the ways that culture likes to take something that has this very specific use and then just try to apply it everywhere, and that’s supposed to be (Air quotes) “scientific.” And it makes me very confused and very upset.
AKE: Well, (Unintelligible) the Rorschach tests—
SULLIVAN: Yeah, there you go! That’s another great example.
AKE: They used to be very useful, because the person who invented them, Rorschach, was not using them as a “you see this, you’re a homosexual,” or “you see this, you’re a pedophile.”
AKE: It was more: You see this? Why do you see this? What part of your past is meaning you’re going to see this?
SULLIVAN: It was a reflective exercise, yeah.
AKE: Is there a commonality between them? And instead, they got used to diagnose people with things and [get them] kicked out of the army.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, it’s just… ugh. The whole— anyway. The whole thing is a hot mess.
I would love to talk a little bit more about your experience of DID and/or hallucinations. What has your experience been like? And how can folks who are listening who might know somebody with those diagnoses be most supportive, or most helpful, or: what should they know? I know those are two huge questions, but whatever your response would be.
AKE: So, DID— I’ll start there.
AKE: DID means the person who you see before you is not necessarily the person you know. That can be very traumatic to see.
AKE: Because you can see a very rational person turn into an irrational beast. Or you can see a very rational person turn into a child. Or you can see them turn into an old man, or a young man, or a woman, or a gender-neutral— It doesn’t matter. You can turn into anything, as long as that person exists.
What you need to remember is [that] the only way you can help someone is if you’re safe, yourself. So, as much as I hate to say it: If they’re violent, you do need to call someone, because putting yourself in harm’s way is not a good idea. I know that the police are not the best at dealing with these situations—certainly not where you are.
AKE: I don’t know.
SULLIVAN: But I think you’re right that safety first has to be part of the plan. And I have worked with clients with family members who are, for other reasons, unsafe, and you have to have a safety plan, right? I can also put links to that in the show notes for folks, if you need to develop a safety plan. But you want to have a plan before something happens.
SULLIVAN: So that you can keep each other safe, yeah.
AKE: DID, another thing to remember is also: When you see the person again—maybe in hospital, maybe after their other personality’s withdrawn—they’re not going to remember. Or they may remember but not have any control over it.
AKE: So if you come to them saying, “What the fuck was that?” They’re gonna go, “I don’t know.” Now, it’s gonna be very difficult to say, “Hey, look, are you okay” after you’ve watched them, I don’t know, throw a punching bag out a window from the 4th floor of a building and then climbed out that window and gone up the thing like King Kong. It’s going to be very difficult to sympathize with them. But being there, and just saying, you know, “Are you okay? Do you know what happened?” explaining what happened, and then… Yeah, that generally will be helpful.
Now, for hallucinations, telling someone that it’s not there is actually helpful. Now, a lot of people will think, “How is that helpful?” You have to do it in a helpful manner.
Don’t say, “Don’t be fucking stupid, why would there be a snake here?”
Do it like this: “Okay. I can’t see that. You want me to ask other people if they can see it?” Maybe not in that tone. And when they start to see that other people can’t see it, then they start to maybe question, or start to think a little bit about why they’re seeing this thing. And so the small things you can do, a lot of them revolve around just saying, “Hey, maybe think about this.” Not being passive, but being gentle with your approach. Because you have to remember, a lot of these people have not lived very easy lives. They have lived very difficult lives, or have had very difficult pasts, and you yelling at them is not going to help.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, and that’s if you are working with anyone— Just from a coaching perspective, for folks who are listening, for whatever it’s worth. Tremaine has much greater experience than I do in terms of the lived experience. But from a coaching perspective, there’s lots of trauma-informed resources if you’re a coach and you’re working with somebody, or if you’re a professional and you’re working with somebody. If you do not know how to be trauma-informed, you’re gonna re-injure people. So do your work, please. (Both laugh)
AKE: Do your job!
SULLIVAN: Do your— do your work! I’m happy to email folks. But you can Google, right, for your profession, for your place in the world wherever you are, there’s going to be a community or a society of folks in your profession that have some kind of trauma information certification or method. And that’s really important.
AKE: And just to touch on something, yeah— That’s why it is important, when people say they are not diagnosed, to keep that in mind.
AKE: Because if you’re not diagnosed— Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say “then you’re definitely not it.” It means what you’re experiencing has not been labeled. So the only reason I’m getting at that is because I’ve seen a lot of people abusing trauma-based illnesses to try to get rid of things they don’t like.
SULLIVAN: Yes. That’s a really good point.
AKE: And so, you know, they’ll say things like “this is triggering me.” And they’ve made it to the point where people who actually get triggered no longer want to use that word, because they don’t want to be seen as soft.
AKE: I know I feel that. When the doctor said to me, “You mean you’re being triggered,” I’m like, “No!” (Both laugh)
SULLIVAN: Yeah. I’ve seen this come up in the Americas in the past 5 or 10 years with some students asking for trigger warnings on syllabi, for example, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or something similar, and there being pushback against, like, spoiling the book, right? Or spoiling the novel in English class. When really, somebody is asking for a very reasonable mental health accommodation and, in my opinion, should be afforded that regardless of anybody else’s slight discomfort versus a real re-triggering event. They are wildly different.
AKE: Yeah. For example, I know that, when I was… well, I still do university, but when I was in one of my first classes… there was someone in the front who was criticizing psychology. And that’s dangerous to someone like me, because then I can go, “hey, I don’t need psychology,” and do some crazy stuff. So I asked the lecturer to be excused. Now, that is a conversation to be had between you and the lecturer.
AKE: Now, in terms of trigger warnings… The thing is, right, I’m triggered heavily by rats.
SULLIVAN: It’s a very complicated topic, yeah.
AKE: And I’m triggered heavily by rats. It can induce a psychotic episode.
AKE: I can’t ask everyone to do that. Nor should I, because a big part of recovery from trauma is re-integrating yourself back into society and coping with that.
AKE: Now, obviously, while you’re vulnerable, that’s not a good thing to have. But part of your recovery will be learning to cope with—
SULLIVAN: With the thing.
AKE: With the thing, yeah. But there are some obvious things. If the book is, like, Huckleberry Finn, and it’s got some words that are not particularly usable nowadays, yes it’s good to just have a saying— I think the Disney Corporation actually had Whoopi Goldberg do that for some of the movies that they used to have. And she said, in her opinion, that to cut them out would be to deny that they happened at all.
AKE: So it is important—not to get political—it is important to acknowledge that that history does exist.
SULLIVAN: I completely agree; we don’t want to sanitize anything.
AKE: We don’t want to whitewash, yeah. (Laughs)
SULLIVAN: No, or that, yeah. (Laughs) That’s a very white word to use, isn’t it, “sanitize.” Yes, you’re right. We don’t want to whitewash anything.
But we also… I’m thinking, specifically, of: You mentioned sexual assault before.
SULLIVAN: That’s something that many of us have unfortunately had in our histories, and it has caused trauma for many of us. And many folks who are gonna be in, say, a freshman English class may have dealt with sexual trauma.
SULLIVAN: And so if you’re being asked to read a text that covers that directly, that’s a place, for example, where I would say a trigger warning is a reasonable ask. We’re gonna trust the student to decide if they’re in the part of their recovery where they’re gonna read the book anyway or not. Right? But it shouldn’t be up to the lecturer.
AKE: I would also say there’s a difference between a trigger warning and completely erasing the book.
SULLIVAN: Oh, for sure! Yes.
AKE: And as someone who’s a writer, as someone who appreciates fiction, it’s very important that we don’t get rid of some of these books. Because I know, for example, the Marquis de Sade, the person whose name is the basis for the word “sadism,” he wrote some very, very rapey books.
SULLIVAN: Oh yes.
AKE: I’ve read them.
SULLIVAN: They’re not as good as you’d wish, for somebody with that sort of history.
AKE: Well, no. For me, they actually have a message that’s quite strange. And the 2 books Juliette and Justine—I’m not going to go into any of the obvious things—the two sisters that are separated because one goes off on a life of debauchery and the other one goes off on a life of virtue… and what we get is: the woman who goes for virtue is left on the streets and is basically abused by society, and the woman who takes life into her own hands and does what she wants becomes the successful person. And even though it was written in the 1700s, (Laughs) I can’t think of a more feminist thing than basically saying, “Yeah, they’re gonna tell you sticking to your virtues is good, but, uh… (Shrugs) people— men—”
For example, in the first thing, Justine goes to a church, and she says, “Father, can I live in here,” and he [the priest] tries to have sex with her. That’s a reality. No matter who you are, there’s probably gonna be some creepy old man that’s going to try to take advantage of you. And you have to take things into your own hands.
So de Sade’s books are dreadfully horrific, but they also have messages that are very important. And if you can read them, reading them can help expand your mind, and also give you a bit of a dose on how creepy you can get if you’re never told “no” as a child.
SULLIVAN: It’s— oh, gosh. It’s really valuable to look at other people’s lives, and work, and media, and everything—like, the world—as something to be curious about, and something to really investigate and reflect upon, because you can get so much out of it. Even if it’s… You know, it could be the Marquis de Sade, it could be anything.
AKE: Could be the Marquis de Sade; could be someone not totally insane…
SULLIVAN: Could be, you know.
SULLIVAN: It could be not him, out of all the books you could read. But, you know.
For me, I’ll just say: All I meant was, I don’t think that the text is particularly… I don’t know. The writing style was not for me, how’s that? Like, the content was like okay, fine, this is an interesting piece of the history.
AKE: It’s very flowery, it’s very flowery.
SULLIVAN: But I was like: this person is not the kind of writer that I would, like, support on Patreon today. Not because of the content, but just because of the style of writing. I was just kind of like, “This is… this is real boring, where’s—“ Anyway. It would be a fun book club discussion, though.
AKE: (Laughs) Just imagining everyone sitting there like, “So…” (Awkwardly clicks tongue)
SULLIVAN: I don’t know, I really enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives on texts and media. And to some degree that’s why I do what I do, because it’s really interesting to just get to know people and—
AKE: I actively collect controversial literature, because I have a fear that one day they’re not going to be available. So I have Mein Kampf, for example. Again: boring as hell.
SULLIVAN: It is— it is really boring.
AKE: It’s just a guy complaining about how— It’s no different to a political manifesto that you would see from, like, a presidential candidate. In fact, it’s very similar to some— (Laughs)
AKE: Yeah, um. We get into that on the Sci-Fi Hour though, so— (Unintelligible)*
SULLIVAN: I forgot about that, oh no, we did. This is accidentally a duo [where] you must listen to both, but that’s okay.
AKE: There is something to be said that these—and this does link into mental health, because—the Marquis de Sade, if you read his history… when I say he was never told “no” as a child, he never was told “no” as a child. He tortured servants; he did a lot of weird stuff. And that led to who he became.
AKE: And so, that is important. That trauma can go in different directions.
SULLIVAN: Oh, yes.
AKE: There can be trauma that hurts you, and trauma where you hurt others. And, you know, something I think—and this will help with your SEO—Jeffrey Dahmer is now being examined under a microscope because Netflix made a very weird…
SULLIVAN: I have heard. I have not watched it, and I do not intend to, but I have read some very upset people about it.
AKE: I haven’t watched it, but I watched the review of it from Dr. Elliott Carthy, who is a forensic psychiatrist in the UK who does a wonderful job on YouTube. And he was talking more about… Because for some of us, we want to see the violence, [but] some of us, we just want to know: why? Why do some people just suddenly— And there’s a very important scene where he’s been arrested, and his dad and lawyer are in the room with him, and they’re going, “We need you to plead insanity.” And he goes, “But I’m not insane.” And then they go, “Well, at the time of the murder!” (Dahmer impersonation) “I wasn’t insane at the time of the murder, either.” “Well you couldn’t remember parts of it, Jeffrey! You were doing all this weird shit!” And he goes, “That’s because I was blackout drunk.”
And it’s this thing where you suddenly realize the reason we need to believe these serial killers are mentally ill is because they’re just people.
AKE: And that’s scary to a lot of people. The fact that they’re not schizophrenics, or they don’t have DID; those people are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. These are real people that just happen to be serial killers.
AKE: [These are people that] happen to have a line of thinking that goes, “What if I did this?”
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.
Well, okay. I’m gonna wrap this up, because…
AKE: Yeah— we need structure.
SULLIVAN: Just because. (Unintelligible)*
AKE: Otherwise it’ll be two hour longer and it’ll be—
SULLIVAN: You know what, frankly, one day, maybe we should do that. But for today, before we pop off, I’m just going to say that everyone should check out Tremaine’s podcast, I’m gonna put a link in the show notes. So you should go check that out.
Do you have any last words or anything you’d like folks to know about anything you’ve been through, really, before we pop off for today?
AKE: There is always going to be light at the end of the tunnel. There is never a moment in my past that I regret more so than the ones where I lost my vision for the future. If you continue to look forward to things, you will continue to be able to move forward. Never forget the past, and always remember where you are, but always look forward. Because otherwise, the past will consume you.
SULLIVAN: Thanks very much, Tremaine.