An interview with Leah Peterson, technical consultant for the Steven Spielberg and Diablo Cody produced “United States of Tara.”
Long time Los Angeles blog readers probably know Leah Peterson for her blog leahpeah and as creator and coordinator of the live reading event series LA Angst and LA Bloggers Live! She’s also contributed to Huffington Post, crocheted hats for Amy Sedaris and sold paintings that hang all over North America. And she’s a mom. Oh, and she also has Dissociative Identity Disorder, commonly referred to as multiple personality disorder. While many people suffering from disorders prefer to keep them secret, Leah wrote a book about it. The book was read by an Oscar winning screenwriter, and now Leah is a consultant for one of cable TV’s hottest shows.
Leah graciously accepted my offer of an e-interview… following are her answers to some of my questions, discussinghow she became involved with “The United States of Tara,” when the show veers from reality, and what Leah is up to next. You reading this, Mr. Spielberg?
How did you become involved with United States of Tara? Is working as a consultant a part of your background?
Leah: The story goes that somehow, my book (Not Otherwise Specified) made it into the hands of Diablo Cody while she was researching DID for the show. She sent me an email and since I’d never heard of her, I forwarded it to my husband, my own personal Snopes, and he looked her up and deemed the name Diablo Cody as a real person. A person really named Brooke Busey. So, fictional, but also real. Crazy? Yes.
I agreed to meet with her and we had lunch. She asked a lot of questions and I gave her a lot of answers. And then a few weeks later I got a call from the studio asking if I wanted to be a consultant for the series. I welcomed the invitation and have loved being involved.
Consulting is not something I’ve done before, but I’d just like to shake Mr. Spielberg’s hand and thank him for having the wonderful idea for the show and offer to be a consultant on any project he’s working on. I’ll look up the information on Google if I have to.
What are your day to day activities as a consultant? Are you “oncall” or required to work regular hours?
Leah: Totally on call. As far as I can tell, there aren’t that many regular hours when working on a show, besides Long. I’m basically (willingly) at their beck-and-call if they have any questions about anything regarding Tara or how she would perceive the world or act in some situations. My job is to hopefully keep the realism in there because part of the show is not just to entertain but to also inform. I mean, at the end of the day, it is a TV show and it has to draw viewers (and has! Yay for season 2!) to stay on air, but it was really important to Diablo to make sure that the show wasn’t too funny or too dark. It really works well to have both elements turning together.
I’d love to be even more involved and be on the writing team for next season or be on set for filming every day or sitting in at the table for read-throughs. Someone make a note of that. Call me.
The most surprising thing to me about the show is how casually Tara’s family accepts her and her multiple personalities, even having favorites, and, seemingly, somehow enjoying them. Is this an idealized environment for a family coping with a similar situation, relatively common, or a stretch of imagination?
Leah: Most DID people with young kids that have worked hard to have a high quality of life, would have an agreement between alters to make sure the kids were always taken care of. That might look like one personality always being out when the kids are around. And if someone else had to be out for some triggered reason, they would try to act like that safe personality as much as they could, even down to answering to their name and trying to talk like them, the focus really being on the kids and their well-being.
A person who has not worked on their internal system to gain quality of life or a person who lives in a constantly triggering environment might not have those options and may choose to send their kids away to a family member or a friend for some time until things become more normalized. And if they don’t have that option, the environment might not be that great for the kids, and it’s a sad situation for everyone.
“In my experience, if you have alters, you have alters. If they come out, they come out. And no drug stops that from happening.”
On the show, the premise that Tara stopped taking medications and is now experiencing her personalities where before she was not, is not really accurate in my experience. People with DID can take many types of mood altering medications and suppressants which will improve their lives and help them function, but I’ve never heard of a drug that takes away your personalities when you take it. In my experience, if you have alters, you have alters. If they come out, they come out. And no drug stops that from happening. This doesn’t mean there is no such medication. Maybe I’ve just never heard of it.
That being said, if you’ve got parts that want to come out and play (children) or parts that want to exercise or parts that want to do some heavy cleaning in the garage, they’ll come out on their own when it’s safe to. And maybe even when it’s not so safe, unless you’ve done a lot of work to figure out how time should be spent and by whom and when. It can get complicated. And if your kids are older, it might not matter as much who’s out when, if they are aware of the situation and enjoy hanging out with the one that likes to go shopping or is a mad scrabble player. All told, all those personalities are really a part of one whole, so there is no shame in enjoying the part that is out, as long as everyone’s needs are being met.
When it comes to Tara sharing with friends or acting like Buck in public, I’d have to say that is mostly for the show. I don’t think I’ve ever met a DID person who would go out in public and do anything that would seem weird or call attention to themselves, unless it was a truly dire situation. There is a whole lot of trust involved for a DID person to even share their alters with their own therapist, let alone friends. So, while that part of the show makes good TV, I wouldn’t go around looking for DID people to start being publicly odd. It’s a pretty private world they live in.
What’s going on with LA Angst?
Leah: Short answer? Nothing at the moment. It became too big a job for me to do alone and no one seemed to want to step up and help at that time. I’d love to start it up again, as well as LA Bloggers Live, because they were both really fun and a great chance to get together. But, I’d need a co-pilot or two. Currently taking applications.
Any new projects/opportunities that have come from your work on Tara? Or anything else you’re working you’re excited about and/or that LA blog readers would dig?
Leah: I’m putting together a Drink Up the first part of June. Kind of like a blogger Meet Up, but focused on friendship and Buttery Nipples instead of networking. To get on the info list, send me an email.
I’m currently writing a cable series and a movie. The series is twice as fun because my son, Devon, is writing it with me. I’m also working on a DID collaboration book project and looking for people with DID to share their stories.
Last but not least, I want to release my book Not Otherwise Specified mainstream. It’s currently available at Lulu.com. I’m actively looking for a good literary agent that is interested in memoirs.
So, to recap: Spielberg and Cody, get Leah into the writers room. Bloggers, contact Leah about putting together the next LA Bloggers Live. Everyone, buy her book. And, oh yeah, watch “United States of Tara” Sunday nights on Showtime.