Stacy Pershall – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 10 Jul 2017 17:03:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Borderline Personality Disorder Month: Practicing Compassion Mon, 01 May 2017 12:41:53 +0000 Stacy is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health.

PrinceMemeOf all the quotes I saw in the wake of Prince’s death — and I’m a Prince fan to the core — this is the most beautiful and resonant to me: “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.”

I spent a lot of years having very little compassion for other people, because I had none for myself. This is the aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder that causes the greatest stigma; it’s what causes others to view us as willfully manipulative and cruel.

But what was really happening is that I was severely mentally ill and without proper help for a long, long time. When I was finally diagnosed with BPD and found Dialectical Behavior Therapy — which is basically CBT meets Zen Buddhism — I started to learn what it means to be connected to other people. That connection is the basis of compassion.

And I believe now — I KNOW now, because by practicing it, I help save lives — that compassion is radical activism. There is nothing more terrifying, raw, and profound than looking into the eyes of another being and realizing that their pain, their suffering, their fear, their joy, and their dreams are yours too.

That realization, and the compassion of the people who saw the good in me when I couldn’t, is the one and only reason I’m not dead.

So hell yeah, compassion is an action word. Because to keep from shutting yourself off and approaching the world from a place of anger and fear — and one of the things I learned in DBT is that anger is just a secondary emotion to fear — is the hardest, scariest thing you will ever do.

You have to work really, really hard at love to overcome fear. It’s the one and only way. And just as there’s no anger without fear, there’s no love without compassion.

All is connected. All are one. Compassion for yourself is compassion for others. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. I love you.

Learning to Let Go Wed, 12 Oct 2016 13:51:04 +0000 This post was written by Stacy Pershall, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau who speaks to schools and groups nationwide about mental health and eating disorders.

The place: Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  The year: 1985.  The setting: a bedroom closet with burnt-orange carpet and a brown slatted door.  The protagonist, who’s also the antagonist: me, age 14.

The supporting (or not-so-supporting) characters: the boy who used to call me a dog, but now just stands in front of my locker every morning and barks at me while his friends laugh.  The boyfriend who just broke up with me because, despite the fact that I don’t feel worthy of eating, I’m still not skinny enough. The cheerleaders in my all-white school, who think it’s an insult to say, “Gosh, Stacy, if your nose and lips were any bigger, you’d be black.

By the time I was in high school, I’d let them fill my brain.  I no longer had any idea who I really was; they told me now. And so, in deference to them, I hid in my closet and sat on my shoes and wrote their insults on my skin with a Sharpie.  DOG, I’d write across my face – I’d done it so many times I didn’t need a mirror anymore.  Sometimes, when I was so hungry nausea took over, I’d allow myself to get down on my hands and knees and eat food out of a bowl on the floor.  Then I’d pray for forgiveness for thinking my stomach deserved to be filled like other people’s.

The setting today: an EMDR therapist’s office in New York, where I’ve lived for 18 years.  I tell her, “I’m mostly recovered since I did DBT a decade ago, but I have these things from childhood that won’t let go of me.”  She places small, alternately vibrating buttons in my hands and says, “So, let’s make your brain reprocess them.  Let’s make them let go.”

The acronyms: EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, but you don’t have to use your eyes; other kinds of bilateral stimulation will do.  I like the buttons because they give me something to clench my fists around while I talk about the people I still want to punch.

DBT is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a treatment for borderline personality disorder, which is – surprise! – usually based in trauma.  One of the diagnostic criteria is out-of-control rage, which makes sense; when you live in a brain filled with long-gone people who are still making fun of you, you often lash out at right-there people who aren’t.

So I close my eyes and clench the buzzers and my therapist asks me what I’d like to believe about myself.  “That I’m competent,” I say.  “That I’m strong.  That I don’t belong to those people anymore.”  And then I cry, for the millionth time, because I’m still not sure I deserve to be free.

And I remind myself of what I’ve reminded myself so many times: dogs are good.  Dogs are faithful.  Dogs don’t deserve to be hurt.

The next night, I stand in front of an auditorium full of college students and speak about bullying for Active Minds, like I’ve been doing for the past five years.  I tell myself that instead of fighting the Prairie Grove High School class of ’89, I’m fighting stigma.  I’m standing in front of a room full of people who think maybe they don’t deserve not to hurt either, and I say in a strong, competent voice that they are allowed to let go of the pain.  They’re allowed to eat.  They’re allowed to have skin they don’t degrade.  They’re allowed to have skin, period.

And after the presentation, I text my therapist.  “I did it again,” I say.  “I kept a few more alive.”

“That’s what guide dogs do,” she says.  “Look at their beautiful, shiny fur.”

A Letter to the Strange Girls: Stay Alive Wed, 17 Feb 2016 15:56:10 +0000 Stacy Pershall is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring Stacy to your campus to speak about mental health!

Active MindsAll right, Strange Girls. Listen to me for just a minute here. Seriously, if you’re in your late teens or early 20s, and you’re considering writing a book or a song or drawing a picture or kissing another girl or getting a tattoo or running off to join the circus or any other thing I might have done when I was your age, but you think maybe you might kill yourself before you get it done, sit your ass down and read this.

You are always going to be too much for other people. Yup, I said it, and it’s true, and it blows. Sorry. So, that seemingly normal person whose normality you’re inexplicably idolizing, who’s making you feel kind of ashamed of being your big, loud self? You’re always going to have some version of that person. They’re not going anywhere, so set them aside for the next 30 seconds and listen to my voice instead.

The world really, seriously, honest-to-all-the-gods-I-don’t-believe-in needs you. It needs your blue hair and your goofy drawings and your outsized crushes and your passion and your foul mouth. It needs your big, bruised, righteous-anger-filled heart. It needs your too-loud laugh and your too-big nose and that fine, fine early 20s ass you think is too fat.

It needs your clumsy, awkward swagger, even if you only get it right for three steps every other Thursday before you fall on your face. It needs your cheesy poetry and your sloppy kisses and your rendition of that Pixies song you thought nobody heard you screaming from your car.

But to get even more specific — *I* need you, okay? I need you to stick around so I can pass this beat-to-s**t torch off to someone worthy when it’s time. I have trust issues, so you have to prove to me that I can trust you not to kill yourself, and that’s going to take a while. You’re gonna have to live.

If I could have one super power, it would be the ability to let you see yourself through my eyes. I look at you — yes, YOU, yes, really — and to me you’re just a big loud ball of stunningly beautiful everything. I love the f**k outta you. I love you so much, and I think you’re so gorgeous and amazing, that I’m staying alive for you, so you really need to return the favor here. Let’s just cut the s**t and acknowledge how hard it is to stay alive every day and do it for each other anyway, okay?

The world will always hurt, but so what? Pain is just the raw material out of which you build the shiny stuff. So start building, because I’m watching. I see you, and I like what I see. Just stay here. Just stay the f**k alive. Just stay.

5 Things You Might Not Know About Borderline Personality Disorder Mon, 11 May 2015 08:59:53 +0000 May is Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month! Stacy Pershall, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau who has a diagnosis of BPD, shares 5 things you should know about this oft-misunderstood disorder. Bring Stacy to your campus to speak today!
url 1. The disorder got its name from psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, when Freudian therapists observed that people with BPD “came apart on the couch” and theorized that they were on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis. Now that we know more about psychology than we did in the 1960s (thank goodness), therapists have suggested renaming BPD something more accurate and with less stigma attached. Suggested names include “Emotion Dysregulation Disorder” and “Complex PTSD”, as people with the disorder have often experienced early trauma.

2. People with BPD are not intentionally manipulative, even when they do things like threaten suicide if you leave. They might know that such behavior is perceived as manipulative, but that doesn’t help a person with untreated BPD control the impulse to avoid abandonment in the moment. What you perceive as manipulation comes from fear, with anger as a secondary emotion.

3. BPD is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder due to the intense mood swings present in both. Bipolar disorder is more common, affecting 2.6 percent of the diagnosed U.S. population, while BPD affects 1.6 percent. However, due to frequent misdiagnosis, these numbers may be misleading. Accurate diagnosis depends on recognizing a trend of situation-dependent mood swings (often in response to relationship issues) vs. those not precipitated by circumstance.

4. There’s concrete brain science validating the existence and refining our understanding of BPD.  Evidence points to malfunctions in the limbic system, which controls emotional intensity, and the subgenual anterior cingulate, which controls emotion regulation. Learning skills to improve the latter helps moderate the former.

5. We can recover, because there’s effective treatment now. The gold standard is dialectical behavior therapy, created by Marsha Linehan, but there’s also mentalization-based therapy, schema therapy and transference-focused psychotherapy.
A  brief rundown of the differences: DBT focuses on mindfulness and has been described as “Thich Nhat Hanh meets tough love”. Mentalization-based therapy focuses on helping people with BPD recognize boundaries between their emotions and the emotions of others.

Transference-focused psychotherapy uses the relationship between client and clinician to create a safe environment for boundary testing. Schema therapy draws from all three to help clients identify and change the erroneous thoughts that lead to extreme behaviors.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with BPD and cannot yet access treatment, you should know about these
online resources:

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Thoughts From the Active Minds Speakers Bureau: It’s Not Your Fault Wed, 19 Nov 2014 14:53:16 +0000 stacypershallLast month, my beloved cat Tiki died after fifteen years by my side. I jokingly referred to her as my appendage, because she wanted to be as close to me as possible at all times. In the end, I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to end her suffering. After I left the vet’s office, I went directly to a friend’s house, and as I struggled aloud with whether or not I had made the right decision, my friend said, “You did what you thought was best. She was sick. It’s not your fault.”

It’s not your fault.

I had heard those same powerful words a few days prior, when I asked my mom what she most wished someone had told her when she first found out I had a mental illness.

“I needed someone to tell me I didn’t cause it,” she said. “The messages were so mixed. Some people said it was a disease; others said your parents caused it. I didn’t know which one was true, but I knew it couldn’t be both.”

I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder in Arkansas in the 1980s. Fortunately, mental health care has come a long way since then, and I recovered with the help of dialectical behavior therapy. However, in my work as a member of the Active Minds Speakers’ Bureau, I still find that, “It’s not your fault” are the words parents most long to hear. They truly are the most comforting words I can say.

When you find out someone you love is sick, the first thing you want to do is fix it. But one of the most heartbreaking truths of being on this planet is that when it comes to your child’s mental illness, you can’t fix what you didn’t break. You didn’t choose for your child to suffer. You didn’t ask for them to binge, purge, cut, burn, rage, hallucinate, attempt (or, god forbid, die by) suicide. These were not the things you wished for them. They simply are, and it’s not your fault.

Parents can exacerbate symptoms by invalidating their child’s suffering, so here’s what you can do right now: hold them, if they’ll let you, and tell them they don’t deserve it. Repeat it over and over: you do not deserve to hurt. And then fight the thing that has them in its grip, and invite them to join the fight, and never stop reminding them that you will fight always. Let them see you do it; let them see that you will become an activist for them. Activism doesn’t have to be big and loud and public – advocating for even one person counts.

I do not have a human child, but I’m writing this post at the end of the first week in 15 years in which my tiny, furry best friend doesn’t exist. Still, as horrible as her death was, there is no way I can comprehend the suffering of a parent of a suicidal child. Your pain is mine times a million, and the other half of my currently battered heart belongs to you. It is in your honor that I, a suicide attempt survivor, stand up in front of people, tell this story, and fight this fight. You are the ones I live to serve.

All I care about today is this: what can I do to help lessen the suffering and death of other beings? And the answer, besides saving more small, furry creatures, is to keep listening. I am on your side; I care about your story. Because really – really – it’s not your fault. And when you spread that message to your children, you’re spreading it to the world.

Stacy Pershall is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau and author of “Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl.” Want to learn more about bringing Stacy to speak at your school or organization? Check out our website.

Suicide Prevention Month: Untreated Depression Mon, 05 Aug 2013 17:18:57 +0000 An excerpt from Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl by Stacy Pershall, author and member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau (pp. 133-135). The following excerpt details what it feels like to come to campus and have a bout of severe depression. 

I could swear the world was wrapped in a brown cloud the day I left for college. I felt like Pig-Pen in Peanuts, the kid whose vision is always obscured by his own filth. It was late August, with a high, bright sun, and kids were riding their bikes, and people were enjoying the last days of swimming pools and barbecues. I sunk into the backseat of my parents’ packed Mercury, angry at my new comforter for being in a plastic bag that kept sticking to my skin. I could smell the mall coming through the bag, and I thought about the mall and all the people in it, about the act of going somewhere and picking something out and waiting in line to pay for it and listening to other people’s children scream and stomp because they weren’t getting whatever stupid plastic thing had last entered their field of vision. My head pounded.

My roommate-to-be, Lindsay, had called me excitedly the day after I came home from London, bubbling about matching comforters and doing the entire room in black and white, and what did I think about that? I said sure, whatever. Turns out they had black and white bedding at JCPenney, and Lindsay had already picked it out, and it cost blah blah blah, and the sheets were blah blah blah, and beanbags and lamps blah blah. My mom took me to Penney’s and bought me the stuff Lindsay picked out, which made me feel guilty. I did not deserve an education—after all, compared to my friends in England, I was just some ignorant hill person going to an ignorant hill school in an ignorant hill town, what could I possibly have to offer the world? By the time we got to Hendrix, my parents and I were barely speaking—at issue was something about me being an ingrate—and I trudged up the stairs carrying boxes of things I ostensibly needed. I wondered whether it was too late to ask if I could live in a storage room and just sleep on a stack of books.

I was indeed an ingrate, and Hendrix was and still is an amazing school. But my depression obscured the truth. … A depressed person is selfish because her self, the very core of who she is, will not leave her alone, and she can no more stop thinking about this self and how to escape it than a prisoner held captive by a sadistic serial killer can forget about the person who comes in to torture her every day. Her body is brutalized by her mind. It hurts to breathe, sleep, eat, walk, think. The gross maneuverings of her limbs are so overwhelming, so wearying, that the fine muscle movements or quickness of wit necessary to write, to actually say something, are completely out of the question.

Are you in distress and ready to actually say something? Click here or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Download Loud in the House of Myself on

Buy Stacy’s book at a local independent bookstore.