In 1999, in the early days of the Internet, author of LOUD IN THE HOUSE OF MYSELF: Memoir of a Strange Girl, Stacy Pershall moved to New York and became one of the first “camgirls,” women who videotaped themselves in their homes, capturing the spectrum of their daily routines-- from the mundane to the most intimate--twenty-four hours a day, and streaming it over the Web.
In July 2001, when her marriage was dissolving, Pershall attempted suicide. The entirety of it was documented live on the Internet. This probably saved her life, as it was a stranger who happened to log in to the feed who called 911.
After hitting rock bottom, Pershall vowed to heal her mind and body. She found DBT and a new mood-stabilizing medication.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Stacy some questions about her experiences with mental illness and DBT. I’m happy to share part II of her two-part interview with you, today.
Christy: You say that one last bad relationship drove you to DBT. What role did relationships play in your emotional dysregulation and out-of-control behaviors?
Stacy: Relationships were my primary triggers. I wanted so desperately to be loved, validated and saved from my loneliness that I latched onto a string of partners who showed intense initial interest, and I promptly scared them off with the depth of my neediness.
I also had a propensity for seeking out emotionally abusive or withholding lovers. Relationship after relationship ended in emotional flameouts and trips to the emergency room for overdoses. When I entered DBT, I realized this was something I had in common with most of the other women in my treatment program, and I was able to let go of some of the shame I felt about it. Learning that this particular brand of self-destruction was a hallmark of my disorder gave me hope that I could use my DBT skills to avoid forming unhealthy attachments in the future.
I’ve now been single for several years, and have successfully avoided getting involved with people to whom I was attracted but who would have been bad for me. I'm also enjoying just being alone, now that I'm not afraid to do so. I'm enjoying having my own identity and not becoming wrapped up in my partner's.
Christy: How is life different now, than it was before DBT, medication and tattoos?
Stacy: It’s a totally different world! Life before DBT seemed hopeless, and now it seems exciting and full of possibility. I trust myself to navigate the storms of day-to-day existence. Thanks to the DBT distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills, I even weathered a breakup without a suicide attempt, and know that if I ever see my ex again I can hold my head up and feel no shame or guilt over my behavior. I'm really proud of that.
The mood stabilizer Lamictal has also been a godsend. My moods now swing between happy and sad, not ECSTATIC and SUICIDAL. Needless to say, I’m a fan.
Christy: Why tattoos?
Stacy: Every inch of my body that I tattoo is another inch of my skin I can live in. My tattoos are my armor. They tell the story of my life, of my passions and my dreams. They have taught me that I can survive pain; if I can breathe and be mindful through having my sternum and ribs and inner elbows hammered with needles, I can be mindful through anything.
Getting a tattoo is a chance to practice wise mind and one thing in the moment. And they are nothing if not an exercise in radical acceptance: you’re allowing your skin to be opened and your blood shed to get to the art on the other side. You should feel pain when needles puncture your skin; it’s a very concrete example of cause and effect, of the idea that, indeed, everything is as it should be.
Christy: What is it about DBT that has worked for you?
Stacy: Honestly? Everything. DBT saved my life.
Christy: What do you consider the weaknesses or additional needs of DBT?
Stacy: The biggest limitation of DBT, in my opinion, is that it’s relatively short-term and finite. When you graduate, you’re kind of on your own. I’ve never met anyone who’s done DBT who doesn’t long for a refresher course. I recently ran into a woman from my program on the subway, and we talked about how we wished we could go to meetings during times of crisis, just like addicts can always return to 12-step meetings when they’re tempted to slide into self-destruction. There needs to be some kind of follow-up care, because no matter how well you know the skills, dysregulated emotions can make them hard to remember. A DBT phone hotline staffed by both counselors and program graduates would be a great place to start.
Click here for a link to Part I of my interview with Stacy Pershall.
Photo by dreamglowpumpkincat210, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.