In this memoir, Stacy Pershall details her experiences with a multitude of disorders (bulimia, anorexia, borderline personality, bipolar), starting with her childhood and ending with her “recovery” (I put this in quotation marks because mental illness is something that often must be continually fought). After several botched suicide attempts, including one broadcast live on the internet via webcam, Pershall began to seek recovery through a mixture of dialectical behavioral therapy, medication, and body modification – specifically tattoos.
When I first started this book, I didn’t much like Pershall’s personality. I thought she seemed melodramatic – even a bit arrogant, and I can’t put up with much of that unless you’re going to call yourself out on i, you know?. Fortunately, she did just this: it quickly became clear that Pershall has a great understanding of her mental illness and is able to describe it both objectively and subjectively — which, in my opinion, makes for great reading. Not only did she take a look at herself and say, wow, my thought processes were really screwed up, but she also beautifully described the emotions, logic, and even physical sensations she experienced in the height of her illnesses.
At the start of each chapter, Pershall includes two or three paragraphs describing her tattoos, the art of tattooing, or the pain of it. I really liked the way she did this, and I especially appreciated the final chapter, in which she ties the story up by telling us about the essential role that tattoos have had in her recovery. Covering her body with art helped her to reclaim her body as her own and as one in which she feels comfortable living. (Plus, I love tattoos.)
This was a gripping story. It made my heart speed up and my muscles tense, which is always a good (if slightly uncomfortable) sign. It is an intelligent, raw, honest, and often funny memoir that asks the hard questions about mental illness and the mental healthcare system in the US. I walk away from it now with a greater understanding of bipolar and borderline personality disorders.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars