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Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl Hardcover – January 31, 2011
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If Pershall’s electrifying account is any indication, being inside the head of a person with undiagnosed and untreated borderline personality disorder (BPD) is like a living nightmare. As if the double play of adolescent anorexia and bulimia wasn’t enough, this intelligent, high-achieving, and hypersensitive young woman began entertaining bizarre and suicidal thoughts while still in high school. Her deeply religious parents possessed no tools for comprehending the breadth of their daughter’s illness. Even as her anorexic behavior improved somewhat due to the efforts of a therapist whom she respected, Pershall’s overriding BPD snowballed, overwhelming her with Monty Pythonesque hallucinations and off-the-chart mood swings. Despite her illness, she graduated from college, moved from Arkansas to, ultimately, New York City, and partially supported herself by creating a 24/7-webcam presence, with cameras following her every move throughout her apartment. Following an unsuccessful World Wide Web–witnessed suicide attempt, Pershall began treatment and has eventually assembled a life that, as long as she is properly medicated, allows her a creative if unconventional lifestyle. This is one whirlwind ride. --Donna Chavez
“If Pershall’s electrifying account is any indication, being inside the head of a person with undiagnosed and untreated borderline personality disorder (BPD) is like a living nightmare….This is one whirlwind ride.”
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As we follow her life, the self-hatred and internal arguments, the contradictory I'm-too-wierd-ugly-strange-to-deserve-life/ I'm entitled to everything & everyone should pay attention to me NOW symptoms and widely swinging feelings are eventually named and diagnosed; sometimes misdiagnosed. Borderline personality disorder, anorexia, bulimia, self-loathing, despair, mania, depression.
The book is strongest when Pershall gets close-up to these states and what being in them is like; in particular, never have I seen a clearer, more visceral depiction, from the inside, of the thought processes that fuel anorexia, giving the paradoxical illusion of empowerment while systematically disempowering the sufferer. I also love her interactions with the therapist who helps her, her bewildered parents, her exasperated friends, her revered theater teacher.
The book weakens when she steps back to analyze and discuss the disorders more clinically; when "I" becomes "those who have BPD." The latter is legitimate, an important story but a different one. It might have worked better as a separate book, or as an afterword, rather than trying to weave it in and out of the memoir. It is the memoir which most compels, at times casting that can't-put-it-down spell of horror, hope, and enthrallment over the reader. You REALLY want her to make it.
And she does, though it's clear her long hejira towards healing and self-acceptance will always be a process. That a combination of medication, behavioral therapy will, I think, help all breathe a sigh of relief. That tattooing help her discover and reclaim herself and her body may well perplex some readers; but, so what? This, too, fascinates. She uses the tattoos not only to reclaim her body but, in this book, utilizes them as a writer, structurally: an italicized story of each tat opens a chapter.I would have liked more detail and context in these sections, but the device still works.
Finally, Pershall is like most of us, only with the volume turned up. Wanting to love and be loved, finding a way to be one's authentic self, or selves, in the world. Prairie Grove notwithstanding, all of us are pretty much all from this same place. When one speaks, or writes, with authenticity, from that place, as Pershall has largely done, we cast illumination. Because no matter how different we are, we human beings are, mostly, even more so the same.
The author does an amazing job of putting us inside her head so we can see what it's like, and empathize a bit. At the same time, she identifies universals from her own experience that resonate with the rest of us. There's a moment where she describes how she felt when her mother moved her little brother into the room that used to be hers: "Years later my dad would tell me she did the same thing when I was born-- she stopped being his and started being mine. For some reason, she could only belong to one of us at a time." Her writing is beautiful. She captures it perfectly, that forlorn feeling, when we realize someone who used to love us is lost to us somehow.
Pershall balances her own self-defined "crazies", her insights and adventures, with the universal themes of wanting to fit in, finding and losing love, and learning to love oneself despite one's flaws. It's both frustrating and fascinating, and it makes for great storytelling. I really hope she writes another book. It's rare that I find a new author that I enjoy so much.