Book Review: “Building a Life Worth Living” by Marsha Linehan

By Annie Parsell-Wasik

When I found Marsha Linehan and her book, Building a Life Worth Living, I was in crisis. 

I had lost my mother to a heart attack during tax season, and that was my full-time job: a call center person for one of the biggest companies on the planet. I was grieving, beyond depression and I had the type of depression that medication wasn’t an option for. There was no magical pill to get me through grief. I did not recognize the difference between grief and depression, just that things had stopped working and my coping skills and ability to focus was gone. FMLA (Family and Medical Leave) was my only choice, and it was a hard one to ask for. I put myself in an outpatient program and was given an antidepressant that I did not react well to.

I went back to work, but I was not myself. I ended up in a stay-in treatment center after a horrific accident caused me to need further intervention. I was taken off of that medication in the hospital. During this stay I was diagnosed with another personality disorder which explained why I was not a candidate for antidepressants. I already had what I fondly and jokingly call an alphabet soup of other disorders. None of those were new: they were diagnosed as a child. Now as an adult who lost her mother whom I took care of and was my whole world, I was having an existential crisis. 

I read all about this personality disorder, BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), and I couldn’t figure out who was the genuine Me: where did that Disorder end and I began? I didn’t want this new diagnosis. It hurt. I felt completely alone and like I had a death sentence. It wasn’t until later that week when NAMI came in talking about Peer-to-Peer classes and creating a sense of hope that I started to perk up. At the end of the presentation about this wonderful non-profit organization, someone mentioned Marsha Linehan to me. They told me to read her book, and that she also had BPD and created a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called Dialectic Behavioral Therapy. I had just started learning about other forms of therapy other than talk therapy and had found myself a Parts Work (a type of therapeutic approach) therapist. 

I downloaded her book on audible as soon as I was released. I listened to her tell her phenomenal story of misdiagnosis, shock therapy, and the isolation she had gone through before we had people like her who started changing the way we do things. Her strength to get answers, to learn and go back to school, to become the best in her field even with BPD herself truly woke me up. I had a realization that this wasn’t a death sentence at all; this was maybe a sign that there’s a spark of brilliance that comes with mental illness and disorders. That if she could do it, I could and will too. The mindfulness skills and coping mechanisms she offers in her workbook should be taught to everyone, not just people suffering. I signed myself up at a local DBT class put on by Wise Practice with Jill, who had learned under Marsha’s students. I was blown away by the immediate changes I experienced from reading the memoir and going to the classes; I started getting not just Me back, but a new version of Me. I highly recommend reading or listening to her memoir if you’re in a dark place. If I can pass a little hope to people in her name, I feel like I’m doing something. 

Her quote in the beginning of her workbook stands out to me: “When I am on retreats, each afternoon I walk and wring my hands, saying to all my mental health patients in the world, ‘You don’t have to wring your hands today, I am doing it for you. Often I dance in the hallway of my house or with groups; I invite all the mental health patients of the world to dance with me. This book is dedicated to all the patients of the world who think that no one is thinking of them. I consider telling you that I would Practice skills for you so you don’t have to Practice them. But then I realized that if I did, you would not learn how to be skillful yourself. So, instead, I wish you skillful means, that you find these skills useful.’”

I hope this article finds the right audience and that they find my journey helpful. Sometimes hope is right around the corner, we just have to be open to listening to another person’s story to get it. If I have one tip, that is to keep your heart and ears open. You might just find yourself a Hero. 

Anna Parsell-Wasik was born in Manhattan, New York but now resides in Michigan. She recently completed Peer-to-Peer facilitator training and is looking forward to leading her first class. She’s 35, a fire performer, artist, writer and loves to explore different forms of therapy and art. Her passion is to become a recreational therapist and she is looking to go back to college soon. 

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