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Thoughts from our Public Member – Chris Kallas

The parent of a child who is ill feels pain. The parent of a child who is mentally ill feels pain, along with a whole host of other emotions: fear, anger, and lots of frustration: at the inability of the doctors to ‘cure’, at the coldness of the insurance company, and at the lack of understanding of most others, to whom we would like to turn to for comfort and support.

Our child was exceptionally bright, and an outstanding artist. As she grew, I was often surprised at her behavior. Who was this person who had a math IQ off the charts, and couldn’t bring home the correct change from the supermarket? Who was this person who ran up astounding credit card bills, with no apparent way to pay them off? Who was this person, who hurt herself in ways I found unimaginable?

She was the same person who painted such amazing portraits, who wrote such heartbreaking poetry, who wrote a laugh-out-loud essay on her college applications (and got in, everywhere she applied). Who loved her cats so much. Who was a fierce defender of wronged friends. 

When we would talk to our relatives, and tell them our latest problem, they pulled back in horror. Friends were likewise horrified: “Well, she’s never like that with me; you must be doing something to bring this behavior on.” So much for support.

After we had nearly given up hope, we learned of a new organization: NEABPD, the brainchild of Dr. Perry Hoffman. When I first met Perry, she encouraged me to tell her what we were going through. She listened, intently. She was so validating – a word, and a concept, that I hadn’t really encountered. 

Over the next 18 years we worked together: on the NEA BPD Board, on special projects, and as a Family Connections leader. She was consistently thoughtful, effective, and supportive. If our daughter had done something hurtful to us, Perry apologized! Sometimes she saw a ray of hope where we had missed it, so she pointed it out. I always felt better after speaking with her, even if nothing had changed outwardly. 

She was so happy with her biological family, and she often shared stories about them. She got how significant family was, and she had the vision to see how much more powerful healing would be if family members understood BPD, and spoke DBT. She made such a difference in our lives, and in hundreds of others. She made a difference in your life too: she recommended me to serve as the Public Member of the DBT-Linehan Board of Certification.

I think her favorite word was “fabulous”. And she certainly was. The world is dimmer without her. I will need to muster all my DBT muscles and practice REALLY Radical Acceptance to come to grips with a new, “Perry-less” world.

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