Overcoming Depression and Mental Illness with Chalisa Prarasri

In This Episode

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What it was like

Chalisa was born in Thailand, and kidnapped from her father when she was 9. Her mother took her and move to the US without letting him know where they went. He would not find out for another 10 years.

Then her mother married a drug dealer.

Next they wound up in a homeless shelter.

Later when they move out of the homeless shelter, her mom married a pedophile.

Chalisa’s step father started taking advantage of her right away, from age 8-14.

Chalisa’s mom found out that he was a pedophile, but didn’t know that he had done anything to Chalisa. This lead to a lot of violence in the home.

Between this and the sexual abuse, it was very traumatic for Chalisa.

She got into UCLA at age 18, and got away from it all.

When Chalisa graduated from UCLA she wanted to make healthcare more accessible through technology, so she decided to start Opter. This stemmed from the fact that her mom suffered from mental illness. So she studied neuroscience.

Eventually she learned that she suffered from her own set of mental illnesses.

She did not know anything was wrong with her, until she went through a depressive episode in her junior year. She would experience regular episodes, and then dip down deeper for a 24 hour period. She wouldn’t be able to move for that period.

Chalisa’s primary emotion that she felt while the abuse was going on was guilt. She feared her mother would literally kill him if she knew.

The guilt was and has been debilitating for the rest of her life.

Once she became aware of the mental illness, she saw a therapist and a psychiatrist.

At this point in her life (age 26) she is now free of the guilt.

During her time starting Opter, evidence came to light about her step father, and she confronted him in a criminal proceeding.

Chalisa called him and pretended to thank him while her phone was tapped, so she could get him to admit to the things he did.

He was sentenced to 37 years in prison.

You would think this was liberating, but it wasn’t because he was her father. This created additional internal conflict for Chalisa.

What happened

The last thing Chalisa wanted was for her mother to kill her step dad.
The second to last thing she wanted was for him to do these things to her.

How did you get to the point of wanting to put him away despite the internal conflict?

Chalisa realized she couldn’t take the chance that he would do this to someone else. Especially because not everyone gets the chance to get on the other side of this the way she has.

She chose to study neuroscience because she wanted to learn how to help others. In the beginning they warn you about not self diagnosing, but she couldn’t ignore that she “checked all of the boxes” when she was looking at these mental illnesses.

How did she come to terms with it then?
Her life was a mess. She wanted to end everything.

Her boyfriend (now husband) encouraged her to go into therapy to get help.
Chalisa’s first experience in therapy had her crying, which is not something she does easily.

They don’t treat you like you have a disease, they treat you like you have a problem.

She didn’t want to go back to that, and went through many others.

About 10% of the professionals she saw were good. The rest were not.

The question is, does a mental health professional need to have some actual experience beyond the textbook knowledge in order to properly treat people? It seems like they might.

Chalisa is a huge proponent of mental health education in treatment. It is really hard to explain what this is like. When she took medication, it was like she could see color again, after having her whole life play out in black and white. She felt a sense of real freedom.

It’s hard to differentiate between not being capable of doing something, and choosing not to do something, when it’s all in your mind.

Q: Do you think your reaction to your mental illness has anything to do with society’s view of depression?

A: Very much so.

Most people think it’s about motivation. They say things like, “just go outside, you’ll be in the sun and you’ll feel better.”

It doesn’t work that way.

Therapy made most of the difference, and then confronting her abuser made the rest of the difference.

Immediately after graduating, Chalisa didn’t know what she wanted to do.

Being an undergrad in a lab, things move too slowly.

Chalisa admits she is very impatient – she cannot wait. She wants to get into results and not have to be constrained by grant processes etc…

Chalisa leaned on her family to get a company started.

As the CEO she does everything BUT the actual building of the technology.

All of the photography on her website is hers, just from picking up a DSLR a few times.

What it’s like today

Chalisa cannot assemble Ikea furniture (neither can Seth). Neither one of them has the patience to follow instructions.

You have to earn Chalisa’s respect. This didn’t work well in the lab, where there is a hierarchy.

Chalisa feels like she has to fix things. She has to change the world!



Opter is a tech company that is trying to make well being easier. They make a wearable tech.

The idea is to take a holistic approach to your wellness. Not just tracking, but understanding and learning.

It’s called Opterpose.

It tracks your posture, sleep UV light which has a lot to do with your biological clock.

They work with a medical advisory board made up of people from Johns Hopkins. The goal is to gather data and give you actionable advice for how you can improve your lifestyle.

You get real time feedback (eg) your sunscreen ran out, or you’ve been in the dark for too long.

This is important for those of us who work from home and don’t see much sunlight!

The product is being manufactured. You can order on their website, or on Amazon.

The wrong kind of light shone in your eyes before going to sleep, can make it take two more hours to fall asleep.

Most people focus on quantity of sleep. But not enough focus on light and time of sleep. When you sleep at the wrong times, you mess up your biological clock.

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