Rachel Star Withers is a speaker, YouTuber, and lives with schizophrenia. She is also a professional stunt woman and tends to describe herself as a “schizo stunt girl.”
In this episode, Rachel tells us a little of her history with the disease and details how she first started in mental illness activism. Originally meant to just help other people with schizophrenia know that they were not alone, her YouTube channel, RachelStarLive, has become the longest existing chronicle of a personal experience with schizophrenia. Listen Now!
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Guest information for ‘Schizophrenic Stunt Girl’ Podcast Episode
Rachel Star Withers has appeared on TV shows including MTV’s “Ridiculousness,” “TruTV,” “America’s Got Talent,” and is the host of “Insanity with Rachel Star” on Amazon Prime. She grew up seeing monsters, hearing people in the walls, and intense urges to hurt herself.
Rachel creates videos that document her schizophrenia, share ways to manage mental illness, and let others like her know they are not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written the book, Lil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids, and developed a tool for schizophrenics, To See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Schizophrenic Stunt Girl’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: Welcome to the Psych Central Podcast, where each episode features guest experts discussing psychology and mental health in everyday plain language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show Podcast. I am here with Rachel Star Withers. She describes herself as a “schizo stunt girl” and I’m going to let her explain what that means. Rachel, welcome to the show.
Rachel Star Withers: Hey what’s up, Gabe? Welcome back. I’ve actually been here before. If you recall a few years ago?
Gabe Howard: That is true. Do you remember being here before?
Rachel Star Withers: It was such an intense time I think I might have blocked it out. Just all the excitement, it might have been overwhelming to me.
Gabe Howard: I completely understand that. So, let’s explain what schizo stunt girl means.
Rachel Star Withers: Well, I am a schizophrenic, so that is the first part of it. And the stunt girl is, I like to do crazy stunts. When I was younger, Lord, I am so old, when I was younger my like early 20s, there used to be an internet show called Homestar Runner and Wild Boys, which was a spin off Jackass, which was on TV and they did stupid stunts and then there was this like new thing like Internet entertainment was really new and I was like, what if somebody did stupid stunts, but on an internet show? Bam! And I became stunt girl and have pretty much since then been doing crazy stuff. I topless skydive, bikini paintball, wrestle alligators. It was very humane for those who just like had a heart attack about animal stuff, like it is actually at a rescue center. It wasn’t just a circus thing. I get a lot of feedback about that, but yeah, just like pretty much crazy things that. I’m really big into fire; setting myself on fire, blowing fireballs. Pretty much anything I could find to do with fire.
Gabe Howard: So you sort of helped pioneer the fail movement. I think a lot of people are familiar with these stunts on the Internet like Fail Blog
Rachel Star Withers: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Except the Fail Blog is they did it accidentally and you’re more
Rachel Star Withers: Did they?
Gabe Howard: On purpose.
Rachel Star Withers: Did they?
Gabe Howard: Did they. But you know you say that you like doing crazy things and you put it on the internet, but that’s not the whole story because you’ve also been in Marvel movies. You’re an actual Hollywood stuntwoman.
Rachel Star Withers: I try to be. I have all the training and those jobs are just so hard to get. And you would think they would be impressed by alligator wrestling on your resumé. They are not. I mean I’m impressed by it.
Gabe Howard: You were in Black Panther. You were literally in Black Panther.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, I got exploded.
Gabe Howard: You got exploded?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes.
Gabe Howard: In Black Panther, and you can see your face.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, it is unfortunate.
Gabe Howard: Like, if you actually go to the movie, you’re on screen for like three seconds.
Rachel Star Withers: It is a very long few seconds of my life as I’m making a weird stank face. I don’t know guys. I don’t know if you watch it. It’s very easy to pick me out. I’m the one making this horrible stank face for a disturbingly long amount of time staring at the main characters. And then there’s an explosion.
Gabe Howard: I think this is an absolutely fascinating psychological trick that we do because before you were in Black Panther, you were probably like oh man I would do anything to be in Black Panther and now that you were in the movie you were like oh I stank face. Not good at all.
Rachel Star Withers: I mean, I’m so excited I got it. But you should see. When like that came out, I mean everyone saw that movie everybody and I’m getting these texts from people I haven’t talked to in like six years be like Oh my God Rachel. There’s someone in Black Panther who looks just like you. And I’m like hurtful because I think I look terrible. And so you haven’t seen me in all these years but you recognize me in this I’m like so hurtful that is how I apparently looked in five years ago and still look. It’s rough on the self-esteem.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m just going to focus on you being in a Marvel movie. But the question that I have is you do live with schizophrenia and you live publicly. You know this. This isn’t a secret you have a very popular YouTube channel. YouTube.com/RachelStarLive where not only do you put the stunt work but you also make videos about your journey and living with schizophrenia. So this is not a secret. Everybody knows it. Rachel Star lives with schizophrenia and also everybody knows that Rachel Star likes to set herself on fire and wrestle alligators.
Rachel Star Withers: I would hope so.
Gabe Howard: Do you have a problem getting jobs because of this? Are people worried about hiring somebody with schizophrenia to do a job that really is dangerous.? I know that there’s safety. You know there are safety precautions and things in place but I don’t think anybody would deny that being a stunt person is a dangerous job to do. People who hire, do they have a problem with that, or are they worried about the schizophrenia dangerous connection?
Rachel Star Withers: I am very careful to keep like certain parts more professional than others so when I am at a situation where I have to apply I have to send in a resumé. Yes. If they google me it’ll be like probably the first thing that comes up and I understand that. But it’s definitely not like on the top of my resume. When I am you know submitting to get exploded and to be set on fire by other people because they don’t want, you know for insurance purposes, someone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing. However when it comes to my own stuff, whenever somebody comes to me and says Rachel we want you to create content for us I’m very upfront about it and you’re asking for me. You’re going to get me. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything.
Gabe Howard: If you can sort of go further on this because you’re very aware of the stigma of living with schizophrenia because like you said when you apply for a job while you’re not hiding it you’re not volunteering it. And we have other examples of this in society. You know I’m sure that women don’t volunteer if they have children or if they’re pregnant or if they want to get pregnant so that it’s not unheard of to not volunteer information that you think might keep you from getting a job. But this is kind of a personal one, right? I mean you’re very open about living with schizophrenia. So I mean could you just talk about that a little bit because it just it seems very meaningful that you’d have to do this too. Do you wrestle with it and is it harder to wrestle with that than alligators?
Rachel Star Withers: You know the alligators are kind of scary. I’m a, I was kind of I was, I was shaking and that’s how you know I’m scared is if you see me shaking and you really don’t want to shake trying to wrestle alligators. Your hands are very important like they were like whoa step back. We’re kind of afraid you’re going to lose your hands if you don’t get under control and I’m like No I’m good. But as far as wrestling stigma, when I first found out I had schizophrenia I thought pretty much like most people think oh my gosh I don’t know what this is. I don’t want anybody to know. I was a shamed. I didn’t know how to tell my family; I didn’t even want my little brother to know. I just was trying to keep everything on a need to know basis with a few people and I felt so alone. Rewind back to like 14 years ago. There was not as much stuff on the Internet as there is today. You know you didn’t have all these You Tubers, you didn’t have just normal people talking about it. If you looked up schizophrenia, you had references to old movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, that kind of thing. And like these cold medical articles. You didn’t have anything real and reassuring and it kind of got to the point that I was like I don’t want other people to feel like I do because there have to be other people that are finding out they have schizophrenia going on the Internet and being like, “Oh wow. I’m alone.” But here I am alone over here also. So let me make a video. So I started with normal living with schizophrenia and I was like I don’t know if anybody is going to see this thing. And looking back now on it I cringe so so much. I cannot stand myself in it. I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re so dramatic Rachel. Like you don’t even know how bad it’s about to get. That was nothing back then. Come on.”
Gabe Howard: And you started this how many years ago?
Rachel Star Withers: 14 years ago.
Gabe Howard: 14 years ago. And I believe at one point you got an email from a university that said that you had maybe created, do you know what I’m talking about?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes. Mm hmm. So that started with that first video and I just kind of started making more. Documenting me and my schizophrenia and I talked about hallucinations and delusions and I just kind of kept this going and I actually started getting these messages from college students and they were saying, “Hey we’re studying you in class. And for extra credit, I thought I’d reach out to you and interview you myself.” And I’m like What? Like I had no idea. And that’s really freaky especially if you’re schizophrenic to be told hey there’s people studying you that you don’t know about. There’s a class and you’re like What? So it was a little unnerving at first. Also kind of cool and I reached out to the professor. It’s like Hey so I heard. And then I get like messages from Cambridge and Harvard and like all these other schools that pretty much for doing the exact same thing. And what I had done, not even realizing it, is I’d created one of the longest video documentations of a schizophrenic. Like they had tons of documentations, but not to this in depth. And I had just done that documenting my own life, not realizing like oh this hasn’t really been done before because no one had access to cameras like we do now in this age. So here I have yeah. You can like watch me. I don’t want to say grow as a little schizophrenic but you definitely. Yeah. You see like me go through multiple, you know, things and where now I’m like so confident and in the beginning you know I’m like you know on the edge tears over the littlest thing. You know the littlest horrible hallucination when I’m like Oh yeah yeah yeah I mean I’m used to that. I see you know demons all the time now. They’re chillin.
Gabe Howard: But that’s kind of an interesting thing that you brought up. You know 14 years ago you probably didn’t understand it very well and the viewer who’s watching this kind of grows with you. So my question is what was the difference between the hallucinations that you experienced 14 years ago and any symptoms or hallucinations that you may experience today? I mean what can you kind of walk us through? You know so we don’t have to watch 14 years worth of videos. Can you give us the Reader’s Digest slash BuzzFeed version of that?
Rachel Star Withers: I think the 14 years of videos is incredible for anyone to watch. Just kidding I wouldn’t.
Gabe Howard: I mean we’re busy.
Rachel Star Withers: Just get the top viewed ones.
Gabe Howard: We’re busy, Rachel.
Rachel Star Withers: Well, get the top rated, not the top viewed. Okay. Let’s just get the quick version. When I look back I definitely I mean it’s not that my hallucinations have ever lessened. I would say I am way worse. Not way worse as in sick, way worse is I have a lot more symptoms of schizophrenia now than I did even five years ago. It’s one thing that you always hear people kind of say and I know they mean well but oh you’re going to get better, things get better. And the truth is for me, if you look back over my videos they have not. Things have gotten so much worse but I’ve gotten stronger and the stuff that like used to bother me a couple of years ago are nothing today. You know I had all of this bad stuff happening. Yeah I was terrified out of my mind of these monsters. I couldn’t sleep at night with the lights off and now I mean I see them all the time and they don’t bother me because I’m used to them. So it’s one thing I always try and push that if you’re out there I cannot promise you that things will get better. And honestly I don’t think they will. But what happens is you get stronger and that’s the most incredible thing ever and I think it’s way better than your stuff going away to be able to look and be like Oh that’s nothing. And when you get to that point that’s when you can actually start to help others.
Gabe Howard: To clarify a little bit you’re not saying that your life doesn’t get better. You’re saying that your symptoms stayed relatively the same but you got better at managing them and handling them.
Rachel Star Withers: Mm hmm. Yes
Gabe Howard: And working around them so that you could lead the best life possible. So while the symptoms may not have improved and again everybody’s results may vary.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, everybody’s different. I mean it’s not like I’ve been on just a constant line of the same you know they’ve spiked. I’ve gotten at points where I thought Hey I’m cured I don’t have any schizophrenia. And then I’ll go off my meds and that is wrong. That is we learn very quickly. No Rachel you were just kind of we’re very happy and very good on meds for a little bit there. Don’t do that kids.
Gabe Howard: Not a good idea but we’ll be right back after these words from our sponsor.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back talking with Rachel Star Withers. It’s fascinating to listen to you discuss schizophrenia because I think a lot of people they really have this very narrow stereotype of schizophrenia. And one of the largest stereotypes in schizophrenia is the rocking back and forth, the drooling, the shaking legs.
Rachel Star Withers: I say as my knee is like shaking out of control as we’re sitting here, yeah.
Gabe Howard: But I’ve come to understand that some of those stereotypical symptoms that we all think of that have to do with schizophrenia are actually part of the treatment of schizophrenia. And you did a really cool video on that and kind of explain it. Can can you explain that for us now?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, especially when it comes to the shaking. So one of the side effects of many mental health medications is tardive dyskinesia which is basically a drug induced form of Parkinson’s. And now they have medicines you can actually take to control the tardive dyskinesia that’s been caused by the other medication. And it’s just like Oh great. Now just because you take medication does not mean that you’ll start shaking. So please do not think that. It’s just a random side effect that yes some people will get from different mental health medications.
Gabe Howard: And the newer medications don’t have this particular side effect.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes. This is for the older medications.
Gabe Howard: They’ve learned a lot. They’ve made it safer.
Rachel Star Withers: But we know what it is you just kinda shake and sometimes it’s pretty bad. And other times I’m like not shaking at all but I’ll get to a point where I’m like out with friends and because I’m like at a restaurant I’m using their silverware. I have a hard time holding the silverware. Whereas I’m at home I have like forks and stuff with big handles and you’re like, “Rachel, just bring those forks to restaurants.” That is the goal. But I never remember. Everyone’s just like oh it’s such an easy cure. Like yeah no I know but you try and remember these forks. It’s actually harder than you think and then you’re like pulling knives out your bag and be like OK.
Gabe Howard: I love your sense of humor about this because often when we talk about schizophrenia we talk about it in the scariest of terms ,the most medical of terms and I think we do realize that you know having serious and persistent mental illness or just being sick in general is not a happy time. How do you put those two things together? Because I have to imagine that you don’t want to have schizophrenia but you also don’t want to have a bad life. You want to be happy and jovial and you also want to inspire hope in others but that’s kind of a tall order. Hey be happy about living with schizophrenia seems like a ridiculous thing to say but essentially that is what your advocacy is doing. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, and I get messages from people that are very angry and a lot of them it’s just they’re very hurt because they’ve lost someone in their life who had schizophrenia due to suicide or kind of situations around and they’re like how do can you make these videos you make light of this? This isn’t a joking matter. And I on one side I agree with them you know and I understand that pain. I have and I constantly deal with these urges to hurt and kill myself my whole life. They’ve gotten a little less but it’s always like something sitting there in the back of my mind. However, I can’t change this. I can do my best to manage it. I can take medication. I go to therapy but at the end of the day there is no cure for schizophrenia. I’ve had it since I was like a little baby. I assume so at least since I was like talking, I was talking to nothingness. So we know from that point on but I assume a little baby Rachel was trippin when it popped out. But I can’t change this. So my options then in life are to pretty much give up and just be sad and depressed like well I have this horrible mental illness. Man I just really got to go sit in the corner and give up on life because yes sucks to be me or I can look at it and think OK this is what it is. Let’s go. Let’s go do what I want to do and yeah I’m going to have to make adjustments but that’s OK and for me I like the second of those two options. Honestly throughout my life yes I have chose the first one sometimes where I’m just overwhelmed and I’m just like I just want to give up. I’ve had suicide attempts and things like that like. It has absolutely happened that I did not see any light and it was all darkness. And I’m lucky that I have a very strong support system and different things that have helped me through those times. So it’s also not just one or the other. But my media, I try to keep upbeat. And if you google schizophrenia right now you’re going to get a lot of not upbeat stuff. You know if you do schizophrenia facts you’re going to hear about the homeless rate, the suicide rates, like all these really depressing mortality rates of schizophrenics. And I was like I don’t want other people to just find that. So I did this one video. Fun Facts About Schizophrenia and which I just thought were fascinating about how the brain works and how people mental disorders brains work differently than the norm and I was like these kind of cool but rather useless super powers that we have. I was like yes I knew I was an X-Man but the ones when they leave back at the command center because they cannot help in any way. You know? You’re stuck there with Jubilee and you’re like Oh my God you’re the baby sitter of all the useless X-Men. But I was like yes, I totally have superpowers. This is so cool.
Gabe Howard: I completely understand what you’re saying and you’re right. There’s is no shortage of hopeless scary information and that information has a lot of value.
Rachel Star Withers: Oh absolutely.
Gabe Howard: You’re not you’re not trying to erase that from the Internet.
Rachel Star Withers: No.
Gabe Howard: You’re just trying to balance out the conversation.
Rachel Star Withers: I want people to not just feel okay I got this diagnosis of schizophrenia and all hope is lost. I just I don’t want that I want you to be able to be like oh OK here’s one person that knows they’re not perfect. I definitely document me being very depressed and things like that, but you have all these videos of her and she’s able to keep going and that’s not like a gold star in my head because I even have to look at other people’s videos. I have to look at other people’s writings and stuff when I get down and I think as a collective community though, that helps all of us keep going.
Gabe Howard: I really really like that. That’s really really awesome. You have recently launched a podcast here on Psych Central, It’s bonus content for Psych Central Podcast fans. It’s called Inside Schizophrenia. You might hear a familiar voice on there because I help. But tell us about that. What is Inside Schizophrenia?
Rachel Star Withers: Inside schizophrenia. So it’s a podcast similar to this one except way cooler because it’s all me. I’m just kidding. No it’s really interesting. And it was an exciting project for me to get to do because we have about 45 minutes to really delve into some kinda hot button subjects on schizophrenia. Some that I haven’t been able to hit on because my videos are much shorter and upbeat but to be able to actually have a discussion you know between me and Gabe, and to bring in experts about you know looking at some of the darker sides but the realities. So for instance, violence in schizophrenia. Dealing with hallucinations. The caregivers that are involved sometimes when you have you can’t take care of yourself. So kind of like those areas that are not fun to talk about being able to kind of look in and say OK what is the reality here? What goes on behind the scenes, you know? Whereas if someone has, I have a brother, I have a son, I have a sister, I have a close friend that I’m finding I have schizophrenia. What can I really do to help? What can I like really dig in there and you know do and learn about this disorder and for people? I’ve been learning so much. Me just doing the podcast, it blows my mind. And to learn things about like my mental disorder I didn’t know really helps me manage cause I’m just like oh wow that’s really cool. More useless but cool superpowers.
Gabe Howard: The first episode is out now and it’s called What Is Schizophrenia? And it certainly contains you know facts about schizophrenia. The definition of schizophrenia. Your lived experience, Rachel, with schizophrenia, some personal stories and then of course it also has Dr. Ali Mattu from The Psych Show, a popular YouTube channel and he is a researcher from Columbia University and he gives us all of the medical facts so at the end of the show like you said it’s a pretty good deep dive into all facets of what is schizophrenia not just like you know a paragraph on Google where it’s like oh you know everything.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah. And it’s not just me talking it’s kind of going into exploring different things that lots of people with schizophrenia have.
Gabe Howard: You know sometimes people hear about podcasts that are deep dives and I think oh you know it’s an educational show so it’s really really heavy on facts and I’m going to be bored. But then some people hear Oh it’s an entertaining show so they think oh it’s fake news. It has no relevance. It’s just somebody rambling on about their personal experience. How does this show sort of bridge those two gaps?
Rachel Star Withers: Well I don’t do well being serious for more than about a minute at a time. And then I have to like break it up and then I can go back to serious. So I like to think it’s I’m teaching you things but it’s fun. So it kind of like an after school special like that’s just wow you can consider this like hey I want to learn something. But I don’t just want to listen to some person talk for the next hour and you want to get involved and have a good time. That’s where I am and then bam look at that she learned all this stuff you didn’t know.
Gabe Howard: That’s very very cool. When I was in school I had a science teacher that said pay attention and you might accidentally learn something. I think that if you listen to the show you will absolutely learn something and whether it’s an accident or not is really up to the listener. Thank you, Rachel, very much for being on the show and thanks to all of you for tuning in. Remember wherever you downloaded this podcast whether it be iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or otherwise, give us as many stars as humanly possible. Use your words and write us a review. Share us on social media. Email us to your friends. We’re trying to get a giant advertising budget but until we are in a Marvel movie, we’re just stuck where we are.
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About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.