In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Courtney Cook’s graphic memoir The Way She Feels is an informative and intensely personal account of life with borderline personality disorder.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
“Candid and endearing. . . . In addition to a moving personal story, Cook provides a funny, heartfelt guide to borderline personality disorder and a distillation of adolescent tortures many readers will recognize. A poignant debut from a promising writer and illustrator.”
When I set out to create a playlist manifestation of my debut memoir, The Way She Feels, I was unsure what form I wanted that playlist to take. Did I want it to feel sonically cohesive and have the arc I try to create when making a mix CD or curated Spotify playlist? Or did I want to include whatever songs felt right, disregarding how they fit together or ~flowed~?
I mulled over this for days, making things (as I do) more complicated than necessary, until I considered my book’s subtitle: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces. TWSF is a collage of illustrated essays in alternative and traditional forms, handwritten lists, and graphic narratives, and because of this I think creating a neatly tailored playlist would be a misportrayal of the book’s personality.
And perhaps more importantly, TWSF is my way of sharing what it’s like to live with borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that comes with symptoms like having an unclear sense of self and experiencing rapidly shifting emotions. Why should I worry about whether this playlist is cohesive if it’s meant to represent a text that explores what it feels like to be me, especially when I’ve often felt unsure of who that ‘me’ really even is or looks like?
All that said, I should mention that I’m not someone who typically writes or edits with music playing. In rare cases I’ll bop to some lo-fi beats, but 95% of the time I work in silence, sometimes with noise cancelling headphones on to make that silence even louder. This playlist is meant to be a sort of collab between each song and chapter, which I paired because I felt they had similar sentiments/vibes/whatever. Happy listening.
Chapter 1: The Blow Dryer is Full of Souls and Other Facts in Lists ~ Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers
“I have emotional motion sickness / somebody roll the windows down / there are no words in the English language / I could scream to drown you out.”
All of TWSF is an attempt at giving language to feelings that are always just out of reach, on the tip of my tongue. The Blow Dryer… is an essay written in lists that attempt to decipher who I am, for both myself and readers.
2: This Is Why I’m Crying ~ Lua by Bright Eyes
“And I’m not sure what the trouble was / that started all of this / the reasons all have run away / but the feeling never did.”
I can cry over anything. Sometimes, ‘anything’ means ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing’ can also mean ‘everything.’
3. God Circle ~ Modern Loneliness by Lauv
“And I’ve been tryna fill all of this empty / but, fuck, I’m still so empty / and I could use some love”
A hallmark symptom of borderline personality disorder is a feeling of profound emptiness with no root cause. God Circle explores my quest to find a fated friendship that would make me feel whole.
4. Unreasonable Times BPD Told Me I Was Being Abandoned ~ It Felt Like Glass by No Better
“Gray day, I guess I shouldn’t complain / things have been fine lately / get dressed, take small steps / I’m old enough to know it’s circumstance.”
Just because you know something logically doesn’t mean you stop feeling whatever emotion an illogical reaction elicited. Sure, I *know* that my friends bumping into each other in the tampon aisle at CVS doesn’t mean they hate me, but one of borderline’s main symptoms is an extreme fear of abandonment, so do I really *know* that at all?
5. Show Me a Happy Person and I’ll Show You a Liar ~ Anything But Blue by I’m Glad It’s You
“I’m still trying to find the way to the brighter side, / and when you make it would you send me a postcard or two? / I know it’s sad to see / but it’s still hard to be / anything but blue.”
Show Me a Happy Person… opens with my then-boyfriend telling me, “people don’t have depression where I’m from.” In imagining what a place without depression might look like, I realized I was essentially envisioning a clone of the town I grew up in. What do you do when you theoretically have all you need to feel happy, but still feel overwhelmingly depressed? Where is a “brighter side” and what would that even look like? If you know, “would you send me a postcard or two?”
6. Not Borderline as in “Crazy,” Borderline as in “Fuck You” ~ Liability by Lorde
“They say, “You’re a little much for me / you’re a liability / you’re a little much for me.” So they pull back, make other plans / I understand / I’m a liability / get you wild, make you leave / I’m a little much for / everyone.”
My entire life, my mom has called me a ‘turtle without a shell.’ I feel strongly, my reactions manifesting quickly with such magnitude that it’s as if I’m lacking the barrier most people have to protect them from their emotions. Where the average person might feel a tide pool level of sadness, I’m dragged out to sea in a tsunami of it. I have always felt I’m “a little much for everyone.” Often, that ‘everyone’ includes myself.
7. Trying Myself On ~ Cough It Out by The Front Bottoms
“It’s snowing right now / I wish it was summer / but when summer rolls around / I wish I was freezin’”
Trying Myself On examines my past attempts at discovering who I was by ‘trying on’ personalities, hobbies, and interests like clothes in a dressing room. What I actually discovered? Changing who I was externally with the hopes of finding happiness or satisfaction internally was as useless as trying on a shirt that fits incorrectly in a different pattern or color.
8. The Way She Feels ~ Forever Fifteen (acoustic) by Mothica
“When I was fifteen / I thought no one would miss me / they’re all just pretending / so I wrote the ending / when they say that it’s not that bad / you’re too young to be this sad / makes you wanna do something / that you can’t take back / and be forever fifteen.”
In The Way She Feels I write about being in the 7th grade and not believing I’d live to see my fourteenth birthday. I hated when people told me I was “too young to be [that] sad.” Maybe I was, but that didn’t make the sadness go away.
9. Ten Months in Europe ~ Wild Life by Everyone Everywhere
“I wanna know / and understand the basic concept / of human completeness. / I wanna go / I wanna know / how to feel like everyone does / how to see like everyone else does.”
When I was thirteen and fourteen years old, I attended La Europa Academy, a residential treatment center for at-risk teenage girls. Despite all the therapy I’ve had, I’m still not sure I understand the “concept of human completeness,” or whether I agree that’s a “basic concept” in the first place, though.
10. How Sugar Cereal Keeps Me Alive ~ I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen
“Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby / edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley / through the middle of my skull. / At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet / and a freight train running through the middle of my head / only you can cool my desire / oh oh oh, I’m on fire.”
One of my favorite coping skills to calm or comfort myself in times of distress is to eat sugary cereal. “Only [Lucky Charms] can cool my desire…”
11. A Marvel ~ What Sarah Said by Death Cab for Cutie
“But I’m thinking of what Sarah said / that love is watching someone die / so who’s gonna watch you die?”
My dad was really sick, really often for most of my life. A Marvel is about a particularly harrowing episode of his illness. When I was in treatment, I used to wish I had a specific reason for feeling the way I did, thinking it would be easier to work through a pointed issue as opposed to a general, overarching sadness. When I was fifteen and it looked like my dad may not live much longer, I worried I’d caused his illness with that wish. I wanted to tell the universe they’d gotten it all wrong–I didn’t want to watch him die, no matter how much I loved him. (Universe, if you’re listening, that sentence exists in present tense, too.)
12. Your Body is a Temple ~ Lover I Don’t Have to Love by Bright Eyes
“Love’s an excuse to get hurt / and to hurt. / “Do you like to hurt?” / “I do! I do!” / “Then hurt me.”
Your Body is a Temple talks about god and love and sex and self-harm and asks whether all these words might actually mean the same thing. The essay opens with me calling to ask a boy who had broken my heart more than once to come over, even though it was after midnight. “I’m hurting and I want to control my hurt. I know exactly the way he hurts me every time, and I’m opening the door,” I write.
13. I Googled “Borderline Personality Disorder” and Wanted to Run for the Hills ~ Mad Woman by Taylor Swift
“Every time you call me crazy / I get more crazy / what about that?”
Googling BPD and seeing the ‘People Also Ask’ suggest questions like “Do borderlines have empathy?” “Are borderlines abusive?” and “Are people with BPD dangerous?” is my personal version of hell.
14. I’d Die for Mini Corn Dogs and Various Other Obsessions ~ This is Me Trying by Taylor Swift
“And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad / I have a lot of regrets about that.”
People with BPD often engage in a pattern of idealization (believing someone is wholly perfect) and devaluation (believing someone is worthless and completely awful). I’d Die for Mini Corn Dogs… examines instances where I’ve idealized and devalued those close to me, causing me to lose meaningful friendships and relationships over almost nothing.
15. A By-No-Means Comprehensive Lists of Things That Have Scared Me Half To Death ~ This Must Be My Exit by Oso Oso
“And all these thoughts I can’t push out of my mind / like these visions of a hundred twisted ways I might die.”
Included on this list: the song Last Christmas by Wham!
16. Dear , I’m Sorry I Exist ~ I HATE EVERYBODY by Halsey
“I know I’ve got a tendency / to exaggerate what I’m seein’ / and I know that it’s unfair of me / to make a memory / out of a feelin’”
This essay is written in anonymously directed apologies. An example: “Dear , I’m sorry I told everyone you proposed to me and left out the detail that we were thirteen and it was in the milk aisle of a minimart.”
17. Oops, I’m Bleeding Again ~ You Wouldn’t Like Me by The Beths
“You wouldn’t like me / if you saw what was inside of me.”
Oops, I’m Bleeding Again is about me confessing a secret I hadn’t even told my therapist to my (now ex) boyfriend. I wrote an essay about that interaction and shared it with my editors, which led to them reading it, which led to deciding to include it in TWSF, which led to that secret now being publicly available and only hidden by some measly pieces of paper. Guess it’s not a secret anymore?
18. How Caring for Ailing Senior Pets Helps Me Care for Myself ~ Sad 2 by Frankie Cosmos
“I just want my dog back / is that so much to ask? / I wish that I could kiss his paws.”
When I adopted a 12.5-year-old dog, I don’t think I fully considered how old 12.5 really is or how I’d care for myself once she was gone. I wouldn’t go back and change it for a second, though.
19. Ode to the Psychiatrist I Hate Who Gives Me Good Drugs ~ Serotonin by girl in red
“I get intrusive thoughts / like cutting my hands off / like jumping in front of a bus / like how do I make this stop? / When it feels like my therapist hates me / please don’t let me go crazy.”
Once, before I found medications that were actually helpful, I went from feeling euphoric to suicidal in mere seconds all because I accidentally dropped the Eggo waffle I’d just microwaved. Thank g for Lexapro.
20. Sweet, Soft Life, I Love You ~ It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby by Muna
“You’re gonna think about suicide / yeah, you’re gonna call your mom / it’s gonna be okay, baby / it’s gonna be okay.”
The first time I heard this song, I was driving the hour home from Los Angeles. I sobbed so hard I could barely see the road. I listened to the song on repeat and by the time I was almost home I knew the words. I could just make out my reflection in the windshield, singing along: “you’re gonna tell your reflection: it’s gonna be okay, baby, it’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay.”
Courtney Cook is the author and illustrator of The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces, published by Tin House.