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The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures + Pieces by Courtney Cook


1 April 2024

 

The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces by Courtney Cook

 

Courtney Cook is very young—maybe only 28—and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder early, compared to most, because her symptoms were so pronounced that they inhibited normal functioning. She has an MFA, and it seems this book was her thesis manuscript. The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces is a graphic memoir that brings light to her struggles with this disorder.

 

This book was fantastic for my own writerly needs—an enjoyable, insightful, and well-timed read. It is short, sweet, and the images are engaging. In many instances, these illustrations increased my comprehension of what she was describing in her words, so that was great. Most importantly, it deals with borderline personality disorder from the inside. Cook provides extensive interiority about her experiences/thoughts on the borderline, which is precisely what I am attempting to accomplish with my own novel without ever using the words “borderline personality disorder.” So…there’s just tons of inspiration here.

 

One thing this book gave me was a broader understanding of what causes borderline personality disorder. It was my understanding that BPD was always the result of toxic parenting. Cook points out that it could also be genetic. While hers might have been caused, in part, by her traumatic birth (where the doctor crushed her skull in five places, requiring neurosurgery (9)), her parenting sounds like it was healthy (47). She was deeply attached with both parents, who provided for her needs (nothing toxic). The only thing is that her father was sick and nearly died when she was in her early teens—which is traumatic. But all this got me thinking…lately I saw a post online that lumped BPD along with Autism and ADHD under the umbrella of neurodivergence. If Cook had a loving attachment with both parents, perhaps it is the case that one of the causes of BPD is genetic predisposition. This is a new insight for me regarding this disorder. It may impact how I approach my protagonist’s character in my novel—during revision.

 

Additionally, this book was ripe with what Cook believes are symptoms of her disorder. Incidentally, many of these are symptoms I recognize. Obviously, there’s a reason I’m writing this novel: I feel compassionate about BPD because I believe I experience many of its symptoms, myself. While I do not think I have this disorder, I do think I experience much overlap with BPD. Hence, my goal in bringing awareness about it. That said, I have no interest in writing a memoir about it; it seems to me a better approach—an approach that will garner more broad interest—is to present it as an engaging story: fiction.

 

Cook's book provides so many symptoms that could be developed into thoughts/interiority and anecdotes/actions for my protagonist. For example, there’s the missing sense of self (8). Cook presents the idea that someone else can “heal me” (31). Because BPD is an attachment disorder based on a fear of abandonment, she lists times when she (unreasonably) felt abandoned (43), or had “a chronic feeling of emptiness” simply because someone left her after hanging out together (48). I felt this quote, particularly: “I want to live a life where, for just one day, I feel full. I want to be happy and not question whether it is real” (50). Then there’s all the information about self-harm that feels deeply relevant to my protagonist, like this: “The times I felt most loved was when someone was worried about me, so I gave people reasons to worry” (83). I will definitely use this as a means for my protagonist to get her love interest to engage with her. The truth is, so much of this is very real and very usable. Here’s another great one: “The few times I’ve felt truly holy, like I was being taken care of by someone more powerful than you or I will ever be, I was doing something that some part of me said I shouldn’t be” (134). Cook talks about obsessing over anyone who gives her attention—another behavior that feels very real to my lived experience (158), as well as idealization/devaluation (163). She even talks about safe foods (corn dogs) (159), and viewing herself and others via polarities (good/bad)—which I also know (201).

 

Okay this sort of turned into an infodump with page numbers, but that could be useful to me as I go back to revise my protagonist's character.

 

Overall, a great read. Super helpful!

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