Some say that art can be therapeutic. Music is no exception. Recently, I’ve discovered three songs that are, as far as I know, not about borderline personality disorder (BPD), but do a remarkable job describing it. The songs are Meredith Brooks’s Bitch, Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman to Me, and Natalie Merchant’s My Skin.
This song sums up BPD in a nutshell with the lyrics “I’m your hell,/I’m your dream/I’m nothing in between”. One of the symptoms of BPD is black-or-white thinking, which is best summed up as “I’m not good so I must be bad”, rather than the healthy “I have good and bad qualities.”
Another line is “So take me as I am/ This may mean/ You’ll have to be a stronger man/ Rest assured that/ When I start to make you nervous/ And I’m going to extremes/ Tomorrow I will change/ And today won’t mean a thing.” Translation: “Please accept me even at a great personal cost, and please understand my volatile mood swings.” Two more symptoms of BPD are uncertain identity and rapid cycling idealization and devaluation. In other words, a person with BPD might change between today and tomorrow, and might hold you in high regard one day and despise you the next. It does indeed take a strong–or understanding–person to put up with this.
Billy Joel’s song about his ex-wife describes loving a person with BPD. “She’s frequently kind and she’s suddenly cruel/She can do as she pleases, she’s nobody’s fool.” This describes the rapid cycling idealization and devaluation common in BPD–we can literally be frequently kind and suddenly cruel to the same person within a short time period.
Another line in the song is “She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes/ She can ruin your faith with her casual lies/ And she only reveals what she wants you to see/ She hides like a child, but she’s always a woman to me.” If you don’t relate to this, you’re probably not affected by BPD. Symptoms of BPD include emotional manipulation, casual lying (although it’s not one of the diagnostic criteria, this is a common trait), and fear of being emotionally vulnerable. Emotionally speaking, we’re children. It takes a special kind of person to see us for what we are.
This song starts out blunt–“Take a look at my body/ Look at my hands/
There’s so much here/ That I don’t understand.” BPD is one of the few mental illnesses that leaves visible physical scars in the form of self-injury. We don’t always understand why we do it; we just know that it helps us feel better. It helps us give voice to unspeakable pain, it helps us feel something instead of nothing, it gives us courage to override the pain of the current situation and change it.
“I’ve been treated so wrong/ I’ve been treated so long/ As if I’m becoming untouchable.” The cause of BPD is unknown, but many people with BPD are abuse survivors. We desperately want to talk about it, but people shy away from such an uncomfortable discussion. Sadly, we often end up in abusive relationships, perpetuating our symptoms.
“I need/ The darkness/ The sweetness/ The sadness/ The weakness/ I need this/ I need/ A lullaby/ A kiss goodnight/ The angel sweet/ Love of my life/ Oh, I need this.” Life with BPD is difficult–we come to rely on the pain because we don’t know how to live without it. We need the darkness, but we need light as well. We need help but don’t always know how to ask for it.
Music can be excellent for helping people understand BPD. These three songs might be good to mention when you’re describing BPD to non-BPD people.