BPD: The Playlist

October 15, 2014 § 10 Comments

Today while driving in traffic, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. That’d be “Clarity,” by German DJ Zedd.

When “Clarity” came out last summer, I wrote this about it at the time on This is a Liked Music Log:

I’ve long thought that the allure of dance music (for me anyway) is its ability to both tap into despair and to mobilize against it, simultaneously. Like gospel, its roots are a deep existential suffering – tho where bondage is the root of gospel’s pain, the sufferings of love lie at the heart of dance – yet as a genre both by their nature intend to literally move their audiences to action, to movement out of that despair. Gospel through prayer, dance through…well, dancing. As a genre dance recognizes the pain in you but refuses your getting stuck there—if you’re listening right, you’re literally moved up and out of suffering in responding to dance through movement. It’s a kind of music that both touches and transforms pain; through movement comes a kind of liberation.

I put this song (Zedd, “Clarity”) in that category.

But I was also mesmerized by “Clarity” then (and still am) because I identify with its essential conundrum: what inspires profound longing also inspires profound suffering. I understand this paradox to the the psychic essence of what gets labeled borderline personality traits:

If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy?

If our love’s insanity, why are you my clarity?

For me, borderline traits have meant a longing for reciprocity, a weeping, absolute absence–no, abandonment, an absolute abandonment–at the center of me that is so intense it collapses under its own mass like a star going supernova, sucking everything down into oblivion. My love is so intense it is unstable, it is destabilizing. Nobody could survive my love. Everyone must run. I must run from myself. My need is so intense I can only be abandoned. My need for response is the very reason I am abandoned. To love is to grieve, then, in the same moment. An unsolvable conundrum.

Anyway, from “Clarity”, a playlist slowly began to take shape in my mind. Not just songs I jam to when I’m crazy–flying high on manic energy or stunted immobile by despair–but songs that expose the anatomy of madness, that illuminate the inner workings of borderline craziness, specifically.

And so, I present to you BPD: The Playlist.


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§ 10 Responses to BPD: The Playlist

  • Miguel says:

    “For me, borderline traits have meant…absolute…at the center of me…My love is…unstable…destabilizing…Nobody…Everyone must…I must…An unsolvable conundrum.”

    I think it’s self-harm to speak to yourself in these terms and to ascribe to them the quality of “traits”, like skin color, height, or other things that last a lifetime.

  • L&S says:

    i can see why you’d think that. BPD is a controversial diagnosis, because of the way it pathologizes women in particular. and even if the condition is real, the name is problematic because it’s confusing. dates back to an earlier time when the cluster of traits now known as BPD were thought to be on the borderline of neurosis and psychosis. a name i’ve heard that i think is more descriptive and less punishing is emotional dysregulation disorder.

    in any case: i’ve gotten the borderline diagnosis (along with bipolar II and anxiety disorder) from a clinical psychologist whose evaluation i sought. but even before that, i saw my own emotional and behavioral patterns in descriptions i read of BPD.

    and so, i do feel that the diagnosis names something real and points out something useful. namely, the way early experiences of abandonment or invalidation create patterns of overwhelming emotion, especially in the context of intimate relationships, which play out as self injuring behavior. that’s all “borderline personality traits” are, really. coping skills that don’t work. starving or cutting yourself when you feel rejected or unloved. but they originate in the desire to protect one’s self.

    in my case i was never physically abandoned, neglected or abused, but i came to feel that way because my anxiety stuff began so early in life. there was no way i could express the intensity of my experience to my caregivers and feel protected by them, because there was actually something different about how my brain functioned. and then, because of that early experience of perceived abandonment/invalidation (“something is wrong with me and no one can help me, and i have to pretend like everything is okay and that i’m normal”), i went on to have all kinds of problems with closeness and distance in my intimate relationships. but even in less intimate relationships. i get kinda crazy if someone at work says something a little critical. i cry all night, or whatever. and if someone is really, really critical, i feel so intensely bad and ashamed that i want to die. i want to cut myself, i want to starve.

    back in high school i acted on those inner experiences. i don’t anymore, but the emotional patterns are still there, and they still do damage.

    anyway, so, when i write the paragraph above that you quote, i’m not endorsing this view of myself so much as narrating what that inner emotional experience is like *at the time that i’m in it.* i know that the story spun by that experience is not correct, of course. but i’m also aware that what i experience in those episodes is something i’ve experienced over and over in the same way in response to the same triggers. there’s a logic or pattern there, which is why i find the “borderline” label useful and convenient.

    make sense? that’s long, i know.

    • Miguel says:

      I appreciate your reply and it clarifies a lot. I appreciate your explanation of how you came to be suffering now despite having had loving parents; I think what you described makes sense. And, most importantly to my objection, you explain the context for the description of one of your mental states.

      I think it’s really important to have that kind of context in the post itself, because the post is a kind of “self-talk”–in that you write it first of all to write it, and only secondarily for others to read. And what we say to ourselves, we believe. I think the original post lacks some of that context.

      I think to some degree you are “essentializing” the emotional experiences that psychiatrists can use to identify someone as suffering from BPD. However, as some theorize–see Origins of Mental Illness, Gordon Claridge–mental illness is, to quote a reviewer of that book, “an abnormal manifestation of temperamental and personality characteristics which we all possess to a greater or lesser degree.” Personality traits exist on a spectrum. Who is to say that the embarrassment, hurt from a perceived slight, longing, depression, etc that you feel is stronger and more painful than corresponding emotions that I or anyone else has felt? We are talking, ultimately, about things that we can quantify (electrical currents and hormone levels in the brain and body) and things that we cannot (the experience of consciousness), but these are all things that all humans share. If anything, I would say that you suffer from BPD not because you feel things that I have not, or more deeply, but perhaps because you feel them for longer periods of time, or because of differences in reaction to those emotions. The most painful emotional pain I have felt, on multiple occasions, I would never want to feel again, though I realize I may.

      So even if you are saying that you are being descriptive of emotions “in the moment,” you may want to consider if you are categorizing those emotions as unique in strength to only a select few with BPD or other similar psychological disorders. I could pretend that I am personally affronted by this idea, as a person, but that’s not my point. My point is that, that kind of ideation around experiences you have lends them more weight than they necessarily deserve–in the same way that psychology describes social anxiety as an overemphasis on the part of the anxious person of their own “flight-or-fight” experience and of their own “visibility” to the people around them, etc.

      Another way in which I think you lend the experiences more weight than they deserve is how, in your reply to my comment, you say “i acted on those inner experiences. i don’t anymore, but the emotional patterns are still there, and they still do damage.” The emotions you feel are normal…it’s not the emotions themselves that do damage. Emotions exist because they help us survive.

      One last thing in your post that I think essentializes experiences as “bad” is the use of turns of phrase such as “when i’m crazy” and “borderline craziness.” I completely understand how the use of the word “crazy” is a helpful semantic shortcut that encapsulates a lot, but I still think it contributes to the problem of essentializing/lending weight to experiences as unique or unmalleable, which in my opinion limits your ability to react/respond to the experiences, when they do come, in a flexible and thus, hopefully, more health-inducing way.

      • L&S says:

        addressing your points as briefly as i can!

        1. context: i see your point but i probably won’t revise soon just cuz it’s not a paper or anything, just a blog entry…maybe also because i’ve created this section of the blog for people with similar experiences, so i’m assuming that people identify and already understand the context. i guess that is an erroneous assumption. 🙂

        2. re: human emotional experience as a spectrum: yes. i believe this is accurate. and i agree too that “mental illness” is simply a more intense version of the range of emotional states that everyone experiences (with the exception of maybe psychosis, although even this is not entirely true if we acknowledge the effects of hallucinogens!). so what we understand as illness is really just a matter of degree–quantitatively but not qualitatively different from our sense of what we understand to be normal. and even then, there are definitely very extreme emotional experiences that we wouldn’t necessarily classify as illness (falling in love, grieving the loss of someone we love, religious ecstasy, etc).

        but, as someone who has spent many years hearing “there’s nothing wrong with you,” or “everybody goes through that” when i was in intense emotional distress, i’m uneasy with the idea that i’m essentializing my experience or ascribing it a significance it doesn’t actually have. that comes too close for me to a minimizing of suffering that is real, a denial of the serious disability that can accompany emotional states that are both extreme and episodic.

        and, so, i would say that in addition to quantitative intensity, what defines a mental state as an illness is the degree to which one become disabled by that intensity: unable to work, eat, sleep, take care of one’s children, get out of bed, leave one’s house, interact with loved ones.

        so yes, human emotionality exists on a spectrum. but to suggest by that token that psychiatric disability *doesn’t* only says to me that you must not have much firsthand knowledge of how much mental illness affects a person’s life chances. and i hope that doesn’t sound angry or condescending, because i really, really don’t mean it like that. i just want you to to understand that in fact it does have that much impact.

        3. re use of “crazy”: convenient as shorthand, yes, but also used in the same way LGBT folks have reclaimed “queer.” a coming-out-of-the-closet term, a term that takes a badge of shame and uses it to self-identify and resist shame. yeah, i’m crazy: so what? i was far more disabled by my symptoms when i didn’t recognize them as conditions that many, many other people have. i was far more self-denigrating when i thought i was just strange and struggled to maintain an appearance of normality when in fact i was barely functional. far from being self-denigrating, “crazy” is a term that keeps me from getting as caught up in the content of my symptoms so that i can respond appropriately: “i’m feeling crazy. better call my therapist/do some guided relaxation/go lift weights/take a pill etc.”

        and that’s a good thing, not a self-hating thing at all.

  • L&S says:

    one other thing, since you objected to the term “traits”:

    as patterns of emotion/thinking/behavior (however calcified), borderline traits actually are not immutable like hair color etc. there are therapies developed specifically to help people gain skills in responding differently to overwhelming emotions and maladaptive coping strategies. this one’s the most famous, and the one i’m undertaking with my current therapist:


  • L&S says:

    one more thing: i appreciate this conversation very much.

    • Miguel says:

      Cool. Yeah me too.

      I can’t seem to reply to your reply to my reply (etc); maybe only so many layers of nesting replying is allowed. So anyhoo.

      I didn’t expect you to edit your post. I meant that, writing is a form of reflecting or thinking, and so, if this post is a corollary to your internal dialogue, you might want to “tell yourself” in your posts just as well as in your “internal” dialogues, that you don’t have an absolute absence in the center of you, that some can survive your love, that not everyone must run. Etc. Challenge your thoughts.

      I know you’re saying that you are being descriptive. I still think the descriptive sections of your post walk a fine line of saying that these experiences /exist/ in you as real, if ephemeral, phenomena (example: an absence at the center of you, etc), rather than as thoughts that are themselves interpretations of your emotions.

      I’m not saying that your emotions don’t happen, that you don’t experience them, that the duration or other qualities of your emotions or of other aspects of your experiences do not qualify you as suffering from BPD. I’m saying that, in the same way that it does not help a schizophrenic to give logical explanations for the visions and voices they hear, to believe that they are “real,” so it is not helpful to ascribe meanings to your emotions that are extreme–as I find the words, which I already quoted in my very first comment, to be.

      When I was thinking about this this morning, I also wanted to talk about mental illness being more prevalent in industrial societies, but I think the above are the main things I want to say. I guess the point with that fact is that it points to an environmental factor to mental illness, which, again, would put the lie to people’s experiences of their mental illnesses as “real”–whether that be the schizophrenic’s hallucinations, the depressive’s pessimistic outlook, the anxious person’s stress and fear, or whatnot. I’m /not/ saying that these aren’t real experiences, but that they are as often as not exacerbated by the /interpretation/ of same via /thoughts/ and /words/ by the person who’s experiencing them. Emotions are not thoughts/words. /Those/ come after, and can influence the continuing presence of the emotion.

      I can relate a lot to what you’re saying about feeling embarrassed or like you had to put on a game face. I too think I am more functional when I realize that my experiences have been shared by many others. I find the idea that thoughts are merely interpretations, and not the experience itself, to be highly liberating. There was a time when I just assumed that everything my brain thought, was true! I just assumed that my brain was that good. Knowing that it’s not makes me more flexible in response to my own thought-maker. And looking back, it seems silly how many things I believed in simply because the thought occurred to me at the time. It was easy for me to get depressed about one thing or another because I would have one depressing thought about myself or my situation, assume it was true, and then “give up” on considering alternate interpretations of a situation. I assumed, and sometimes still do assume, that the way I see something at the moment /is/ the way it is.

  • Miguel says:

    The video for “Try” is really impressive.

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