When BPD Takes Your 'Obsession' With Music Too Far
This is the story of how I systematically ruined the experience of enjoying all of my favorite bands and a major source of stability and comfort in my life, because I cannot control my emotions, I’m self-destructive and I cannot stop.
A brief bit about myself. I’m a male, nearing my 30s, working full-time in a pretty senior position, with a wonderful set of people around me. I am also someone with chronic borderline personality disorder (BPD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) who has spent his entire life trying to sabotage the above, convincing myself that all I love is either invalid, false, not good enough for me or that I am unworthy for it.
My life is soundtracked by music. It’s has been my biggest source of escapism since I was a kid, providing catharsis, comfort, certainty and consistency in a life that was otherwise turbulent, painful and erratic.
A wonderful trait of BPD is never truly believing what people say to you, as well as doubting what you say to them. My life has been a cycle and spiral of destroying, rebuilding and destroying again any relationship in it. Be it with my family, friends or partners. I feel almost constantly alone, despite being surrounded by wonderful people, with whom I feel not worthy.
That’s why music has always been the perfect solution. After turning all my friends against me, or rejecting them for some mundane reason, I could always go home and listen to Saves the Day or glassjaw and they wouldn’t judge me. I believed they felt my pain, could relate to it, and I theirs. I felt as if I knew them and they knew me. I know I’m not alone in taking this type of comfort and solace from music, but that doesn’t stop it being any less dangerous and unhealthy.
They don’t know me. I’m piggybacking on their sadness and attributing it to my own, whilst expecting them to be in a position to help me through my struggles. Listening to music is a one way relationship, no matter how much you want to feel differently. And that is why it is such a beautiful thing. You can imagine and invent the responses that you get. It can sooth you and help you through situations.
You only ever have the one part coming from them — the initial message that drew you to them in the first place.
I have always known I have a complete inability to communicate with people in a “normal” way. Without sounding like a prick, I know I usually make a good impression.
A self-deprecating, pale wannabe comedian who is self-aware enough to know he’s a bit odd. If meetings are left like that, I am usually OK. If you get to know me more, I become a hotbed of paranoia — seeking constant reassurance to affirm my existence, what others think of me, how I come across and if I should even be alive. It is an endlessly exhausting exercise for those closet to me. That’s probably why there aren’t too many who are, or who have, stayed. I thank my stars every day that there are some who have. Because of my infatuation with music, band members have often attained hero status to me.
On the rare occasions that I met them as a teenager, I would clam up, hate myself and awkwardly leave the conversation thinking they loathed me and wouldn’t want me listening to their band. I remember seeing Thursday live when I was 15 and making brief eye contact with Geoff Rickly. He didn’t return a smile, obviously… because he was in the middle of a set and couldn’t see me. That didn’t stop me feeling ashamed and for three years, I didn’t listen to their music. The same music that had accompanied me through sleepless nights, my first struggles with cutting, the first time I realized I had a real problem with my mind.
A few years later, when Geoff liked a tweet of mine, it became OK for me to listen to his music again. Absolutely nuts. I can’t describe the feeling of validation, of release.
I have to invest in any art that I am involved with or listening to, so the people have to be real, sentient people. If there’s any hint of fraud in the integrity of what I or others do, it ruins, taints and invalidates it. I become everything I’ve always feared — a fake. I’ve been found out. I’m nothing. Worthless.
As such, I’m always seeking confirmation of the legitimacy of people by using my ridiculously high moral compass which always fails. I will always be unsatisfied or let down by people, through no fault of their own, because they can never truly get inside of my head and give me the answers that I have convinced myself I need.
I decided a few years ago, that I never wanted another Thursday situation, or an Okkervil River situation (I met them outside of a venue once and asked them to sign an LP. They did, but because they didn’t stay around to chat, I assumed it was because they hated me. It was probably nothing to do with the show they were about to play…), so I promised myself I was never going to reach out to artists whose work I liked, loved, respected or, in truth, probably saved my life.
I felt free. I was able to discover, listen to and indulge in countless bands that I had either put off or stopped listening to. Armed with my new-found acceptance that I didn’t have to connect or seek validation from those who created art I love, I filled every few minutes of my day reconnecting with Brand New, discovering Lights, Tigers Jaw, Pinegrove and Manchester Orchestra. That should have been it. But ultimately it wasn’t..
That all changed last year when the band I sing and write songs for began to receive some modest recognition. Nothing major, but I would say we have an actual fanbase outside of our hometown. We had national radio play, lovely reviews and someone I never met had some of my lyrics tattooed on their skin. It was wonderful, affirming and I finally had that connection I had always wanted with music and other people.
People would contact me saying how my words had helped them, or that they could relate to them. These weren’t desperate fans stalking me — they were very matter of fact, kind messages, for one purpose only, to share their experiences. I replied, of course and that was that. A nice moment.
But something clicked in my head. Wait! I now know how good I felt when people got in touch with me. And I imagined how much it would mean to them to receive a reply back. I imagined they were the same as me — always seeking validation or acknowledgment that we both shared an experience. Except, they probably weren’t. They were simply nice people saying, “Hey man, cool songs.”
This, coupled with the instant access to many celebrities online (thanks to Twitter), led me to abandon all of the ideals I had worked so hard to finalize. I began to fire off messages and tweets to all the bands that had comforted me or who had been there in the aftermath of another heavy self-harm session. Or who I had listened to after a break up or a difficult therapy appointment. Or even when I was happy. I became convinced that they needed to know that this one dude from the U.K. had been touched, helped or saved by something they created.
These weren’t just small messages I sent. I often went into my life story. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps if they knew everything, they’d understand more and think about me in a different light.
I received some very kind replies and I maintained my cool initial persona. “Ah, thanks for getting back to me — totally unexpected. Be well.” I’d send the reply back, and in some part of my head, I’m sure I imagined that this would be the start of some fantastic friendship with someone who’s work I respected. They would see past my normal self, see that I was a lonely guy, and because they wrote about these things too, they were probably lonely as well and we would become best buds. They’d accept the things about me which I hate.
Of course, I would rarely, if ever, get another reply. Why would I? They didn’t have to send something in the first place. They were going above and beyond to speak to me. Why couldn’t I have been satisfied with that? I wasn’t. So, I’d message again. And again. Like I would do to girls when we first started courting. Like I would do to my friends when I was convinced they hated me.
It annoyed the fuck out of them, and tested the relationships to their breaking point. What saved it was the fact they knew me as a real human being, knew this was just one side of me and that, when I’m healthy and of able mind, I’m fine, I’m decent, a good person.
These strangers in bands who I felt I knew, but to whom I was just a name or a Twitter handle on a screen, had no idea what I can be when I am healthy. They would just see the mental, nagging, over-the-top and frankly crazed fan who won’t stop emailing them. So they didn’t reply. As they shouldn’t. As I probably wouldn’t.
Worse still were the artists who never replied in the first place. Not because they are assholes, but because, y’know… they have lives. They are touring bands, working unsociable hours in numerous time zones. They will get 100’s of emails a week to sort through, mostly all of the same ilk as mine.
I was convinced it was because they thought I was an “idiot,” or that I wasn’t good enough to like their band, or that I shouldn’t listen to their music.
It became invalid to me, I couldn’t listen to my favorite songs anymore. I couldn’t look at my vinyl collection, or my arms with lyrics tattooed on them, because I felt sick. Reminded of the false rejection I had created.
This wouldn’t stop me though. I would continue to email, to seek reassurance that I could use their art to make myself feel better. An endless selfish cycle.
“Perhaps they hadn’t read it yet? Perhaps the email address was wrong? Perhaps it was stuck in their outbox. I better just send it again.”
Sometimes, I would get very kind replies. Chris from Saves the Day (my favorite band of all time…and definitely the reason I made it out of my teenage years alive) sent me a wonderful message. Because of that treasured reply (I was able to initially message him when I wasn’t in the middle of a major mental episode), I haven’t contacted him anymore. Afraid the real crazed side would come out.
Other times, I would receive an acknowledgement message, probably as a way to shut me up, because I sure as hell wouldn’t do it myself. This eased the pain for a while, but as soon as it dawned on me that they probably thought I was a head case, I would message more. Thinking I could show them that I was really a nice guy.
Other times, their managers told me to fuck off, told me to stop messaging, that their acts don’t care about my mental health or what I think of their music. Which in most cases is understandably true, and in times of clear thinking, make immediate sense to me. They aren’t there to help me through something. They are venting their own demons.
But, I’d continue messaging. Desperate to receive some validation that I could still have access to that avenue of my life that I need — the comfort in anonymous music to see me through.
The trouble is, it isn’t anonymous anymore. I’ve laid bare my fucking brain and soul to people who I will never meet and who will correctly form the opinion that I am someone to avoid. A maniac who will be waiting for them outside their shows asking them to sign his eyeballs or he’ll kill himself.
I now looked for patterns. Artists who followed or liked the ones I had messaged, were out of bounds to me. Two of my favorite bands wrote a song together. I couldn’t listen to it, because of course they would be discussing me, laughing about how awful I was.
There is no ultimate ending to this blog, or a message I’m trying to convey. I realize how ridiculous it sounds. I had hoped that by writing it down, it would make more sense to me, or provide some clarity, but no.
I want to document that, for today at least, I am of clear enough mind to know that I shouldn’t have done those things. That I shouldn’t seek this validation, that I shouldn’t expect strangers to try and fix me.
Why do I seek this connection? Why is it the deal breaker for me?
So, if you ever bump into any of my heroes tell them — yes, I am probably someone to be ignored, but that I can’t listen to their music anymore and it makes me so, so sad.
Can you relate to this experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Getty image via Yuliia Zatula