Winnetka native Courtney Cook publishes book on living with borderline personality disorder

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Courtney Cook’s debut book “The Way She Feels” released in June. It tells the story of her life, including her experience with borderline personality disorder.

Rebecca Aizin, Summer Managing Editor

When Winnetka native Courtney Cook was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at 23 years old, she wanted to learn more about the condition. So she turned to her first love: books. 

Apart from the classic novel “Girl, Interrupted,” Cook found that there was a great amount written for parents and partners of those with BPD on how to “deal with” the disorder — but next to nothing authored by or for those who actually had the diagnosis. 

Cook said she had always wanted to write a book, and her recent diagnosis felt like the right time. Two years later, “The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces,” a graphic narrative chronicling Cook’s experience with BPD, was born. 

“I felt really discouraged by the narrative that I had to be ‘dealt with,’ because I believe every relationship is a navigation of how to best communicate and how to best support someone,” Cook said. “I thought I could write the book that I wished I could have had when I was diagnosed and help others in the situation I was in feel like they weren’t alone.” 

The book combines both of Cook’s passions — art and writing — by pairing each essay or story with an illustration. Growing up, she said, she felt like she had to oscillate between her love of each. When she was encouraged by her editors to add more illustrations, she ran with it, she said.

The illustrations in the book are bright and colorful, meant to balance the heaviness of the text. Cook said she wanted to emphasize that, though she has a serious diagnosis, she is just a “normal girl living a normal life.” Many of the stories and illustrations are humorous, encapsulating the growing pains of being an adolescent. 

“I didn’t want to portray my life with borderline as wholly painful and unlivable,” Cook said. “It’s scary at times and I need to work harder than some other people do at feeling happy, but that doesn’t mean my life is awful. So having these bright illustrations gave this breath into the work.”

Elizabeth DeMeo, an associate editor at Cook’s publisher, Tin House, worked closely with Cook on the book and was one of the original proponents of adding more illustrations. She said the art added depth and nuance while providing a rare opportunity for the reader to visualize what Cook was picturing.

She added she is thankful that Cook and Tin House were able to publish a book that combated the stigma around mental illness.  

“I’m proud to have supported an author who is doing boundary-breaking work in being open about (BPD),” DeMeo said. ”My hope is it reaches so many readers and resonates with them. It’s about borderline personality disorder in a way that is very much integrated in other aspects of her life to form a complete picture of a person and not just a picture of a mental illness.”

Tin House Editorial Director Masie Cochran said the highlight of working with Cook was watching her come into her own as a writer and illustrator. 

Cochran said she cut out her favorite picture in the book — Cook hugging her younger self — and hung it over her desk because it encapsulated her pride in the final product. 

“That idea of growth — both artistic and human — that Courtney undergoes in the book and in the process is the thing I’m most proud of,” Cochran said.

Cook said one of the greatest challenges in writing the book was finding a balance between being vulnerable and not sharing stories she wasn’t ready to share. But she said the discomfort is worth it if even one person can see themselves in these stories and know they are not alone.

“My hope in people reading it is they will take away that I am someone who lives with borderline, and I struggle as a result of that; but more than anything, I’m just a person like everyone else trying to make the best I can with the cards I was dealt,” Cook said. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @rebecca_aizin

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