Catherine Waisvisz – Born to Be Wild: How I recovered from dissociative PTSD though music

Following is a list of songs from the 1960s-1970s as they are arranged on a personal recording of my favorites. I grew up hanging onto music for survival, deflecting myself and the pain I was in onto the music I listened to but unaware of that fact.

I believe I saved the different aspects of my self by throwing those aspects (projecting as if onto a movie screen) onto musical art when I was suffering too much from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to collect myself internally. It’s hard to see who it is in the movie, which protects the psyche from pain. Projection is a professionally defined term and I do my best to explain it in various ways throughout this article. I heard these songs in this order recently and have recovered enough to see the subjective meanings of them for me. This journey and story is one of recovery.

Lyrics (not necessarily in order) are within quotation marks. I will call myself Cathy through most of this piece in order to separate my progress into two parts:

1. Baby Blue: Mom says, sorry, Cathy, “guess I got what I deserved, kept you waiting there too long, my love…thought you’d realize that I would know; that I would show special love I have for you, my baby blue” (infant Cathy). “How can I show you? Show me the way…don’t you know I’m trying to try? The feeling just grows stronger every day… Let me know, let it grow- special love you have for me”.  Please.

Cathy: I don’t know that you’re trying to show love for me. I am similar to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Olivia Brown, "Heliomas"
Olivia Brown, “Heliomas”

2. Born to be Wild: Cathy was born to look for adventure, to “take the world in a love embrace”, to take off as a toddler running around, getting into things, “nature’s child… [I] can climb so high…I never wanna die.”

Learning autonomy,“Get your motor running, head out on the highway” and saying no! a lot. She was born to succeed in life.

3. Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress): This song is primal and pivotal. Cathy had an intense fear of this song after she grew into recovery a little, and the Long Cool Woman wasn’t buried so deep; after, a repressed memory of something Grandma did to her was dug up later in Cathy’s life. She thought it was her cat that was afraid, but it was Cathy.

The protagonist in the song is arrested in a bar-type situation where “everyone was doing wrong” by a “Long Cool Woman” who “had it all.” She tells him not to be afraid, he’ll be spared and forgiven, and all he wants is a relationship with the Long Cool Woman.

Who or what is the subject? Who is a “bad mess” but is “fatally attracted” to the Long Cool Woman in Cathy’s life, before things had spiraled downward for her and while she was happily running wild, saying no, finding autonomy? Possibly multiple people: Grandma (Cathy’s mother’s mom) got weird when toddlers said no a lot. She acted strange around Cathy when, at 3 years old, all she did was suck her thumb.

She was left in Grandma’s care. No mommy or daddy. Cathy was Grandma’s favorite grandchild and she knew it. Everybody said that she was her favorite– Cathy wanted to throw up when she had learned that being the “favorite” meant the favorite torture subject. As a result, the permanent and structural cerebral cortex development, (which occurs at 3 years old) was thwarted by the Long Cool Woman in her life. But everybody thought that being the favorite was good. Grandma was extremely religious, and Cathy identified with the crucifix; that was good, too.

Or was it the older teenage boy next door, who sexually abused Cathy when she was seven, was another trauma of which Cathy never spoke. She was terrified of him.

4. I’d Love to Change the World: “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I leave it up to you”. Cathy, “born to be wild” and to “take the world in a love embrace”, would love to change the world but passes that up, gives up, after the experience with the Long Cool Woman. On Jan. 27 2012–just before she completely shattered–Cathy deliberately put these songs in order: It seemed to be in order of life events, feelings, desires, deepest yearnings, all projected aspects of Cathy’s self. But she needed to remind herself not to dwell on the Long Cool Woman.

5. Wish You Were Here: Cathy gave up on changing the world and loving it, and both Mom and Cathy have personas for Cathy in “Wish You Were Here.”

Mom: “Trading heroes for ghosts”: her dad died when she was six. “Hot ashes for trees” was the trauma of seeing Disney’s Bambi soon after he died.

Cathy: I’m in a cage, I can’t get out, there’s no escape. I’m a prisoner of war. How I wish you were here to help me. I didn’t know you were from the beginning, from Baby Blue.

Together: “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year. Running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears. Wish you were here,” and “So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain”.  We’re both wishing the other would see.

6. Comfortably Numb: Up to this point all of these events, and the previous songs, are so painful that “Comfortably Numb” (PTSD surrealistic, walking coma-daze dissociation) is a welcome relief for Cathy. After moving to her new house and new school but making no new friends, things got even worse for Cathy because of the PTSD, dissociative type (Reference: DSM V). At her new school, the kids took advantage of and bullied Cathy because of her dissociative PTSD. Cathy was comfortably numb in school from 4th grade and through at least 20 years old. The young grade school and young teen Cathy showed her giddy, hyper, stormy, freaked-out persona when she was at home. As an older teen, she was completely numb, impulsively self-destructive without knowing why, and a self-saboteur. She was misdiagnosed and medicated. No more screams, so they thought.

7. Hold Your Head Up: Cathy began holding her head up in her early to mid 20s. She was out of school, and most (school) traumas were over. Finally. There were people in her life–friends–who were going nowhere.

8. You’re So Vain: This song, for Cathy, was a projection of what she thought of herself for holding her head up. She felt others thought she was vain, and this type of projection was also impactful in her life. Believing that she was projected onto other people got in her way of seeing people as they really were. The songs themselves were like movies of how she saw her life: Music was what she held onto growing up, and she identified with it.

Music is art, and art is all about what the person experiencing it perceives it to be. It is about the meaning for the person. Cathy thought she had to know everything, had to be perfect, and she was very worried about impressions and appearances. But it contradicted the abhorrence of appearing vain, so she was caught. This is probably from being bullied at school on one hand, and learned academics in her family on the other. She simply guessed and made assumptions about expectations.

9. I’ll Take You There: Cathy’s looking for a relaxed, groovy place of peace within herself. “I’ll take you there… ain’t nobody cryin’…ain’t nobody worryin’…ain’t no smiling faces lyin’” to her.

10. Respect: Cathy is so sure others don’t respect her, projecting her own feelings of a lack of respect for herself; so she goes around trying to demand it. This, of course, backfires. This has been with family.

11. San Francisco: “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…you’re gonna meet some gentle people there”. Maybe Cathy should relax and groove like the flower children in the song. People should be gentle to one another. Maybe they needed to change or she needed to find gentler people. Projections, of course. She was the one who needed to change. Cathy was blind to herself; it was hard to see who was on the movie screen. She thought others should be the ones to change.

12. California Dreamin’: “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray…stopped into a church…I pretend to pray”. She decided to stay. Maybe Cathy could find that place of peace in church, or still pretend. Grandma was religious: old-world Catholic. Martin Luther was a threat, too.

Cathy hallucinated whenever she came near religion, so she ran.

13. To Sir with Love: Cathy didn’t know about the movie the song was from, “To Sir with Love” starring Sidney Poitier as a teacher who works at a school in London with students who have behavior issues. Cathy thought of Sir as her father. When she was 17, a psychiatrist told Cathy  said that Cathy was in love with her father at the time and had probably been in love with him for a long time. Cathy’s father made her feel very special as a young girl, until her tumultuous teenage years.

Cathy admired her dad greatly. He was (and still is) so kind, gentle, patient, and would do anything for her. He was also a strong, upright, moral teacher and safety-conscious as a pilot and a father. Thank you Sir/Dad! He raised her “from crayons” and taught her valuable things.

14. Brown-Eyed Girl: For Cathy, this was immature fun “love,” not like what she had for her father, but a superficial (too superficial to be taken seriously) type of love. Cathy began to take an interest in the opposite sex.

15. I Can’t Live (if Living is Without You): For Cathy, this was needy, emotion-based, self-absorbed wailing. It wasn’t necessarily romantic. Both Grandma and Cathy had personas in this song. Grandma (Lyrics): “You always smile but in your eyes your sorrow shows, yes it shows….I can’t live, if living is without you,” haunting Cathy with her twisted favoritism. Cathy had to throw up multiple times a day without knowing why, after the wounds come closer to the surface. The words “trust me” made her go ballistic without knowing why. She said, “I can’t live without anybody! I can’t say it. I can’t ask for it. I’m still in a cage.”

Grandma would willingly gobble her up with favoritism. Cathy made suicide attempts and once almost succeeded. Her past also projected onto other people, which got in the way of seeing people as they really were. They will laugh if she says how she feels, or think she’s silly, or think she’s stupid, etc… Her crying soul wanted to know, where are the changed people? Mom? She didn’t yet know that Mom always loved her and tried her best to be there for her, and that Mom wondered why she got a fight.

16. Scarborough Fair: Finally, this was mature love. In the song, the male lover goes off to war and the woman is doing supposedly impossible tasks to prove her love. It is about dependability, gentleness, patience. Her actions prove it and prove her faithfulness.

The song is about Cathy’s father, the man she had always respected most. This type of attraction to the father figure was not about sex. Cathy’s father was always there, always involved, and made Cathy feel special. At 51, Cathy married someone just as wonderful as her father in March 2011.

17. The Boxer: This song described three stages of Cathy’s progress: the self-saboteur seeking low-life people and co-dependent relationships, the boxer, and the fighter. Standing in a clearing trying to remove himself from the wimpy self-saboteur he had been, is a boxer. He fights because he is blinded by anger and willingly takes it on as his job. He hangs onto reminders of every blow and cut, feeling of anger and shame. The boxer (Cathy) cries out “I am leaving, I am leaving” since it backfires and the boxer part falls away, “but the fighter still remains”. The fighter is the psyche that has coped and survived all this time and refuses to be destroyed.

The fighter is the healthy me. My mom is also a fighter. Both fighters (me and my mom) stand in separate clearings trying to see each other, asking ourselves and wishing the other would hear, Why? Why do we fight each other? We fight enough in life.

18. Mother and Child Reunion: Well this song title speaks for itself. I saw the projections for what they were: They were how I saw myself and the trauma that was going on in my life.

I’ve taken it to mean that others see me that way or that others are doing (including my mom) what, really, I am doing. The barrier between me and my mom is broken, and a good relationship is underway. I saw the distance between us, and the last song wraps up (without previous knowledge) of what I saw in these songs and why they were such a huge part of my life.

My remaining objective was to see and admit what the musical projections said about me and how I saw myself and my life through them; the projections were no longer blocked by or on a wall or screen. Most of all, it was about allowing myself to feel the horror and pain, and release them from my body, making it no longer necessary to constantly throw aspects of myself everywhere except within me and to push them from me.

In my mind now, the uncovered memory of what my grandma did to me when I was three–the intense flashbacks–collapses like a house of cards; it is like single pencil lines, outlines of a sketch, collapsing on each other. Within a day of full realization of what my life was before and what it can be now, I forgave my grandma and most of my old ghosts were released from me. I had to deal with the neighbor boy who sexually abused me separately, but I couldn’t feel that abuse until a few days later. I ultimately forgave him as well, since I had already attached my trauma to Grandma and forgiven it all, including her.

No longer having to simply cope, I am in the driver’s seat and feel that I can change my part of the world.*

Catherine Waisvisz

Cathy is an artist.

*I am deeply indebted to and wish to thank my psychiatrist, Dr. Timothy Roberts, for diagnosing PTSD, dissociative type. When I told him that I hallucinate whenever I come near religion he asked “was your grandma religious?” I had told him about the trauma with my grandma but it wasn’t yet clear that there was a connection between religion and the trauma involving her.


[1]Baby Blue by Badfinger
[2] Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf
[3] Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress) by The Hollies
[4] I’d Love to Change the World by Ten Years After
[5] Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
[6] Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
[7] Hold Your Head Up by Argent
[8] You’re So Vain by Carly Simon
[9] I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers
[10] Respect by Aretha Franklin
[11] San Francisco by Scott McKenzie
[12] California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas
[13] To Sir With Love by Lulu
[14] Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
[15] I Can’t Live (if Living is Without You) by Harry Nilsson
[16] Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel
[17] The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel
[18] Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon

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