More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
When Love Can't Cure
By Anthony Walker
Psychology Today Magazine, Sep/Oct 2003

He fell for her fiery demeanor and single-minded devotion. But when these traits gave way to hysterical rage and suffocating neediness, this psychiatrist realized that nothing had prepared him for a woman like Michelle.

I was late to rounds, so I snuck in quietly with other students at the back. The crowd moved on to the next patient, so I took a closer look at our suicide attempt. Her lips were black from the charcoal that she had been made to drink.

Later, I stepped into her room to take a history. Her large brown eyes filled a pretty face. And then she smiled. It stopped me from the purpose of my visit and instead left me gawking. Her face seemed so familiar, but I couldn't place her. Then it came to me: She was Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O'Hara.

"My name is Anthony. I'm a final-year medical student," I said. "I'd like to know more about you?I mean, talk to you so that I can present your case to the professor."

She had been dating a guy and found out she was pregnant. Neither of them wanted the baby, so she had an abortion. After that he stopped spending time with her. "He told me I was suffocating him," she said. "Men fall in love with me and then they leave me. Obviously, I'm not good enough. So I took a big piece of chocolate cake and I swallowed a whole bottle of pills, and then I went to bed."

She bowed her head and started to cry. I gave her a box of tissues and took her hand.

I still didn't have a sense of why she had wanted to kill herself. She was so young, so vibrant and so beautiful. She told me that her life was not worth living after her boyfriend left. Why would anybody want to leave her?

Shortly after meeting in the hospital, Michelle and I began dating. I had accepted an internship in Taos, New Mexico, and I realized that if she were to join me, she would need something to keep her busy.

"I'll paint. I'll make you a beautiful home. I'll cook for you, and I'll love you. Just never leave me. I have never felt such intense love from anybody. I can't stay here in Miami. If you abandon me, I'll just have to look for somebody else. I can't be alone."

Even Michelle's mother warned me about "abandoning" her: "Anthony, you can't build up her expectations and then take yourself away," she said. "You see how happy she is. You are her saint. If you left her, we would have to pick up the pieces yet again."

"But I'm off to do my internship. I can't change that," I protested.

"Just don't leave her; it will destroy her."

I had no choice. I would not abandon her. Others warned me that she had borderline personality disorder, but I did not believe them. What Michelle needed was love. I telephoned the local justice of the peace.

With the excitement of our wedding and year-end parties, exercise had slipped. One day I stood on the scale. My new lifestyle had taken its toll.

"I'm off, darling," I told Michelle.

"Where to?" she asked.

"For a run. Look at this: I'm getting fat." I wobbled my gut.

"So what if you're getting fat?"

"I need to lose some weight."

"Who are you trying to impress?"

"Nobody; it's just healthy to do. Anyway, my pants are getting tight."

"So it's more important to you to go for a run than to be with me?"

"What are you talking about? I am with you. I'll be back in half an hour."

Michelle took a half-empty wineglass from the nightstand and smashed it to the ground. "What the hell are you doing to me? You promised me that you would never leave." I stepped back from her. She started to cry.

"I promise you that I will never leave you. If it means so much to you, I won't go for a run."

A few days later Michelle proclaimed triumphantly, "I have something for you. Close your eyes." She led me into the hallway. "Okay, now open them." A sheet covered a large frame. She pulled the sheet off.

It was an oil painting. I stared at it for a long time. Michelle had painted a flower arrangement that overflowed with yellow lilies and blue irises with a fiery sunset-red background.

"I started on it after we met. I'm sorry about the other day."

I had seen enough good in her that I felt if I could just cut out the bad, I would have been happy with what was left. But I also knew that she was who she was because of her entire self and that it was this complexity that had, in part, tantalized me.

Soon after, we drove from Miami to New Mexico to start my internship. The long trip was passed with naps and painless chatter. But there were also moments when Michelle was thinking about her struggle: "Do you know how difficult it is for me to change? Do you think that I choose my fear that you will abandon me, that I choose my depression? I can't stand it. If I had a knife, I would cut it out."

I realized that I was mistaking her unpredictable behavior for freedom of choice. This made her appear freer and sexier than anyone I had known. Ultimately there was no such freedom. Her emotional intensity was the uncontrollable manifestation of her occasionally chaotic mind.

We continued west and reached a gravel road with a sign that promised to take a hundred miles off the trip. Twenty miles into the desert, the only sign of civilization was the deteriorating road we were driving on. Michelle said suddenly, "This is what it's like sometimes. I am alone in an empty world that I can't even recognize. It's better to be dead."

I had many doubts. Sometimes the doubts were the realization that I didn't really know her, but mostly a growing feeling that I was losing my sense of judgment. We disagreed on the importance of family, at least my family. For Michelle, it was intolerable that I could love anybody but her. She saw others as a threat to my feelings for her.

One morning after we settled in Taos, Michelle answered the phone. I was in the bathroom shaving when I heard her say, "He doesn't want to talk to you." I suspected that it was my father and went into the bedroom to take the call.

"I don't give a sh-t what he is to you," Michelle continued. "He is my husband, you f------ a------!"

"Dad?" I grabbed the phone, but the line was dead.

"He deserved it. He never liked me. What has he ever done for me to show me that he cares? You are with me now. You have to give up your daddy. Don't fight it. He is a grown man. He can take it and so can you."

I returned home from work that evening to find that Michelle had prepared her favorite dinner. I was in no mood to fight. The day had been long in the operating room. She was conciliatory. "I'm sorry for the way that I am."

Living in Taos was hard for Michelle. After a few months I reluctantly moved back with her to Florida, where I resumed my internship.

One morning after we'd returned, I suggested having lunch with my parents. At first she appeared irritated, but after a session with her therapist, she agreed.

As the weekend approached, Michelle became more irritable and demanding. On Saturday morning, I prepared for lunch at the country club. "What's that?" asked Michelle, pointing to my tie.

I tensed. "My dad gave it to me."

"Well, take it off; it's ugly."

"I'm going to wear it. Why don't you just get ready?"

"You just can't let go of them, can you?"

"I haven't seen my parents in months."

"Take that f-cking tie off!" she demanded.

"This tie is not an issue. Let's go." I turned to the mirror to straighten the tie.

"Here, let me help you with it," she said as she grabbed the tie. With the slice of a pair of scissors, she cut it in half. "Now you can take it off," she said.

I sat on the bed with clenched fists. "She is sick, she is sick." I repeated. Eventually I stood up.

"I'm not ready yet," she said.

"I'm leaving."

Michelle came running after me. I slammed the car door. "Okay, okay, give me just a minute," she insisted. She tapped on the car window, lips offering a conciliatory kiss. I lowered the window and she leant into the car to kiss me. "Sorry, sorry." Then she grabbed the keys out of the ignition. "I told you to wait until I was ready. Are you f-cking deaf?"

I had been committed to the belief that my love would cure her. Now I looked at her, as miserable as she was, and I could not conjure up this thought anymore. I had believed that giving her strong, unconditional love would fill the uncertainties she felt. But it was never enough. "No one could ever love me forever," she had said. Maybe she would prove this to be true.

I was overwhelmed with sadness. The relationship was dead. We separated several months later. And when I found out that Boston University had accepted me into psychiatry residency, I telephoned Michelle to let her know.

She said: "I met a guy. He's 50, but he owns a Rolls-Royce. He doesn't need to work so he can spend all his time with me. I don't love him, not like I loved you, but love is crap. I need someone who'll take care of me."
Sounds like she did have a therapist:

One morning after we'd returned, I suggested having lunch with my parents. At first she appeared irritated, but after a session with her therapist, she agreed.
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