The One Problem in My Life 'Gilmore Girls' Didn't Have an Episode For
“Gilmore Girls” has been my favorite television show since I was 12 years old, and I’ll be 20 in the spring. I even have all seven seasons on DVD, courtesy of Santa Claus. After a while it became my model for life. In fact, I directly hold “Gilmore Girls” responsible for my close relationship with my mother because I desperately wanted to be like Rory and Lorelai.
If I was having any sort of problem, I’d turn to Lorelai and Rory. School bully? There’s an episode for that. Crush? There’s an episode for that. Bad exam? There’s an episode for that.
I used to watch Rory’s debate episode to psych myself up for my own debate tournaments, and I watched Rory’s high school graduation episode three times on the day of my own high school graduation. Though, unlike Rory, on the day of my high school graduation, I had five separate panic attacks. The worst of which left me screaming and crying in the car while my parents were trying to park.
In my 19 years, I have been diagnosed with panic disorder with %%EtFneHefub%%, generalized anxiety disorder and major depression that would later turn into bipolar II. Rory never dealt with any of these things. Lorelai never dealt with these things. No one in the show ever dealt with any mental illness. So, last spring when I was going through my second episode of depression and I turned to my usual counselors, I couldn’t find anything.
Watching “Gilmore Girls” was part of both of my safety plans, but when I looked for episodes that related to my own life, no one in the show was ever self-harming. No one in the show ever grappled with suicidal thoughts and actions.
Rory had anxiety over tests and the future but never an anxiety disorder. Paris at times exhibited symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorder, but those came and went and were assumed to be quirks. Lorelai and Rory never had depression, but after a breakup, they spent the day in bed or wallowed with ice cream. Rory, Paris and Lane all drowned their sorrows with alcohol but never frequently enough to be considered alcoholism.
The show was a drama. Yes, it had many comedic elements, but it is not wholly unreasonable to expect one of Stars Hollow’s citizen’s to be dealing with mental illness. It’s not unreasonable to expect one of Rory’s peers at an ivy league institution to face depression, even if it is for a single episode. Richard was in the hospital twice. For all the roaming of the hospital grounds, did they never run into the psych ward?
I didn’t realize how much representation mattered in movies and television until I was sick. Until I was suicidal and seeking guidance and I just couldn’t find any. It wasn’t just “Gilmore Girls,” but all my favorite shows seemed to lack characters with mental illness. In “Veronica Mars,” the main character was raped at a young age, but she didn’t exhibit any true signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (even though PTSD rates are some of the highest among sexual assault survivors.)
In “30 Rock,” the closest they came to mental illness was the character, Jenna, with narcissistic personality disorder, but it was never named or addressed other than making it a joke. In “Full House,” anorexia and over-exercising/eating disorders are rushed through in one episode. Yet, it never covers the complexity of the illness. Similarly, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” rescues someone who is suicidal by simply telling him he isn’t alone, and he shouldn’t kill himself. Yet, she didn’t acknowledge him after this or make the conscious effort to befriend him or ask him to join the Scoobies.
When mental illness is addressed, it didn’t feel real. For example, it doesn’t seem like the writers ever asked someone with an eating disorder or self-harm what it was like in “Gossip Girl.” In “Grey’s Anatomy,” there is an insistence that Meredith seems suicidal (and her mother had attempted suicide.) As much as I love “Criminal Minds,” every other episode feels like it is name dropping mental illnesses. Their approach will only further the general population’s misunderstanding and fear of people with mental illnesses.
It wasn’t until after my hospitalization and first episode of mania that I found two shows that represented mental illness accurately. Both were comedies that spoke openly and earnestly about living every day with mental illness.
“Lady Dynamite” stars Maria Bamford, who struggles with bipolar II. After a public breakdown and hospitalization, her character was returning to her life and trying to put the pieces together as best she could. I found this show right after my own diagnosis of bipolar II, and I distinctly remember a joke about not being able to stop cleaning. I felt this rush of relief. I remember thinking, “I did that too. I’m not alone.”
The other show is “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which stars Rachel Bloom, a lawyer struggling with depression. When she runs into an old boyfriend and hears he’s moving back home because it’s such a wonderful town, she decides to move there too. Her character is open about her severe %%f8tdPM6y6w%% and depression, but still confident that she made the right choice.
As remarkable as those shows are, they don’t perfectly represent mental illness. They feature successful, white women. One of the shows focuses on the more “accepted” mental illnesses. Even though I absolutely adore these shows and took solace in their honest writing, people who never faced mental illness might be and sometimes are turned off by them. What I interpret as a reasonable response, the average person sees as entirely fictional and dismisses it immediately, continuing the stigma.
That’s why I wish there were accurate portrayals of mental illness in shows meant for everyone. “Gilmore Girls” reached so many people, especially with its Netflix revival. If there had been a well-constructed character with a mental illness, then it would have only chipped away at the stigma surrounding mental health.
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Image via Gilmore Girls’ Facebook page.