What 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Taught Me About Mental Health
This post contains spoilers for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
In a recent Instagram post, Rachel Bloom, creator and star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” revealed that the show had started its first day of shooting its fourth and final season. This was much to the dismay of many fans (including myself) but, in Bloom’s defense, the story was only meant to fill four seasons and it would be better to end it on a good note than to continue it indefinitely until she runs out of ideas for storylines.
This being said, I am a “crazy” (pun intended) fan of this show. The songs, many of which Bloom writes herself, are funny, endearing and goofy. Despite her many pitfalls, Rebecca’s character is one that I not only have come to love, but also empathize with because of her struggles with mental illness.
Within the first few seasons of the show, there is evidence that Rebecca is more than the “crazy ex-girlfriend” archetype. She is an intelligent lawyer with a huge crush on a man from her past. She is bubbly and determined to get what she wants, and she is portrayed as someone with an untreated mental illness. The show reveals more about Rebecca’s past: how her father abandoned her, how her mother constantly compares her to her peers and pressures her to be the best, how she became obsessed with and stalked a former professor at Harvard, her alma mater.
As her problems continue throughout the show and the consequences of her actions become more and more dire, Rebecca decides to seek help and sees a psychiatrist who gives her a new diagnosis: borderline personality disorder (BPD).
BPD is rarely portrayed in the media in a comprehensive light, but Bloom does this wonderfully through her portrayal of Rebecca. While Rebecca is a lovable character who cares deeply about her friends and begins to find happiness after moving from New York City to West Covina, CA, she also exhibits very harmful behavior as a result of her condition. Bloom, however, finds a way to avoid using Rachel’s condition as an excuse for her sometimes toxic behavior. Bloom shows us that Rachel is able to grow into someone who can take her mental health into her own hands. Though she is far from perfect, Rachel becomes more self-aware of her behavior, seeks professional help as well as help from her friends and family, and surrounds herself with people who continually support her.
While I myself do not have BPD, I relate to many of Rebecca’s problems, like fear of abandonment, paranoia that my friends don’t care about me and continual mistakes that hurt myself and others I care about. The part of the show that struck me the hardest was Rebecca’s suicide attempt. In the third season, Rebecca hits rock bottom: she stalks her ex-boyfriend and vows to hurt him for leaving her at the altar. In the fourth episode of season three, Rachel goes missing and stalks Josh, hiding outside of his house in the bushes. She finds a way to enter his home while he and his family are asleep. Meanwhile, her worried friends search for her.
After finding her returning to her own home, her friends express their worry for her. Rachel takes their worry as judgment, fearing that they now demonize her for her behavior and are only worried for Josh’s safety. Her best friend, Paula, corrects her: they aren’t worried about Josh, they are worried about her. Their search for her was to ensure her own safety because they love and value her as a friend.
As a person who recognizes the toxic behavior that my anxiety and depression cause, I often fear this is also the case for my friends and loved ones. I fear that they may one day decide I am too much for them and they will abandon me. To see this heartbreaking sequence play out in front of me on television was one of the most validating things I have ever seen. It showed me that, no matter what, you have friends and family who care about you through your roughest patches.
But, instead of realizing that Paula is telling the truth, Rebecca lashes out, saying some very hurtful things to each of her friends before leaving for New York to move back in with her overbearing mother. Once at home, her mother catches Rebecca’s laptop with open internet tabs researching suicide techniques. She intervenes by smothering Rebecca with motherly love and by slipping anti-anxiety medication into her numerous milkshakes. Rebecca is hurt and disappointed after she discovers this and decides to return back to West Covina. On her return flight, Rebecca orders a glass of wine and begins to take prescription pills. She starts with one pill, then two and then the entire bottle. Instead of succumbing to her own death, however, Rebecca realizes that her attempt is a mistake and reveals to the flight attendant that she has overdosed in an attempt to ask for help. Because of this, she is able to receive the medical attention she needs and to recover from her overdose. She is greeted in her hospital room by her three best friends, Valencia, Heather and Paula.
I myself have never attempted suicide, but I have suicidal thoughts every so often and, like Rebecca, they are often triggered by fear of abandonment and an inability to forgive myself for my own actions. Though this scene was not easy for me to watch, I feel that it was important. It shows that Bloom can flawlessly use music and comedy to talk about mental illness, but does not shy away from the ugly side of it. She gives a three-dimensional picture of someone with BPD and its many symptoms while showing her growth as she becomes more self-aware and takes more responsibility for her own actions.
Watching Rebecca Bunch manage and overcome her own mental illness to become the best person that she can be is truly inspiring. It inspires me to reach out to my friends when I need to, to listen to my own body and needs, to recognize when my behavior is toxic and to accept responsibility for it, to apologize to my loved ones and myself and to forgive myself these things. Because of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show that makes me laugh, cry and squeal with delight, I have become more aware of what I can do to help myself become a better person in spite of my anxiety and depression. Through her wonderful show, Rachel Bloom has reminded me of something else almost equally as important: in my struggles, I am not alone.
Photo via Netflix