The gist: When I first saw Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I had never seen mental illness portrayed so accurately in a comedy before. Here's how watching Rebecca accept and navigate her own mental illness helped me do the same.
"This is what happy feels like. This is what happy feels like," Rebecca whispered to herself frantically on the streets of Manhattan, trying to get down a pill for her panic attack.
It was that moment, minutes into the pilot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, that I realized I was watching something special.
I felt SEEN.
Do you know how many times I'd escaped to a quiet part of the city to deal with my own freak-outs?
There she was, panicking and trying to convince herself she was okay, just like me.
How Crazy Ex-Girlfriend inspired my mental health acceptance
I wasn't really sure why I felt so pulled to that specific scene at the time, or how much time I've spent trying to do that myself.
But over the past four seasons of this show and the years since it ended, as the show and Rebecca herself have acknowledged and accepted Rebecca's own mental illness, I've been able to do the same with my own.
I really, really don't think this could have been done without that wonderful, wacky, brilliant show.
Before it, I'd always been deeply ashamed of my mental illnesses.
I'd known about them my whole life, and been addressing them with mental health professionals on and off most of that time, but I'd never really accepted them.
I viewed them as my main flaws, the main things preventing me from being normal or successful.
Years later, I have made so much progress.
My mental health still isn't great, but the mindset I approach it from is in a whole other world from the shame-filled, stigmatized place I was coming from before.
I don't need to "cure" them or "beat" them, which always seemed like a huge, insurmountable task. I can learn to live with them, like Rebecca Bunch is doing.
Now, I'm definitely not saying this is all because of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
I'm in therapy, I'm on medication, I “do the work.”
But that was all true before I found this show, too.
And I was still so lost.
All of that other stuff makes so much more of a difference now that I've truly accepted mental illness, and that happened because of this quirky show that finally showed me how normal (and musical!) mental illness is.
Here are just a few of the ways that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend really understood mental illness:
What Crazy Ex-Girlfriend got right about mental illness
How relieving it can be to have a diagnosis
For the first two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca didn't have a specific diagnosis other than anxiety. But in season three, the mental healthcare after a suicide attempt leads to a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
And how does Rebecca react? With a song and dance, of course.
All about the relief of finally understanding something that had been going on her whole life.
Take a look at the lyrics:
"For almost 30 years, I've known something was wrong,
But Mom said weakness causes bloating, so I tried to be strong.
Fake it till you make it, that's how I got by.
And when I tried to find the reason for my sadness and terror,
All the solutions were trial and error.
Take this pill, say this chant, move here for this guy.
But now there's no need for regret,
'Cause I'm about to get,
Anyone who's struggled with unanswered health problems can relate to that sentiment and the clarity and hope Rebecca feels in that moment.
It's a powerful moment that I still can't watch or sing without crying.
That a diagnosis is just the beginning
Rebecca's diagnosis comes in the middle of season 3 in a four-season show. In other words, while it did happen at the peak of the season, it wasn't a finale or a "happily ever after."
Her problems aren't all solved once she knows the name for what's behind them. Or once she has a prescription.
After her diagnosis, her mental health "journey" continues, and it's a long and winding one.
It's a series of two (tap) steps forward and two steps back. Breakthroughs and big ups followed by breakdowns and big downs.
But Rebecca continually makes an effort to heal herself, the relationships she damaged, and the community around her. She tries so hard to handle things better than she has in the past, she just doesn't always succeed.
The guilt and shame causes self-sabotage
Like I said before, Rebecca tries so hard. Sometimes too hard.
Driven by guilt, shame, anxiety, and the need to please the people she cares about, Rebecca continually becomes her own worst enemy when her efforts lead to self-sabotage.
One of the best examples of this is how Rebecca pushes Nathaniel away because she doesn't trust herself to be in a relationship because of how it's impacted her mental health in the past.
How mental illness can fuel productivity
The murky part of mental illness is how it can actually benefit you in an unjust society.
Whenever Rebecca's mental health wasn't doing well, she distracted herself by taking on projects. Whether directly career-related or not, this appearance of productivity is praised in our culture (until things go wrong).
Before she was in touch with her health, she was able to mask her pain and channel it into a high-paying, high-powered career.
When she was trying to get close to Josh, she starts a class action lawsuit against his landlord and exposes a city-wide corruption conspiracy. When she was trying to get revenge on Nathaniel, she staged a hostile takeover of a law firm.
Recognizing this conundrum can make it harder to divest from toxic mindsets and commit to healing, knowing that you're leaving behind some of society's approval as well. It's brave as hell.
The little moments
And it wasn’t just the “big stuff” about mental illness that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend got right. There were also so many little moments that felt SO accurate, things that wouldn’t even be recognized by someone who hasn’t been through them themselves.
- The urge to be the "teacher's pet" in therapy by doing all your therapy homework perfectly
- Turning to musical theater for coping, processing, and joy
- The way managing mental illness got easier with a strong support system
- How afraid Rebecca is to “be herself”
- Going through several bad therapist experiences before finding the right one
And although it’s not related to mental illness, I’m so glad someone is finally talking about the incredible annoyance of having heavy boobs!
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