Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a TV show that started running in America in 2015. It only recently became known to me because it was put on Netflix and a few of my friends were watching it. To be honest it came up as suggested a few times but I ignored it, assuming it would just be another rom com about a girl trying to get back with a boy and eventually doing just that. What Crazy Ex Girlfriend actually is, is an exploration of relationships from the perspective of Rebecca Bunch. The protagonist struggles with her mental health and coping with the effects on her every day life. Her story is told through comedy, musical numbers and some intense moments. In season 3 Rebecca Bunch is diagnosed with BPD, borderline personality disorder. As someone with that diagnosis, I generally think they do it as well as possible. Comedic musical theatre TV is, I imagine, a difficult genre to cover a series mental illness so let’s allow some artistic licence. That being said there are still some parts of the show that made me cringe.
What I think was done well –
- Ok, so I’m kind of starting at the end here, but this is the part of the show that made me think “I’m so glad they did this.” When Rebecca Bunch googles BPD the show goes into the answers you find on google about the illness. It shows the characters response to these (and it was exactly the same as my response). It shows on the screen how when you google BPD, the internet will tell you that those who suffer are unstable, manipulative, untreatable and 10% will eventually kill themselves. The show talks about how misunderstood the illness is, and even follows the googling scene with a scene from a Rebecca Bunches therapist, talking about how the internet is full or misguided and uneducated information on the subject. I’m so glad this was addressed, stigma and BPD is a massive issue, and this raised it as just that.
- Can we just praise the show writers for actually using a BPD diagnosis. This is hardly ever done in TVs and film. If you google shows about depression, anxiety, bipolar etc, a lot of films are suggested (I’m not saying they are correct in doing so, or that they are accurate, or that they haven’t caused damage and stigma in themselves). If you google shows about BPD, you get a list of 1, Girl Interrupted, the rest of the lists consists of fans that have suggested certain characters have the illness but it’s never mentioned. So just using the diagnosis, giving it a name and talking about its symptoms is amazing.
- The instability of BPD mood changes fits in perfectly. I’ll admit in the beginning it annoyed me, I felt like the show didn’t portray how long it can take to get over small events and how debilitating it could be. However the nature of TV is that things are resolved in an episode, which fits perfectly with BPD. In an episode of the show we can see a full mood cycle, which is how quick mood cycles can be in real life. It also showed how the little issues that caused instability build on each other if they are not dealt with correctly and how catastrophic that can be.
- The show explores moods other than depression. BPD is not mood changes between depression and “normal” it’s also anxiety, hyperactivity, over excitement, impulsiveness etc. Rebecca Bunch is a character that experiences all of these things. The show explores them, there impact and how characters deal with them.
- A massive symptom for most people with a Bpd diagnosis is fear of abandonment. This is the focus of the whole show, and it shows how different breakdowns in relationships can influence mood, or how successful relationships can heighten moods.
- The show makes reference to anxiety, delusions and disassociation. I particularly love the idea of Rebecca’s anxiety manifesting itself as a hallucination of her younger self. I also love that the show didn’t chicken out of this and made it obvious that it wasn’t just a dream or staying in Rebecca’s head but was actively effecting her ability to function and the other people around her.
The show picks up on some of the small issues that generally get missed and go untalked about. In fact the whole are of BPD is often a silent one with little discussion in culture and media. This show is a step forward, it’s hilarious, brave, entertaining and educating. Also, Rachel Bloom, the actress playing the protagonist is one of the best I’ve seen, both in her comedy and in the depth of the character, she also helped create and produce the show, so you know, genius all round.
That being said, there are some issues I have with the show.
- Paula – Paula is Rebecca’s best friend throughout the show and although I love her on an entertainment level I have some issues with how she is portrayed. It is very clear that Paula has some faults, she’s not perfect, non of us are, but she is displayed as a positive and helpful person. This is where I disagree, Paula feeds into Rebecca’s behaviour and struggles to see it is unhealthy until a while into the show. In fact, as someone with BPD I relate to a lot of Paula’s actions and feelings, maybe even more so than Rebecca’s. The need for approval, need for excitement and the need to try and make everyone happy are all things that can also be part of BPD. If someone asked me for advice on a similar friendship I would be encouraging them to limit the influence of that person.
- The lead up to diagnosis, if you’ve not seen the show, before the event that leads to diagnosis everything is chaotic. Rebecca does some, well as in the title of the show, crazy stuff. I felt like this went too far, obviously there’s always going to be an entertainment aspect to a show, but watching the things Rebecca did left me in a panic of “people are going to watch this and think that’s how we actually behave. ” Although everybody’s illness is different, people with BPD are generally not stalkers, kidnappers, threatening or prone to psychotic laughing while standing outside someone’s house.
3. Now, I am not one for being adamant that recovery language is the only way we should speak to each other. If I want to call myself crazy, I will. If that’s how I talk about myself or how someone else who struggles wants to talk about themselves as a way to cope that’s also ok. If someone else wants to refer to me as crazy, that’s not Ok. Essentially that is what the title of the show does, by calling it Crazy Ex Girlfriend and then diagnosing, it insinuates that those with that diagnosis are crazy.
Finally, I wanted to separate this point because I believe it is a general issue with Netflix and other streaming sites rather than just the show itself. I found parts of the show difficult to watch. Not in a stereotypical triggering way but in a “this show is so close to home it’s sending me into my own panic” kind of way. I saw so much of myself in Rebecca’s character that it sent me into similar thoughts stemming from ‘that’s so accurate, I probably am going to be alone forever’ and ‘it’s true I have no idea who I am without that certain person as well.’ And ‘what am I doing with my life, maybe I should run away.’ In fact on the back of watching the show I applied for loads of different jobs all over the country and googled how much I’d need to save to be able to run away and start again in my own search to be happy. As dramatic as that all sounds, that’s the nature of the impulsivity, thought spirals and emotion changes of the illness the show is dealing with. Yet there’s no warning on the shows description, there’s no indicator that it may be triggering or that the show deals with a serious mental health issue, or that the show may touch on sensitive areas. Come on Netflix!