Why I'm eternally grateful for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Before we get started, I should issue a disclaimer: I’m sure there’s more than one man out there who refers to me as his “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”. Sure, I’ve never moved across the country to follow a man I dated ten years ago and then bumped into in the street. I’ve also never mailed my poo to anyone, nor have I pretended to be a ping-pong champion. But I haven’t always been entirely sane when it comes to relationships, either. For years, like Rebecca Bunch, I was all about the love kernels.
And if I’m honest, there should be a second disclaimer here: like Rebecca Bunch, I have a history of mental illness. For me it’s anxiety and depression – for her, her diagnosis is borderline personality disorder.
We’re nearly done with the admin, I promise. But first, a final disclaimer: we both have heavy boobs.
That’s not actually relevant, but I really like that song.
After that, though, our stories diverge rather. I’ve never tried to burn down a boyfriend’s house. I’ve never engaged in any low-level breaking and entering in a quest to help a friend win a baking contest. I have obsessively net-stalked an ex’s new girlfriend, but hasn’t everyone? I’ve definitely never ordered a hit on a new girlfriend on the dark web, mind.
So yes, Rebecca and I aren’t really all that similar, but my God I’m glad she exists. Because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is just about the only TV show I’ve ever seen that talks about mental illness and doesn’t make me feel like a total and utter freak for having one myself. It treats Rebecca, and her illness, with warmth, and affection, and a great deal of humour.
Take, for example, the just-concluded third series: it’s featured a suicide attempt, a total breakdown, intensive psychiatric treatment, relationship collapses, stalking, and the potential for a great big long prison spell. Sounds absolutely bloody hysterical, doesn’t it?
It is. I promise you. It really is.
Because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t treat Rebecca’s mental illness as the be-all-and-end-all of her personality and existence. It’s not a destructive force that there’s to ruin her life forever and ever amen. It hasn’t sucked all joy and humour out of her existence and replaced it with a gigantic void of darkness and despair – even if some of the early episodes portrayed downward spirals so perfectly that it physically hurt me to watch.
It’s there, and she doesn’t shy away from it. But the show – and Rebecca herself – also aren’t afraid to play her mental state for laughs. Worried that your personality disorder means you can never form a healthy relationship? Sing a crazy catchy song about getting a buttload of cats! After all, humour’s one of life’s great coping mechanisms.
But it’s not all hilarious puppets and feline dance moves. As anyone who’s ever been diagnosed with a mental illness knows, as well as a buttload of cats, there can also be a buttload of stigma. So of course Rebecca initially rejects her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder – after all, the internet tells her it’s a Bad Illness. Not one of the sexy mental illnesses, like a sexy French depression.
Or like whatever the version of her in the long flowing dress has in the opening credits.
Because those season three opening credits lampoon the common view of women with a mental illness perfectly – there are the sexy, intriguing illnesses that make women crazy in bed, and there are the bad illnesses that make them smash car windscreens and cause rappers to be rude about them. No middle ground, no plodding along living a mostly happy and uneventful life. You either do, or don’t, want to be crazy.
Unless, that is, you’re the Rebecca of the season three finale. In which case, you’re finally coming to accept that you can’t blame everything on men, or your parents, or the underlying issues that it turns out you do need to address. For, despite what season two’s theme song claimed, Rebecca can be held responsible for her actions. Because she isn’t just BPD. She’s a hell of a lot more than that.
She’s also clever, inventive, funny, and a damn good singer. She’s someone who does bad things, and good things, and things that sit somewhere in the middle. She does them, not her illness.
And man, does she sing some great songs along the way.