Haven’t seen the CW hit show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”? Don’t stop reading. Because this is either a chance to be convinced to watch it, or an opportunity to learn more about Borderline Personality Disorder through the power of lyrics. Consider it the DSM V for Dummies, a musical showcasing mental illness.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, featuring songs written by Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger and Jack Dolgen, and starring Rachel Bloom (indeed, she has done all three and is hence bestowed the title Queen of Everything). The show follows Rebecca Bunch, the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend who clearly struggles with mental health issues and in Season 3 is *SPOILER* finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Apologies for that reveal, but it is a relevant one for discussing the manner in which Bloom and the other writers have exceptionally captured the essence of this stigmatized disorder.
You’re thinking; so what, all mental health disorders are stigmatized! Indeed, mental illness remains a conflicted topic and considered taboo within conversation. But BPD is remarkable in the manner in which it is stigmatized even further within the scope of mental illness, by researchers, psychologists and laymen.
Here’s a little run down on BPD. Borderline Personality Disorder is often conflated with Bipolar Disorder, despite them being entirely different, mainly due to a lack of understanding or sympathy towards symptoms. BPD symptoms focus on fears of abandonment, an unstable sense of self, extreme mood shifts that can last several hours and self-harm or suicidal threats/behaviours. However, it is said that we learn best through song, so hopefully the following original songs from the series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can help you capture the essence of Borderline Personality Disorder and its symptoms. Learn more about symptoms of BPD in my other blog post!
1. You Stupid Bitch
(Season 1, Episode 11)
I have to start with the most relevant song - and a personal favourite- in case you stop reading quickly. This is the Crazy Ex- Girlfriend song everyone should listen to at least once, or you could be like me and put it on repeat whenever life feels rough or you wish to drown in self-loathing. For me and many others, this was the song that ensured I would continue watching, and highlighted Rachel Bloom’s dedication to make the show real and relatable. The song occurs after Rebbecca (played by Bloom) is caught in a web of lies by her crush Josh who becomes suspicious of her intentions and leaves.
Relation of the song to Borderline Personality Disorder? If I had to pick any song in history or even a chunk of text to accurately showcase the disorder, I would not hesitate for even a moment. The intense self-hatred this song focuses on, which ranges from her behaviour, her intentions and even her weight, is something BPD individuals suffer from constantly. The way she acknowledges that she is self-pitying, yet continues to engage in the behaviour. The names she labels herself - “a horrible, stupid, dumb and ugly, fat and stupid, simple, self-hating bitch” - mimic the dramatic cycle of self-abuse and dislike BPD individuals put themselves through daily. We are our biggest critic. Even more than that, the way this dramatic song has spiralled from a small situation conveys how someone with BPD will make one small mistake, or have a minor inconvenience, and allow it to ruin their entire day and self-image. Also she mentions that “Josh completes me”, signifying the importance other’s opinions and relationships play in someone with BPD’s image of themselves. They are incomplete without someone to love them and care for them, with a constant need to be fulfilled. This song not only shows BPD completely, but it is a shockingly accurate depiction of the mental tirade individuals with mental health issues experience daily at their own hand.
2. A Diagnosis
(Season 3, Episode 6)
I reached this episode and song when I was getting diagnosed myself, a kind of cruel irony that did provide me the luxury of seeing my disorder reflected on screen. Rebecca has struggled with mental illness for years, and after a dramatic turn of events (won’t spoil that one for you!) she is getting a new diagnosis. She doesn’t know that it is BPD, but Bloom ensured that even the song leading up to her diagnosis confirm it firmly.
At a surface level this song may seem like merely hope for what her new diagnosis and treatment could bring, the possibility to be understood and helped correctly. Most Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers have gone through various diagnosis’ or treatment plans by the time they are correctly diagnosed, just as Rebecca has- “they said anxiety, insomnia were my affliction. Find out why BPD is diagnosed late here. The naturopath said it was sex addiction.” Well, I’ve never been diagnosed with a sex addiction, but I have had my mental illness misjudged and mis-diagnosed. We all want to find our “tribe”, and fit in with a nice easy label. And that brings us to the deeper significance of this song, as the method in which Rebecca is searching for “an easy fix” is a common BPD coping method. Placing all your eggs in one basket, believing if you have or do a certain thing then you’ll be happy and okay. But sadly it isn’t that simple, and there is no “worries be gone” for BPD, just years of hard work and therapy - bummer!
3. I’m Just a Girl In Love
(Season 2 Theme Song)
Choosing one example out of the theme songs proved difficult, as they’re stuffed full of symbolism and ‘nuances’ reflecting Rebecca's journey - shown perfectly by the final reprise in season 4. But out of all Crazy Ex-Girlfriend theme songs, this one feels like the transcript of my mind when starting a relationship, or at least when I think I am. It mimics the late Busby Berkeley and involves Rebecca flanked by showgirls, in a kicky upbeat number.
Well, having a theme song devoted to the topic of being in love is already suggestive, as Borderline’s often focus their energy, time and resources into being in a relationship, setting it as the foundation for their sense of self. They rely heavily on their partner and fear losing them constantly, with a fear of abandonment driving them to extreme behaviours. This song further indicates that Rebecca defines herself by her partner, even when it makes her “adorably obsessed!”. They can view this obsession as proof of their devotion, spurring it further. Additionally, it shows the denial of BPD, believing you “have no underlying issues to address” and focusing on your partner as a solution for your troubles. As you can probably guess, breaking up with us is difficult.
4. Love Kernels
(Season 2, Episode 1)
Beyonce fans will hopefully register the Lemonade hints within this song, which focuses on Rebecca’s love for Josh and how she interprets small actions and gestures to represent his feelings for her. It contains one of the most meta references within the show, “this video ate up our production budget”. And indeed it did, with filming taking place on lavish sets as well as in the middle of a desert.
The way Rebecca accepts the smallest acts and phrases and turns them into declarations of love is indicative of the need BPD individuals have for attention and affection, as well as how they’ll accept anything they are given. Their relationships can be severely unbalanced, with them putting in far more effort than their partner and accepting less than their worth. Plus, a little BPD kernel (I couldn’t help myself!) that I spotted was Josh recommending she use a pillow under her knees - *cue pubescent giggles*. Individuals with BPD place a large focus on sex, and the importance of it, using it as the primary form of affection and security. We painfully witness Rebecca allowing herself to be used for sex and believing it will win his love, which is a lesson I think a lot of us have to learn, not only those struggling with BPD.
5. Oh My God I Think I Like You
(Season 1, Episode 17)
A song familiar to us all, when you’ve been seeing/ speaking/ screwing /stalking someone and then that familiar sensation enters your stomach. Not period cramps, not food poisoning, but worse. The feels! *Shudder*. Rebecca is currently partaking in a friends with benefits relationship with Greg when she begins to realise she is starting to fall for him, and is more emotionally involved in the pairing than he is - big surprise.
As mentioned previously, BPD women and men may use sex as a way to earn their partner, and that is exactly what Rebecca displays here. She continuously allows Greg to almost use her, and takes it to be love. Yet there is also inner conflict as she realises she is doing this, telling herself “this is just about sex!”. It shows how carried away we can get, and just like with “Love Kernels”, how we interpret small gestures or relationships to be more. Rebecca begins to picture them “getting married on a hillside, surrounded by ducks”, when they haven’t even had a discussion over whether they’re together. One minute someone is messaging you “WYD” at 2am, and the next minute you’ve named your three unborn children.
6. The Darkness
(Season 4, Episode 12)
This song was quite a hit to the gut for all of us watching and loving Rebecca Bunch, I don’t think I had cried like that since her Season 3 climax (no spoilers!)... except at her diagnosis, and her break up and her other break up and- and some of us need to lose touch with our feelings a bit... Rebecca has been ‘on the mend’, but not really, a common theme in mental health treatment. You assume the hard work is done, that because you attend a few sessions you’re ‘fixed’, but mental health treatment is a marathon, and sadly a life-long one. Rebecca comes face to face with “The Darkness” and addresses it personally during season 4.
This song was quite personal to Writer/Star/Amazing Human Rachel Bloom, given her personal struggles with Depression and Anxiety, and she describes seeing “The Darkness” as a way to describe her pain to therapists, to depict the heaviness that drags her down. I couldn’t agree more. BPD is accompanied by a fun bunch of extra mental health issues, and a primary one is Depression. Depression appears differently in all. To some of us, it is like having sunglasses permanently on, and looking around at everything slightly dimmed. It is this weight on your chest, making every task harder and everything seem hopeless. “Your kiss feels like a cut”, need I say more? Something this song captured perfectly was how you one comes to a point of almost enjoying the Darkness, finding comfort in it. Because it’s a feeling we become so familiar with, and understand more. We confuse it with who we are, and what our natural feelings would be.
7. No One Else is Singing My Song
(Season 4, Episode 1)
Talk about starting the final season with a bang! I won’t go into details regarding the plot, as I still hope some of you will read this and feel inspired to give this amazing show a go. But our three main singers here (Rebecca, Nathaniel and Josh) are singing about their loneliness, in unison. It’s a song about more than BPD, hence the addition of Josh and Nathaniel to the song, as the loneliness depicted is a universal feeling. The sensation of being out of balance with everyone else, feeling behind that you’re behind in your academic/ personal/ social life. We’re struggling through things no one else is - you don’t understand me, Mum!
Despite the universality, it is applicable here through being a theme that BPD individuals heavily struggle with. As I mentioned before, most people are diagnosed with personality disorders quite late given their shared characteristics with other illnesses. Meaning a lot of BPD sufferers have tried countless labels, medications, therapies and solutions before finding their truth. But even after an accurate diagnosis, it still feels like we’re always wrong. What we feel is wrong, what our mind tells us is wrong, everything we interpret is wrong. But it can often still feel like “no one else is singing my song”, that you’re always going at a different pace to all those around you, that you can’t enjoy the same things or react the right way. “You tried your best to make a change”, efforts can feel hopeless and despite your best intentions you can’t get things right. It often feels like “no one else is singing my song”, and that you don’t even want to.
8. We’ll Never Have Problems Again
(Season 2, Episode 10)
Ah, denial, my old friend. I think we’ve all experienced denial. Whether it is regarding the success of beginning that important essay the night before, or believing those extra tequila shots won’t end your night over a toilet bowl. Rebecca and Josh are together, and trying to prove that their “love is undying”, but are merely showing their extreme denial about relationships and each other. Despite trying my best to focus on the lexical choices and symbolism of songs, I simply must take a moment to mention their fabulous 70s funk outfits. Myself and a fellow Crazy Ex fan tried our best to find these online for our next Halloween costume… we were unsuccessful, so if you find any please do get in touch!
Denial. What more can I say? Denying you need help. Denying that you are the problem and others aren’t. Denying that you need, or deserve, treatment and a helping hand. The list could go on. We see people and relationships as black or white. A relationship with someone with BPD could easily be depicted as when everything is good, it is so good. And when it is bad, it is so bad. It’s never neutral, it’s never calm. When things go well, it truly feels like “we’ll never have problems again”. Rebecca mentions “no more nights of randomly crying,'' referring to mood fluctuations which are common for BPD sufferers, the days or nights when everything is wrong, and you have no idea why. The need to randomly cry, like a never ending period.
9. Rebecca’s Reprise
(Season 2, Episode 13)
Now this is where my list may differ to many others, as I don’t believe a majority would think to include this medley. But this compilation struck a chord with me, and from a musical standpoint I was taken away by the manner in which Rachel strung together several songs to make a graceful conclusion to season 2 - before shit hit the fan. I cried (yet again, honestly.) and wished Rebecca truly was getting her happy ending, whilst knowing deep inside that she wasn’t. Because she was still searching for that happy ending through others, instead of turning to herself. And because we had 2 seasons to go!
And that is the perfect summary of Borderline Personality Disorder. You look for happiness from all these external sources, believing losing weight, a new job, a good grade will do it. The next achievement will fill the gaping void, but it won’t. Everything good you get, only leaves you feeling more empty inside. When you depend on external sources for validation, you will never be validated, as there will always be more, and you will never be enough. “You’ve gotten everything you said you wanted”, only to realise you didn’t really want them. She searches for her parents’ approval, as if that will fix her past, present and future. And the saddest part is watching her do this, and knowing it will never be enough, for her and yourself.
Rachel Bloom hasn’t experienced Borderline Personality Disorder herself, but by using her years of experience with Anxiety and Depression, she has managed to replicate the emotions, thoughts and feelings of BPD strugglers using the character of Rebecca Bunch. She has drawn from emotions of loneliness, denial, self-hatred and more to give BPD strugglers something they needed so badly; to see themselves on screen. The “crazy ex-girlfriend” has something in common with all of us, and Rachel Bloom has succeeded in not only bringing this misunderstood disorder into the light, but has also humanized it.
To remove the stigma of mental illness we need to discuss it, not just in literature, but in conversations and media. We need to see it on our screens, and Rachel Bloom has given us the perfect beginning to this journey.
Would your choice of BPD realistic songs in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend differ? Or simply have a favourite Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song I haven't mentioned? Let me know in the comments!
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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