Watching the Borderline: The Acute Pain of Being a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Fan With BPD
In season three, episode 11 of Rachel Bloom’s comedy/drama Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, there comes a therapy scene.
In that scene, Bloom’s character Rebecca – diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder - explains why she has to keep herself completely cut off from an intimate relationship.
“Rebecca, why do you think your feelings don’t matter?” the therapist asks.
“Because relationships do not work for me. I’m a slightly saner version of the person that I was, and I’m barely even holding on to that.”
“You need and deserve love. Why do you think you can live your life without intimacy?”
“Because I don’t want to die, ok? I’ve gotten better. I’ve progressed. But something will happen and… I know what I’m capable of when I feel abandoned. I can go to a really dark place, a place I can hurt myself, & I never wanna be in that place ever again.”
In one scene, the show crystallises what it’s like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder. In one scene, you see your life nakedly and terrifyingly play out on screen in front of millions.
‘Too much’. ‘Selfish’. ‘Intense’. ‘Unlikeable’. These are words we’ve all heard or said about people in our time, but they’re often repeated for BPD sufferers. And usually not from the same quarters, given the nomadic sense of attachment we form. Relationships build quickly and intensely, then disappear in a maelstrom of devastation.
The Priory’s website discusses the condition in the following way: “[Individuals] attempt to cope with emotional dysregulation in ways which are frequently harmful. Impulsive behaviors are common, including substance or alcohol abuse, indiscriminate sexual behaviour, reckless spending, risk-taking, self-harm and para-suicidal behaviour. Impulsive behaviors frequently lead to ending of friendships and relationships and loss of employment. Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may enter a harmful cycle of engaging in the above behaviours leading to intense shame and guilt which leads to further unhelpful attempts to soothe their emotional pain.”
Undiagnosed, you are that archetypal Crazy Ex Girlfriend that everyone talks about. With the right assistance, you realise you’re simply at the mercy of a merciless condition.
Rachel Bloom’s portrayal of the condition is, on the surface, a feat that shouldn’t have been possible. It lures you in under the guise of a comedy and pulls the rug from under your feet with a constant reassessment of its protagonist.
I remember beginning to watch the show in 2015, mere months before my own diagnosis. Back then it was harmless, a TV show to enjoy, but with the phrase “I see so much of myself in her” having more weight than usual.
By season two, once I’d begun my own treatment, Rebecca’s web of lies and extreme behaviour started to feel uncomfortable. Not because she became more and more of what people would call a ‘monster’, but her decisions started to make sense. I could see where she was heading, a broken mirror of my own addictions and abusive relationships, and once again I could do nothing to stop it.
And as she careened through situation after situation, manipulating her friends or concocting schemes for the sake of love, the culmination was just as familiar. An attempt, an overdose, that feels like a much more acceptable option than living with a pain so crippling that even basic movement seems an achievement.
And her eventual diagnosis itself? Unsurprising, but still a gut punch that changes the landscape forever.
Living with BPD means trying to regulate your emotional polygraph, which is infinitely more sensitive than a neurotypical human. It can take one big incident or several small ones to send it haywire; all sense of balance goes out of the window, the loss of control induces panic, and it can take a variety of unpredictable elements to restore stability again. This can happen in just a few seconds, but those few seconds can completely destroy the world around you.
The way I’ve chosen to deal with it over the past couple of years is how Rebecca describes it to her therapist. The danger to one’s own mental health and well-being mean you begin to deny any emotion that may lead to an extreme.
Of course, to think of a life without any of that is folly. Anger comes with the speed of a bullet train, ablaze and happy to grant destruction to whatever lay in front of its track. Heartbreak results in grief that knows no measure, that no amount of preparation can stifle. Patterns repeat, with the only constant being the person and the condition that results in this desolation.
Another website describes the condition as “great strain on relationships. Sufferers often shift from great admiration to intense dislike of friends, family and loved ones. Their unpredictable behaviour makes it difficult for people to understand them and be supportive. Adding to complications is the fact that many BPD sufferers are scared of abandonment. This negative thinking can lead to an excessive dependency on others. Sufferers are more likely to make frantic attempts to avoid being left on their own.
“Alternatively, BPD can make sufferers feel like people are overcrowding or smothering them. This too can lead to fear and anxiety that trigger more negative behaviours. However in this situation sufferers tend to push people away rather than cling on to them. Typical behaviour involves emotionally withdrawing from social situations, rejecting others or being verbally abusive. Along with feeling misunderstood, bored and empty, BPD makes it incredibly hard for sufferers to maintain healthy relationships.”
With so many negative traits listed, the difference between self-pity and self-awareness is forever hard to discern. More often than not, it is hard not to put the being in the centre at fault.
‘Too much’. ‘Selfish’. ‘Intense’. ‘Unlikeable’. Those are the words I now see when people describe Rebecca on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. They sting even more because they detail the parts of her personality that are also mine, the words that people use to remind you that not everyone will understand. Not everyone has the reserves or capacity for acceptance and being able to differentiate between a personality and a personality disorder.
Rebecca and I have reached the same point in our lives now, in that we don’t know where our BPD is going to take us next. You flit from incident to incident not knowing where BPD leaves you, but aware that it will never, ever leave you.
Watching the show now will become a nervous experience. In the absence of a handbook on how to deal with a friend suffering from BPD, it has become a boon in referral. And its future becomes more crucial given there are three outcomes that I can see before me.
One, the Hollywood tint that may see Rebecca resolve all her issues, embrace love again while being surrounded by supportive family and friends who know how to both stave off her episodes and deal with them at their absolute worst. People Rebecca somehow learns not to isolate.
Two, she pulls away from everything and starts a new life somewhere. Away from West Covina, away from London, away from places that sail on the shallow waters of missed connections. She takes with her all the lessons learnt but none of the people, trying to forge a new future on her own. She is happy but autonomous, forever aware that letting just one person in could spell the end – a compromise she is never willing to make.
Or there’s option three. In this scenario, Rebecca’s own behaviour and constant psychological battle means she unwittingly drives more and more people away, both on screen and from the sofa. Rebecca’s life and potential are ended by her own doing, by the weight of her own mistakes, before she’s truly been given a chance to shine.
My own journey through this condition has largely been a bright learning experience, but every so often come acute reminders that some things never change.
And although even my own writing on Medium over the years still remain a testament to how great things can be, the second anniversary of my diagnosis – like the good management of anything in life – requires a sobering balance. A reminder that for every Rebecca, there is an Adeel. And we both still need your understanding and support more than you think.