I had to take a break from the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. I normally alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction books, so after six novels in a row from the WP longlist, my brain was craving something other than literary fiction. How To Be Fine seemed like the perfect book for the occasion. Written by the co-hosts of the By The Book podcast, How To Be Fine is a reflection on the authors’ experiences living by the rules of various self-help books.
The book: How To Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg & Kristen Meinzer Genre: Non-fiction/self-help Rating: 4 stars out of 5
On a technical level, How To Be Fine is very readable. The writing style is casual to the point that it sometimes feels like hearing a story from a close friend. As a fan of the podcast that inspired How To Be Fine, this writing style worked for me – but if I had picked up this book without ever having listened to an episode of By The Book, I might have found the writing underwhelming.
Structurally, the book is easy-to-follow. It is divided into three sections: what self-help advice worked for Kristen and Jolenta, what didn’t work, and the topics that they wish more self-help books covered. My favorite insights from the first section were Kristen’s philosophy that being an optimist and being an activist actually go hand in hand (she argues that as an optimist, she is hopeful that her activism will amount to something), and the exploration of what a good, meaningful apology entails. Despite containing interesting insights, though, I felt that the first section of the book was bit too long (Kristen and Jolenta detail 13 pieces of advice from self-help books that improved their lives, when 8-10 probably would have sufficed).
In the second and third sections (what didn’t work, and what the authors wish more self-helps books talked about), How To Be Fine really shines. In the section on what advice didn’t improve their lives – or in some cases actually had detrimental effects – Kristen and Jolenta explore how some books written under the guise of self-help seem more like covert marketing tools for authors trying to become famous “lifestyle gurus,” and how the term “self-help” has unfortunately been co-opted by influencers and consumerism. In the section on what advice they wish more self-help books included, Kristen and Jolenta talk about body positivity, acknowledging and accepting all of one’s feelings (even anger, which many self-help books apparently demonize), and the benefits of seeing a therapist. I thought that both the second and third sections provided excellent commentary on the limitations of self-help books, and that the third section nicely complemented the second by offering healthy alternatives to some of the unhelpful – or even toxic – advice that is perpetuated under the label of “self-help.”
Another thing that I appreciated in How To Be Fine was the authors’ transparency. Both Kristen and Jolenta seem to present themselves in all of their complexity. From eating disorders to financial struggles to cruel and unsupportive family members, neither Kristen nor Jolenta pretends to “have it all figured out” or be perfect. Because the authors present themselves in a way that seems authentic, their advice also comes across as genuine.
Overall, I really enjoyed How To Be Fine. The book is a quick and easy read that strikes a surprisingly nice balance between praise and criticism of self-help books. Additionally, the authors present themselves in a way that feels authentic and responsible (although I am likely biased by the fact that I listen to the authors’ podcast, which inspired this book). This book was the exact type of fun – yet not superficial – read that my brain needed after six literary fiction novels in a row.
The book: Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis by Ashley Peterson Genre: Non-fiction Rating: 5 stars out of 5
After reading Psych Meds Made Simple, I read author Ashley Peterson’s other (and more recent) book Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis. From Goodreads:
“Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis aims to cut through the misinformation, stigma, and assumptions that surround mental illness and give a clear picture of what mental illness really is.”
I loved Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis for many of the same reasons that I loved Psych Meds Made Simple. First of all, the book is very well-structured. The introductory chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the book, which makes the book easy-to-follow from the get-go. Also, for many of the illnesses that are described in the book, not only are their official criteria for diagnosis listed, but there is also an excerpt about the illness written by somebody who has actually been diagnosed with it. These personal excerpts depict what living with psychiatric illness is like, and how mental illness can affect peoples’ day-to-day lives. I absolutely loved the contrast between the matter-of-fact criteria for diagnosis juxtaposed against such deeply personal passages.
Also, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis does a great job of de-stigmatizing mental illness. By sharing the official criteria for diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, author Ashley Peterson illustrates the difference between how people use terms colloquially (e.g. “I’m such a neat freak, I basically have OCD”) and what those terms actually mean. And by including passages written by people who have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, we get to hear voices and perspectives of those who suffer from mental illness in their own words.
With a book like Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, the temptation to diagnosis people (yourself or others) is very real. But at several points throughout the book, the author reinforces the point that psychiatric diagnosis can only be made by a highly trained clinician. This is so important and responsible, and it one of the things that I love most about the author’s writing! She synthesizes complex and nuanced information, and puts it into a concise, digestible format…and then she reminds the reader that the information is, in fact, very nuanced and not meant to be mis-applied.
Overall, Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis was an informative and eye-opening read. My favorite thing about it was getting to hear many unique perspectives that I probably wouldn’t find elsewhere. I recommend this book to anybody who suffers from mental illness, knows someone with who suffers from mental illness (pretty sure we all do), is interested in psychology, or wants to hear the perspectives of those who experience the world in a different way.
The book: Psych Meds Made Simple by Ashley Peterson Genre: Science non-fiction Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Last month, I read Psych Meds Made Simple, a short non-fiction book that explains the science behind common psychiatric medications. I found this book through the Mental Health @ Home Blog. MH@H is one of my favorite blogs – I especially love Ashely’s science advocacy posts – so when I saw that the author had published a book, I was interested to read it.
The objective of Psych Meds Made Simple is to make “pharmacology accessible” to those who might not have a background in chemistry (or any science, in general), and it wildly succeeds in doing this. The book is structured in a way that eases the reader into the science of pharmacology: the first few sections of the book provide background information that act as building blocks for understanding the rest of the book. The explanations given are scientifically sound, but never more complicated than they need to be.
Not only does the author do a great job at making the science of pharmacology accessible, but she also de-stigmatizes psychiatric medications throughout the book. At several points in the book, she explains why most psych meds are not addictive (despite so many of them being stigmatized as such). And in her descriptions of different psychiatric medications, she sticks to the facts that are known about them: what neurotransmitters do they interact with, what side effects do they cause, what is a typical dosage, etc. By sticking to the facts – as opposed to opinions that place subjective value on actions – Peterson keeps her book judgment-free.
The above paragraph does NOT mean – however – that the book blindly promotes any and all psychiatric medications. There are some medications that seem to be effective for specific illnesses, but the science behind them is unclear. And while most psych meds are not considered addictive, some do have addictive potential. Where either of these facts are true, Peterson is transparent about it. Furthermore, she states throughout her book that medication is not meant to be an entire treatment plan for psychiatric illness. Instead, she emphasizes that medication can be used as part of a bigger-picture wellness plan – but a part that can provide real symptom relief and aid in recovery.
Overall, Psych Meds Made Simple was a great read. Author Ashley Peterson cares deeply about providing readers with non-judgmental, science-based information, and her writing reflects that. In a misinformation-riddled society that deeply stigmatizes mental illness, Psych Meds Made Simple is a compassionate and scientifically accurate breath of fresh air.
The book: Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb.
After reading two novels involving characters overcoming trauma through therapy, I decided to stick with the therapy theme, so I read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. The book is a non-fiction account of Lori Gottlieb’s insights on humanity that she gained both as a therapist, and a patient in therapy.
As I read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I was quickly blown away by Lori Gottlieb’s gift for story-telling. Gottlieb manages to take the journeys of actual patients from her therapy practice, and turn them into incredibly compelling and relatable stories. I binged this book the same way I would breeze through a fiction novel, but the plot was the true story of real peoples’ healing.
In addition to being compelling, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone was very well-structured. Gottlieb takes the journeys of four different patients, and alternates among their respective stories throughout the book. She also includes extensive details about her own experience in therapy, and her journey to becoming a therapist. This was effective, because it broke up the plot and built intrigue, while also allowing me to make connections between different individuals’ experiences.
Finally, I loved the way that Gottlieb explained psychological phenomena! She generally steered away from jargon, and when she did use technical terms it was just to define them in ways that a reader coming from a non-clinical background could easily understand. Some of Gottlieb’s explanations of psychological phenomena helped me understand myself better, and even challenged me to change the way I react to certain situations. In particular, her passage about how people often project their insecurities onto other people (or things) because it is easier than looking internally, challenged me to notice and work on this tendency myself.
Overall, I highly recommend this book! There is so much to learn from other peoples’ journeys through emotional healing, and Gottlieb writes about those journeys so compellingly. Through her explanations of psychological tendencies – and examples of these tendencies as demonstrated by her patients and herself – this book has the potential to be a life-changing read.
The bake: “therapy cake” (or fresh mint cake).
For Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, I decided to bake a cake inspired by my own experience in therapy a few years ago. When I left my therapist to move for grad school, she gave me a green stone as a goodbye gift, and when I think of her I often think of that stone. Inspired by my experience with her, and also inspired by the stone, I decided to bake something green and slightly earthy: a fresh mint cake!
To make the fresh mint cake, I used this recipe from My Name Is Yeh. I followed the cake recipe pretty closely (only substituting lime zest for lemon zest), but I baked the cake in an 8″ square pan instead of two 6″ round pans. I also frosted the cake with a homemade lime cream cheese frosting (instead of labneh and honey, as suggested in the recipe), and garnished with fresh mint leaves.
I was so pleasantly surprised by this cake. It could have been hit or miss, but it was definitely a HIT! The cake is sweet and minty (the mint flavor really comes through!), while the frosting is deliciously tart. It is also not too rich or heavy, because it uses olive oil (as opposed to butter) as its source of fat. My fiance brought the cake to work yesterday, and it was gone by 11:00AM. I’m seriously considering baking this cake again tomorrow to bring to my neighborhood potluck. Anyway – this cake was surprisingly delightful! It nicely pays tribute to the book (and the individual) that inspired it, and I also found the process of making it to be *therapeutic.*
The book: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Last month, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The novel’s title character, Eleanor, lives a regimented and lonely life without realizing that anything is wrong: she goes to work and prepares healthy meals during the week, and enjoys pizza, wine, and vodka on the weekends. When Eleanor saves an elderly man’s life with the help of her coworker Raymond, the three of them become friends, enriching Eleanor’s life with positive social interaction for the first time in years. As the novel progresses, Eleanor’s formerly-mundane life is permanently changed by her friends, who look out and want the best for her.
I absolutely loved reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The book somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between hilariousness and darkness. Having spent so many years without social interaction, Eleanor lacks the ability to read social cues, and often says outrageously blunt things without realizing that she is being offensive. Although Eleanor’s lack of filtering is often funny, it never feels like she is the butt-end of a joke. In fact, there are scenes where Eleanor’s coworkers do make fun of her, and those scenes come across as slightly sad rather than funny.
Additionally, author Gail Honeyman goes deeper than just portraying Eleanor’s bluntness as a humorous tic. Throughout the novel, Honeyman provides glimpses into Eleanor’s traumatic childhood, allowing the readers to understand that while Eleanor’s social skills are in some ways amusing, they are most likely coming from a place of pain. I loved this development, because it teaches that peoples’ unusual or unsettling treats generally come from somewhere – and that we should be empathetic rather than dismissive.
The next two paragraphs contains mild spoilers, so read at your own risk!
What I loved most about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is that it eventually became a book about the real progress that can be made with therapy when people are willing to address their mental health issues. Eleanor’s time in therapy illustrates that opening up can initially be quite difficult, but that doing so can allow people to work through traumas, and better understand and improve themselves. The novel isn’t explicitly marketed as a “mental health book” – wisely so, I think – but it does ultimately take that direction, and it does so in a remarkably effective way.
I also loved how this book didn’t end with Eleanor getting into a romantic relationship! At the end of the book, it seems like romance could be in Eleanor’s future, but it is just as likely that her near future will be focused on friendship. I loved this ending, and the message that it carries: a romantic relationship is not the only type of “happy ending” a person can have. I wrote in a previous blog post that this message is starting to feel cliché, but a fellow blogger helped me realize that in today’s society, we really do still need this message to be reinforced.
Okay, done with spoilers.
If you couldn’t tell by the amount of times I used the word “love” in this post, I absolutely adored Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The novel portrays loneliness and lonely people in a very empathetic light, and also demonstrates how friendship and earnest introspection can improve peoples’ lives. The book is also pretty funny, yet it never feels like it is making fun of Eleanor’s social skills or loneliness. There is a lot to be learned from this book, and I highly recommend it!
The bake: cheese scones.
For Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I decided to bake something referenced in the book. As Eleanor and Raymond become good friends, they regularly get lunch together at a local cafe, where Eleanor always orders a cheese scone and a frothy coffee. So in tribute to Eleanor and Raymond’s friendship, I decided to bake my own cheese scones!
For the scones, I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour, replacing the scallions with fresh basil (because that is what I had in my kitchen). I also included both of the optional ingredients (dijon mustard and hot sauce), because I thought they would give the scones more flavor. Overall, the recipe was pretty straightforward; the only complications were flouring the surface sufficiently to prevent the dough from sticking (scone dough is so sticky!), and shaping the scones.
These scones were lovely and flavorful! They turned out a bit flatter than I would have liked, but that is okay because perfection is not the purpose of my baking. I think other herbs besides scallions or basil would work in this recipe (rosemary comes to mind), so that might be something to experiment with in the future. Overall, these scones were a lot of fun to bake, and even more fun to eat. I ate one with a fried egg this morning; maybe tomorrow I’ll have one with frothy coffee.
Every month, I find myself writing “this past month has been crazy” – or something to that effect. Well…July was no exception! This month consisted of a 6-hour road trip to Pennsylvania, lots of wedding-planning activities, and a cross-country visit to California. Also, my fiancé and I adopted two cats! They are amazing and adorable and enrich our lives, but adjusting to life with them has certainly contributed to my “busy” feeling. The month also consisted of lots of reading (mostly because I spend virtually all of my commute-time reading now).
One of my friends used to joke with me that I don’t have “distinguishing tastes” when it comes to food…but based on this month’s book ratings, that may be true of books too! Or perhaps I just got lucky enough to genuinely love all the books that I read this past month. Something interesting about this month of reading is that three of the four books I read focused heavily on mental health. The Hate U Give was focused more on racism and police violence, but it still touches on mental health (although not explicitly), as the main character of the novel experiences trauma-induced anxiety. I love that mainstream media is portraying mental health issues in a normalizing and empathetic way.
While I did a lot of reading this month, I’ve lagged significantly on baking: I only completed bakes for two of the four books I read. For The Hate U Give, I baked red velvet cheesecake brownies inspired by Mrs. Rooks’ famous red velvet cake. For Queenie, I baked a vanilla bundt cake glazed with guava syrup. Bakes for Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Maybe You Should Talk To Someone are coming soon!
Books in progress/goals for August:
I’m currently reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and – WOW – it already lives up to its hype. I also plan to read Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg, as well as a non-fiction book called The Truffle Underground (which is about truffle mushrooms). I also might check out some of the books that made the Booker Prize Longlist (although I’m pretty turned off by the fact that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous didn’t make the list).
Blog posts I enjoyed…
I have to confess something: I have NOT been a good member of the blogging community this month. I read and responded to some bloggers’ posts this month, but I didn’t engage as meaningfully with other bloggers as I would have liked. I frequently skimmed other bloggers posts, reading and commenting on posts superficially rather than mindfully. I strive to do better in August.
A couple weeks ago, I read Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. The title character, Queenie, has just separated from her boyfriend of two years, and now must make sense of her life without him. Between her job at a national newspaper in London, some tense familial relationships, and several post-breakup rebounds, Queenie is flailing and struggling to figure out who she is (in a society that will so readily tell her exactly who they think she is).
Queenie was a refreshingly slow read, and by slow, I’m referring to the pace of the plot. The novel wasn’t exactly action-packed or overly dramatic, and I think that was the point. Rather than focusing on distracting action and external drama, Queenie spends most of the book focused on internal issues. I found this refreshing because, in an age of near-constant distraction, a novel stressing the importance of slowing down and focusing on yourself (and not just through capitalistic “self-care” rituals like face-masks) seems necessary. I love the message that prioritizing mental health is a story worth telling.
Between Queenie, The Pisces, and the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (both of which I have written about on this blog before), the topic of internal issues leading to problematic romantic relationships is almost (but not quite) starting to feel like a cliched trope. The topic isn’t cliched though: novels that show characters responsibly addressing their anxieties and traumas are important because they set a positive example for their readers, who may also be suffering from anxieties and traumas.
In addition to addressing mental health, Queenie also takes on sexism and racism. Throughout the novel Queenie is fetishized and objectified by white men, and there is also a scene where she goes on a date with someone who turns out to be a white supremacist. Both scenes demonstrate that sexism and racism are still pertinent issues in today’s society, and that they are intersectional.
Overall, I really enjoyed Queenie. The writing style is easy to follow, and the plot is interesting despite being a bit slow-paced. The novel addresses many topics that are relevant today – including mental health, sexism, and racism – in a really effective and compelling way. Also, many readers will probably identify with Queenie to some degree, because the experience of simply trying to find yourself in your early 20’s is so relatable.
The bake: vanilla guava bundt cake.
For Queenie, I wanted to bake something simple and elegant, that would also pay tribute to Queenie’s British-Jamaican heritage. These considerations all came together in the form of a vanilla guava bundt cake: the shape of the bundt pan makes the cake look elegant, the sponge base of the cake pays tribute to Queenie’s British nationality, and the guava flavor pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage (my friend from Jamaica told me that guava-based desserts are common there).
To make this elegant, British-Jamaican-inspired dessert, I baked this simple vanilla bundt cake from Delish (with one modification: I used vanilla oat milk instead of whole milk, in hopes of giving the cake extra vanilla flavor). I topped it with a guava glaze, which I just made by boiling sugar and guava juice into a simple syrup.
This is a very nice cake! My bundt pan has a sort of non-traditional shape, which makes the cake look elegant, and more complex than it actually is. The cake recipe is also really good, and baking it in a bundt pan makes the final cake slightly crisp on the outside while soft on the inside. The only downside to this cake was that the guava flavor wasn’t very strong; if I were to try this again, I’d probably soak the entire cake in guava syrup instead of just making an outer glaze. But that being said, this cake was still delicious.
Tomorrow, April 5th, at 9:00 AM EST, I will attempt to defend my Master’s thesis to my graduate advisor and committee members. With 112 pages spanning a comprehensive literature review, two scientific manuscripts, and way too many tables and figures, this thesis represents the entirety of my grad student career. If I successfully defend my thesis – if my committee members agree that the work I completed is sufficient to earn me the title of Master of Science – I will be done with this figurative chapter of my life, and move on to the next. I will move to Massachusetts, find a job, and get married to my fiancé of 1.5 years – most likely in that order. The end of an era – my life as a graduate student – is scheduled for tomorrow, April 5th. Incidentally, the season finale of my favorite television program of all time, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is also scheduled for tomorrow.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend tells the story of Rebecca Bunch (played by the insanely talented Rachel Bloom), a successful and seemingly put-together young lawyer who moves from New York City to West Covina, California in the hopes of reconnecting with a former summer fling. As she starts her young-adult life on the opposite side of the country, Rebecca finds meaningful new friendships and embarks on a quest toward true happiness.
From its brilliant original musical numbers to its surprisingly feminist messages, there is a lot to love about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Despite the seemingly sexist title of the show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actually deconstructs numerous tropes including sexist stereotypes. In many ways, especially at the beginning of the series, Rebecca does embody characteristics of the stereotypical, obsessive, crazy ex-girlfriend. As more of Rebecca’s backstory is revealed, however, we realize that the situation is a lot more nuanced that: behind Rebecca’s unhealthy and obsessive behavior is an unstable mental health which likely resulted from unresolved childhood traumas. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend candidly and responsibly explores these mental health issues throughout the series, showing that Rebecca is so much more than just a “crazy” overly attached girlfriend.
As the series progresses, other problematic cliches – including the female rivalry between Rebecca and Valencia (the girlfriend of Rebecca’s love interest, played by Gabrielle Ruiz) – are completely flipped on their heads. This isn’t to say that characters who initially seemed unlikable are revealed to be wholly amazing. In fact, most of the characters in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are often unlikeable: even at her best, Rebecca is usually self-centered; Paula (Rebecca’s best friend in West Covina, played by Donna Lynn Champlin), from her scheming nature to her reputation as the “office bitch”, is controlling; and Josh (Rebecca’s first love interest, played by Vincent Rodriguez III) is irritatingly oblivious. These blatant flaws make the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend frustrating, but also relatable and honest, and remind us viewers that people are nuanced. Instead of forcing characters into boxes or reducing them to caricatures, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend demonstrates that people are complex, and often fall into “gray areas” rather than discrete “black or white” categories.
In addition to flipping the script on sexist tropes and typical TV-drama cliches, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also de-stigmatizes taboo topics ranging from abortion to antidepressants. As I mentioned earlier, mental health becomes a major focus of the show. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the first television show I know of that so candidly portrays the experience of trying to overcome mental health issues. In season 4, episode 12, for example, after a year of attending individual and group therapy sessions, and so much personal growth, Rebecca backslides into certain unhealthy relationship patterns and reaches one of her all-time lows. She is able to recognize her mistakes and become more grounded, but it takes a lot of work. By exploring Rebecca’s mental health issues and healing process in depth, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sheds light on the often overlooked subject of psychological health, while also portraying those who suffer from mental illness in a realistic and sympathetic manner. Other “taboo” topics that are brought to the forefront of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend include: society’s impossible expectations of female beauty, bisexuality, and periods. (warning: the third video might make some people uncomfortable).
This brings me to my next praise of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: its original music is amazing. Like Rebecca herself, the songs of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are nuanced: I still catch new nuggets of gold every time I re-listen to my Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playlist (yes, I made a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playlist). A great example of this is the song “Dream Ghost,” which takes place when Rebecca falls asleep on a cross-country plane ride and dreams she is having a poignant conversation with her therapist Dr. Akopian (played by Michael Hyatt). In just two and a half minutes, “Dream Ghost” teases the trope of characters in predicaments having life-changing revelations in their dreams, respectfully parodies Dream Girls, and also becomes a commentary on sexism in the work place! And on top of that it is well-sung and catchy!
Most of all, though, what I love about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that it’s the first TV show in which I truly identified with a character being portrayed on-screen. While I’ve never uprooted my entire life to chase a love interest, or been in the center of a love triangle, I do see a lot of similarities between myself and Rebecca: we are both Jewish, we are both dorky and weird, we are both professionally successful (although that doesn’t necessarily make us happy), and we both try very hard to be balanced and happy despite struggling with mental health issues.
Seeing my own experiences reflected in the character of Rebecca Bunch has helped me come to terms with my past and present self. Although it’s hinted at from the show’s very beginning, it is eventually made explicitly clear that Rebecca’s obsession with romantic relationships stems from childhood trauma. Like Rebecca, I was relationship-crazy from an early age, almost always in a relationship or seeking one. Several of my past relationships have been unhealthy, and there is one relationship in particular that I cannot think about without feeling intense, spiraling shame…or that is, I couldn’t – past tense – until Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. When I first saw my own previous unhealthy relationship patterns portrayed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I felt embarrassed for Rebecca, and often found her relationship drama painfully uncomfortable to watch. As I watched Rebecca grow throughout the series, however, I gained empathy and respect for her…and for myself. Realizing how much I used to have in common with season-1-Rebecca made me realize that, like Rebecca, I haven’t exactly been dealt an easy hand in terms of mental health; but also like Rebecca, I am capable of growth and change so long as I keep putting in the effort. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend guided me to the revelation that our pasts are a part of who we are, but they don’t define us.
In addition to guiding me out of unhelpful shame spirals, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has helped me by role-modeling healthy relationship patterns and mature decision-making. No character on the show is portrayed as perfectly reasonable, and we frequently watch characters struggle to do the mature thing. But, generally speaking, the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend do eventually do the mature thing. I mentioned previously that some episodes show Rebecca backsliding into unhealthy behaviors, demonstrating how difficult it can be for those with mental health issues to make healthy decisions. But after the backslides come the…frontslides? After each backslide, Rebecca picks herself up, with admirable determination and the support of her friends. After experiencing agoraphobia in season 4, episode 2, Rebecca acknowledges her feelings of shame, makes peace with them, and is ready to stop isolating herself. After the aforementioned backslide of season 4, episode 12, Rebecca realizes that she’s out of control, and initiates a beautifully candid conversation with her psychiatrist to get herself back on a path toward good mental health. Other characters – Paula, Valencia, and Nathaniel come to mind – don’t backslide per se, but they still struggle with healthy relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional), and we see them grow and mature alongside Rebecca throughout the series.
After four spectacular seasons of smashing hack stereotypes, de-stigmatizing mental illness, role modeling healthy behavior, and producing some of the most amazing original music numbers of all time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend comes to an end tomorrow. Throughout the series we’ve watched Rebecca make impulsive decisions, behave selfishly, seek improvement, explore her passions, make meaningful friendships, and just…grow. I have no idea what the series finale has in store for Rebecca, but given the show’s theme of personal growth, I imagine Rebecca will follow whatever path is truly best for her (even if that path doesn’t involve choosing one of the three men pining after her). I would also guess that Rebecca’s ultimate decision will highlight the importance of self-acceptance and self-worth.
Unlike the fictional, four-season run of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, however, my very real three-ish-season run of graduate studies will not necessarily end on a poignant note. As I learned at my undergraduate commencement ceremony, and with some of the biggest accomplishments of my life (getting into graduate school, being recognized for academic achievements, and giving my last ever seminar as a grad student), hyped up life events are often underwhelming. I didn’t experience tremendous joy, relief, or revelation after giving my exit seminar earlier this week, and I don’t expect to experience them after my defense tomorrow, either (if my defense is successful, that is).
But even without any major revelations, and without new episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to guide me through an uncertain future, I can still strive to be the most sincere version of myself. I can take the example set by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and try my best to be aware, empathetic, realistic, and honest with others. I can make healthy and mature decisions, even if it sometimes takes a while to get there. I can continue putting in the work required to be fulfilled and mentally stable. And should I ever forget the lessons exemplified by the characters of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I can always re-watch their inspiring personal growth journeys. And by that I mean that I will absolutely be re-watching this beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing series.