My mental illness does not give you the right to label me ‘crazy’ ex-girlfriend
‘We are not a ‘failed’ project – it was not your job to fix us’
Dating with a mental illness (in my case, depression) is incredibly difficult. You fluctuate between a state of pushing and pulling the other person away. Depression is insidious like that. It sneaks its way into your mind and convinces you that you cannot be loved, that you don’t deserve the love of this person.
Yet, at the same time, it tells you that the only way you can go on is to be with your true love.
There is a habit ingrained within our society to label women who do not fit into our preconceived notions as “crazy.” Crazy by definition is deranged, unpredictable unnatural. Nowhere does this trend seem more apparent than in the archetype of the “crazy ex-girlfriend.” The term has seen some changes throughout the years, starting off as a descriptor of the clingy, love-crazed girl and evolving into a moniker for a woman who intimidates her male partner.
The obvious sexism of this term appalls me. It provides men a way to position themselves as inherently superior to their ex—they are the normal one, while their ex is unstable and unpredictable. This plays into the classic stereotype of women being too emotional and unable to think rationally, a notion that is frankly ridiculous. Gender has nothing to do with how emotional you are, and you cannot make assumptions about an individual’s personality solely based on their gender.
Lacey Johnson, founder of the Daily Doll, wrote that if you are called a crazy ex-girlfriend you should “wear it like a badge of honor.” She claims that, “Male or female…we’ve all exhibited some level of perceivably erratic or puzzling behavior at one point in time or another.” According to her, being called a crazy ex-girlfriend is normal and we shouldn’t be offended if we’re referred to that way.
Why should “crazy” be synonymous with being “human?” Why should we allow others to reduce our idiosyncrasies to a word so loaded with context that it ceases to be descriptive? Women are not naturally crazy, yet the word “crazy” has been associated with them for a long time.
Up until the 20th century, doctors diagnosed women with hysteria, which could refer to any set of symptoms from increased sexual desire to, as historian Rachel P. Maines describes it, emotional instability and “a tendency to cause trouble.” Mental health was used as a tool to control women, to mark those who deviated from the norm as “unhealthy” and mold them into what society wanted them to be.
Though hysteria is no longer considered a valid medical condition, mental health issues are still disproportionately associated with women. According to research from the National Institute for Mental Health, women are 50% more likely than men to develop a mood disorder, 60% more likely to develop anxiety, and 61% more likely to develop a severe mental illness.
The term “crazy ex-girlfriend” makes light of the serious issue of mental illness among women. It minimizes the way that women have dealt with the pressures of society, whether it be trying to not succumb to body shaming, or trying to lessen the wage gap, or managing reproductive rights. By throwing the term “crazy” around like it means nothing, you disregard the fact that there are real reasons that women’s mental healths are suffering.
When you refer to me as your crazy ex-girlfriend, you invalidate our relationship. You reduce the nights spent together, the secrets we shared, the deep conversations we had to a simple story of you “managing” me. You ignore the work that I did to try and get better, and the times that you stepped in to support me. You set aside the very real relationship that existed and, for a time, worked out fine. That part of the story does not change because you want to look like you are in the right.
We are not a “failed” project – it was not your job to fix us. To reduce us to a “crazy ex-girlfriend” is to disregard the work have done since the relationship. It ignores the ways I have improved, the ways I have gotten my life back on track since you left my life. Your term perpetuates a stigma which those with mental illness work every day to overcome. It disregards how most can maintain a relatively normal life, with or without a significant other supporting them.
You may get to shape the story of our relationship, but you do not get to shape my story.
“Do not tell me you are here to fix me, because you do not have the right to lay claim over all that I have broken and repaired within myself… I will not let you tell me that I still need ‘fixing.’” – Emma Bleker