Source: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

Source: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

EPISODE 2 - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Guest: Meredith Talusan

Sandy chats with author, journalist, and editor Meredith Talusan about a show with power ballads about psychiatric diagnoses and soft-shoe dances about antidepressants, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. A transcript of the episode can be found below.


Meredith Talusan (she/they) is an award-winning author and journalist who has written for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, WIRED, SELF, Condé Nast Traveler among many other publications, and has contributed to several essay collections. She has received awards from GLAAD, The Society of Professional Journalists, and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. She is also the founding executive editor of them., Condé Nast’s LGBTQ+ digital platform, where she is currently contributing editor. Her debut memoir, Fairest, is forthcoming from Viking / Penguin Random House.



  • Esmé Weijun Wang’s essay “Who Gets To Be The "Good Schizophrenic"?” for BuzzFeed Reader looks at the unspoken hierarchies of psychiatric diagnoses and what it means to be the “right” kind of crazy.

  • If you’re interested in current conversations and debates around psychiatric drugs, check out Rachel Aviv’s recent piece in The New Yorker about the difficulties of coming off psychiatric medication, as well as Robert Whitaker’s critique of that same piece over at Mad in America.

  • Guest Meredith Talusan’s essay “Invisible Light Waves” was included in the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (edited by Roxane Gay!) If you haven’t already, you should absolutely pick up a copy from your local bookstore or public library. For more of Meredith’s writing, head here.

  • Listen to Sandy read and discuss “Treehouse Song,” their essay about being in mad, unrequited love (and almost losing an eye), on this episode of Andrea Silenzi’s podcast Why Oh Why?


MEREDITH TALUSAN: I feel like the burden — ”burden” is a difficult word. You know, like the responsibility and the duty to take care of your friends is really magnified in an American context because there’s no underlying sense of — of, like, large-scale community responsibility.


SANDY ALLEN: This is Mad Chat, a podcast where we analyze and discuss what our pop culture is telling us about madness and mental health. I'm your host, Sandy Allen. I'm a writer and an author of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia. And today I'm talking about a show that had 157 original musical theater numbers, including one that's just a dude singin’ about how much he likes apples: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.


TIM: (sung) I’m an apple man / I’m an apple man / No other fruit can do quite what an apple can...

SANDY: Anyway, before we go any further, let me reiterate a quick point about spoilers. We will be analyzing and discussing pop culture on this show, including sometimes matters related to plot. So if you are very concerned about not having the plot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend spoiled, I encourage you to finish bingeing the series — it's on Netflix and Amazon and I'm sure other places — before listening to this podcast episode.


REBECCA: (sung) West Covinaaaa / California!...

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a series that's been airing on the CW until very recently, about a lawyer named Rebecca Bunch who has a high-powered New York job and then quits all the sudden and moves to a random part of Southern California called West Covina, mostly so she can try to get back together with the guy who she got dumped by at summer camp when she was 16. So the series follows her as she has uprooted her life and plopped down in West Covina, California, and spends a lot of time and energy through the beginning of the series pretending like she didn't move there to be with Josh —


ENSEMBLE: (sung) She's the crazy ex-girlfriend!

REBECCA BUNCH: (spoken) What? No, I’m not.

ENSEMBLE: (sung) She's the crazy ex-girlfriend!

REBECCA: (spoken) That’s a sexist term.

ENSEMBLE: (sung) She's the crazy ex-girlfriend!

REBECCA: (spoken) Can you guys stop singing for just a second?

ENSEMBLE: (sung) She’s so broken inside!

REBECCA: (spoken) The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.

SANDY: — but then develops into something more complicated about Rebecca and her friends and her co-workers, and mostly follows her, I think, through the journey of eventually receiving a borderline personality disorder diagnosis. And I'm so excited to have my good friend joining me for this chat. Meredith Talusan, welcome to Mad Chat.

MEREDITH: Thank you, Sandy. I'm excited, too.

SANDY: Before we dive in, Meredith, could you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do?

MEREDITH: Yeah. I’m an author and journalist and editor. I'm one of the founding editors of them., which is Condé Nast’s LGBTQ+ platform. And I am — I am in the process of finishing my book, which is a memoir called Fairest, which is coming out from Viking sometime early next year. We still haven't — we still haven't quite pegged down the date yet.

SANDY: Yeah, 2020 the biggest event is going to be your memoir Fairest (both laugh).

MEREDITH: Exactly.

SANDY: And you — you suggested Crazy Ex-Girlfriend today, which I was really excited to talk about, because it's a show with “crazy” in the name. And there is so, so much to talk about here. Why was this what you wanted us to talk about?

MEREDITH: Oh, right, yeah. So — so I am a Filipino-American person who immigrated to Chino, California, which is about 20 minutes’ drive from —

SANDY: (singing) West Covina.

MEREDITH: Close, close. Very close to West Covina. And also I love musicals.

SANDY: And also you love musicals! And I actually wanted to briefly start there before we dive into talking more about disability and mental illness, because this is a musical theater nerd’s dream of a show, in a sense.

MEREDITH: Absolutely.

SANDY: And I also, you know — you grew up a child star, and I grew up a musical theater kid. You know, we kind of have that — that shared, like, performance background —

MEREDITH: We’re just dropping that in, right? (laughs)

SANDY: That’s where we’re starting. What's your favorite of the 157 show — songs that were on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?

MEREDITH: Oh my god.

SANDY: Did you have a single favorite single song? Yeah, I'm putting you on the spot right away.

MEREDITH: I know. You know, that's really funny. Well, okay, but [5:00] Lea Salonga is — has been my childhood, you know, just sort of the the singer that I followed, you know, throughout my life. I started listening to her when I was 4. So I don't — I actually don't remember the song that she sang in the episode where she played — where she played the — Josh's aunt...

SANDY: At the wedding.

MEREDITH: At the wedding.

SANDY: Yeah. It’s the (begins singing) “In one…”


TITA MYRNA: (sung) In one indescribable instant…

MEREDITH: Exactly.

SANDY: Yeah. It’s the song from the, like, the you can't find it any more musical from Rebecca's childhood, but she's, like, waited for a man to — that was the same kind of thing.

MEREDITH: Exactly. Exactly. And the fact that she's, you know — and the fact that she’s this sort of, like, big snob and, you know, the fact that she — that she plays a somewhat unlikable character was also really fun. Just because Lea Salonga, you know, has been known for being, you know, for — for transitioning from ingénue roles to kind mother roles, right? She was like Kim in Miss Saigon, and now she plays Fantine in Les Mis, right? So having her be a — a somewhat unsympathetic character was also — was also super fun.

SANDY: Mental illness is perhaps the biggest thing that this show is about. It's the — it's the kind of focus of the show. You know, it's in the title, it's — the title being Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is even commented upon in the initial theme song for the show. And you mentioned that, you know, you wanted to think about the ways in which this show does and doesn't portray a reality that's familiar to you. And so I was curious if you could tell us a bit about, you know, how do the topics that are in this show relate to your life in as much as you're comfortable sharing?

MEREDITH: Oh yeah, of course. Well I — one of the things that I was gonna say was that I did not perceive the show as being about mental illness at all.

SANDY: Oh, interesting.

MEREDITH: Which is — which is, you know, which probably says, you know, something about me, right? You know, like I was aware of it, of the title, and I was aware that, you know, that there was this major plot point, right? Keeping the secret that Rebecca Bunch moved to West Covina on a whim because of her — of her teenage crush.

From a Filipino perspective, this is all within the realm of plausibility, right? And — and just because — I don’t know. Like it's just like — you know, I grew up with, you know, with telenovelas, and there's a — there's an entire class of songs in the Philippines called Kundiman, which in Tagalog translates to “if you don't,” which — and basically, like, they're all — and there's just like a pantheon of them. They're all songs that, you know, that are premised on, like: “If you don't love me, I would die,” you know. “If you don't — if you don't pay attention to me,” et cetera, et cetera. And some of my favorite songs are, you know, like are various — various interpretations of the genre.


MEREDITH: And so for me coming into this show, I understood Rebecca Bunch’s desire to keep this secret as a certain kind of embarrassment over this sort of, like, normative expectation of the society that one doesn't do that. It wasn’t something that — but I wasn't on the side of society when it came to — when it came to that, you know, I completely understood her —

SANDY: Yeah, you were on Paula’s side. I mean, you know, Paula is kind of someone who Rebecca meets — a colleague at work who really, like — she's like: “This is the most romantic thing I've ever heard.” And she just decides to go completely in on helping Rebecca make the dream of Josh come true.


PAULA: What you did for love — for true love — the sacrifices, the money that you walked away from that you —

REBECCA: Oh god.

PAULA: No no no no no. No, you're not crazy, and you're not stupid. You know what you are? You're brave.

SANDY: Seems like, you know, just to go back — you know, when I say — it seems like the show is really foregrounding the topic of craziness or of mental illness, just in — in the sort of — the title, the contours of its plot. But, you know, I — which isn’t to say that I necessarily would agree with the interpretation that, yeah, exactly, like we have to read everything that — that Rebecca does as — as resulting from a literal mental illness.

MEREDITH: And also like I understand that in [10:00] retrospect, right? You know, like I understand —  I understand that lens but I think — I think that in terms of how I receive the show as an audience member, I was pretty oblivious to it. I mean I think in part because, you know, just because like, I myself, you know — obviously like having been super influenced, you know, by all of these forces — I myself, you know, like with — with, you know, like when I moved to the States and within the American cultural context I did find it puzzling that other people (laughs) in this country didn't view romance the way that I did, right?

SANDY: Right.

MEREDITH: So, you know — so from that perspective, I — yeah, like it is super fascinating to me now having, you know, kind of like seeing more of the show, right, and seen how the show then sort of makes Rebecca's mental illness more explicit, right? And you're kind of like within people's understandings of what is, like — what is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior, right? It's, you know — like it's been a really fascinating experience for me watching that turn, you know, just because I feel like in terms of the relationships in my life, right? I definitely, you know, like I have had — a lot of the ways in which I've discovered aspects of myself have been through romantic relationships, in part because, you know — because I was estranged from both of my parents, and so I didn't have a strong family structure. So I feel like from a, you know, like pretty much from the time that I started dating, I — I was much more — romantic relationships had more meaning for me than it did people who, you know — who come from nuclear families or have family support. Oh, and also, you know, like I’m a first-generation immigrant, so even though I have extended family, you know, they didn't really understand what was going on with my life. Oh and, by the way, also went to Harvard (laughs). Thank you very much.

SANDY: (laughs) Oh, Harvard?


VALENCIA: Wow! You like, go to Harvard or something?

REBECCA: (sheepish) Um, yeah. But I don’t like to talk about it ‘cause people get weird.

VALENCIA: Your shirt says “Harvard.”

REBECCA: (pause) That way I don’t have to talk about it.

SANDY: You know, it — it does seem like that's such an important distinction in terms of whether we view Rebecca's actions from the top as being outside the social norm, you know, or not. And it does seem like a big thing that the show is teasing out in general has to do with the fact that so much of this is relative. Rebecca's actions are — they always make sense to her, you know, and so the audience is — is — we're most sympathetic with her even if she becomes an unlikable character, even when she does stuff that's really, you know, outside the acceptable bounds of social norms, you know, we’re — we're sort of in the — we’re — we're closest to her the whole series through. And so I think we're — we're meant to, to a certain extent, to see her sort of conquest of Josh through the beginning of the series to be, you know — we're rooting for her, too, to some degree.

MEREDITH: And to some extent we kind of set aside, you know, the things that she did during that period that are — that are outside the boundaries of —

SANDY: Yeah. Because it’s love.

MEREDITH: — of what we perceive to be acceptable behavior. Yeah, because it's love. And also — and also to a certain extent, I feel like, you know, just as in many absurdist comedies, right, like I feel like she becomes this representation. She isn’t — she isn't as much — or at least for me, she went as — she wasn't as much a representation of a person as she exists in life, right? She was more a representation of some of our, you know, deeper insecurities and some of our deeper feelings when we're in these situations, right?

SANDY: Oh, interesting.

MEREDITH: And I, you know — and I feel like the — the fact that it's a musical heightens that, right? Like it already — the fact that it's a musical means that — that the show is existing in a reality that is not fully our own.

SANDY: I think in terms of realism — to what extent is this show realism? And to what extent is it actually not adhering to reality at all? And there’s so many examples that I would sort of run into as I was watching it, I mean, Rebecca’s age when she’s presumably about to be a senior partner at this [15:00] Manhattan law firm and she’s swept off to West Covina, like I was just doing the math, like she’s been out of law school for like a year, maximum. You know? Or like, she quits her job, she resigns from her job via fax, she comes back to West Covina ends up — you know, she’s hospitalized after a suicide attempt and then she’s in psychiatric care from that point forward and there’s never a discussion of insurance. And I’m just like, ‘She doesn’t have insurance, right?’ She doesn’t have a job. And yet other things in the show it seems like they are really trying to say, like: “Hey this is — this is real. You need to hear this real lesson.”


SANDY: The — the question, though, of like, you know, love makes us crazy — it is — like, it is a big one. And, you know, to what extent does being caught up in a romance sort of allow you to maybe do things that are literally criminal? You know, like Paula gets caught up in all kinds of, like, literally criminal actions.


PAULA: I tracked you. I hacked your stuff. I may have blackmailed some people in your life for information. But I am not proud of it.


PAULA: I know, I know. But I just want to Rebecca's love story to — to work out.

SANDY: Because she's such a fan of the romance of Rebecca and Josh, it seems like a lot of that has come to Paula via consumption of romance novels, movies, The Bachelor, what have you. Like this is a whole set of ideas about what, you know, specifically heterosexual romance should be. You know, this like very like “boy meets girl, girl and boy get together forever” like model of how humans’ lives should go. It seems like that sort of — that whole archetype is part of what the show is attempting to, I don't know, complicate?

MEREDITH: Yeah. I mean, I think — I think definitely people's behaviors are contextually driven, right? And that there are — and that this society does, to some extent, you know, view it as acceptable when — when certain actions are performed in the, you know — in the context of romance, even though, you know — even though of course, you know, the crazy ex-girlfriend is itself, right, a trope.

SANDY: Yeah.

MEREDITH: And — and it isn't, you know — in a way that the crazy ex-boyfriend is — is perhaps a different trope, but it's certainly not as prominent, right? Like we don't frame the ex-boyfriend in — in the same terms and...yeah. I find that, you know, like I do find that super fascinating.

SANDY: Like the show isn't about Trent.


REBECCA: Oh my god. Are you gonna kill me?

TRENT: No! Why would I kill you? I love you!


TRENT: Rebecca Bunch, I have loved you since the moment that I saw you freshman year in the cafeteria. You were eating a mac and cheese sandwich. Remember? And then last week out of nowhere you friended me on Facebook, and then some lady called me and said that she thought I was your boyfriend. I mean, what are the odds? So weird, right?

MEREDITH: The show is not about Trent. And Trent isn't interesting, you know, as a character because — you know, for various reasons, for — for the various ways in which men and, you know, like cis men and cis women are constituted, right, in this culture.

SANDY: Yeah. And whose actions are pathologized, or like become a really big deal to others, and whose actions, you know — like if a man is — like even the, you know, the sort of like three men still standing by the end of the series — Greg, Josh, and who am I forgetting...Nathaniel — you know, they're like kind of competing over Rebecca, to a certain degree, and a lot of them are sort of walking around with this conviction that, like, “Rebecca and I are meant to be together forever.” And I was thinking about the difference in how the show treats that versus Rebecca feeling like, “Oh, we are meant to be.” You know, for Rebecca to feel that way, it's a problem. But if like a man is like, “Hey, I've figured out we're meant to be together forever,” that's really romantic.

MEREDITH: Right. Right. Well, because the man still has agency, right, in this way that, you know, the woman doesn't quite, you know — is never as logical, like — is never — is never acting according to what is actually, you know, like, what actually makes sense, right?

SANDY: There was a phrase you brought up initially when we are talking about talking about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which was “high-functioning.” And I wondered if we could talk a little bit about that. You know, there's this — this tendency in pop culture to portray people with, you know, mental illness diagnoses as unable to do whatever: have social relationships, or have a job, or... There's this — this conflation of sort of low ability and having a psychiatric diagnosis. And so one thing that you'd pointed out was this show is [20:00] unusual in showing someone who's got psychiatric diagnoses and history and who's also highly intelligent. You know, she's an attorney, she's high-functioning. But why is that a problematic term?

MEREDITH: Yeah, I mean I think — well, first of all, that — that's also — that's also a super fascinating dynamic of the show and the trope in general of high function, right? That in order — that in order for you to — that in one sense — in some sense, like one cultural privilege is your way of counteracting the stigma of having the mental illness, right? Which is, you know — which itself, you know, the idea of the genius artist, right? Or the idea of, you know, A Beautiful Mind, that the schizophrenic genius, right, is again, you know, one of — it falls into that trope, right? Society only values you to the degree to which you can, you know, fit into its mold of somebody who, you know — somebody who in some way is productive, or who in some way has something to contribute.

SANDY: Right.

MEREDITH: Right? And — and so in that sense — in that sense creating the label high-functioning is a way for, you know, like I view it as a way for people to then — to then create a category in which a certain set of people who belong to a diagnosis, right, is — are allowed to — and are permitted by a normative society to function and to lead, you know, lives that, you know — that are — that are in some way validated by that society, right?

SANDY: Right. As opposed to like totally, you know, assuming that someone isn't human, you know, like as opposed to a label that might be viewed as more ruinous or more damning. Like when you've got the plotline with Bert, initially, and he’s a star witness for Rebecca. And he's revealed by the opposing counsel to be (mock gasp) —


LAWYER: Great. And how long have you been a diagnosed schizophrenic?

BERT: 16 years.

(concerned murmurs from the gallery)

SANDY: — a schizophrenic. And it's like a game changer for Rebecca's case. And it seemed like such a telling moment that the show — the show seemed to agree, like, “Yup, you can't have a schizophrenic witness,” you know? Like that's so clear in how there is a hierarchy that's being preserved by this.

MEREDITH: And it is, you know — like in a lot of ways it is, you know, like — it is — that's Rebecca's biggest fear, right? That — that once people find out that she has this history, then her entire identity will be invalidated, right? And — a that as a result, it also pushes her to be, you know, as excellent as possible in order to sort of counteract that, you know — that particular stigmatization. You know, this is — I mean, this is also something that's super familiar to me as somebody who belongs to a bunch of, you know — belongs to a bunch of minority identities and, you know, has family that have, you know, that has struggled with severe mental illness. And so — and — and I'm aware that whenever I talk about family members, that I, you know — that I de facto become associated with the people in my family, right? And so... yeah. And so — and so I do — I sense some of that anxiety myself. And it, you know — it's — it definitely is psychologically motivating, right, to be able — and, you know, because we live in the society that we do where, you know, like where people aren't really valued for their own sake, you know, in the sort of like super — and I think — I feel like it takes living in another country that isn't like that (laughs) for people to understand that that's not a ubiquitous idea, that you're only worth as much as you can give to society. And — and because of the fact that I grew up in an environment that isn't like that, I am really — I'm very sensitive to it. And — and to some extent, as a result, I also — I, you know — like I also tune myself to that awareness, right?

SANDY: What are some of the ways in which this show's portrayal of mental illness, disability, struck you as, you know, kind of confirming the world as you know it, or really diverging from the world as you know it?

MEREDITH: One of the really fascinating things is that when Rebecca is finally, you know — when it's finally revealed that she has this borderline personality disorder diagnosis, you know, she has this entire history of mental illness. She has, you know, this really, really robust support network. [25:00] The people in her life — both romantic and friendly — you know, continue to support her. You know, they have their moments of withdrawal of support. Of course, this is still a TV show, we need — we need tension, we need drama.

SANDY: And we need to have these same actors on the show week after week, which a lot of the plot on this series felt like they were just justifying keeping these actors on staff, but yeah.

MEREDITH: Right. And that is not, you know, that's just not the way that I experience the world in America. You know, like I feel like in the Philippines — in the Philippines, that's normal, you know, that, you know, that somebody — especially within, you know — like maybe it's not as typical in Manila anymore, but within — in a rural setting, you know, the first unit of selfhood is the community. So — so if somebody in the community is in trouble, there's this distribution of labor and duty in terms of supporting that person in the community. And I'm not saying that the Philippines is perfect. I mean, there — there are inherent flaws in the system, too. But, you know — but that is one way in which — in which things are different in the Philippines. Whereas in the States one of the things that I’ve found is that the units are very different, right? You know, like the first unit is the individual. And then it's possible, you know, like if you have a family, that you can have a support structure within your family, and then it's also possible that you can have support structures within a particular identity community, or within a particular, you know, like within a particular institutional setting, like when you're in school you have friends in school that you can be friends with, right, or that you can, you know, turn to you for support. But by and large, I've seen so many people deal with — with various, you know, like — with various crises from, you know — from mental illness to, you know — to chronic illness, to, you know — to harassment, et cetera, et cetera — find it really, really difficult to find support networks in a way that would be very different in a Philippine context.

And so I always found the way that the show doesn't really address that, you know, like, why is Rebecca so special that she gets all of her people in her life still, you know — like, still in her corner. Like how could they drop all of these aspects — you know, because — because usually the way — the reason why, at least in my experience, in America — the reason why people don't lend as much support as the should, or that they — it's not a matter of feeling, right? Like it's a matter of logistics. Or it's a matter of living in a society where it's not an acceptable excuse to take half a day off work because your friend who is not a direct family member is in trouble, right?

SANDY: Right.

MEREDITH: Like whereas raised in the Philippines, like that is totally acceptable. And —

SANDY: Right. And in the world of the show it's totally acceptable, in the — in the fantasy, I guess, to a certain degree of this show, like, her diagnosis doesn't jeopardize her friendships, which for a lot of people isn't the case, you know, like that if — if you have that sort of experience, that that can suddenly become a reason that all sorts of people aren't as interested in — in sticking with you.

MEREDITH: Yeah. And I feel like part of the reason why it's intimidating in an American context, right, is the fact that there’s no underlying community support structure, right? So people are afraid of having, you know, people in those types of situations depend on them in a way that they can’t, you know — in the way that — in the — in a way that they can't ultimately support in the long run, right? Like I feel like the burden — ”burden” is a difficult word. You know, like the responsibility and the duty to take care of your friends is really magnified in an American context because there’s no underlying sense of — of, like, large-scale community responsibility, right?

SANDY: Right.

MEREDITH: You know, like, in the Philippines it's completely acceptable to, you know — to if — if you have a friend who's in trouble and you have something to do, you can just go to your neighbor and ask them to help, right? Like you know all your neighbors, first of all. And so —

SANDY: It’s interesting, Rebecca kind of does that at the beginning of the series, you know, when she’s living next door to Heather.


HEATHER: Look, just as a tip, we don’t actually, like, talk to each other around here. That guy’s lived next door to me for, like, 11 years, and like I say “guy,” but honestly it could be, like, a stack of cats in a jumpsuit.

REBECCA: Okay, appreciate the info. But I like to consider myself a bridge-builder, and I feel like you and I could shake things up around here.

HEATHER: Yeah, no. [30:00] I don’t see that happening. But anyways, it’s nice to meet you, stack of cats in a… shirt.

MEREDITH: Yeah. You know, like there are all of these unusual aspects of this series, like this isn't actually what happens in, you know, like, in life, right? Like people — people in America  don't know, you know — like in a lot of urban areas in America — don't know their neighbors. They don't depend on their neighbors. They don't form close friendships with their neighbors in part because — and, you know, like and I'm saying this as somebody who is not close to my neighbors, right — that there is this sort of sense that the responsibility that that implies is a bigger responsibility than it is in a Filipino context, because in a Filipino context everybody is friends with — with their neighbors, right?

SANDY: Right. It strikes me that — so another kind of, for me, very loud falsehood in this show is to do with the benevolence of antidepressants.

MEREDITH: Oh right.

SANDY: In the fourth season, in the last season — kind of the last the last plot arc of the show is to do with Rebecca being convinced by Dr. Shin and Dr. Akopian and her psychiatrist and therapist to go on antidepressants. And there's a big number that Dr. Akopian sings that's like…


ENSEMBLE: (sung) Antidepressants are so not a big deal / Big whoop, you’re on an antidepressant…

DR. AKOPIAN: (spoken) Take two with or without a meal.

SANDY: And it’s about how everybody is on them, and the actors are doing a like tap dance.


ENSEMBLE: (sung) Fluoxetine / Fluoxetine / Paroxetine / Paroxetine / Our lawyers won’t let us say brand names

SANDY: And they're saying the generic names of antidepressants, and they're like, “Our lawyers wouldn't let us say the real names,” and I'm like, that's ‘cause you'd literally be advertising pharmaceuticals on your show. But there seems to be this — and, you know, the — the creator of the show, Rachel Bloom, has talked about being on antidepressants herself, and about the difference that they've made in her life. And you know, I think it's perfectly fine for someone to express that point of view, but I wondered around, you know, Dr. Akopian, for example, or around the way that antidepressants are being figured as not a big deal, which I don't know, I don't think the science supports that. But the, you know — so the — the sort of fantasy of there being really good mental health care available to this person also struck me as kind of, like, just a little bit beyond belief. Like she — this — her relationship with Doctor Akopian, for example, she's — she, you know — she — she shows up intermittently, she walks out in the middle of her sessions all the time.


REBECCA: He can't leave, I have to make him stay. I have to find some way to make stay…

DR. AKOPIAN: No, no, Rebecca, you can't make him do anything! Rebecca, wait! Please! (door slams) Well, that was a good eight minutes.

SANDY: In — in the fourth season she's stalking Dr. Akopian, and like showing up in line at the cafe, or showing up at the wine bar and asking her questions. And Dr. Akopian, rather than saying, “Hey, it's inappropriate of you to stalk me,” sits and answers her questions. And I — and I wondered about the, you know — this portrayal of mental health care in general, you know? What's not here? Like, Rebecca doesn't get 5150’d.


SANDY: Hey, let me save you a Google. A 5150 — or 5150 hold — refers to the statute in California that permits the involuntary 72-hour psychiatric detention of somebody deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It's become a sort of shorthand for involuntary psychiatric holds generally. [VAN HALEN MUSIC PLAYING] And it's the name of a Van Halen album, so that's definitely not problematic at all.


SANDY: She doesn't get thrown into a cell against her will. She's not be voluntarily medicated at any point, except by her mother, briefly. There's all these sort of aspects of the American mental healthcare system that aren't being shown in this show. Like, you're not being shown members of the public who are like, “Actually, antidepressants didn't really work for me,” you know? Like there isn't that — that other voice here, too. There's just the “Oh my gosh, you finally got your diagnosis, and you finally got the pill that you needed this whole time.”


REBECCA: (sung) But now there’s no need for regret / ‘Cause I’m about to get / A diagnosis / A diagnosis / Don’t tell me no, sister, you don’t fit in

MEREDITH: One of the things that I would say is that, you know, it is one of the limitations of this show that it's so — it's so close to the Rebecca character's point of view, right? So it becomes, then, really difficult for the show to telescope out, right, in that sense. I feel like, in terms of — you know, [35:00] and as somebody who doesn't have — I — I’ve never been on antidepressants, and so I haven't had a, kind of, like, strong relationship either way to, you know — to — and haven't investigated them, you know, particularly — particularly extensively. So, you know — so I guess from my vantage point, you know, like looking at that scene, right, I was looking at it, you know, from — as a scene that's expressed through Rebecca's point of view. And so — and so from that perspective, I could see that, you know — that she, or, you know — and Rachel Bloom behind her, who believes that — that antidepressants have helped her, right — was in some way, you know, trying to normalize, right?

SANDY: Yeah, totally.

MEREDITH: The — the, you know, the taking of antidepressants and, you know — and trying to, you know, potentially get rid of the stigma attached to it. I do remember, you know, like, I did go through — my first year — I went to grad school at Cornell, and my first year I went through this like winter depressive episode in which, you know — in which a psychiatrist actually did prescribe me antidepressants, until I was just like, “Do you think that it might have to do with the fact that I grew up in the Philippines and, you know, with a lot of sun?” And then she was just like, “Oh, that makes sense.” So then I got — I got a sun lamp, and — and I didn't need to take the antidepressants anymore after that. But, you know — but I remember talking to people about them during that period, and it did strike me, the, you know, the number of people — 

SANDY: Oh yeah.

MEREDITH: — who would not say that they're on antidepressants unless they're — unless they're in the presence of a person who is on antidepressants, too.

SANDY: Absolutely.

MEREDITH: And so that's — that was also, like, super — it's sort of redolent of a really particular American phenomenon, I feel like, which is that, you know — and it's sort of similar to climate change in the sense where, like, there is a problem, and you don't tackle the problems. Like you create, you know — like you create this sort of solution, this other solution, in order to kind of, like, deal with the problem.

SANDY: Explain what you mean.

MEREDITH: And I feel like... Well, I think for me it's, you know, like, as a non-expert, right, like, there may be inherent biological factors that are beyond environmental control around people's depression, right? But I do — but I — I guess, like, you know, casually, I do believe that, you know — that certainly your underlying and, you know, your surroundings and your environment affects, you know — affects the way that you — that you live in the world, right?

SANDY: Yeah.

MEREDITH: In America, you know, careers are super, super important to people in a way that I just don't identify with. And I feel like so many people that I grew up with just are — they’re, you know, that's just not constitutionally how I feel about, you know, work, right? And — and, you know, as I — as I already talked about, you know, in the Philippines there's just a lot of community support, and there's just, like, a lot of communal-ness, in general. Not that there are no, you know — like there are certainly people who are depressed in the Philippines. But the Philippines actually ranks — you know, there was like some survey, right — it — it ranks — it consistently ranks very high as one of the countries that has, like, the happiest people in the world. And, you know — and so — and so it does strike me as very American that rather than — it's like, let's figure out how to create support systems for people. Let's figure out how to, you know, how to — how to not have, you know — to raise a generation of people who don't equate their self-worth with the amount of work that they do or the value that, you know, like the sort of external value that they contribute to society.

SANDY: And there's the sense that Rebecca is just forged in that.


NAOMI BUNCH: (voicemail) Rebecca, it’s mom. So, did you win the Corcoran case? You want that promotion, don’t you? It’s very important. It’s what we’ve been working [40:00] so hard for. (chuckles) I’ve said that a million times. I guess you don’t care what I think.

MEREDITH: Right. So in that sense, you know, I — I completely agree with you that there is something off-putting about, you know, such a strong emphasis on antidepressants. And yet, at the same time, I also have this feeling that — that American life is just really hard (laughs).

SANDY: Yeah, exactly.

MEREDITH: You know what I mean? And so — and so for people, you know — for people who experience that and are living in that reality, and can't see any other way out of that reality, I — I also understand antidepressants as a valid solution to that problem, rather than — rather — I call it my “Filipino escape hatch.” That's what I call it, that I have a Filipino escape hatch. Because — because whenever, you know — like whenever I'm feeling down about myself, I always I'm just like, okay, like, let me imagine myself in my aunt's house, you know, in this remote island in the Philippines surrounded by beaches, and, you know, like, that will always be there for me, because she's my aunt and she's a relative and — and, you know, like, I will always be welcome, right? They, you know — like not that many Americans have that, right?

SANDY: Yeah.

MEREDITH: Whereas — whereas Filipinos usually have redundant solutions (laughs) —

SANDY: Well, and I mean I think you’re —

MEREDITH: — you know, to their crises.

SANDY: — you're talking about something very profound, which I mean, I absolutely agree with, and I think a lot of my research and reporting after the last decade has kind of arrived at a similar idea, which is, well, if you want to address quote unquote “severe mental illness,” one way to go about is to start thinking about how people are maintaining connections with one another. And so often when you have folks who are ending up with severe mental illness diagnoses, something that is — is common, is people have become isolated from others, whether because of that experience of being diagnosis, you know — diagnosed and hospitalized or treatment or whatever else, but also because of whatever's happened before in terms of, you know, the traumas someone has experienced in their life, or, you know, the oppression that they've had to endure in the — in the big old mean society that we’re all stuck in here. The, you know — in a — in a character like Rebecca, it does seem like there's — there's such an opportunity here that, you know, she is — she is normalizing, you know, as you said, that — that experience of like, yeah, she's got a psychiatric history, she's got diagnoses, she's on medication, and she is a full person, you know. She's a complicated lady. And she's got all kinds of talents, you know. And we get to watch that. And in a sense, like, I agree with you. I think there's — there's something so good and powerful in that precisely because, like, you know — like, everyone whispers to me what medications they're on, and, like, what member of their family has been involuntarily committed recently, or whatever. Like, for some reason that's — that's my role now in a lot of relationships. And like, yeah, a lot of Americans are on antidepressants, and other psychiatric medications, but especially anti-anxiety, antidepressant medications — as they're marketed, you know, like those are phrases that come from marketing. And like, I was thinking a lot about how Rebecca's diagnosis isn't depression, you know? Her diagnosis is borderline personality disorder, BPD — a really — a relatively recent invention of, you know, American psychiatry, right? One that typically — I mean, it's one of those diagnoses that's disproportionately given to a certain population: white women. I remember when I watched the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I said to myself, “She's gonna get a BPD diagnosis, and she's gonna end up on psych drugs.” I didn't guess which psych drugs, but I felt like the show, overall, was going to be a loosely veiled ad for pharma. ‘Cause I do think —

MEREDITH: I did — I did not, yeah, like I did not catch that at all.

SANDY: That's just me, you know. I have a weird head. Like (laughs) it's just like the weird way I watch everything. But — but yeah, I was like disappointed that I was right. I was sort of hoping the show was gonna do something more, I don't know, like hard, you know? I think it's harder to tell a story that doesn't end up with: “And then she found the right med. The end.” You know? ‘Cause that's not the case for so many people, and these medications can change over time in terms of whether people find them helpful. And, you know, when they're saying something like, “It's so not a big deal,” I'm like, you know, there's all this research, for example right now, about addictiveness and antidepressants and the extreme difficulty that so many people have getting off of medication safely. You know, stuff like that — it has to be elided. It's like necessarily elided if you're gonna have a tap dance number where you're singing the generic names of antidepressant medications. [45:00]

MEREDITH: Yeah. I mean, it is, you know, it’s such a — it's such a big part of American culture, you know, like I feel like — I mean it's funny just because — just because, you know, like one of the — one of the topics or like one of the things that I want to write an essay about, you know, or, you know, like it’s in my notebook, right — like what — what does it mean in the context of being me not to have, you know, like, any of these diagnoses, or have never been on, you know, like on any psychiatric drugs. Because I do feel like so many people around me are, or have been, or have had, you know, these types of histories — especially, you know — especially as a trans woman, as a racial minority, right? That there is a sort of… and I'm also somebody, you know, like, I'm also somebody who — who doesn't, for, you know, who — who pretty much has not had alcohol throughout my life — occasionally have social drinks out of politeness, right, like I just don't have chemical substances in my system. And I sort of become an exception, rather than one of, you know — a type of person because of that, right? Like I'm in a lot of environments — not just, I mean, because we think about psychiatric drugs, but, you know, we take stimulants and depressants all the time, right? And — and just the fact that my system doesn't contain those substances, you know, like, I've managed to start having a one coffee in the morning habit, but that’s actually only in the past —

SANDY: I like that you're like: “I'm working on taking up coffee.”

MEREDITH: Well no, I mean, it's really funny because my best —

SANDY: I adore you.

MEREDITH: — because like one of my best friends used to joke all the time that I didn't have a vice, and that I needed to find a vice because, you know — because, like — because I would not be, like, a full person if I didn't have a vice. And then, you know — and then I would say something like, “Well, you know, like, I'm addicted to dance.” And she was just like, “That doesn’t…” (both laugh) I mean...

SANDY: I love if your vice is dance. That's a great vice.

MEREDITH: I mean I am, to the endorphins, right? (laughs)

SANDY: Yeah.

MEREDITH: I guess those are chemical substances.

SANDY: They are, you know, and — and that's where all this stuff gets really tricky.


SANDY: Our last segment on Mad Chat is called “What’s Helping Today?” And that's where we're just gonna say what's helping today. It doesn't need to be what is the answer to, you know, mental health for all time always. But yeah. What's helping you today, Meredith?

MEREDITH: What is helping me today? I've been listening to the Paris Review podcast. It's one of the things that's been helping me today. And just generally reading a bunch of fiction, just because — I just turned in the pages of — for my book, which is a memoir. And so I’ve — I have been really behind on my fiction reading and consuming. And then — and then I'm looking forward to going to a dance class tonight. I'm trying to decide between ballet class and a modern, like a — an easy ballet class or a hard modern class. And I haven't figured out which one I'm going to take yet.

SANDY: Both of those things are such beautiful — fiction, dance. You know? Those are — those are truly helpful things.

MEREDITH: I know. I'm just like — I’m just like such a stereotypical, like —

SANDY: (laughs) What?

MEREDITH: You know, like, I don't know, you know, just sort of like —

SANDY: You’re such a stereotypical you.

MEREDITH: Yeah. Well, you know, it's just like, “Oh art, art — “

SANDY: Yeah.

MEREDITH: “— art saves me.”

SANDY: What's helping today. I'm gonna actually say my therapist.

MEREDITH: Oh amazing.

SANDY: I — I had a call earlier with my therapist, and — and she's someone I've been talking to on and off for 10 years, and she lives in a different state. And, you know, it's — it's definitely a big continued part of how I continue to be on the earth, is having that relationship. So shout-out to my therapist.


SANDY: Thank you so much, Meredith, for joining us today. Can you tell the listeners real quick where they could read your work or, you know — they can't yet pre-order your book, but, you know, where — where can they learn more about you?

MEREDITH: Yeah. My website is, T-A-L-U-S-A-N dot com, where you can sign up for my email list. And my Twitter and Instagram handle is 1 — the number one — demerith, D-E-M-E-R-I-T-H. You can tell that I like puns, even [50:00] — even for my name.


SANDY: Mad Chat is produced by Lee Mengistu. Theme music by Lee Mengistu and Ruthie Williams. Our Social Media and Community Manager is Annie Mok. Logo design by Chris Ritter. Thanks today to Argot Studios. Engineering assistance from my unpaid intern, Rob Dubbin. Episode transcriptions by Alex Cornacchia; find those transcripts at our website: If you want to continue the chat online, follow @madchatshow on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I am Sandy Allen. My book, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia, is out now in paperback. For more, you can visit my website: This is Mad Chat. Thank you for listening. We’ll chat again in three weeks.


SANDY: My favorite of the 157 songs, of course, was the one where Weird Al cameos as a hot air balloon rental guy and sings a song with his accordion about not pooping in the balloon.


BERNIE: (sung) Please don’t poop in my balloon.