Love makes us temporarily insane.
The myth of the scorned woman descending into madness is nothing new, according to literary works dating back to Ancient Greece. From the O.G. Madea to Miss Havisham of Dickens’ Great Expectations, to Tennessee Williams’ Blanche Dubois, women falling into mental ruin in the aftermath of heartbreak is a story as old as time.
Now, to be fair, the amount of emphasis classic authors have put on women’s romantic relationships in accordance to their sanity and identity is pretty disgusting. It’s hard to find a novel about a woman suffering from a mental illness that has nothing to do with rejection from a man which, of course, doesn’t represent the scope of depression, bipolar disorder, and dissociative disorders as they behave in reality.
That said, these stories persist because they resonate with so many of us who recognize a small part of ourselves in these extreme characters, and we're perhaps comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone in our broken hearts.
Love makes us temporarily insane, and whether it’s the flowery picturesque kind or the abysmal, toxic kind, it has the capacity to leave us in ruins as it reaches its finale.
I have seen brilliant women reduced to piles of needy, self-loathing rubble because they were wronged by someone who wasn’t good enough to even take them on a first date more times than I can count. I personally spent a few years in that role, snowballing my insanity with every contemptuous misstep I took in my ongoing disgrace during a seemingly-endless toxic romance.
Despite being in therapy at the time, I refused to ask for help for the mental strain caused by my broken heart because I knew I was better than falling to pieces over some guy who treated me badly. I was so ashamed for falling into this played-out trap that I lived in denial that it was a major catalyst to my self-loathing.
Years later, the refrain I most relate to when I hear other women who have recovered from this state of Heartbreak Crazy is “I didn’t even recognize myself.” When I remember my actions and the beliefs I clung to at the time, I feel as though I’m watching a movie of someone else.
I don’t know if this feeling of distance between my Heartbroken Crazy Self is a means for me to forgive myself and move on through the shame I feel for my pathetic actions, or if it’s evidence that I truly wasn’t in my right mind at the time. Either way, it's why I nod my head with understanding when I have this conversation with other strong, intelligent women sharing similar stories of losing their minds (and themselves) because of heartbreak.
I suspect the reason so many women go see movies like Gone Girl or Fatal Attraction isn’t because we’re plotting to ruin the lives of our ex-lovers, but because extreme examples of women losing their minds over some guy make us feel better about the stupid moves we’ve made after being left by a lover.
Sure, I’ve embarrassed myself more times than I’m willing to admit to over a guy, and I’ve had some pretty terrible revenge fantasies, but I’ve never physically hurt anyone or broken any laws. That seems like a pretty low set of standards to be proud of, but it certainly puts my feelings of insanity into perspective.
Post-breakup, I was completely broken, making a complete ass of myself, and medicating my self-loathing with substances and terrible company for years, but ultimately, that was just a brief moment in my life. Unlike the fictitious women in films and literature, I pulled myself out of that descent into total madness and moved on to live a new chapter, which makes me the heroine in my story.
And if that’s not the intended moral for all these stories we’re told about women mentally ravaged by heartbreak, I honestly don’t care.