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Cassie on Euphoria Reminds Me of My Hardest Days Battling Borderline Personality Disorder

Rebecca Rush

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This article contains descriptions of self-harm. 

I signed off a recovery meeting several Sundays ago by saying, “Bye, off to watch Euphoria.”

“Ooof,” someone quickly replied. “This episode is really hard. You might not want to watch it alone.”

It was episode five of season 2, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” which displayed the desperation of active addiction. That episode was visceral, and it stayed with me a day. I remembered heroin, running out of drugs, going back to 12 step just because nobody else would talk to me. But I didn’t cry over that episode — as someone in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I cried instead over the behavior of Sydney Sweeney‘s Cassie behavior in every scene.

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While watching episode four with a hookup I see once a year whom I often fantasize about having a future with, despite his emotional unavailability (or perhaps because of it), he turned to me and asked, “Why is she acting like that?”

We’d been watching Cassie drink, dance, and emote alone in a bathing suit, then come strutting down the stairs toward the hot tub, in which she turned quiet, threw up on herself, and became hysterical.

“Extreme measures to avoid abandonment or rejection,” I heard myself say before thinking.

That kind of behavior is the number one criteria for BPD, from which I am currently in recovery. I can’t diagnose Cassie  — she isn’t real, and even if she were, I’m not a doctor or, more specifically, her psychiatrist, and the Goldwater Rule states that no one can be diagnosed by anyone other than their treating psychiatrist.

I can, however, point to an observable pattern of behaviors that mirror my own, and explain what it feels like to watch Cassie’s behavior with my own BPD history in mind.

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Sydney Sweeney in ‘Euphoria’ Eddy Chen/HBO Max.

First, there are Cassie’s extreme emotional reactions. Sweeney’s Cassie is never displaying the same level of emotion as those around her unless it’s rage — uncontrollable outbursts of anger being another criteria of BPD. In every scene, she’s either displaying a significantly higher level of emotion than others or she is fully shut down, dissociating.

Untreated, my emotional reactions were always bigger than other people’s — until they reached some invisible shut-off point where they went away completely. The last time I dissociated, someone told me something that was rejecting. I remember the conversation happening in the grocery store parking lot; it actually happened in my kitchen. The way my brain shut down — the brain will leave the body if the body cannot leave the threat — that was how I remembered it. Like Cassie, I also grew up in an alcoholic home. At an early age, I learned there was nowhere to go but away.

Watching Cassie, too, appear to dissociate and melt away, I wondered: How much more sense would Cassie’s behavior make to you if, while watching, you knew what it was like to feel like your emotions might kill you?

Turning to one of Cassie’s most controversial choices, I also saw myself in her relationship with Maddie’s ex Nate.

At the core of my BPD adaptation are the beliefs that I don’t belong, that I am unworthy, and that I am unlovable. Because of those beliefs, I would easily confuse being wanted for being loved, act impulsively (like having sex in the bathroom at the party with your best friend’s ex), and then try to make meaning out of that by making it into a relationship. The parallel is stunningly clear: My roommate once walked in on me having sex with her ex. We’ve never talked about it. I don’t even know if she recognized him. But I tried to date him, just to make what I’d done okay.

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Sydney Sweeney as Cassie in ‘Euphoria’ Eddy Chen/HBO Max.

What if you saw Cassie’s extreme efforts as pain management behaviors? Would that make you understand her better?

Another criteria for BPD is self-harm. In episode 6 of Euphoria, we see Cassie’s mother and sister hiding all the sharp objects in the house out in the bushes, only to find Cassie slumped against the oven, ineffectually jabbing at her wrist with a corkscrew.

In the face of abandonment, I too have self-harmed, and ineffectually. I had access to no other way to show how much pain I was in at the time. Once, I was fired from my job on the heels of an abortion: I drank a bottle of tequila, took a handful of Xanax, and drove straight into the guardrail. My boyfriend came to pick me up — and I knew the relationship was over. I grabbed a crystal from my bag and sat in the passenger seat, my crumbled bumper in the rearview, scratching at my wrist with the pointy end.

Every time I’ve told this story before this point, it’s felt jarring to put into words. But right now, it doesn’t: You get it. You’ve watched Euphoria. And even though Cassie’s behavior on the show might not make sense to you, it all makes perfect sense to me, down to the explosive anger at Lexi in the final episode, which followed what appears to be Nate’s final abandonment.

There are nine symptoms of BPD, and I’ve tangled with all of them — so, it was both heartbreaking and validating to see them acted out by an actress as skillful Sydney Sweeney. Maybe the next time you see someone acting in any of these intense, self-destructive ways, instead of saying, “Wow, they are so crazy,” you might instead say, “Wow. They are in so much pain.”

Before you go, click here to see movies and TV shows that accurately portray clinical depression.

'Little Miss Sunshine' 'You're The Worst' 'The Skeleton Twins' Movies & TV Shows That Give an Honest Look at Clinical Depression

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