Euphoria's spotlight on OCD and anxiety revolutionizes conversations around mental illnesses

Like Rue in Euphoria, my obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder were heightened after my dad died when I was a kid. Mental illness has a tendency to either develop after a trauma or increase in intensity. For me, I already had OCD but it was intensified by the trauma.

In the very first episode of Euphoria, Rue sits at the kitchen table across from her mother while counting squares on the ceiling light. When her mother interrupts, she recites the count from the top. Her mother interrupts again and Rue begins to wail. 

This cycle was very common for me growing up. Similarly, it often stemmed from my mom unknowingly interrupting my counts (which was not her fault at all). I would count a lot, whether it be the tiles on a floor or how many times I repeated a specific ritual.

I suffered through it back then without medication and ended up wasting much of my time. The Lexapro that I eventually started taking helped immensely, as it’s known for treating OCD. Even now with my meds I still perform counting rituals in my head every so often, but when someone accidentally cuts me off I don’t get as agitated as I once did. I don’t remember what any of my designated numbers were back then (the number of times that I “had to” repeat a ritual), but today it’s 4.

 Although it’s not one of Rue’s more outwardly focused-on disorders in the show, I still felt a very strong connection with her after that very first scene. I wish that Euphoria would show more of Rue’s obsessive-compulsive moments, but I enjoy seeing the other traits she has to offer.

In the second season, we see Rue in the throes of her drug addiction even more so than before.

Thankfully, drug addiction was one mental illness that I did not experience (unless you consider soda pop a drug), but it is definitely important to talk about. I never drowned out my thoughts by abusing drugs because the idea of taking drugs just adds to my anxiety.

Running away from life’s problems by abusing drugs is not unusual and in Season 2 Episode 5, Rue actually runs away. According to American Addiction Centers, people with mental illness are more likely to become addicted to drugs than others. Rue runs throughout the entire episode in an effort to avoid those who care about her so that she doesn’t have to confront her troubles.

The TV Show’s Spot-On Narrative of a Panic Attack

An article from Nylon refers to the show as “TV’s Most Realistic Portrayal Of Anxiety.” Though Euphoria doesn’t go into as much depth about OCD as I would like, Rue’s account of her panic attacks is eerily accurate.

“I don’t remember much between the ages of 8 and 12, just that the world moved fast and my brain moved slow,” Rue said in the opening scene of the pilot episode. 

I felt this way as an adolescent—especially after my dad passed away—and I frequently feel this way as an adult. Because the world moves too fast, I’m left trying to catch up and catch my breath which sometimes turns into a full-blown panic attack.

The physical symptoms of a panic attack can include a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and—let’s not forget—the unrelenting feeling that you’re about to die. That particular symptom is my least favorite. “Every now and then if I focused too closely on the way I breathed, I’d die,” said Rue.

Euphoria Steers Clear of Bipolar Disorder Stereotypes

Rue later realizes that she also has bipolar disorder, a suggestion that had previously been made by her doctor. An article from Bustle notes that portrayals of bipolar disorder on Euphoria are more realistic than portrayals that are typically seen on television and in movies. Viewers with bipolar disorder now have a TV show that they can relate to instead of constantly seeing the same old stereotypes displayed on screen.

In movies and TV shows, characters who are supposed to be in their manic state are often violent. Rue's manic state was closer to real life as it wasn’t shown as anger or aggression. Bustle described it as “excitable and hyper-focused.” In fact, Health defines mania as “a state of mind characterized by high energy, excitement, and euphoria over a sustained period of time.”

Whether you’re suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, depression, bipolar, or all of the above, the creators of Euphoria seem to be making strides toward ensuring that you are heard. I’ve felt heard since I watched the very first episode.


Caitlin Renton is a copy editor and writer from Michigan. She owns and manages the website with the latest technology news happening in the Rust Belt area. In her downtime, she likes to curl up with a good horror novel while cuddling with her cats.

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