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Our reckless coping mechanisms are frighteningly clear from the outside

Euphoria's Rue, played by Zendaya, has provided Naledi Sibisi a mirror for all she's been through and has put others through as a result of her own personal challenges
Thu, Sep 24, 2020

One thing about me? I have been very open about my journey with my mental health over the years. In September 2013, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder (characterised by at least one episode of hypomania and then major depression). What followed was the beginning of many benders in my life. Between the drugs (some prescribed and some not), the alcohol, my depression and my manic episodes – it has been a TRIP.

So, when I started watching Euphoria and quietly taking notes and observations of what that looked like from the outside, I was moved. Unrelated – my little sister who lives in another country asked me if I had been watching and pointed out a particular scene where Zendaya's character Rue overdosed and her little sister found her in the bedroom. That was my sub. I was Rue and she was Gia.

My journey to self-care and freeing myself of the drugs this year has required a lot of atoning and accounting for what I have put everyone in my life through over the years. That is what Euphoria captured so accurately.

It is not that Rue is unaware or does not care. It is that she has no control over the magnitude of what her mind does to her and how her body responds to it. My therapist once told me that I was not on an active suicide mission but consistently put myself in dangerous situations because of that lack of control and just wanting it to stop.

Over the weekend, former Disney actress Zendaya made history and became the youngest woman to win an Emmy in the category for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her role as Rue, and I completely got it because she accurately captured what living with a disorder and an addiction looked like.

The teenage drug addict she portrays gives us a seemingly unfiltered look at what the modern teenager experiences with alcohol, drugs, sexuality and depression. If her win is anything to go by, it can be quite a tense watch because it is generation-specific.

Born a few days after the 9/11 attacks, the viewer is taken on a dark and slow progression of Rue's childhood and the overwhelming nothingness she feels from a young age.

That nothingness is accompanied by intense anxiety, OCD and it is suggested that she may battle with a bipolar disorder as well. Between the triggers and traumas that many of us can relate to, there is a way in which one sympathises with Rue – like looking at yourself through an out of body experience.

Her battle with her mental health from a young age causes her to became addicted to ingesting pills and when we encounter teenage Rue, she is addicted to opioids; a clever choice of drug on the part of the writers, given that these are legally prescribed to manage chronic and severe pain, however, there is also a very serious opioid crisis in the US.

There is a heavy scene in which she overdoses and her younger sister finds her. It is raw and it is terrifying, but it is also something the younger generation is accustomed to and herein is the importance of how Zendaya truly leaned into her character.

Rue's dealer is one of her closest friends; her new best friend Jules is a trans girl; the jock half of the 'it' couple at school is later revealed to be sexually fluid; Kat another pupil is in the world of online dating, so needless to say, there is just A LOT going on with these teenagers.

Ultimately, the series takes us through each storyline, most times simultaneously, to show us the ways in which they are all struggling but convincing themselves that their coping mechanisms will keep them afloat. It is a lot to take in, between the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but it is also deliberately unfiltered.

"I know this feels like a really weird time to be celebrating," Zendaya shared as her win was announced.

"I just want to say there is hope in the young people out there – I know that our TV show doesn't always feel like a great example of that – but there is hope in our young people and I just want to say to all my peers out there doing the work in the streets, 'I see you, I admire you, I thank you'."

  • You can stream Euphoria on Showmax
  • Other Emmy 2020-winning shows and movies you can enjoy on Showmax include: Succession, Watchmen, Bad Education, Rick & Morty and I Know This much Is True.

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