Sex & Relationships

Why ‘Queen Charlotte’ Is the Mental Illness Representation My Marriage Needed

written by MARIA NIEVES
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

Editors Note: This article contains minor spoilers for the Netflix series ‘Queen Charlotte’.

Bridgerton fans likely couldn’t wait to tune into Netflix’s new mini-series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, giving dear gentle viewers a peek into Charlotte’s past and learning why she is so obsessed with matchmaking. What the show’s trailer didn’t hint at was the reason I was hesitant to watch, despite being a huge fan of Bridgerton.

I was worried that the depiction of mental illness in King George would not be represented well and would be used as a sensationalized plot point like a lot of shows and movies do. However—as a person in a marriage deeply impacted by mental illness—I found a lot of parallels to my own experiences. Here’s why I felt that Queen Charlotte depicted the nuances of mental illness better than I ever expected.

Managing Mental Illness in a Marriage

Sweeping Signs of Mental Illness Under the Rug

Like George, my husband had some privilege, but with that privilege comes the need to maintain his place in society in order to protect the image of the family. My husband grew up having a relatively typical childhood, absent the struggles of poverty or abuse his parents had suffered when they were children. So when his high school counselor brought up concerns, his parents brushed them aside.

By the time my husband met me in college, he was used to identifying as “quirky” and “hyperactive”. He had learned to cope with his mental illness on a day-to-day basis until it exploded into something he could no longer manage by himself. We’d been together for over five years before he started exhibiting symptoms that were cause for concern. He had struggled with severe depression and ADHD for most of his life, but any real concern was pushed aside by his family for fear of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Trying to Make Sense of It On My Own

I knew my husband struggled with depression, however, his family hid that bipolar and schizophrenia ran in their family for a few generations. While he had known that his mother received treatment and struggled, it was something they brushed aside because to acknowledge it was to acknowledge a weakness. So when he started exhibiting signs of mania around 26 years old, I was left floundering much like Queen Charlotte. I was able to notice something was off when he would be up all hours of the night, pupils blown, talking about grandiose plans. I wondered how often his family had pushed aside these very real, very exhausting symptoms.

Even then, I tried to make sense of it on my own. I made excuses for his behavior and justified his oddities because his parents and sister made it seem typical. And today there is still so much stigma around mental illness that anything more than a little anxiety is seen as taboo. Add in that we both grew up in immigrant families that simply do not talk about these things publicly left us lost once he was deep into his first full-blown manic episode.

Getting Treatment for a Partner With Mental Illness

Since I had studied psychology in my undergrad and had knowledge of what a manic episode looked like, by the time my husband’s symptoms really manifested I was able to advocate for him with an amazing psychiatrist and therapist.

In Queen Charlotte, medical treatment for mental illness was shaky at best. His doctors take drastic measures to assure George is fit to be king, like inducing physical harm to mask symptoms temporarily. People with mental illness sometimes use similar tactics in their day-to-day life. They may also use drugs and/or alcohol, which can make it difficult to get an official diagnosis and treatment.

Today, there are many different safe methods to help stabilize mood and other symptoms a person can exhibit. But even though treatment has evolved, we also see the importance of routine and healthy coping mechanisms like exercise. Charlotte knew that farming was helpful for George to ground himself in the routine, and having familiar surroundings and people to stabilize him during his “outbursts.”

Supporting My Husband

It’s not known for certain what mental illness King George III had, but the show takes creative liberties that lead the viewer to believe he is battling bipolar like my husband. People with bipolar struggle with periods of depression as well as mania. Mania symptoms range from expressing elation, talking quickly, feeling self-important and full of energy, having new grand ideas or even delusions or hallucinations like George depicts in the show.

When Charlotte finally views his actions without the censoring of those around him, she does not run away. She stands beside her husband and loves him for all of who he is, not pieces. Queen Charlotte’s love and commitment to George allows her to prioritize his need for stability, recognize his triggers like leaving the grounds of his castle to go to Parliament, and push for accommodations so that he can do his duties with her by his side. Each scene reminded me of the power such small adjustments can have for someone struggling with mental illness and hopefully will continue to break down the stigma against those with disorders.

Final Thoughts on Queen Charlotte

Relationships can be difficult in the best of circumstances. While some marriages cannot survive the ups and downs, I love how Queen Charlotte reminds us that our relationships are more than just odd and even days. It depicts the beauty and the nuance of loving a person with a mental health disorder. And it shows how a relationship can survive despite the challenges mental illness can bring.

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