Calling all Kimmy Schmidts: Unbreakable brilliantly explores life after abuse

That’s a Dinglehopper, right?

When I first heard about Unbreakable: Kimmy Schmidt, I was far from taken with it. The sentence “a woman gets rescued from a religious cult and makes a new life in New York City” didn’t sound like prime real estate for a comedy. In the end, it was only the fact that Tina Fey writes and Ellie Kemper stars that got me to consider watching the pilot.

It was – no exaggeration – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What I quickly found in Unbreakable is a hilarious, upbeat mirror of my life after religious isolation. As a kid in a house where only 2 radio stations (which play the same Christian songs repeatedly) are permitted and Harry Potter is condemned as witchcraft, I distanced myself from pop culture. Now, as an 18 year-old, the mission before me is daunting: catch up on nearly 2 decades of memes, celebrity gossip, hit songs, and fads, learn social cues, and navigate the conditioning and disorders I survived with.

Let’s be real: I just this year learned what alt rock is and have yet to be informed why Beyonce seems to be a one-woman American pantheon, so I usually end up feeling like Ariel from “Part of Your World”: I’ve got hashtags and Mean Girls aplenty / I’ve got manners and small talk galore / You want celebrity rumors? I’ve got twenty! / But who cares? No big deal, / I want more!

We’re all Kimmy Schmidt

That’s why Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt hits so close to home for me – the incredibly optimistic redhead isn’t just a source of laughs, but inspiration and solidarity.

As Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s melodramatic and ever-classy roommate, advises: “escaping it is not the same thing as making it.” Just because you’re out of isolation doesn’t mean you’re immediately One of the Seculars again – you have a lot to learn, from doing a job interview to reading social signs to being culturally literate to navigating the disordered behavior that’s been conditioned into you.

Unbreakable takes all these considerations and reorients them at a brilliantly funny and hopeful angle – it is, after all, a comedy. After Kimmy escapes from the underground bunker where Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne held her and three other women for a decade, supposedly the only survivors of a post-apocalyptic Earth, she begins a new life in New York City.

“Is that your Reverend?” Naive and trusting, Kimmy is promptly robbed of the $13,000 she came to the city with, catches a shoplifting little boy and brings him home, and assumes that the boy’s mother – later her boss, Jacqueline Voorhees – is being held against her will after misinterpreting her words. She also gets into a van with a supposed bra salesman. After so many isolated years, Kimmy needs to reorient herself to the world and all its new dangers and duplicities if she’s to fit in.

“Do you know what a Givenchy romper is?” Again, cultural illiteracy rears its ugly head. It’s inevitable that every isolation survivor needs a The Last 10 Years of Pop Culture for Dummies once they get out. Kimmy actually keeps a notebook labeled “Things People Don’t Say Anymore” – making me feel a little less alone and giving me fun ways to take my ignorance in stride and humor.

“I’ve had everything normal happen to me!” One of Unbreakable‘s funniest elements to me is how many ways Kimmy covers up her past. We do see echoes of the Reverend’s indoctrination in Kimmy: she wakes up and finds herself cleaning a knife in a shower (dissociative fugue state for ya), bites Titus’ nails (anxiety with a twist!), and harbors an unexplained phobia of Velcro. But Kimmy wants to move on. She keeps her history a secret from her boss and her boss’ stepdaughter, and when Titus finds out, she exclaims his reaction is just why she kept the secret. She considers therapy and drops many verbal clues about her abuse, but darkest of all, Jackie’s plastic surgeon comments that Kimmy’s face has very distinct “scream lines.”

Kimmy Schmidt, the Energizer Bunny of Abuse Survivors

The key element of Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Ginger, is that she doesn’t let this baggage get her down. Instead, Kimmy uses her experiences and coping skills to bring a resilient optimism and helping hand to every situation. And she messes up a lot. She’s sucked into a fitness cult with Jackie before realizing its true nature, gets facial injections from a plastic surgeon to soothe her insecurities, and makes “Beauty comes from the outside in!” her new mantra until discovering the opposite.

The point is that even though things are pretty darn rough for Kimmy at times, she takes it all with incredible stride. While I don’t know any survivor as unwaveringly positive as Kimmy – I mean, everyone must break down sometime, and Kimmy ought to reflect that in Season 2 – her philosophy is a great one to adopt. Like she says, “The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in my own front yard.” After 10 years of hell, Kimmy believes that the worst is over; the best is yet to come. New York City is nothing compared to what she’s already endured.

To me, a little ole emotional and religious abuse survivor who’s one month away from freshman year of college (read: escaping an abusive house) and uses humor and optimism to function, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is my inspiration and comfort. I only two months ago realized that my home situation is abusive, and unearthing all its impacts on me has been a journey already. I know college will dump so many more discoveries right at my feet, but thanks to Unbreakable, I now have a road map and shining example of how to take all of this in stride – and come out better for it.

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