A popular Showtime series, currently in Season Seven, starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin. A show filled with tons of suspense. An espionage thriller.
Too bad it’s also filled with a ton of misleading fiction about Bipolar Disorder.
Actually I should say up front, when they portray Danes’ character, Carrie Mathison, finally going off the deep end due to her manic episodes – that! That they get correct!
Here’s what’s NOT accurate about the character’s struggle with Bipolar Disorder. That it is in any way okay to stop taking medication. That there is any justification for it. That those with Bipolar are so gifted and brilliant, that if we’re the only one of us running in our circle of friends or co-workers, only we can solve the our little group’s problems.
It is irresponsible of this show to suggest that even though the heroine struggles, fails and hurts others, ultimately, it all ends up okay in the end. That it was necessary. In fact, Mathison swoops in and saves the day every time. No one else in the land of CIA, FBI or other acronyms can solve the threats faced on the show. Let me give you some idea of what it is I’m trying to say here.
At the end of Season One, we see Carrie choose to undergo ECT treatments because she wants to forget some bad stuff that went down between herself and handsome traitor/wait is he a traitor, Brody. She wanted to forget that unfortunate romance because, again, it’s gotta be rough not knowing if you’re carrying on with a married traitor. So, in Homeland’s thinking, let’s take advantage of what is most often a last resort for those of us with Bipolar, and yeah. Strap me down and zap me a few times doc. Loving me some ECT! I know many people with Bipolar. I have never known someone to happily elect ECT in order to lose memories. In fact, most often it is avoided because memories are wiped from our minds. Dangerous and misleading.
In Season Three, we think she lost her marbles again, and Danes is fantastic at showing us what that looks like, ugly cry and all. But we later discover that she purposefully quit medication in order to lose those marbles in a scheme hatched with her good buddy Saul, once again in order to ultimately save the day. She was outed as a Bipolar in Senate committee hearings, by pal Saul again, when he revealed she was an agent in medical trouble and experiencing paranoia due to the mental illness. The blame for bad stuff that went down lands on her. But wait. Later, after moves and counter-moves, we learn Carrie and Saul decided together that she would stop her medication – primarily Lithium – with the intentions of receiving blame for more things gone awry. Later, when back on a medication cocktail that is therapeutic and with sanity having returned, what happens? Yes! Carrie swoops in and discovers who bombed Langley! See? She had to go off her meds, right? Right. Only Carrie could have achieved that by discontinuing her meds and being thrown into another mental health hospital.
It’s going to be even more repetitive from this point further, so I’ll try to summarize a bit. She made it through Season Four taking her medication. However, what happens in Season Five? Right. Stopped her meds, heroically telling current boyfriend that when she spins out too far, he needs to then force her to take that med cocktail. So, here it’s important for me to say, if you ever try to get someone with Bipolar to take their medication while they’re in a manic state, good luck to you. We’ll either laugh you under the table or knock your damn head off. But hey, she stopped the meds, put a bunch of pictures and diagrams on the wall, and solved the mystery, like only Carrie can. Did I mention she sent her daughter to stay with her sister in order that she might embark upon this noble quest? Sigh.
Season Six – I promise we’re almost out of seasons – this is a season in which she took her meds. Yay! She’s acting responsibly! She’s learned from her mistakes. Only. Wait. No, again? Yes, again.
We’re sailing into Season Seven, and again, only Carrie can save the day, by stopping all meds, then buying meds from a dealer she seems to know, and has her friend tell her when to take what med. Sound familiar? Yes. Oh, and this friend turns out to be a traitor, too. Seems like she doesn’t make good, solid decisions off meds. (Funny, that’s how it goes in real life too, so we really don’t need Homeland encouraging discontinuation of meds). Oh, and yes, she’s really effing up with her kid. Neglect. Almost hitting her with a car. While Carrie is “coercing” a confession from that new traitor I mentioned – coercing as in seducing, we’re in the sack, all clothes off, about to achieve the Big O – the feds (I feel cool saying that) bust down the doors. Did I mention her young daughter is in the next room? Sigh.
After tonight’s episode, she’s still off meds and finally has become manic again with full-on psychosis, hallucinations and all.
So, are we just strolling down Homeland’s memory lane, or am I actually trying to make a point? It’s the latter.
Even though I have enjoyed most of the episodes from day one ground zero until now, I must say I hate how they romanticize Bipolar. Only poor, misunderstood, persecuted Carrie can figure out the answers, no matter if she hurts family, friends or herself, because eventually, everyone will see it was worth it. Carrie had to do it!
The danger for fans here is that not everyone is educated about the disorder, or mental illnesses in general. So, while I can watch and appreciate for entertainment value, others can get a false impression. When someone with Bipolar quits their meds, many, many things can go badly. And fast.
First of all, the body can go into shock. Seizures and even death. Secondly, once the meds are out of the system, one of two very dark things will most likely occur. Severe depression, or severe mania. Depression that smothers you down deep so far from anything good, any light, that often times a person takes extreme measures and tries to commit suicide. Conversely, if one becomes manic, a myriad of things can occur. Hyper-sexuality that often leads to extramarital affairs, over-spending and derailment of finances that can land one into tens of thousands of debt, hallucinations and hearing of voices that can cause one to hurt themselves or threaten others.
Most people who don’t know much about Bipolar seem to only know that last bit I mentioned. That is because shows like Homeland, with a huge fan base, play fast and loose with the truth. Most people only see a situation that has become dangerous with the Bipolar sufferer hurting themselves or others. A series that is viewed by so many does have a responsibility to air truths, even in fiction. The stakes are high.
For whom, you might wonder. Teens just being diagnosed and working with the doctor to figure out what medication best helps them, when they see this misrepresentation, many will combat mom and dad, rebel and be absolutely certain they don’t need meds. The general public that thinks we just pick and choose ECT and expect an effect much like what we see in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie in which painful memories can be selected and eradicated from the mind. All too often, Bipolars and those with Schizophrenia are the second to be blamed for mass shootings or school shootings, coming in just under “the terrorists.” Homeland could also speak to the person who is protective of their manic states. That might be hard to understand, but all too often, when we take our meds, we lose some of our creativity and sharper thinking. The medication dulls things somewhat. It’s a trade off; the lesser of two evils. We don’t need fictional characters promoting poor decisions.
Look, it is extremely difficult work to stay mentally healthy and sound with this disorder, and shows like Homeland can be an insult to us. We take our meds daily. We see therapists/counselors. We have families and successful careers. We are a part of our communities. We make sound decisions, something Homeland and Carrie Mathison do not.
As I close this blog entry, I glance toward the tv and scrolling across the ROKU screen I see beautiful Claire Danes in a Homeland advertisement. So perhaps I am actually talking about something timely and of significant relevance after all.