Although I like to post a lot of nerdy, educational, scholarly med-type-stuff on Bipolar illness, the most popular posts I have written on Manic Muses by far are those featuring Homeland in the title. Not surprisingly, I saw spikes of activity for those posts on Sunday-Monday, using search terms like, “Carrie Bipolar Med” and “Can a CIA person have Bipolar.” Wow – this show has really struck a chord with viewers – people are really doing their homework on this one. I’ve even had some people mail me privately and ask my opinion on the characters and writing. So, since Season 2 is over in most countries, I figured I would revisit the show as someone who has Bipolar I and answer a few of the questions I get asked the most.
Warning: Irreverent and wise-acre answers ahead. Not all people with Bipolar are going to agree with my views. But, hey – it’s how I see it.
Q: Where did Carrie’s Bipolar go during Season 2?
Yes, well, even we Bipolar people are wondering about this. But, it brings up a great opportunity to talk about remission. Bipolars can and do have periods where there are no manic or depressive thoughts to be had. Periods of stability are possible for a lot of us. But not for all. Bipolar is a tricky disease – it doesn’t present exactly the same way in everyone who has it. Some can live symptom-free for stretches of time, others will have to cope with symptoms each day of their lives. As for Carrie – well, let’s just say that since her disease played so prominently in Season 1, it’s perfectly fair to ask where it went in Season 2.
Q: Do Bipolar people really love colored pens and highlighters?
Think back to Season 1 – when Carrie had turned her living room into a war room, had her pack of highlighters out and hung a bunch of color-coded, classified information on the wall to aid in her pursuit of the truth.
When that scene came on the screen, my husband and I burst into laughter. I am, you see, Post-It Queen. Organization – in my Manic Mind – is only 235 color-coded Post-Its away. (Yes, I also own several packs of highlighters as well.) Seriously, many (but not all) Bipolar people are extremely talented at finding the most illusory clues, making sense of them and putting order to chaos when the ordinary mind cannot. This is where Homeland got it right. Many Bipolar people (again, not all) are gifted, passionate people who can excel at their jobs when they find their niche.
Q: (Revisit) Is Homeland being responsible with their portrayal of Bipolar?
I am asked this question a lot. Let me just put my cards on the table up front. There are those who like to argue Homeland has a responsibility to portray Bipolar as sensitively and realistically as possible. To some degree that is true. It is the right thing to do when your main character has the disease. Personally, I would like to thank the producers, writers and star(s) for even making an effort to make this happen. But, viewers – ask yourselves: where does that responsibility end? This is a nighttime drama, not a NAMI stigma sensitivity PSA. Are expectations from the mental health community around an accurate and sensitive portrayal of Bipolar Disorder too high for Homeland? I think so. And this opinion is brought to you by someone who has Bipolar Disorder. Homeland is drama. And drama requires license be taken with just about every aspect of the story to make it interesting. As close as Homeland may be to some of the realities of fighting terrorism, human nature and mental illness, it is still a nighttime drama. Let’s not forget that.
Q: Can people with Bipolar actually perform and be successful at a job like Carrie’s?
There’s been a lot of discussion that Homeland’s depiction of Bipolar Disorder is off the mark because it is extremely unrealistic when it comes to Carrie’s ability to handle the demands of her job. She has to keep odd professional hours, travel a somewhat brutal schedule and still remain effective under extremely stressful situations. The reality is – it is possible. By no means is this the norm for most people with Bipolar. At all. Let me make that clear. However, I had a job with very similar demands for almost eight years and never failed to perform. I’ve also worked with and read blogs by other Bipolar professionals who keep it all going just fine.
Again, the point is not every Bipolar person is capable of this, but some of us are. Carrie is covered. And it’s pretty cool to see a capable Bipolar person on TV for a change!
Q: Is it responsible to show a Bipolar person having an affair with a terrorist?
[Eye roll – this is a real question someone asked me.] Really? Human beings can have their judgement clouded whether or not they are Bipolar, and whether or not they are in sensitive positions. I won’t even mention General Patreaus or General Allen or Paula Broadwell or that Kelly person. Next topic…
Q: Can someone with a mental illness hold a Clearance?
This sure is a hot topic . Here are the facts in an ordinary case. After that, it’s up to you to decide how far the US Govt would stretch the rules when a dire matter of National Security was at play. Simply put, it is possible for someone with Bipolar to hold a clearance. Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not in and of itself an immediate disqualifier for security clearance.
The security concern arises when the possibility of future unreliable or dysfunctional behavior is indicated by either abnormal behavior or the opinion of a qualified mental health practitioner. When a psychological condition (or the side effects of medication) adversely affects a person’s judgment and behavior, such things as disappointment, failure, or perceive injustice or betrayal may cause reactions that are irresponsible, self-destructive, retaliatory, and/or unlawful. This can result in willful or negligent compromise of classified information, violence, sabotage, or espionage.
If the answer on the clearance request form as to whether someone has submitted to qualified counseling or been hospitalized is ‘yes,’ then the treating physician must be consulted. Does the person under investigation have a condition that could impair his or her judgment, reliability or ability to properly safeguard classified national security information? If so, describe the nature of the condition and the extent and duration of the impairment or treatment. What is the prognosis? Subjective, yes. And crappy for the person who has a risk-adverse doctor. Are there people out there with a clearance who have a mental illness? Yes. Unfortunately, the government does not like to publish statistics on how many folks there actually are or a breakdown of the percentages of the types of illnesses they have. Now, would Carrie personally be able to hold clearance? Based on a former colleague’s experience, I would say no. But, again, I leave it up to you to decide and apply your own amount of willing suspension of disbelief and faith in the US Government to make it work.
Q: Are you really sick and tired of being asked questions about Bipolar Disorder because of Homeland?
🙂 Nah, not at all. If there’s one thing Homeland does, it’s get the conversation going. I never tire of pointing people in the right direction when it comes to accurate information about Bipolar Disorder. For those who want to do more reading, the following are great resources:
The National Institute of Mental Health’s Bipolar Page offers information on treatment, clinical trials and statistics.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance features a What’s Happening section, including an Ask the Dr column. The core membership of DBSA is patients.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Link from CNN news: brain scans from patients in mania depicting lack of activity in frontal lobe. Truly fascinating.