Bipolar on TV: Homeland and realism

Season 5 of Homeland came out when I was in the middle of my postpartum psychosis. In case you have’t watched the show, it centres around a CIA agent who has bipolar I disorder. In the show she regularly becomes manic and this is the time when she solves most of the cases. Of course, the mania spins out of control and eventually she exhibits paranoia and at times, hallucinations.
homeland_season_5I vaguely remember finishing season 4 which had just been released on Netflix at my mum’s home with my husband during one of his weekend visits and flipping out, feeling sick in my stomach and my head exploding at the earlier scenes of her mania flashbacks. Although I had not yet been diagnosed, the reality on the screen was too close for me at the time. It truly spun me out and I think deep down that i knew that I was going through was close to what I was seeing on the screen. Only more real, more acutely in your face and less super-powerness that was being portrayed through Carrie’s character.

Last night we started to binge watch season 5 and I was a bit anxious to begin with, due to the distant memories of season 4 and my own psychotic episode. I held my breath for it and in episode 4 it finally reared it’s head. I won’t do a spoiler but I will say that this time I was significantly less affected by the screen play and script, and watched with more a critical eye. I think that the public is scared of what they do not understand, and bipolar disorder is one of the those things. When I was first diagnosed it felt like a death sentence. I would not be able to get and keep work as a regular person, I would always be viewed through the lens of my illness and people would call judgement based on my mania and psychotic episodes. I admit that I am still wary of the diagnosis and when my doctor said to me recently that I am going to medicated for the remainder of my life it hit me – this is part of me. I am not bipolar, I have bipolar and yet there are aspects of the illness that are chronic and are part of who I am and how I see the world. I now have to disclose my illness to workplaces otherwise when an episode comes on, I have no backing to get me out of it. Likewise I often tell people I meet because I feel the need to beat the stigma associated with the illness. I disclosed this to a new friend recently and they said, ‘Wow your doctors would be so interested in you as there are not many high functioning people with bipolar disorder’.

I believe that I likely had bipolar disorder before having Master X in 2015, but I never went into psychosis and self-managed with alcohol and prescription medication for my diagnosis of anxiety and depression. I now know of course that these medications can make mania worse in people with bipolar type I, and this certainly was the case for me in the postpartum period. dEspite having cycles of mania pre-baby it was not until after the birth that I experienced psychosis. Seeing representations of psychosis is weird now I am ‘being managed’ for the bipolar. I critically judge their realism based on personal standpoint. Although I know that everyone experiences it different, similar patterns emerge which is what differentiates the types of bipolar. What do I think of Season 5’s representation so far? I did laugh a little at the end of episode 4, but some of it hit close to home. I guess you’ll just have to watch it to be a judge for yourself.


7 thoughts on “Bipolar on TV: Homeland and realism

  1. This show sounds very interesting, but I can see how it might be difficult to watch for someone actually living with manic symptoms. I hope that repeat viewing and season five isn’t too difficult for you!


  2. I used to manage with alcohol prediagnosis too. Self medicate without even knowing that is what I was doing. What was your experience with psychosis if you don’t mind me asking or if you wrote about it already let me know where to read. Thanks!


    1. I have written bits, but the whole story is in my novella. I became extremely paranoid that those who were trying to help were trying to take my baby, hallucinated a spirit haunting my son and that it needed to be exhumed (I think that is the word), hearing voices. It went for 5 months before I was put on the right medication. I was put in full time care for a couple of months. A lot is a blur which I why this book is taking so long to write. I’m like ‘do I want to know what happened’?


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