At the end of last season’s Homeland I wrote about how disappointing I found the portrayal of bipolar in the American drama. I felt as if another opportunity to explore a much misunderstood condition had been passed over in favour of a paint-by-numbers plot device.
However, since the beginning of season two there has been an aspect of Claire Danes’s character which has really hit home – her triumph at being vindicated and frustration at still being treated as unreliable.
A few years ago, as I’ve previously mentioned, I was ‘made redundant’ from a job and was later awarded (still unrecovered) damages for disability discrimination, sex discrimination and wrongful dismissal. To cut a long story I was accused of being paranoid and over-emotional when I approached my then manager with to report that a junior member of staff, who I had suggested for redundancy was deliberately undermining me in order to gain a promotion in to my position and retain employment.
Like Carrie I felt absolutely sure of my position (unlike her I had absolute proof) but was treated as unreliable and hysterical. My award was made when it was proven in tribunal that following my redundancy the aforementioned member of my team had been given my post and that I had been negatively treated because of both my mental illness and my recent maternity leave.
Watching the first episodes of series two of Homeland I felt as elated as Carrie – SEE, sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re not just forgetful or devious or plain ol’ crazy. And sometimes we’re just as good at our jobs as everyone else. Actually, an awful lot of the time we’re better, many high achievers (Stephen Fry of course, Alastair Campbell, Isaac Newton, Georg Cantor among numerous other musicians, artists, writers, actors, scientists, politicians, philanthropists and business people) have been diagnosed – some posthumously – as bipolar.
This particular aspect of bipolar is the one that finally rang true with me. I struggle with the idea of being treated in the same way as Carrie has been; I find it hard to believe myself, assume that others don’t trust my assertions and struggle to distance my failings from my bipolar.
For example I’m often forgetful or dissociative, which leads to the absolute conviction that I haven’t said or done something that I have. I regularly forget conversations, miss appointments, ask questions repeatedly or fail to run essential errands. The problem, however, is that sometimes I’m absolutely convinced that I’m right – that I’ve never said or done the thing that I’m told I haven’t – and usually I’ve simply forgotten or said/done it during a dissociative episode.
It happens so often that when I KNOW that I’m right I either assume my mind is playing tricks on me or that there’s no point trying to convince anybody else because I’m so often proven to be wrong and they probably think I’m just being bipolar.
I made an appointment for 4:30pm at the opticians. The receptionist later called and spoke to my husband, telling him that the 4pm appointment I had made would have to be rearranged. I knew absolutely that I had made the appointment for 4:30pm, I distinctly remembered refusing a 4pm appointment not least because I now keep a strict diary (to avoid my usual appointment muddling). I remembered in detail telling the receptionist ‘4pm is no good because the kids are in sports club until 4:15pm’ and her saying ‘how about 4:30pm?’ and me saying ‘Yes!’ and adding it to my diary there and then.
The fact of the matter was that whether the appointment was at 4pm or 4:30pm it would’ve been cancelled so really it didn’t matter a jot. But I cried because I had doubted myself and had assumed that my husband would doubt me (he didn’t), all because it’s the sort of thing I would get wrong.
Homeland’s Carrie has an awful lot more self-belief than I do, not that it’s done her a whole heap of good. But I finally feel that we’re being shown a very real side of bipolar and the way those of us with bipolar are treated, something I can relate to and hopefully others (both those with bipolar and their friends, family, employers and teachers) can too.