HomeUncategorizedMy Illness is Not a Plot Point


My Illness is Not a Plot Point — 6 Comments

  1. Amen and preach on, sister!!

    I don’t own a TV, but I can and do watch some shows online for free. When my sister told me about “Homeland” I really wanted to watch it. At first I loved it — when Claire Danes went through her first manic episode it was done in an excellent manner, even though my manic episodes (mainly controlled by meds now, damn it — I miss them terribly!!) were different. However, as the show progressed it became more like what you’re talking about — “we can’t trust her, we can’t depend on her, how do you know she’s not going to blah, blah, blah.” I did my best not to bristle, but I didn’t like it. Then EVERYTHING turned around plot-wise the third year, I believe it was, and it wasn’t worth watching at all. I noticed after I quit watching it that I’d been tense during each episode knowing someone would blame Claire Danes’ character for any and every thing or suspect her every move due to her illness.

    It was so good at first to see a show were someone is at such a high-level security clearance and with such responsibilities just happens to have a mental/emotional health issue to deal with privately. When that became the focus, when everyone — even her trusted mentor — spoke badly about her at every turn not because of the events of the show but because of her mental/emotional health it just became too much to bear. What a shame!!

    I also watched some program years ago where a young man was “insane” and killing everyone. They caught him, put him in the local jail — very small town — and he was terrified and trembling. Then you see things through his eyes — he’s hearing voices and seeing horrible images. No wonder he’s terrified!! They bring a doctor who talks about various meds. Show goes on. Time goes on. I’m having a rough time, visit my doctor and he wants to put me on a medication I clearly remembered from that TV episode. I was horrified!! I wasn’t psychotic, so why . . .? I explained about the TV show and my doctor said, “No, no, no. That’s not it at all . . .” and went on to explain about the med. I was terrified for those few minutes just because I’d seen misinformation on a TV show about “a raving lunatic.” It’s not that I believe what’s on a TV show as being factual. It’s the point that the horrifyingly disturbing episode of that young man, what he saw, what he heard, what he did and who enabled him to continue to do what he did left such an impression on me that I was terrified to think my doctor equated a difficult time I was going through with the med they used to treat someone with all those symptoms that I’ve, thank God, never experienced. Later, I wondered about anyone who watched that show who had experienced the horrible things he saw and the scary voices he heard. I wondered how they might have felt about that portrayal. If it affected me so strongly, I can’t help but imagine how it must have made them feel.

    • Clearances and mental illness are problematic, to say the least. I didn’t get any help with my issues when I was in the Air Force for fear of losing mine (I had top secret, which really, they kind of hand out like candy xD), though I wasn’t diagnosed prior, so I wasn’t lying about it either. From what I can tell, she-the-character DID lie and should have had her clearance revoked upon its discovery. Which isn’t to say she should have had to go around telling everyone, but she had a legal obligation to both inform when she applied for her clearance, and to be appropriately treated. The non-military government agencies are very clear on that, since there is the need for agents to both be trustworthy, and to not have any secrets that could be used to blackmail them into stealing.

      ((I know, I know, TV show, so it’s not like they have to get those particular details right, and I’m not super-bothered by the lack of accuracy in that regard either. I’ve just done a lot of reading since I heard about Claire Danes’ character due to my own experiences on clearance and mental illness!))

      BUT I will say from the military angle, it’s supposed to be this bastion of normal-to-superior. And it’s probably fair to say that the prevailing attitude in these areas are rather sausagefest in spite of the high population of female employees (I think the CIA is half and half-ish).


      And that is an excellent point about portrayals in general. When I started on Seroquel, the doctor explained it was an anti-psychotic, and then immediately felt she had to explain that no, she didn’t think I was psychotic. And last night, we had ‘Casualty’ on for like, 2 seconds between things. In those two seconds, someone in a wheelchair at the hospital finds out she’s being taken to the psychiatric ward, flips out, and tries to run away after trying to beat up a nurse with her notes as a response. It’s like, really? Really?! Oh okay, I don’t want to go to the psych ward either, but that’s more about not wanting my husband to get stuck with the kids alone, and that I’m pretty sure ours is bereft of internet… I need my connection to the outside world, darn it.

  2. Really brilliant, thoughtful post. And accurate. I don’t like being used as a plot device either. I was talking to a friend about how the mental illness storyline in films typically goes: person becomes ill. His/ her (usually her) life goes out of control. Suddenly, in the midst of this, there’s a moment of realisation/ clarity, a “pop” or a “ping”, and that person is able to turn his/ her life around and suddenly get on top of said illness. Illness all but vanishes, or at least is barely mentioned again. Life doesn’t work like that. There is no magic “pop” or “ping” that makes you suddenly able to control an illness. It doesn’t happen like that.

    OR it happens in the way described with the Clare Danes character. There is no magic cure, so the person becomes seen as “untrustworthy” or “likely to ‘go off’ at any minute”.

    There is never a plot in which mental illness is dealt with in a realistic sort of way: episode happens. Things return to normal but “Normal” is never “completely fine as if it never happened” and “it *may* happen again but this does not make a person unreliable or dangerous.

    The film Shop Girl is quite good at portraying depression, actually, in a way that it’s dealt with as “a thing she has” rather than “a thing she is” and also it isn’t shown as going away just because someone loves her enough.

    Anyway, have rambled on and hope it makes any sense…

    Thanks again for your post.

  3. I go both ways on this. Even when it isn’t done well, I sort of feel like “hurray?!?!?” for any representation at all, a la Toni Colette (United States of Tara) , which is sad, the which I know, but at the same time, I am not “out” at work because I have been in the past and it hasn’t worked out. If you’re honest about your illness everything is blamed on it– you’re not allowed to be human and make a mistake & everything is viewed through the microscope lens of you must be crazy– not just stressed, or dealing with other unreasonable people, etc. At the same time, feminized representations of mental illness in media are inherently misongynistic and strip away all the “isn’t he a brave little toaster, look at how well he’s coping,” shit (Anthony Michael Hall & The Dead Zone, & interesting now that he’s come back that all references to bipolar are edited out of his wiki bio) that, quite frankly, all us humans deserve, mental illness or not. The “vulnerable”/mentally-ill but charismatic female character as plot device is both misogynistic and lazy writing. We get to objectify her body while she’s curled up in a ball crying on the floor, and feel smug because she’s a hot mess. Bleh. No thank you.

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