5 Things We Can Learn from Carrie Mathison

I’d never found television exhilarating until I saw Homeland. Every Sunday night I sit on the edge of my sofa, clutching my maltipoo while the brilliant bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, takes me on a thrilling ride through covert missions, terrorist plots and high-stakes romantic entanglements. Now that the show is deep into season two, I’m realizing it’s not only the suspenseful drama that keeps me enraptured week after week, but the complex wisdom offered by Carrie, in all of her wild intelligence, courageous patriotism and complicated desires.  Here is what I think we can learn from her:

  1. Trust your instincts.  When Carrie listens to her gut, she’s usually right. When she doesn’t, she finds herself off-course, lost at sea. I think we’ve all had the experience of hearing a little voice inside us. The one that says I don’t like this doctor or something isn’t right about this lady or this place gives me the creeps. Sometimes you can’t point to anything specific, and the rest of the world might tell you that you’re crazy for thinking these things, but you just know. That voice is often on to something and we should listen to it.
  2. It’s all right to cry. Much has been made of Carrie Mathison’s copious tears, but I admire the way she allows herself to fully experience life. I don’t endorse crying on the job. I think it’s best to excuse oneself to the ladies room. But I also don’t believe any good comes from stuffing anger, frustration and hurt into a tiny, dark corner of yourself because it’s easier and less embarrassing. Someone once told me that trying to keep feelings under the surface is like holding a beach ball underwater. It takes a lot of work and eventually they pop up. Let’s do like Carrie and allow ourselves to express our emotions, as messy, inconvenient and confusing as they may be.
  3.  Find a good mentor. Oh, Saul. Wise, flawed, rabbinical Saul. His belief in Carrie, professional support, and willingness to see in her what others won’t has had a profound effect on her career. I’ve had teachers to whom I’ve laid my soul bare and who’ve responded with compassion and guidance. I’ve befriended professionals who are just a little older and wiser who’ve listened, advised, and generously connected me to others in my field. But I have never had a mentor. I imagine that a long-term champion who will invest in you professionally and personally, illuminate your options from a better vantage point, and help you discover your own right decisions would be awesome. Take a cue from Carrie and find a mentor. Perhaps it’s not too late for me, either.
  4. Be vigilant about your mental health. Carrie suffers from severe bipolar disorder. When she doesn’t stay on top of it, her world spirals into chaos. Carrie’s illness is extreme, but there are subtler mental health issues that are just as pernicious. Depression is real and must be dealt with, even low-grade depression. Anxiety is real. It can tether you to your fears and keep you from flying. Low self-esteem is real and can turn you into a broken record of poor choices. The good news is that there is help out there. If you think you need it, find it. When Carrie reads her own signs, when she manages her mental illness, she is so much more powerful.
  5. Never take pills with white wine. For Carrie, this is a harbinger of self-destruction and disaster. So is Carrie skipping her pills and heading straight for the pinot grigio. Playing with her brain chemistry makes Carrie feel alive and frisky for risky behavior, but this is where we can learn from Carrie’s mistakes. Instead of seeking thrills through mind-altering substances, tune into Homeland, where Carrie is living dangerously enough for all of us. After all, some adventures, like extremely ill-advised sexual encounters, hiding out with a terrorist for the weekend, or dashing around Beirut while armed men chase you through the marketplace, are best had vicariously, from the safety of your sofa and in the warm embrace of your sweetly snoring dog.

Featured image via Showtime.

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