Homeland, Bipolar Disorder & Sleep Deprivation


This year, Homeland, a TV show on Showtime, took home around 6 Emmys.  Some people hadn’t heard of it before, but I was hooked after the first episode. The premise, turning a POW into a domestic terrorist, is timely and intriguing, especially since the protagonist is not of Middle Eastern descent. The show’s take on the subject isn’t simplistic; rather, as complex as real life is.  There have been three episodes so far this year, and after the second, I was struck by the accurate depiction of a high functioning person with bipolar disorder. Claire Danes plays one of the lead characters, a CIA agent who has bipolar disorder, probably Type 1.  She is a brilliant and intuitive agent who speaks multiple languages; however, her fervor about her belief of the guilt of the POW turns into an obsession. You witness her sliding into a manic state while processing information about his behavior.  Eventually, her suspicion is deemed by superiors to be imagined, and the POW, who fears her, reports her as exhibiting crazy behavior.  Her job is then in jeopardy, with a forced medical leave. She admits herself to a psych hospital where she receives Electric Convulsive Therapy (also know as electric shock therapy). This is not a sad or pathetic story. In fact, it’s one of hope. Carrie returns after her hospitalization, a much more stable person. After living with her Dad for a short time, she goes back on her own; her theory is substantiated; and, she starts to return to her balanced self.


One of the things that became a theme of the second episode was her Dad’s admonition to make sure she gets enough sleep, reminding her that sleep is an important and necessary part of her recovery and stability.  As it turned out this past Sunday, the writer of Homeland, confessed that she did a lot of research before developing Carrie’s character, based on her experience, and the experience of others with people challenged by bipolar disorder.  She commented about the brilliance and creativity of many people who are bipolar, but who are totally capable of managing their illness when they follow their prescribed plan, and pay attention to their triggers.


I was impressed by the show’s representation of someone with bipolar disorder and saw it as serendipitous that the episode about sleep occurred right after our benefit for the Mojo Project.  There are many things that may contribute to a manic episode….stress (positive or negative),  not taking meds, etc., but the one thing that will set someone up for mania is lack of sleep. For about three years, we have been trying to fund The Mojo Project. I have written about it before many times. The need for a consistent sleep schedule is one of the maxims of treatment for someone with BD; however, for the musician, it’s easier said than done.


A musician goes through a roller coaster of emotions in just one day. If they’ve been traveling cross- country in a van, the road becomes monotonous, and sleep may come in fits and starts. They arrive at the gig, hopefully with enough time to do a sound check. Weary and feeling crummy, they go to the hotel to wash and change. They may get to the job, and depending on the significance of the event, be anywhere from anxious that they are playing in a festival to annoyed that they are playing in a sports bar. Assuming they have an appreciative crowd, the adrenaline kicks in and they are on a high. Two or three hours later, the crowd goes home and they go back to a room that isn’t their own, with varying degrees of comfort. Truly exhausted from such a long and tiring day, sleep doesn’t come easy, if at all. Maybe 6 hours later, they need to get on the road for the next job, and the routine repeats itself.


Now, let’s say that someone is following Sean’s last US tour. He left Atlanta, played his way to south Florida, through the Midwest to Vancouver, down to Los Angeles, across to Las Vegas and then straight home for a CD release the following weekend and television/radio appearances two days after the Las Vegas jobs. There are only 3 guys to share the road, and would be only 2 for the last leg.  From what Sean told me, the gigs went great. He called me from Vancouver, as happy as I’ve ever heard him.


How much sleep was the band able to get? I bet that they couldn’t even tell you. That’s the point of Mojo….awareness of how far from a healthy state you are traveling. There may be choices that a musician can make that make a difference. Sometimes there aren’t, but chronic lack of sleep is not sustainable. Of course, some medicate with drugs and/or alcohol to help induce sleep, but the sleep that comes that way isn’t restorative.


I truly believe that Mojo could save a life. Knowing that sleep deprivation can trigger reckless behavior should be alarming. This program will allow someone to see if they’ve gone too far in ignoring restful sleep. No job is worth your life or health. A musician would never play without a well- tuned instrument. It may sound corny and some would say, naïve, but you can’t survive for long without a healthy body.  If you have BD, your chances are even greater that you will suffer serious consequences.


I am very proud to be a part of this project, and grateful that fate has brought a connection to a brilliant psychology researcher (and musician), Greg Murray, who has been working on this project for a long time. I am grateful for every dollar that people have donated to the Fund that will allow us to fund an application that helps musicians stay healthy, while simultaneously giving us information that can support them even more.


The benefit was amazing, as usual. The music was phenomenal, but how could Tinsley, Kim Wilson, Gina and Dave and the great friends of Sean: Paul Linden, Ray Hangen, and Billy Burke, not be? The volunteers were wonderful and everything came off without a hitch. The sponsors and donors were incredibly generous. The preparation was brutal. The outcome was an unknown and anxiety producing. Knowing that there is this one, very large contribution that we can make to the community made the process worth it.


I will be keeping you updated about Mojo. I will sleep better myself knowing that we’ve been able to contribute something to the community that is the reason why we have all come together.


With hope and gratitude,


7 thoughts on “Homeland, Bipolar Disorder & Sleep Deprivation

  1. Lynn Dobbs on said:

    I have worked in mental health for 20 years and have always been very frustrated about the stigma and intolerance associated with those who suffer from mental illness. I agree with your assessment of Homeland- it is very realistic in the depiction of both PTSD and Bi-polar Disorder. I too am very grateful that this drama depicts those with these disorders as functional, intelligent, and unique, as most truly are.

    • I’ve had recurrent deieossprn for decades, sometimes lasting a month or two, sometimes a year or more. The worst for me is how much my deieossprn hurts on the inside, how much it makes me loathe and hate myself — but that’s the deieossprn screwing up the chemicals, the neurotransmitters, in my brain and telling me lies. It really makes me feel hopeless, though, makes me beat myself in the head. The most recent episode, Depression led me to go shopping for a weapon because I just didn’t think I could hold on any longer. I decided to go into the hospital because I knew I would die if I didn’t. This was last year, after 3 years of worsening deieossprn, despite meds and therapy and all. I’m healthy now. though, and glad I’m alive. It is, indeed, crucial to remember that you will feel better someday and that the negative messages your brain tells you are NOT true. And to keep asking for help when things are bad. Was this answer helpful?

      • I wanted to respond to your very honest post. Depression can be a very serious disease.One of its worst effects is making you feel that it’s a forever mood and that there is no hope. I am beyond happy that you chose the hospital as your path, and would suggest, if you did buy a gun, that you get rid of it, just in case depression comes to visit you again. There is hope; however, it requires a strength that people often do not have. For that reason, it’s really important to seek help from someone. Sometimes, we do need the help of others. A community like this, that is willing to share their journeys is a start. One in four people suffer from a mental health challenge, so you are definitely not alone. Thank you for being a support to Lynn.
        Debbie Smith/Sean’s Mom

  2. Angelique Dakak on said:

    I have bipolar 1 and am grateful that the proper research is being done to further diminish the false stigmae against individuals like myself. Way to go!

    • I think the worst thing is the times when you feel you can’t hold on. It does pass however, doisesrpen comes in ‘waves’ — Sometimes you’ll feel absolutely terrible, but it will pass and you’ll begin to feel a little better.One thing that I find helps is new experiences – do something you’ve never done before and you’ll find a new confidence in yourself.Also, don’t keep everything bottled up, you might find keeping a diary or talking to a friend helps too.Hope you feel better soon, x Was this answer helpful?