My Sunday night (not so) guilty pleasure is settling on the couch with human and canine family members and spend an hour inside the head of Carrie Mathison. The heroine of “Homeland” is a CIA operative who spends most of her waking hours fighting terrorism. This is the short version. Oh, she is also bipolar. Despite the criticisms of employing Arab actors of the wrong ethnicity and an all around portrayal of Muslims as terrorists, the show is nonetheless enormous fun, mostly because of the complex character Claire Danes embodies.
Probably I love it because it couldn’t be more distant from my everyday life, hence a form of true escapism. I doubt I will ever be kidnapped, realize someone wants me dead and abandon my dogs to figure out why. Ottie and Portia can rest easy. Nor am I bipolar. Carrie’s m.o., during the diciest moments, is to absorb the shock, gain enough distance to assess events and act as needed. I never paused to judge this sequence of emotions but, last Sunday, I realized how accurate they are.
The same way a body doesn’t perceive immediate pain right after a major trauma, I noticed the mind doesn’t behave that differently. A few years ago, I was in a fairly serious traffic accident, where the other party was injured. I remember talking to the police officer, as if the whole episode was happening to somebody else: sitting on the side of the road, answering the same questions over and over, bullied to admit to something I hadn’t done. By gaining that distance, I was able to keep my wits about me and it was only several hours later, when the shock abated, that I found myself shivering and drained.
When the radiologist told me there was something suspicious with my mammogram and we should perform a biopsy immediately, everything registered in my mind as if I was watching a movie. Again, it wasn’t until I walked out an hour later that I grasped what had happened on a more molecular level. My mind took over without me having to do much at all if not bear witness. The harder job of processing trauma, both physical or emotional, is left for later.
During the last few weeks, I have been awed by the power of the human mind and its inner workings, with the coping mechanisms that kick in and see us through everything life sees fit to throw our way. Humans are exquisitely built, if not always fairly.
And while I would never think denial is healthy, I have also come to understand that a subtler version of it feeds us the details drop by drop, without overwhelming us with the big Kahuna all at once. Drawers open and close one at a time, the contents rearranged until everything is sorted and filed away in its proper place, which is quite remarkable. And it all happens without me having to do much at all, if not observe and register it in my physical body.
I have also seen my body change not so subtly: the frozen muscles, the knotty stomach, the shoulders perched atop my ears, the pallor and dark circles under my eyes, slowly gave way to a physical relaxation, to a normal skin tone, to my usual facial expression. Three weeks later, I look again like me and not that frightened woman in the mirror I did not recognize.
Now I can pretend I am Carrie Mathison, on a mission.
Am I losing my mind? you are wondering. Possibly. But, hey, whatever gets us through the day.