How To Watch Homeland If You Have Raging Anxiety

Or as I like to call it, “Carrie & The Enablers”

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No spoilers.

Look, I figured it was going to be a long pandemic, I might as well watch Homeland. I’d never seen the show, despite its very existence in the ether calling to me for various reasons including the presence of Claire Danes, 90s icon. So since April, whenever I’ve sat down to watch a television show, this is what I’ve been watching. It’s been a grind, but I’m about to press play on Homeland’s final season, and as someone with anxiety who also loves fast-paced, intelligent TV, I’ve learned a few things. I will pass my findings on here for those similarly afflicted.

I never watched Homeland because I am extremely reluctant to do the following:

  1. Watch television programs with more than five seasons if I wasn’t watching them from the beginning
  2. Watch what everyone else is watching

Some might say I have issues with commitment and conformity. Really, it’s that I don’t like forking over huge chunks of my time to a project that’s only been vetted by members of the public—who cannot, under any circumstances, be trusted. We’re talking about a human population whose behavior has resulted in the continual greenlighting of The B*chelor, do you think I’m going to listen to their tastes in programming? Absofuckinglutely not. I’m going to make my own decisions, based on my own personal tastes, and on rare occasions, those tastes align with what the public loves. This strategy has burned me in the past however, and fuck you Game Of Thrones. Homeland was a risk I was willing to take, because it involves spy shit.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that I want to be a spy and most certainly am a spy in some other dimension of our world somewhere, Homeland is just a great show. Twists a-plenty, plotlines your brain has to actually follow in between giant bowls of spicy popcorn, and I mean…come on, Mandy Patinkin. You can tell this crew is really working hard to put on a show for you, and they’re not afraid major changes, upsets, deaths, and the like. Nothing enrages me more than a television show with one central character that you know they can’t kill because you know they’ve agreed to four more seasons but they still keep putting her life in imminent danger anyway. I’m not an idiot, and you guys like money. Either kill her or have her do the killing, but stop insulting my intelligence.

If Homeland has a flaw, that flaw is most certainly a plot line. Carrie is a terrible, albeit country-loyal person who needs to hear the word “no” and never does. She is surrounded by enabling people that do things they have no business doing on her behalf that almost always get them killed or fired or both and yet, onward lads, to the next season! They just keep doing it. This Carrie is perhaps the most enabled Carrie since the Sex And The City Carrie and that’s really saying something. Stop naming people Carrie and allowing them to do whatever they want to the people around them while we all collectively scream at the television in disbelief.

Managing anxiety while also loving fictional (sure) CIA drama is a fine line to walk. I want to live in the intrigue, the twists and turns, the trade craft—but I also want to feel completely safe and swaddled like a happy baby at the same time. After seven seasons of Homeland, that I had to pay $14.99 individually for I might add, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks on how to watch a nail-biter without drawing blood.

If you can’t already tell by my usage of swearwords in published content, I am not a therapist or mental health professional of any kind. I am speaking on behalf of my anxiety (that bitch) and I’ve learned how to manage it in ways that work for me. Right now, that involves a lot of meditation, self compassion, and long showers at 3pm. If you don’t like my television-watching advice for anxiety people, don’t take it. For heaven’s sake please don’t let the fact that you don’t like my advice on anxiety give you anxiety. Or go watch the Bake Off for awhile, that helps too.

First: Spoil It

I read the entire synopsis of each Homeland season before I press play. Yes reader, I “spoil” the entire thing. Except for me, as an anxiety person, that action isn’t spoiling it, it’s actually the thing that allows me to sit down and enjoy television as entertainment, rather than as a 12-episode foray into stress and sleeplessness. Knowing what’s going to happen before it happens allows me to relax and stay calm while watching Homeland, so that it never winds me up to the point that I have to do any kind of self care to come back down. If the show is good enough, a quick glance at Wikipedia won’t ruin a damn thing, I promise you. If it did, we would all just read books for entertainment and be done with it. This principle is similar to why we have “favorite” movies that we watch over and over again. There’s a comfort to knowing what’s going to happen and knowing we’ll enjoy everything that happens along the way. Drama can be stress free when you have advance warning.

Second: Mute it

Homeland fucking loves a scene where someone’s in a home they have no business being in and the person who lives there is DEFINITELY on their way home right now. My anxiety and I cannot do this, we simply cannot. To manage these extremely stressful scenes, I find it helpful to mute the sounds and music they play to actually poke your anxiety in the ribs and make it worse. Also can we find a new way to set up these kind of recon missions? Can nobody break into a house while the family’s away in Tahiti or something? My god.

Third: Fast Forward Is A Friend

When muting doesn’t work, I fast forward right through the damned thing. My Roku TV allows me to see a sped-up picture in picture of what’s happening, so I know when to press play again, and depending on the outcome I can then rewind and watch the scene in full. If something is too much, I give myself permission to not participate in it. I shed any judgement of others (I live alone, this is easy) and expectations of how one is “supposed to” watch television, and I consume it the way I want to. If that means knowing major plot lines in advance and pre-vetting stressful scenes via FFWD then so be it.

Fourth: Stop Before You’re Done

The thing is, you don’t have to finish every episode you start. You can stop it and come back to it later. I’ve found this to be very helpful as I’m currently in a situation where I want to watch a television show but that television show has a tendency to stress me the fuck out. That is why I started Homeland in April and am probably not going to wrap up season eight until late August. I take my time. Are there weekends where I binge eight episodes at one? Yep. Are there two week periods where I’ve watched none of it and instead just basically alternated between repeat viewings of The Sandlot and Moonstruck? Also yep. I am on no one’s timeline but my own, and that timeline is very heavily influenced by where my anxiety is at on any given day. My television watching is completely tailored to what I need and want, at any given time. It’s lovely.

Fifth: Wait Until It’s Done

If not knowing how something ends is involved in your anxiety in any way, do not start a television series until that series is over. That is my most solid piece of advice. The last thing you want to do to your anxiety is make it wait for a resolution. I can’t guarantee a good ending—again, Game Of Goddamned Thrones—but I can guarantee that if you follow this recommendation, you will at least be assured of closure. Also, waiting until a series is over puts you in control. You get to decide the pace at which you consume something, not some TV stooge who sets a schedule. You’re the one making the decisions here, and you can customize them to your needs and wants. I’ve done this with everything from The West Wing to Downton Abbey and I’m a better woman for it.

You could argue that it was a foolish decision for someone with anxiety to begin watching a show like Homeland during what is unquestionably the most drawn-out and uncertain time of stress in our nation’s history since my birth. And you would be right. But the thing about my anxiety is that while it loves to be managed properly, it also loves to be distracted, and entertained. She’s fickle and she’s picky, but she’s mine. My exploration of Homeland has been wildly distracting, and powerful if not slightly odd company during my time of extreme isolation. You distract yourself from reality your way, and I’ll distract myself mine, I suppose.

If you have anxiety but also love quality television, I see you. In my opinion, we don’t have to miss out on cultural phenomenons and Emmy-winning programming simply because “it’ll stress us out.” There are ways to enjoy shows like Homeland, with all of their intensity, without letting them actually impact our anxiety. My methods might receive an eye-roll from the Twitter bros, but fuck those guys anyway. There’s no “right way” to watch television, or read books, or consume any kind of content, other than the way that feels best to you. I once went out with a guy who only listened to albums all the way through, or not at all. I’m a repeats and skips kind of gal, and he can eat shit.

We have tools at our disposal that can aid us in our consumption of supercool TV. From one anxiety-sufferer to another, I hope you use them. And by the way, if you scrolled all the way down and read the end of this essay first, good for you my friend. Good for you.

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Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, a lot.

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NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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