Carrie Fisher Goes Public about Her Bipolar Disorder
The views of Carrie Fisher on bipolar disorder and her advocacy for it are refreshing. Fisher shot to fame playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies. She was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s, after a drug overdose that nearly killed her. At one time, Carrie was taking 30 Percadin a day. “Drugs made me feel more normal … they contained me,” Fisher said recounting those times.
When the doctors told her that she had a mental illness underlying her drug problem, she did not believe it at first. She said later, “I thought they told me I was manic depressive to make me feel better about being a drug addict.” Bipolar disorder was earlier referred to as manic depression. It took Fisher years to fully accept her diagnosis.
Carrie went public with her diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2000 in an interview with Diane Sawyer. She confessed to Sawyer, “I am mentally ill. I can say that I am not ashamed of that. [And] I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.” In fact, she told Sawyer about a psychotic episode she had suffered and how she actually wrote “shame” instead of her name on a hospital form.
After that interview, Carrie Fisher was all kindness to other people with bipolar disorder and she encouraged them to get over their shame. Carrie once described her manic periods as “feeling like my mind’s been having a party all night long and I’m the last person to arrive and now I have to clean up the mess.” So, she was well aware of what devastation the illness could cause in one’s life.
Carrie Fisher’s Frankness on Bipolar Disorder
After initial resistance, eventually, she accepted her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Then, she went on to do enormous public service by embracing her diagnosis in a spirit of cheery frankness. Fisher went on to talk not just about taking medication. She also told how many medications she took per day. And, she even let her interviewers look through her pill organizer. When questioned about weight gain, she said, “Yes, in answer to your unexpressed question, sanity does turn out to come at a heavy price.”
When it came to shock treatment, she not only talked about it but also titled her 2011 memoir Shockaholic. She praised it for helping her recover from a depressive phase. “It’s very easy and very effective,” she told Rolling Stone magazine. As the New York Times put it, she “brought the subject of bipolar disorder into the popular culture with humor and hard-boiled detail.”
Carrie Fisher’s Advocacy for Bipolar Disorder: A Refreshing Move
As New York Times reports, once answering a question about the disorder from the audience, Ms. Fisher said: “It is a kind of virus of the brain that makes you go very fast or very sad. Or both. Those are fun days. So judgment isn’t, like, one of my big good things. But I have a good voice. I can write well. I’m not a good bicycle rider. So, just like anybody else, only louder and faster and sleeps more.” Then she grabbed the mike and sang in a mock-ballad voice, “Oh manic depression … oh how I love you.”
Thus, she battled relentlessly against the stigma on mental illness, and to raise awareness for the need for treatment. Paul Cumming, a longtime advocate for the disorder, got it right when he said, “The power of celebrity was best shown by Carrie that by being public, and funny, she demystified our diagnosis and showed by example we can live well and thrive.”
Health.com writes on its website, “Throughout her life, she used her trademark humor and candor to shed light on the condition, and convey the powerful, life-changing message that there is no shame in a mental health diagnosis.”
Carrie Fisher’s Helps bpHelp’s Advocacy for Bipolar Disorder
Back in 2004, Joanne Doan was looking for a cover photo for the niche magazine bpHope that was just getting started. bpHope was going to be aimed at the more than 6 million people in the US living with bipolar disorder. Somehow, Doan felt emboldened enough to approach Fisher for this. She asked Fisher straight up, “Would you pose for the cover and give a lengthy interview to a magazine that didn’t exist yet?” Doan was pleasantly surprised when Fisher readily agreed “without hesitation”.
Carrie Fisher being on the cover got bpHope the kind of advertising that they never would have gotten otherwise. Carrie’s refreshing and endearing frankness in three interviews for the magazine “inspired our community to be able to … go out there and live fulfilling lives,” Doan felt. “She took the stigma against bipolar disorder and kicked it to the curb.’’ That was one of the many crusades that Carrie Fisher carried out against bipolar disorder.
Carrie told the magazine with great empathy, “If you feel like your child or friend or spouse is showing signs of this illness, if you can get them in touch with somebody else they can talk to and share their experience with and not just feel like they’re being told they’re ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or ‘stupid,’ then they can relate somehow.”
Carrie Fisher’s Writings
In her 2008 memoir about her mental illness and prescription drug addiction, “Wishful Drinking”, she wrote defiantly, “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
In the same memoir, she wrote humorously, “I thought I would inaugurate a Bipolar Pride Day. You know, with floats and parades and stuff! On the floats we would get the depressives, and they wouldn’t even have to leave their beds—we’d just roll their beds out of their houses, and they could continue staring off miserably into space. And then for the manics, we’d have the manic marching band, with manics laughing and talking and shopping and f***ing and making bad judgment calls.”
Carrie Fisher’s Interviews
Carrie Fisher had this to say to People magazine on her manic episode: “I don’t remember what I did. I haven’t watched the videos that people took. … know it got bad. I was in a very severe manic state, which bordered on psychosis. Certainly delusional. I wasn’t clear what was going on. I was just trying to survive. There are different versions of a manic state, and normally they’re not as extreme as this became. I’ve only had this happen one other time, 15 years ago, so I didn’t have a plan of action.”
In another interview to a newspaper in 2013, she advised, ““Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
On why medication was important, she said, “Without medication I would not be able to function in this world. Medication has made me a good mother, a good friend, a good daughter.”
Finally, a month before her death in December 2016, she had this to say in her Guardian advice column, “Ask Carrie Fisher”, “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic—not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”
Take a bow, Carrie Fisher. You have taught us how to live with and survive mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. You have done wonders to the cause of fighting the stigma against mental illnesses.