Health

All the Times Carrie Fisher Was a Champion for Living With Mental Illness

Update December 27, 2016 11:13 a.m. PDT: People Magazine reported on Tuesday that Carrie Fisher died after suffering from a heart attack on December 23.

Her death has devastated fans, many of whom hoped she would pull through the health crisis, just as she had overcome depression and bipolar disorder earlier in life. 

Others thanked her for fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness:

Many famous figures have come forward about their mental illness struggles, but Fisher was open about her battle with bipolar disorder and addiction for many years, despite the cultural taboo. Here are some noteworthy examples. 

1. Carrie Fisher's interview with Diane Sawyer

Carrie Fisher

More than a decade ago, Fisher divulged her bipolar disorder struggle to ABC News' Diane Sawyer.

“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital,” Fisher said, adding that her bipolar disorder caused her to stay up all night, experience racing thoughts, and have mood swings. "I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully. And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive.”

She added that she has two dueling moods, which she named Roy and Pam.

“One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood," she said. "And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs … Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out."

She said that by the third "Star Wars" film she was using pills to fall asleep at night. Doctors said she had mania, but she had her doubts.

“I thought they told me I was manic depressive to make me feel better about being a drug addict,” she said. “It’s what you think. If you could just control yourself … You had an indulged childhood … You were a child of privilege … I don’t know, that’s what I thought. You’re just a drug addict.”

Despite being hospitalized for her issues, she expressed a sense of resilience.

“I outlasted my problems,” she said. “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

2. Carrie Fisher talks about living undiagnosed

Carrie Fisher

Fisher told USA Today in 2002 that she wasn't diagnosed with bipolar II, a type of the disorder that has increased bouts of depression, until she was in her late 20s. Though doctors had previously said she might have bipolar disorder, it took her many years to accept this about herself.

"To my recollection, which may or may not be that reliable, I wasn't diagnosed again until I overdosed at 28," she said. "A manic phase is not predictable. The last time, I hacked off my hair, got a tattoo, and wanted to convert to Judaism."

She ended up taking Lithium for her issues, but her drug use ultimately got out of hand and landed her in the hospital.

"I made it so I deliberately couldn't see the difference between the pills they gave me and the pills I gave me," she said. "I had a psychotic break. I was hospitalized; I stayed awake for 6 days and was in lock-up."

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3. Carrie Fisher said it's possible to live a "normal" life despite mental health issues

Carrie Fisher

One of the worst parts of mental illness is feeling like you're losing your mind and incapable of living like "normal" people. Fisher told USA Today in 2002 that this is wrong. You can get the help you need and live as close to a normal life as possible. She was able to do so after hitting rock bottom.

"There is treatment and a variety of medications that can alleviate your symptoms if you are manic depressive or depressive," she said. "You can lead a normal life, whatever that is. I have gotten to the point where I can live a normal life, where my daughter can rely on me for predictable behavior, and that's very important to me."

She made similar remarks in a 2013 interview with People, urging those with the condition to seek help as she did.

"The only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It's not a neat illness. It doesn't go away. I'm just lucky this hasn't happened more. [In the future] I don't know if there are setbacks or steps forward. I'm not embarrassed."

If you think you may be suffering from bipolar disorder and have questions, you can call the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline at (800) 950-6264.

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