Carrie Fisher and Stigma


Carrie Fisher is best known for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the American movie series ”Star Wars”.  What may people only found out late in her career is that she was diagnosed in her twenties with bipolar disorder as well as assorted addictions to various drugs and alcohol.  Her 2009 memoir based on her one-woman play, “Wishful Drinking”, details the struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction in a stark light, showing how even the famous among us aren’t immune to the effects of mental illness.

Fisher often spoke on talk shows about her illness, discussing her names for her moods—“Roy” being her sobriquet for her manic personality and “Pam” being her depressed self.  She was also open about her use of electroconvulsive therapy and its success in lifting her depression even as it ravaged her memory for past events. The world lost its advocate for bipolar disorder when Fisher died of a heart attack on December 27, 2016.

I identified with Leia long before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder; after watching “Star Wars: A New Hope” at six years old, I dressed up in a white nightrobe and acted out scenes from the movie with an imaginary cast (since I was an only child) for weeks afterwards.  I tried to get my mother to fix my hair like Leia’s and generally loved each movie as it came out.

Leia brought out the warrior princess in me, one of the first characters in movies to do so. Leia was special in a way that did not exploit her sexuality but instead relied on her wits and her scrappy nature to survive what she endured at the hands of her enemies.

That same scrappiness seems to have aided Fisher in speaking out about her disorder at a time that people certainly did not take such disorders as seriously as they do now.  Her honesty about her tendency to self-medicate with drugs may have made her message more complicated, but in “Wishful Drinking,” she ends the book with the following observation:

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are many) 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. . . . At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you are living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

JulieJulie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog.   She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer.  She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.

You can follow Julie on Facebook, Twitter or her personal blog.

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