2016 has been a year of considerable loss when it comes to famous people. Just over the holidays, we lost two major celebrities: George Michael (who, deserving of his own in memoriam, we’ll speak of later,) and actress/author, Carrie Fisher. Not only was Carrie remembered for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars film series, but as a brutally honest, truthful advocate for mental illness. She herself having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she remained truthful and tireless in her efforts to remove the secrecy, shame, and stigma against mental health conditions.
Twenty years after her diagnosis, Fisher made a public admission of her diagnosis in a Primetime interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer:
“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. I have two moods: one is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs … Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”
“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls,” she continued. “Just every kind of bad judgement because it all seems like a good idea at the time. A great idea … So if it’s talking, if it’s shopping, if it’s — the weirdest one for me is sex. That’s only happened twice. But then it’s wow, who are you? You can’t stop. It’s very painful. It’s raw. You know, it’s rough … your bones burn … when you’re not busy talking and trying to drown it out.”
Fisher self-medicated for years before seeking help, and went through rounds of medication therapies before eventually turning to electroshock therapy in later years to even her brain chemistry. She lived a successful life as an actress, author, and one of the best script doctors in Hollywood, taking bad scripts and spinning them into gold with her talents. We will miss her wit and talents, but her legacy lives on. We must continue the fight to alleviate mental health stigma, and strive for more education so that someday mental illness will just be considered an illness like cancer or heart disease. We work for these days, and we celebrate outspoken advocates like Carrie Fisher with tremendous love, much hope, and as much grace as we can muster.