carrie fisher as princess leia

“Life is a cruel, horrible joke, and I’m the punchline.” — Carrie Fisher, “Postcards from the Edge”

She may be best known for her role as a princess, but she was a warrior as an advocate for mental health. She tore down a wall, giving the world and the galaxy beyond a look inside the life of someone with a chronic mood disorder. Though she played prominent roles on the screen, told funny stories on stage, and even penned clever lines in books about her life, Fisher’s force in this world wasn’t just limited to entertainment. She was a relentless advocate for others who faced the terrors of addiction to the daily struggles of bipolar disorder. So, while legions of fans and fellow actors mourn the sudden life of a rare and witty talent, someone like myself with a chronic mood disorder also remembers her as my own beacon of hope.

Carrie Fisher was a riot. She could make audiences laugh with her stories in interviews and in pages of her books. She could give an entertaining show on stage, with those in attendance cracking up as she acted out and told her life story. But her ability to laugh at herself, the gift of laughter she brought to tough subjects, is perhaps what helped her break down barriers of the stigma saddled on those with any type of mental illness diagnosis. She taught those of us with a regimented routine of prescription medicine, therapy appointments, or addiction meetings that it was OK to laugh — in fact, it was probably the best medicine for us. Nothing was off limits for Fisher. In a time when it wasn’t as accepted to be someone with a mental illness, she boldly stepped into the spotlight and helped comfort so many who faced the same demons. Fisher had her share of demons, but her willingness to share that with the world helped keep them away and helped others realize they weren’t the only ones wrestling with demons, too.

Whatever role one remembers her for, I hope her legacy also includes being known as a “Mental Health Hero.” Just like a good blockbuster hit, Fisher’s openness with lessons she learned in life made us think, taught us tolerance, and even allowed those of us who also know this world so well to embrace our true selves. In her book, “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher writes, “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything… I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” Of course, the recognition from the mental health community wasn’t for having a diagnosis but rather for putting the spotlight on the topic for all those still struggling all alone for acceptance.

The most famous princess of the movies may have passed away, but her force will remain one that lives on. Fisher taught me that my diagnosis is merely a label. The real person behind the struggle and the story isn’t defined by just a label. Instead, thanks to Fisher’s contribution, I now know it’s still possible to be defined not by my illness but as a princess. And she taught us all, whatever the struggle, that sometimes the difficulty turns out to be a reward. Maybe we did not plan to go down this road, but in the end, it helps give us purpose. As she penned in “The Best Awful,” “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.” And what a princess, warrior, and gift she was. What a force she leaves behind for us all.

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Photo via Star Wars Facebook.

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Three or four months ago I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I have gone back and forth in my head about if I could continue writing about mental health and disclose this new diagnosis with anyone. Not one person in my family knows about this, and maybe three friends are aware of it. There is so much self-doubt, confusion, sadness, and a gamut of other feelings that come along with getting that diagnosis.

I have been agonizing these last few months and hiding my diagnosis from nearly everyone because I don’t want to be looked upon differently or lose any relationships because of it. I have been in this tug-of-war with myself; one side desperately wants my friends and family to know and thus be fully accepted for who I am, and the other side wants to conceal and hide it at all costs. The fear that people will think of me differently, treat me differently, or even cut off ties with me is real, and it is always present. I don’t want to be this afraid of it anymore. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide myself to be accepted by the people I love.

Because I am not different. I am me, and I am who I’ve always been. The only difference is that I have a name for what I have been living with and experiencing for the great majority of my life.

I am writing this right now to help break the shame and stigma I put upon myself, and to say I have bipolar disorder.

“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… an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.” — Carrie Fisher

When I was diagnosed, I revisited and delved deeper into Carrie Fisher’s novels and explored her words and experiences in living with bipolar disorder. No, not just living with it — thriving, struggling, succeeding with it. She has been an open, fierce mental health advocate, and that is something I admire so much in her. She was unabashedly herself and was completely unapologetic about who she is. She was never quiet or shy about her struggles or her ability to overcome. She was a person who brought voice to countless people who were silent about their struggles and made people feel less alone. I sit here trying to imagine all of the people she has touched and inspired for this very reason, and I wonder what these people would be like if they didn’t have her example. She chose to embrace it and share it and to not live her life concealing her diagnosis and hiding.

Today, I choose to do the same.

Carrie Fisher is more than just Princess Leia to me and to many others. She was the first feminist heroine I was exposed to. Her words in her writing, candidly speaking of her struggles and her triumphs regarding mental illness have helped push me and kept my head up on the tough days of fighting mine.

Carrie, thanks for your refreshing candor, acute self awareness, sense of humor, and ability to never take yourself too seriously. Thank you for showing girls and women that we are heroes too. Thank you for being a brave advocate and example to so many people.

“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.” – Carrie Fisher

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On Tuesday, actress and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60. Shortly after her death was confirmed, Fisher’s fans took to social media to share how the actress, who spoke candidly about her experience living with bipolar disorder and addiction, changed their lives.

Here’s what they are saying.

 

 


Actress and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack, People magazine reported Tuesday morning. She was 60.

Fisher was best known for her role as Princess Leia in “Star Wars” but is known in the mental health community as an outspoken activist who lived openly with bipolar disorder.

According to People, a family spokesman Simon Halls released the following statement on behalf of Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd:

It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning. She was loved by the world and she will be missed profoundly. Our entire family thanks you for your thoughts and prayers.

This article will be updated as more information is made available.

Related: How Carrie Fisher Inspired Me to Be My Best Self as a Person With Bipolar Disorder

Image via Wikicommons.


Dear those I love, even those I don’t know,

I live with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. I have been medicated, I have a service dog and I survived a suicide attempt. Those of us who have these illnesses that are so often taboo in today’s society would like you to know how it feels coming from our side, but for many, trying to explain what’s going through our head is sometimes so difficult. Even when we do have the words to explain what we are feeling, we are too scared to reach out. That doesn’t mean we don’t want you to know what we are feeling. 

I had been scared, if not utterly terrified, to share what I felt on a daily basis, until one day I was so down low and and so full of feelings I just started typing. I kept typing and typing until I felt I had nothing else to say. The rest of what you will read is what I have felt and experienced in my life, and what I know so many others wish they could put a voice to. So I choose to publish this not as just a story from me, but what I know others who live with my illnesses have opened up and told.

There are many days we will wake up and feel hopeless. We won’t be able to find the energy to do anything. We will want nothing more than to just stay in bed, not able or wanting to take on the day.

There come times we breakdown, and in the midst of those breakdowns whether apparent or not, we might say things that hurt you. Then later we will realize what we said and regret it, but know the damage has already been done. We hate that we sometimes do this. Please know we don’t mean it. Our illnesses aren’t us.

We often feel alone, but are to scared to reach out in fear that we will be judged. That we will lose those we love in the process. We wish more than often that we could just open up, but that fear is always there. If we open up, please don’t judge us. Instead love us. Support us. Your love is what carries many of us through the hardest times.

Our feelings are often times confusing and overbearing, and we can’t find the words that convey what we are feeling. Please in these times be our support, our rock we can lean on, so we can know we aren’t alone in our struggle.

So many times in my life I wished I could help others understand what I need. These are the things I wish I could tell those I love.

“I just need someone who is willing to stay in my life even through my darkest times, and not give up on me and leave me to my own mind. When people leave my life and can’t handle me and my illness, it makes things so much harder for me.”

“I pray for someone who will love me regardless of what happens and who is willing to be there for me. I just want someone who I can call or text about what’s going through my head, who will not judge, but support me.”

“I want someone who wants to be in my life and will help me keep holding on. Someone who will be there for me, who loves me regardless of what my mind tells me.”

“Every day I struggle to continue on through life. I feel alone and want to reach out so much, but I’m scared that if I do I will lose you and be dropped from your life.”

“Living with the unending battle that’s depression, anxiety and bipolar, I know I can say things that hurt. I often struggle controlling my thoughts and keeping them quiet, and when I hurt you because of my actions I hurt and am so sorry for what I’ve done. Please know that isn’t me speaking, it is my illness telling me I’m not good enough, or that it doesn’t matter what I say because I don’t matter.”

“What I really want is to be understood and loved by people. Not shunned, not left alone. I want to feel the love of others, I want to do things, I want to be normal. But sometimes I just can’t, and when I can’t that is when I really truly need someone to be there for me.”

“It is so hard when you feel like you are alone. That those you care about most ignore you or dismiss the fact that anything is wrong. It hurts. It hurts to feel forgotten and alone.”

“This battle I face, was never meant to be battled alone.”

“Please don’t forget me.”

There is so much we wish we could say to you. There is so much going on under the surface that you will probably never see or think is there. If I could say one final thing to those in my life it would be: “You never know when just saying ‘hi,’ calling or a hug can truly help so much. Many times I have gotten to the point when I didn’t want to continue. I didn’t see the point, and it was someone calling me out of the blue that would help me. Please don’t give up on us. We didn’t choose this. We just want to be loved.”

I hope for a better tomorrow even when that hope feels so far away I feel like I can’t reach it. But I know with the help of friends, family and loved ones, those of us who struggle with illnesses like mine will always have hope if we have you. 

Don’t forget about us.

With love and hope for a better day,

Zachary Walker

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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