Soon after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my late 20s, I remember looking for stories of people who were living successful lives with the condition. I had been through the trauma of losing touch with reality, a symptom of my illness during manic episodes, and needed to find examples of people who could show me that it got better, that I could find stability. Carrie Fisher was one of the first celebrities I learned also had bipolar disorder, and she had found a way to cope: through writing, performing and talking openly about her mental illness. Her openness was inspiring, refreshing and motivated me to start writing about my illness, too.
What impressed me the most about the way Fisher spoke about the horrific and unpredictable ups and downs of bipolar disorder, and also her battle with drugs and alcohol, was how she did so without shame. She admitted it took her a long time to get to that point, but once she did there was no looking back. Fisher had pride for her struggle. She turned her “issues” into consumable entertainment in the form of books and plays for which she received rave reviews and awards.
Fisher made it easier for a person like me to “come out” about having mental illness.
I read her memoir “Wishful Drinking” several years ago. She had a stretch of not sleeping for six days and the hallucinations that followed were eerily similar to what mine felt like each of the four times I’ve been hospitalized for mania. Turning on the TV and thinking everything was about her, the terrifying feeling of dying, and not knowing she was signing herself into a locked psychiatric ward. I had been there, too.
In an interview with “20/20’s” Diane Sawyer in December 2000, Fisher said, “Losing your mind, which is what happened, is a terrible thing. But once it’s gone, it’s fine. It’s completely fine because there’s no part of you left that knows the rest of it is missing.” I could relate to her words with every ounce of my being. Those of us who live with bipolar disorder may lose our minds occasionally, but if we’re lucky, they aren’t lost for long.