Carrie Fisher was in her mid-20s when doctors first diagnosed her with mania — at the time, she said, she refused to believe it.
“I thought they told me I was manic depressive to make me feel better about being a drug addict,” Fisher told Diane Sawyer in a 2000 ABC News interview. The iconic “Star Wars” actress was also fighting a drug and alcohol addiction. When she turned 29, doctors told her she had bipolar disorder; this time, she told WebMD, she “accepted” the diagnosis.
“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital,” Fisher said to 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.”
Fisher has been unusually outspoken for years about her mental health battles, something many fans mourned when Fisher died at age 60 on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack several days earlier on an airplane. The actress talked candidly about bipolar disorder and her treatments and how they affected her life. She acknowledged there was still a stigma when talking about mental health, but she wanted to help fight it.
“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,” Fisher told ABC News.
Carrie Fisher dedicated her platform to mental health awareness & female empowerment. She is a reason + reminder to keep up your fight. RIP
— h (@halsey) December 27, 2016
GRATEFUL FOR CARRIE FISHER DEMYSTIFYING ADDICTION & MENTAL ILLNESS – THIS is why Carrie Fisher was realest badass https://t.co/ARNI6AKDrf
— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) December 27, 2016
Carrie Fisher, as well as being a screen legend, did as much to end mental health stigma as anyone. Her candid bravery comforted millions.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) December 27, 2016
Fisher, the daughter of Hollywood stars Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, said her father was also bipolar. “I recognized that something was wrong with him when I was 14 and he said, ‘Come see what I got in Asia.’ And he had gotten 180 silk suits in every different color,” Fisher said in a 2013 interview with HT Health. “My father was a drug addict, so I knew that I was like him.”
Though she sought treatment, took medication and underwent electroconvulsive therapy, Fisher battled with the illness her whole life. In 2013, she had a bipolar episode while performing on a cruise ship. She told People magazine that her medication went wrong and she wasn’t sleeping. The magazine reported that “shocked audience members watched as she rambled, slurred words and mumbled lyrics. Her dog relieved himself onstage as some people fled.” When the ship docked, Fisher checked into a psychiatric hospital to have her medication adjusted.
“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,” Fisher said.
Over the years, Fisher also used humor to cope with her illness, such as when WebMD asked what it was like to be the “poster child” for bipolar disorder. “Well, I am hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today,’ ” she cracked.
“That’s my way of surviving, to abstract it into something that’s funny and not dangerous,” she told People. “It is not an entertainment. I’m not going to stop writing about it, but I have to understand it.”