Princess Leia Cast a Light on Bipolar Illness

Maureen MurdockBipolar Illness, Mental Illness4 Comments

Carrie Fisher did not shirk her role as an advocate for the de-stigmatization of bipolar illness. She brought the subject of bipolar into the popular culture in her writing and her one-woman show, “Wishful Drinking” where she first posited the idea of “Bipolar Pride Day.”

Ms. Fisher was first diagnosed with bipolar at age 24 but like many people who suffer from the disorder, she did not accept it until 5 years later. She spoke about her lifelong struggles with both addiction and bipolar and her desire to erase the stigma of mental illness. Fisher described the disorder as “a kind of virus of the brain that makes you go very fast or very sad. Or both. Those are the fun days. So judgment isn’t, like, one of my big good things. But I have a good voice. I can write well.” Referring to the difficulty to maintain  balance between mood swings, she added,  “I’m not a good bicycle rider.”

Ms. Fisher demonstrated the relationship between bipolar and creativity that many mental health professionals have described for years. Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind, is a proponent of this connection. Jamison writes, “There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high, it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones.” Painters such as Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch, among many other artists and musicians, have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder after their death.

Because of Ms. Fisher’s humor, brilliance, visibility, advocacy and self examination, the language of bipolar and mental disorders swept into popular culture, seeding online support groups and becoming featured in movies like “Silver Linings Playbook” and TV shows like “Monk” and “Homeland”. Fisher used her celebrity to demystify the diagnosis and show by example that an individual with bipolar illness can live well and thrive.

A warrior to the end, we will miss Ms.Fisher’s laser-like wit and courage.



Read more about Carrie Fisher’s Advocacy:

4 Comments on “Princess Leia Cast a Light on Bipolar Illness”

  1. Thanks for your comments. Carrie Fisher also brought to light the interconnection between bipolar and addiction which has encouraged mental health facilities to treat them concurrently instead of two separate disorders.

  2. Thanks Maureen for keeping the light on this subject. It is helpful to those who have mental health problems and those who care about them in their families and communities. We appreciate celebreties like the actress Glenn Close going public about her sister, and the actors and producers of the Broadway musical “Next To Normal”, for bringing this out of the shadows and removing the stigma that has existed for so long.

  3. Great tribute to a woman who lived an interesting and at many times difficult life in the shadow of Debbie Reynolds, her mother who died of “Broken Heart Syndrome”, not more than 24 hours after Carrie’s death. It’s been well documented, the correlation between mental illness, compulsive—manic behavior, depression, and creative contribution, if not genius. Somehow Carrie was able to honestly document this and more, even while in the grips of her last humorous and self celebrating compulsion…gambling. Sure, she cost the production of “Empire Strikes Back” coin while battling with addiction, always covered up as various common physiological illness. Now see full circle with “Rogue One”. As for Kay Redfield Jamison, “Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” is a must read, but so too is “Nothing was the Same”, her book processing the death of her husband Richard—a roadmap in some ways for death’s preparation: Over looked joy in memory while struggling with seemingly hopeless depression and dark disquietude.

  4. Thank you for this enlightening commentary, Maureen, connecting a celebrity to her disease that she struggled with and learned to live with and teach everyone about. I also like how you highlight the connections between creativity and bipolar for people who are sometimes too smart for their own good sometimes, I have thought about those I know with this challenge.

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