This is a guest post by Danika Kimball.
At the ripe age of 19, Carrie Fisher landed the role of a lifetime playing the iconic Princess Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope. Nearly forty years later, a resurgence of hype surrounding the Star Wars franchise, the heroine once again finds herself in the spotlight. The actress, who recently reprised her role as Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been beloved for decades. But Fisher shines for reasons other than her acting as well.
Fisher recently made headlines when she rightfully criticized ageist and sexist comments on her appearance, as well as condemned the toxicity of beauty standards. But her candor shouldn’t come as a surprise. Over the past decade, Fisher has been outspoken about her struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. Her admissions are profound for a Hollywood actress of her caliber, especially when you consider the ways that society stigmatizes mental illness.
Fisher was seemingly destined for fame, the daughter of Hollywood royalty Debbie Reynolds and vocalist Eddie Fisher. She began her career early, lighting up the big screen in films like Shampoo, The Blues Brothers, and When Harry Met Sally. Remarkably, just two years after her debut performance in Shampoo, she earned her most notable role as Leia, reportedly beating out Jodie Foster and Amy Irving for the part.
Fisher’s road to stardom has been a rocky one. By the time Return of the Jedi was being filmed, Fisher had begun self-medicating with sleeping pills. After a four year drug binge post production, Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Fisher notes:
“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 thought they told me I was manic depressive to make me feel better about being a drug addict. It’s what you think. If you could just control yourself … You had an indulged childhood … You were a child of privilege … I don’t know, that’s what I thought. You’re just a drug addict.”
While frank about her mental illness for over a decade, Fisher’s openness about her addiction took time. Hollywood and the media at large are both notorious for their lack of empathy and understanding of mental illness, often perpetuating dangerous myths about mental illness. Yet, Fisher gives honest testimonies of the trials and triumphs of battling addiction and bipolar disorder, fully disclosing the realities of her mental health conditions. In her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, Fisher tells her life story with ease and wit, owning her status as “the poster child” for bipolar disorder, stating:
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. … 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.”
Celebrities of Fisher’s stature play an important role in destigmatizing mental health issues. Being outspoken about her struggles, as well as her successes, exemplifies to many that being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean people should feel shame or silence themselves or that an individual can’t achieve success in any given field, although bad days may be present. While there is still a long way to go in removing the stigmas associated with mental illness, Fisher and others like her help pave the way for thoughtful discourse about mental health.