Carrie Fisher Forever Changed the Way People Talk About Addiction

Carrie Fisher, better known as Princess Leia, used her charm and wit to help break the stigma of mental illness and addiction – both of which she was all too familiar with herself.

Carrie Fisher on Addiction and Mental Illness

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  • “You know when you make the statement ‘you can’t contain yourself’? That’s how I feel all the time.”
  • How Carrie Fisher helped break the stigma of addiction and mental illness:

Carrie Fisher was arguably one of the most famous celebrities to ever come out of Hollywood after her breakout role as Princess Leia in Star Wars. The tragic news of her passing on December 27, 2016 brought many people around the world to tears – but not just because of her Hollywood roles. Carrie Fisher helped break down the stigma that surrounds addiction treatment by talking about her own substance abuse and mental health issues at a time when it was very taboo to do so.

Celebrity Addiction in the News

These days, a quick scan of the gossip magazines in a grocery store checkout line will most likely find at least one headline regarding a celebrity’s substance abuse or battle with addiction. Russell Brand has not only shared his story of heroin addiction and recovery publicly, but he is also a very vocal advocate for abstinence-based recovery and the treatment of addicts as human beings with a disease instead of as criminals to be jailed.

In late 2015, Charlie Sheen opened up about his own sex addiction – one of the lesser-known (and lesser-talked-about) addictions – among other substance addictions in an effort to not only clear the air surrounding the infinite number of Charlie Sheen rumours, but also to open the dialogue about these very serious mental health disorders.

But back in the1980s, when Carrie Fisher was dealing with her own addictions and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24, it was not considered ‘normal’ to openly talk about mental health issues – especially as a celebrity of her stature. Thankfully for the rest of the world, Carrie Fisher was not concerned with ‘normal’ and began one of the most influential discussions about addiction and mental wellness to date.

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Carrie Fishers’ Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Bi-Polar Disorder

Fisher has said that while on the set of the 1981 film Under the Rainbow, she was ‘completely crazy’. At the time, she was on drugs, losing a ton of weight and was barely sleeping. She even suffered a seizure on set.

But it was not until the age of 28 in 1984, after years of serious substance abuse including cocaine and heroin, that Fisher overdosed and got sober in a rehab facility. Once sober, she says she could finally accept the doctors’ diagnosis that she was bipolar – 4 years after she had first been diagnosed.

“Only then,” Fisher said, “was I able to see nothing else could explain away my behaviour.”

The Link between Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

By definition, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Also known as manic-depressive disorder, people living with bipolar disorder will experience manic episodes (periods of feeling upbeat and energized) along with depressive episodes (periods of feeling very low, sad and bleak).

As Fisher put it in an ABC interview: “I have two moods – one mood is Rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood – and Pam, Sediment Pam who stands on the shore and sobs.” She continued to say that “When you hear people say ‘I love Carrie,’ they actually love Roy. I used to leave messages and say ‘Roy’s in town’ and then people would be glad. The other mood doesn’t answer the phone.”

This constant duality in the brain means sufferers can go from spending days with little sleep and an abundance of energy in a manic state, to feeling completely exhausted and sad in a depressive state.  This leads many people with bipolar disorder to start using drugs and alcohol in an effort to quiet the brain and feel ‘normal’.  In the ABC interview, Fisher also mentioned that she felt her most normal when she was on LSD because she finally had visuals – something that made sense to her mind, which was on a never-ending roller coaster of emotions.

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Carrie Fisher Helps Break the Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness

In three separate books, Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic, Fisher used her famous wit to bring some humour to the very serious topic of addiction and mental health. These stories, and the way they are told, have helped break down the stigma that surrounds addiction and mental illness by not only bringing the conversation into the public eye, but by making the subject easier to understand for all.

Fisher’s parents Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were Hollywood celebrities themselves, which means that she was born into the limelight. She knew that people would talk about her addiction and bipolar diagnosis whether she wanted them to or not, which is why Fisher decided to take control of her own story.

“If you claim something, you can own it,” she told Vanity Fair Magazine in 2009, “But if you have it as a shameful secret, you’re fu—ed; you’re sitting in a room populated by elephants.”

Learning from Carrie Fisher

Bipolar disorder is thought to affect approximately 60 million people worldwide, but only a fraction of these people ever seek the help they need to learn to live with the disorder without major life disruption. And, of course, many of these same people turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication, often leading to addiction. In fact, over 50% of people who seek treatment for addiction are living with a co-occurring mental health disorder.

If there is just one thing we can take from Carrie Fisher’s vibrant life, it should be that living with any mental health disorder should not be a source of shame. Just like high blood pressure or cancer, mental health disorders are natural and affect millions of people around the world. The good thing is, however, that almost all mental health disorders are treatable.

Mental Health and Addiction Treatment at The Cabin Chiang Mai

The Cabin Chiang Mai has helped thousands break free from addiction and has a special programme in place for those suffering from co-occurring disorders. Contact us today to see how we can help you or your loved one start living your best life.

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