"I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that," Carrie Fisher told ABC's Diane Sawyer in 2000, "I survived that, I'm still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you."
Carrie Fisher is more popularly known for her starring role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars series. However, to many, she was a mental health advocate. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 24 years old, Fisher dedicated much of her life normalizing mental illness and discussing it openly. She died on December 27 due to complications after cardiac arrest.
Fisher announced her struggles to the public in a time where mental illness was kept secret, and since then, she has not stopped advocating. Instead of hiding her illness, she chose to write about it. Two of her memoirs, Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking, document her troubles with addiction as well as her coping with bipolar disorder.
While filming Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fisher was experimenting with multiple types of drugs to give her euphoria, including cocaine and Percodan. In an interview with Larry King in 1990, Fisher admitted to taking 30 Percodan a day in order to feel better.
"I didn't like illegal drugs. I liked legal drugs," she explained. "So I liked medicine, because I like the philosophy of it. You're going to feel better when you take two or eight of these, and I always wanted to feel better."
Once diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she refused to accept it until checking into rehab at 28 after a near-fatal overdose. Through rehab, Fisher learned to stay away from drugs and alcohol and accept herself for who she was, disorder and all. And, using her spotlight, she wanted to inspire that idea in others too.
In her memoir Wishful Drinking, she believes that there should be no stigma associated with mental illness.
"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. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). 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. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication," she wrote.
Since her diagnosis and treatment, Fisher has spoken openly about her mental illness and inspired generations as a result. From writing multiple memoirs about her own story and publicly discussing mental illness in interviews and on her advice column for The Guardian, Fisher's legacy is built on more than her Star Wars success. She was a woman who normalized mental illness and taught people not to be ashamed of it.
"I've never been ashamed of my mental illness; it never occurred to me," Fisher said, according to the Harvard Gazette. "Many people thank me for talking about it, and mothers can tell their kids when they are upset with the diagnosis that Princess Leia is bipolar too."
Carrie's advocacy for destigmatizing mental health has inspired many, and her work will not be forgotten. Thank you, Carrie, for inspiring the mental health community to achieve their dreams and never give up!