Star Wars has been part of my life since I was a very small boy, and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was one of the first “girl” characters (along with Linda Hamilton as Wonder Woman) I remember thinking was as “cool” as her male co-heroes. (I was only five—Forgive me!) Growing up, she was almost like a member of the family to me, and now as an adult I hate seeing Fisher getting bashed for something so trifling as her personal appearance.
Carrie Fisher is awesome for so many reasons beyond Star Wars. Sure, she’s our Princess (and now General) Leia, but she’s also an incredible novelist, memoirist, stage actor, and was at one time one of Hollywood’s most in-demand script doctors. That’s not all, though. She’s also been a powerful voice for mental health advocacy for the past several decades.
Fisher suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes back and forth swings between extremities of mood, from the heights of mania to the depths of depression. Formerly known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder affects some three percent of the population of the United States.
Fisher first started experiencing the symptoms of the disease when she was a teenager, and has said that her father, actor Eddie Fischer, struggled with it as well. She didn’t receive an official diagnosis until she was 24. She was dealing with drug and alcohol dependency issues as well, and wasn’t able to understand the illness for what it was until she became sober in her late twenties. As it turned out, the substance abuse was part of an attempt at self medication.
Bipolar disorder, if left untreated, can destroy lives. Simply surviving such a devastating condition is commendable, but Fisher has done more than just survive: She has become an outspoken advocate for mental health treatment. In interviews with major news outlets, Fisher has spoken at length about her struggles with bipolar disorder, doing so with a degree of candor that very few other strive toward.
Despite the great strides we’ve made as a society toward understanding mental health, a psychiatric diagnosis still carries a lot of stigma. By talking about her own condition, she has made it that much safer for others to do so. She doesn’t have to take those risks, but she does.
This is how Fisher addressed her experiences with the condition in an interview with Diane Sawyer: “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. Better me than you.”
It’s not the kind of thing that a princess that needs rescuing (or he validation of looks-obsessed creeps) says: Those are the words of a survivor. Fisher may not get the credit she deserves as a stigma-fighter, but by speaking for those who cannot, she has done a lot to destroy the ignorance that still surrounds psychiatric illness.