This is an older article but I thought it was so good I wanted to post it on the site.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
By ELIZABETH JOHNSON
Actor, writer and mental health advocate Carrie Fisher (“Star Wars,” “Family Guy,” “When Harry Met Sally”) was in Sarasota Saturday for “An Afternoon with Carrie Fisher” for the Mental Health Community Centers. The event was sponsored by the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation and underwritten by The Isermann Family Foundation. Fisher, who has bipolar disorder, met with Herald-Tribune Staff Writer Elizabeth Johnson to discuss mental illness, drug addiction and “Star Wars.”
Q: What was your life like before you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 29?
A: I was a very drug-interested person, so it was sort of chaotic, but not entirely. I actually was diagnosed — they tried to diagnose me at 24 — and I just got mad because I thought the shrink didn’t want to treat me, so he just told me I had this thing. Anyway, you cannot diagnose someone who is actively doing drugs or alcohol. Because if you’re doing drugs or alcohol in an abusive way, you’re going to seem bipolar.
Q: What was it like to be diagnosed?
A: It was after I was a year sober. I was not going to go. I got sober and then I came in with a bunch of people so we all hung out. They calmed down, and I went in the other direction. When I got sober, I thought, “Well, that’s it. I’m an alcoholic or an addict, so that’s what’s wrong with me. I don’t need therapy.” A year later, when I was going to have to turn myself into the brain police, I was not happy.
Carrie Fisher with her therapy dog, Gary.
Q: What drugs were you using before that diagnosis?
A: Anything that you had. I smoked pot first when I was 13, but I really didn’t get heavily into that. I never could take alcohol. I always said I was allergic to alcohol, and that’s actually a definition to alcoholism — an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. So I didn’t do other kinds of drugs until I was about 20. Then, by the time I was 21 it was LSD. I didn’t love cocaine, but I wanted to feel any way other than the way I did, so I’d do anything.
Q: You were trying to self-medicate. How do you react now when you see other people who have mental illnesses, but they’re turning to drugs or alcohol?
A: People are going to have to do what they have to do. You can’t tell people. I understand the impulse — you want to be anywhere but here. If you’re really uncomfortable emotionally, you want to make your skin just that much thicker. Your fantasy is what drugs and alcohol will do for you.
Q: When did you think you might have a mental illness?
A: My father was bipolar. I recognized that something was wrong with him when I was 14 and he said, “Come see what I got in Asia.” And he had gotten 180 silk suits in every different color. My father was a drug addict, so I knew that I was like him. So whatever that was that was weird was like him. My mom would say, “That’s the Jewish thing, dear.”
Q: Speaking of your parents, you’re the daughter of famous musician Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds, but portraying Princess Leia on “Star Wars” is where you made a name for yourself. What was it like being a part of that phenomenon while struggling with addiction?
A: I didn’t know that’s what the problem was. I had fun on those movies. I did drugs on them — not that much — but I did. The hours were really long, so anything could explain why I acted the way I did — either I was eccentric or exhausted.
It was a shock. We would drive around and look at the lines. One time I said, “I’m in that.” It was just weird. In those days, there weren’t things called blockbusters. In fact, the term came about from “Star Wars” because it meant busting blocks — the line would go beyond the block.
Q: What was it like for you to become that icon?
A: I certainly wasn’t aware of it. I don’t know what it’s like to be an icon. That’s an abstraction. It’s just too weird to embrace. All I know is Ihave a lot of merchandising that’s bizarre.
Q: There are rumors circulating about who might be reprising their roles in “Star Wars: Episode VII” set for release in 2015. Can fans expect to see you on the silver screen?
A: We’re not supposed to talk about that. You should watch Harrison (Ford) on Jimmy Kimmel. (In the late night interview that aired Wednesday, Ford refused to answer questions about “Star Wars,” taking part in an “argument” with someone dressed as Chewbacca.)
Q: When you were on a cruise in February you had a manic episode. What happened?
A: It was bad. I hadn’t had that in a long time. I think I screwed up on my medications, and I stopped sleeping, and I couldn’t stop talking or writing. I haven’t looked at the film of me on stage, but I think it’s probably borderline sane-crazy. I put myself in a psych hospital after that.
Q: Is there anything specific that causes a manic state?
A: When I was doing drugs, what caused it was stopping. I’d just get thrown off. Sleep deprivation, hurting your sleep cycle in general can be a problem. If I knew whatever it was, I would do better than I do, but I do very well.
Q: What treatment are you on now?
A: I take ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and lots of medication.
Q: You also have your therapy dog, Gary, a 1-year-old French Bulldog.
A: Gary is mental also. My mother says Gary is a hooligan. Gary is like my heart. Gary is very devoted to me and that calms me down. He’s anxious when he’s away from me.
Q: What type of reaction do people have when they find out you have bipolar disorder?
A: I think I’m a bit of a hot-house plant anyway. People treat me differently because of the inter-galactic aspect of my life, so I don’t really know how they would treat me otherwise. Thankfully it’s not something I have to cope with everyday. People expect me to act eccentric because of my job description, so I have it easier than most people.
Q: What is it like to plan your life, and career, around mental illness?
A: I don’t. You cross your fingers and hope you don’t get gobsmacked by it in the middle of something.
Q: Has the illness had any effect on your career?
A: Probably. I try not to concentrate on stuff like that. I think there is more awareness now.
Q: You’ve written a lot of books, like “Postcards from the Edge” and “Wishful Drinking.” Talk about those projects and the vulnerability of sharing your story.
A: It’s sort of a defense, like “You can’t fire me, I’ll quit.” If I tell you what I’m like before you decide, then it’s sort of a control mechanism. There is no vulnerability that I’m aware of.
Q: You do a lot of work in the comedy genre. Talk about how you find humor in everything.
A: If it’s not funny, then it’s just true and that’s unacceptable, so it better be funny.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: I’m working on an outline for a new book. I have done a TV pilot based on “The Best Awful,” I’m talking about doing another TV pilot with my friend, Bruce Wagner. I do “Family Guy.”
Q: What’s it like working on an animated show?
A: Dull, except they have candy.
Q: What advice do you give people who are struggling with mental illness and are afraid to pursue their dreams?
A: Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.