By now, Carrie Fisher’s Prozac pill-shaped urn is an internet sensation. While many are chuckling at the seeming novelty of the situation, there’s a fitting reason for the pill-themed funeral. Not only did Fisher battle bipolar disorder, depression, and addiction in her lifetime, she was also an outspoken advocate for mental health.
Fisher was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her mid-twenties after a near-fatal overdose. Since then, she has talked candidly about her struggle through speaking engagements and semi-autobiographical novels like Postcards from the Edge. As the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie had the added limelight of Hollywood’s constant scrutiny, both as an actress and as a person affected by mental illness.
Rosemary Clooney, singer & movie star, also battled bipolar disorder. Having suffered a manic episode in 1968, she went on to describe her disorder in her 1977 autobiography, well before many of her contemporaries. Celebrities like Jean-Claude Van Damme and even prominent historical figures such as Lord Byron, Vincent van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf have suffered from bipolar disorder, while still leading lives full of creativity and accomplishment.
Fisher, Clooney, and others like them are proof that it is possible to live a functional life with bipolar disorder. Even with the self-admitted occasional relapse, Fisher led a full life: she continued to make movies, write best-sellers, and raise a daughter. Granted, not everyone with bipolar disorder is a Hollywood star, but Carrie Fisher’s outspokenness about mental illness has made her a role model in an arena where there are too few.
While many have difficulty opening up about their own mental illness and diagnoses, Fisher’s transparency was welcomed by many with bipolar disorder. A 21-year-old patient currently under Dr. Samoon Ahmad’s care at the Integrative Center for Wellness shares similar sentiments regarding his own struggle with bipolar disorder. “Transparency is a great thing. Having people understand and spreading awareness continues to open people up and educate them, and in turn helps deepen the support system so important to stabilizing and improving our overall well-being.”
This isn’t to say that managing bipolar disorder is an easy task. Living with bipolar disorder may mean adjusting your lifestyle, or even how you view the world. For example, the same patient’s view on his career in acting and modeling—which had been his aspiration for most of his life—took on a new perspective following a manic episode. “I’ve had to make a lot of changes. My relationships changed. I’ve come to find a state of contentment, where my weeks are more consistent, less drastic, and I have less stress, less change.”
Through a combination of care and support, patients with bipolar disorder can successfully integrate and transition to more stable phases, just as Carrie Fisher successfully moved from stage to stage during her own life and career. Even though mental illness—including bipolar disorder—remains shrouded by social stigma, progress is being made toward creating a safe, healthy, and accepting space for many through the work of advocates like Carrie.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to live a functional life with bipolar disorder. It is possible to pursue your passions–even with bipolar disorder—with a change of mindset and a solid support network. As Fisher wrote to a young person with bipolar disorder in her final column for The Guardian, “You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done…Move through those feelings…As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.”