I’ve needed very few role models in my life. As everyone is filled with their own disastrous bouquet of flaws, my moral thinking developed from watching the mess all around me and determining what was detrimental to others and what was only hurting them because they wanted to feel a victim. Idolizing is nothing I do, even if my obsessions of actresses and awards shows may lay out a different ideologue. Carrie Fisher though is a different story. She may be forever immortalized in enough fanboy plastic renderings to reach the moon and back, but her outspoken honesty about mental illness provided an image of someone with bipolar disorder who wasn’t afraid to let you know about the opposing forces decorating her head. In two HBO gems, Carrie Fisher bares witness to a lifetime of struggling with her mental illness in Wishful Drinking (a one-woman show based on her autobiography that introduced me to her blunt recollections of mania and depression) and Bright Lights (the documentary about her and her screen-groomed mother Debbie Reynolds finished not long before their deaths). They are great balms for me, realizing that these issues are all around and being able to talk about them without fear of reaction. As someone diagnosed with bipolar 2, it’s often a tenuous outing of myself when I get close to another person. I’m never sure if bubbly, whacky Chris or stern, grumbling Christopher might be making an appearance that day. Seeing Carrie’s history of manic episodes, including one after a stressful night hosting her ailing mother at the Screen Actors Guild awards, I see so much of my past with her. There are some times that feel amazing, top of the world; and there are other times that I just have to go to sleep or my brain won’t stop thinking “you’re better off dead”. I don’t take medications: tried that and failed miserably. From nausea to nerve pain, at best they did nothing. Now I’m in a much better place, so things don’t get as vicious as they used to, but my support system helps me get through the worst of it. In Carrie’s high exposure family, they realize the daily struggle that can be the cycling mind. Go watch these wonderful shows if you have HBO. Whether you’re just in Princess Leia or you need a reminder that you’re not alone with mental health struggles, these ones can be watched time and again
Carrie Fisher and I have little in common: people find me weird for wearing metal bikinis around giant slugs, and she built a legion of sexual devotees around it. Joking aside, a bipolar diagnosis is shared between me and the late actress and author. The big difference there is the category. Carrie is bipolar 1 where I am classified as bipolar 2. Two is less severe of swings,but I wouldn’t call it getting off easy. Having gotten out of a suicidal ideation prevalent depressed period, I hardly had a week at peace before my old frenemy hypomania showed up to take every impulse that comes to mind and turn it into an occasion embarrass or endanger myself.
My manic periods are very different from the depressed periods as I can usually know what to expect with depression. Suicidal thoughts and anhedonia (taking no pleasure in activities or life) can be tempered by sleep or ice cream, buried in a bowl until they vacation into the recesses of my damaged brain. Sometimes the mania isn’t awful, and it can be cautiously fun. It’s like a dancehall of bees are all doing the mambo in my head: it’s hard to concentrate, but I wanna dance right along with them. I’m just waiting to get stung. This autumn was a hectic time with work and activities piling on, and at a point of exhaustion I had a panic attack in the middle of work, apparently cursing viciously after a call before leaving the room to go punch a wall in the bathroom—an activity that left my knuckles bruised for weeks after. I don’t remember most of it. I mostly remember getting away to scream the fury out. I get reported for my language, and I passably remember it happening. Nothing happened except the busybody reporter quitting without notice weeks later. It was a wake up to the risk posed by my mind and a realization I need to take more precautions in protecting my mental health. If I wake up feeling like the world is crumbling on me, my health should usurp the endless needs of my job or expectations of a society still ignorant of mental health needs. Sometimes you have to hit a wall to know you need a door. Thank you Carrie for letting me know I can throw that door open to be honest about the struggle.