Famous Depressives #5: Carrie Fisher

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photo by JD Hancock (creative commons)

The actress known for her role as Princess Leia is severely manic depressive (now usually called bipolar disorder). Here’s a glimpse of just how manic she could get, from a Psychology Today piece:

Some years ago, the writer and actress suffered what she calls a “psychotic break.” At the time, she was experiencing a deep depression—just getting out of bed to pick up her then eight-year-old daughter Billie was a major feat. She was also improperly medicated. All of which landed her in the hospital. While there she was riveted to CNN, convinced that she was both the serial killer Andrew Cunanan as well as the police who were seeking him. “I was concerned that when he was caught, I would be caught,” she recalls.

Her brother, filmmaker Todd Fisher, feared that he was going to lose her. “The doctors said she might not come back.” Awake for six days and six nights, she recalls hallucinating that a beautiful golden light was coming out of her head. Yet the confusing thing about her mania, says Todd, is her ability to remain articulate, clever and funny. Todd says she launched into Don Rickles-like diatribes, “ripping everyone who came into her room.”

 

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David Lovelace on the Perils of Mania

“Depression is a painfully slow, crashing death. Mania is the other extreme, a wild roller coaster run off its tracks, an eight ball of coke cut with speed. It’s fun and it’s frightening as hell. Some patients – bipolar type I – experience both extremes; other – bipolar type II – suffer depression almost exclusively. But the “mixed state,” the mercurial churning of both high and low, is the most dangerous, the most deadly. Suicide too often results from the impulsive nature and physical speed of psychotic mania coupled with depression’s paranoid self-loathing.”
― David LovelaceScattershot: My Bipolar Family

Kay Redfield Jamison on Depression

Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.
Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

Kay, who is a psychiatrist, wrote about her experience with bipolar disorder. It’s a fascinating account of someone in the profession who also had to come to terms with the stigma of mental illness. She was quite wary of disclosing to colleagues, and when she did it was often with mixed results.

Two Great Graphic Novels that Deal with Depression

Here are two great graphic novels that deal with depression.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is not only one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, it has a section that covers depression. Not only does it cover depression, but it has one of the best descriptions of what it’s like to be depressed that I have ever read. And I say that as someone that works with a lot of depressed people. The narrative is gritty, hilarious, and heartbreaking. (It also has a great subtitle.)

Another terrific graphic novel is Marbles by Ellen Forney. A first-person narrative about her experience with bipolar disorder, Forney really conveys the journey — from denial, to diagnosis, and the ongoing frustration with managing the highs and lows, lapses in judgment, and getting her meds just right. Given everything that she went through, it’s encouraging she got it together to write the book.

For those of you in Los Angeles, why not stroll down to Secret Headquarters on Sunset Junction and pick up a copy of one or both?