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Carrie Fisher Inspires Others To Speak Openly Of Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that's often characterized by the shame that can come with it. Actress Carrie Fisher rejected that.


CARRIE FISHER: If you're manic-depressive and you're functioning in this world and doing it all well, I think, wow, you should be proud of being able to say, this is what I'm getting through right now.

MARTIN: That was Fisher talking on NPR in 2008. Before her death this week following a heart attack, Fisher was a candid and outspoken advocate for people with bipolar disorder. Now, some of her fans are using social media to reveal their own experiences with mental illness. The writer Ana Marie Cox is one of them. Thanks for being with us.

ANA MARIE COX: It's good to be here.

MARTIN: You went public with this very personal diagnosis this week on Twitter after Carrie Fisher's death. Can you tell me about that moment right before you sent the tweet?

COX: Well, you know, I had been thinking about her, of course, I think like a lot of people, what she meant to me as a childhood idol. And I thought about just sort of saying something about that. And then I thought, you know what? Is that really the bravest thing you can do? Is that what she would do? And I decided to send it. And I want to say, I'm really lucky. I'm doing really well. I'm also bipolar II, which is a more understated manifestation.

MARTIN: Can you describe for people what it feels like to have bipolar or a particular experience that can shed light on it?

COX: So I think a lot of people are familiar with depictions of bipolar disorder in the media, and that's sort of where you see the really manic swings. And bipolar II has a less dramatic high. Like, when the high is happening, like, you're like - you don't even realize it because you're just feeling terrific.


COX: You get super social and confident and, like, projects seem like no problem. I did a lot of, like, emptying out the whole kitchen...


COX: ...And putting every - emptying out every cabinet, you know, and being like, I'm going to reorganize this kitchen so it's perfect. And then also, however good I was feeling in the moment, like, there was going to be a crash.

MARTIN: You have been so public about other very personal challenges in your life - your struggles with alcoholism, your divorce. What was it specifically about your bipolar disorder that took you so long to talk about?

COX: You know, the thing about all those other things that I've talked about is that, as a culture, we've recognized them as struggles. And in some ways, there's, like, communities around all of those things. But mental illness, by its nature, is a very isolating struggle.

MARTIN: Carrie Fisher was this irreverent kind of force of nature in how she just approached her life and all the challenges she had and, in particular, her mental illness. Is there something she said that has stayed with you?

COX: (Laughter). She said, I think, like, at a Comic-Con panel once, I have a virus of the brain. Sometimes I go very fast, and sometimes I'm really down, and some days I'm both, and those days are fun...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

COX: ...So my judgment isn't so good (laughter), and I'm a terrible bike rider. And at first, I tried to figure out, what does she mean? How does - what does that have to do with bipolar disorder? And then I realized, I think she was pointing out, like, it's just another thing about me. Like, I have bipolar disorder, and I also can't sing. And those things are about of equal importance most days.

MARTIN: That's writer Ana Marie Cox talking about bipolar disorder and Carrie Fisher. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.