Carrie Fisher: Star Wars actress battled ‘challenging’ bipolar before death – symptoms

Mark Hamill doesn't care for Star Wars now Carrie Fisher is dead

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Throughout the day, Twitter has been littered with throwback photographs, personal stories and dedications to the actress, who played Princess Leia in the Star Wars films. A clearly missed actress, news of her death at the age of 60 emerged in December 2016. At the time coroners reported that the star officially died from sleep apnoea, after it was revealed that the star had suffered a cardiac arrest whilst on a flight from London to Los Angeles, and an autopsy found traces of cocaine, morphine and ecstasy in her system. Fisher’s history with substance abuse was public knowledge, partly due to the numerous medications she took to help with her bipolar disorder – a condition that causes episodes of both mania and depression.

At the age of 24, Fisher was diagnosed with the mental health condition, but in the past revealed that it took her until she was 28 to “accept that diagnosis”.

After several stints in rehab and undergoing electroconvulsive therapy to help with her addiction and long battle with mental illness, the actress remained adamant that it was her unstable Hollywood upbringing that was to blame for her mental health and issues with drugs.

Back in 2000, the star told American broadcaster Diane Sawyer about one incident where she suffered from a “psychotic break”, landing her in hospital for treatment.

“I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully. And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive. I am mentally ill. I can say that,” she said at the time.

From there, Fisher spoke openly about her condition, even at Star Wars events, where she would make extra time for fans also trying to cope with the condition. She once described her manic periods as “feeling like my mind’s been having a party all night long and I’m the last person to arrive and now I have to clean up the mess.”

Continuing to say that the condition was not “unlike a tour of Afghanistan,” when writing in her book Wishful Drinking. Adding: “Though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside.”

One stand out moment where the star spoke about her condition was back in 2016, a month before her death, where she responded to a young person, who also had bipolar, and asked the actress how she found a way to feel “at peace”.

Writing in The Guardian, Fisher said: “I was told that I was bipolar when I was 24 but was unable to accept that diagnosis until I was 28 when I overdosed and finally got sober. Only then was I able to see nothing else could explain away my behaviour.

“Going to AA helped me to see that there were other people who had problems that had found a way to talk about them and find relief and humour through that.

“Initially I didn’t like the groups. I felt like I had been banished to sit with a group of other misfits like myself to sit still for an hour. But then someone said, ‘You don’t have to like these meetings, you just have to go, go until you like them.’ That took me by surprise. I didn’t have to like something I did? Wow, what a concept.

“I just had to effectively put my head down and move through some uncomfortable feelings till I got to the other side – what a notion! My comfort wasn’t the most important thing – my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was.

“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges.”

According to Bipolar UK, 1.3 million people have the condition. Classified as a mental health condition, recent research suggests that as many as five percent of the population are on the “bipolar spectrum”.

Symptoms of bipolar are wide ranging, as they depend on the type of mood an individual is experiencing. For example, episodes of depression can cause the following:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time
  • Lacking energy
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt and despair
  • Feeling pessimistic about everything
  • Self-doubt.

Whereas, episodes of mania can make individuals feel the complete opposite, feeling very happy, energetic and ambitious. Although some individuals may enjoy these phases, afterwards they quickly become fatigued and may not eat or sleep properly.

In addition, the condition can be triggered by a range of experiences such as childbirth, menopause or emotional stresses to do with an individual’s finances, work and personal life.

Bipolar UK has developed what is known as a “mood scale,” to help individuals with the condition keep track of their moods and help them to spot patterns, triggers or early warning signs.

The moods range from mania, hypomania and balanced mood to moderate depression and severe depression. In addition, the NHS explains that individuals with bipolar may have episodes of depression more regularly than episodes of mania, or vice versa.

In addition, between episodes of depression and mania, you may sometimes have periods where you have a “normal” mood.

Living with bipolar can be difficult at first, but with help and support it is entirely possible. Individuals can also be advised on the right course of treatment from a GP or medical professional. Treatments aim to control the effects of an episode. The main methods used include:

  • Medicine to prevent episodes of mania and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers, and are taken every day on a long-term basis
  • Medicine to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they happen
  • Learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania
  • Psychological treatment – such as talking therapy, which can help individuals deal with depression, and provides advice about how to improve relationships
  • Lifestyle advice – such as doing regular exercise, planning activities that give you a sense of achievement, as well as advice on improving diet and getting more sleep.

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