Managing the illness with medication and electroconvulsive therapy, the actress and writer was outspoken about her treatment, and the lessons she learned by embracing the disorder. In an inspiring letter published weeks before her death, Fisher showed just how fearless she was in sharing her experience with other members of the bipolar community.
The touching piece came from Fisher’s final entry in her annual “Advice from the Dark Side” column for The Guardian. Published on Nov. 30, the piece was a response to a bipolar writer named Alex who asked Fisher for guidance on how find stability while living with the disease.
“Right now, though, it’s tough,” the writer said. “I’m doing the best that I can. I see my doctor regularly. I’ve tried different medications. But trying to deal with my mental illness and meet all of my responsibilities at school, work and home feels like a terrible balancing act.”
“Some days I juggle everything better than others, and sometimes I let everything drop,” Alex continued. “It feels like only a matter of time until the things that I drop shatter irreparably. Have you found a way to feel at peace when even your brain seesaws constantly? I can’t see very far down the line from here and I hope that you can give me some insight.”
Fisher began her response by recounting the difficulties she first had in accepting that she herself was bipolar.
“You’re lucky to have been diagnosed as bipolar and accepted that diagnosis at such a young age,” she told Alex. “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 behavior.”
She then pointed to her experience in Alcoholics Anonymous — and how the group meetings opened her eyes to other people “who had problems had found a way to talk about them and find relief and humor through that.”
“Initially I didn’t like the groups,” Fisher admitted. “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 … My comfort wasn’t the most important thing – my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was. However long it might seem to take and however unfair it might seem, it was my job to do it.”
“You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it,” she added. “You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done.”
The Star Wars actress pointed Alex to the various groups that are available for people with affective disorders (depression, bipolar, etc), reminding the writer that “we have been given a challenging illness.”
“There is no other option than to meet those challenges,” Fisher said. “Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community – however small – of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”
While Fisher admitted that she’s never had to balance school, home and work as Alex had, she was sure to point out how “ahead of the game” the writer was.
“You’re doing more than I did at your age, and that’s courageous,” Fisher said. “You reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side.”
She ended the letter by reminding Alex that she’ll always be there.
“As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching,” Fisher said. “Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.”