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Simone Hoermann, Ph.D.Simone Hoermann, Ph.D.
A blog about the personality disorders (borderline, narcissistic, etc.) with a focus on research and therapy

Star Wars, Stigma, and Carrie Fisher

Simone Hoermann, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 18th 2009

princess leia pez dispenserLast week on Broadway, I saw the hilarious show ”Wishful Drinking,” based on Carrie Fisher’s eponymous memoir.  Fisher stars in this one-woman show and brilliantly covers - among other things - what it was like to grow up in Hollywood.  She explains the intricacies of Hollywood dating, starting with her parents, icons Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and moving on to the fellow Hollywood celebrities who married, and divorced, and remarried them.  Fisher speaks about her on-again-off-again relationship with Paul Simon, and about being idolized for her role of Princess Leia in the Star Wars Trilogy.  She’s still haunted by her infamous space hair bagels memorialized on everything from action figures to bed sheets to bars of soap.  After all, who else do you know that has a Pez dispenser with their face on it?  

 

Fisher talks about some pretty heavy stuff in her show and manages to be incredibly humorous about it: For instance, her waking up next to a friend who had died of an overdose, or her experiences with Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder.  At one point, she was “invited” to a mental hospital, as she puts it.  Fisher also was nominated for Bipolar Woman of The Year, and jokes that she was always hoping to win an award – for her acting, that is.  At the very beginning of the show, she states her motto: “If it wasn’t funny, it would only be true.”

            What struck me the most was just how openly she shared about these experiences.  Particularly her talking about her mental illness and substance use, no matter how humorous, got me thinking.  

I see a lot of people who come to our clinic just after they have been diagnosed with a mental illness for the first time; Very frequently it’s the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  This thing can be a lot to wrap your mind around.  Often, it takes a while for someone coming out of a manic or a depressed episode to process “What the hell just happened?”  and “How do I deal with this?”  There are so many questions about “What does this mean now?” and “Where do I go from here?”

It is sometimes hard enough for the person who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder to find answers to those questions for themselves.  In addition, what comes up very frequently is the question about what and how much to share with the people around you.  Many people struggle with trying to explain the disorder to family members and with conveying what that experience of having Bipolar Disorder is like.  It’s hard to figure out sometimes, how much do you tell people, and how do you word it?

What’s also hard is the question of whom to tell.  What do you say to your friends if you were in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks?  Do you tell them what happened? How would they react?  Or, say, if I start dating someone…. Do I have to tell them?  At what point?  Many people struggle with the balance of wanting to be authentic and at the same time not wanting to be judged.

Things tend to become even more complicated when work is involved.  There is on the one hand the question of what to tell work and on the other hand how to handle paperwork, going on leave, or going on disability.  Finances are involved, career paths, and relationship with employers and supervisors.  There is still, unfortunately, so much stigma attached to having a mental illness.  These decisions about whom to tell what can be tough, and every situation is so different that it is sometimes a challenge to try to use your best judgment.

My hope is that there can be a growing dialogue about these questions. My hope is also that, in talking about mental illness, celebrities like Carrie Fisher can help fight the stigma. And it wouldn't have to be in a galaxy far, far away. This one would do just fine.

Photo: Fran Moff Tarkenton

Simone Hoermann, Ph.D.Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., is a Psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in providing psychotherapy for Personality Disorders, Anxiety, and Depression. She is a faculty member of Columbia University, and facilitates psychotherapy and skills training groups at the Columbia East 60th Street Day Treatment Program.

    Reader Comments
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    Stigma will never be erased! - - Jan 26th 2015

    People are afraid of anyone with mental illness, and resonably?  You never know what their reaction or behavior may be  to dailey circumstances.  Even if they are in therapy and on medication.  It is an ongoing illness of the mind with no cure.  We drug them and try to predict their behaviors, when all seems fine, they could go home and end their life, or someone elses.   This is not a clear cut illness or disease .  It does not matter who comes forward to talk about it, nothing will  change.

    Faking It Real - Gledwood - Feb 14th 2011

    Your Backup Singer commenter above makes a good point and it would anger me a lot if I let it: I know at least one person, possibly 2 (I don't know person 2 well enough to know whether he really does this, is ill and pretending not to be, or just the victim of gossip)... but at least one is faking schizophrenia. And I think of him and I think of the other one sometimes and I remember how truly desperate I have been when depressed, psychotic and suicidal and how NOBODY HELPED ME. This despite weekly appointments with a mental health nurse at a methadone clinic. This one only ever asked about how much heroin I had used and like all clients at such places I lied and said I was using a fraction of what I was. Because truth is not acceptable in a methadone clinic. If it was, methadone would never be prescribed to anyone, they'd give a therapy with something better than a 4% success rate. Anyway this nurse never once asked me how I was or how I felt. The forces that had pushed me into heroin use were never once discussed. Only last week's drugs. Never how I was or why I was such an obvious mess. If she'd only asked some elementary questions I might have opened up. But she never did. And she's a nasty person, still working there; still dismissive and closed-minded, like so many other mental health professionals a failure of the good intentions that got her into that line of work. It's only a great many years after first having symptoms, then covering them with heroin (pretty effectively) then uncovering them by being a Good Boy and sticking to methadone only that they now see I wasn't fantasizing when I said weird things happened to me, that I was telling the truth for years and years, albeit quietly on a scene where most "clients" act out and exaggerate. I was tarred with someone else's brush and suffered greatly for it. Now, finally, 28 years after symptoms first appeared (age 10) I seem on track to get not only treatment but a Lovely Label I can yell in people's faces. That's what I want most. Something to shout at the ignorant. Because I have kept quiet for far, far too long.

    Diagnonsense - Gledwood - Feb 14th 2011

    I blog what happens to me as it happens but I have to say there are times when it is very painful to do it.

    I do it here: http://gledwood2.blogspot.com

    I don't know why your blog doesn't let me link my name to my blog but if you want to read Undiagnosed, I'm Undiagnosed but with 2 very obvious "poles" one is a pole I use to bar my door at night, the other one I just poke people with I don't like. It's a barge pole.

    Hey wouldn't it be cool if I got a third one then I could get diagnosed tripolar. What would pole number three be like? I once met someone with the hebephrenic or deisorganized type of schizophrenia in hospital. This guy was young and had been in there 3 years straight. He was ill enough to just throw his cigarettes on the floor of the smoking room each morning and drift out. I always seemed to get them first. I don't know why he did this. Neither could he. He was, after all, "disorganized". And he spoke the most amazing poetry called a Word Salad which I have never heard before or since. It's not like the manic topic jumping, clangs and word-fractures this is truly randomized top-grade poetic. If I could be any other mental than what I am just for one day I'd be that one, or the one where you just aren't there anymore and make gestures. My ghoulish antique book "Psychiatry To-Day" described such "patients" as holding the same posture for hours. never seen that one. Seen the moving version. Catatonic schizophrenia. What makes people do that? Where are they? Are they going somewhere or coming back? It always intrigues me. I used to be intrigued by voices until I heard them a lot. The doctors think I'm really healthy by considering them free entertainment not an affliction but they barely ever upset me. Mostly they make me laugh and when I'm depressed they just echo random words out of my head. That's a type of poetry too. I cannot believe I really am mentally ill. I mean, it's all in my mind right? So am I just imagining it...???????

     

    Keep blogging.

    heya - Francesco Spiteful - Oct 18th 2010

    So someone is diagnosed some mental illness... Arent you guys really happy to have a hole industry working for you with all its apparatus?

    Some is diagnosed something. Woohhhaaaa, we got work to do!

     

    He is "diagnosed"=he is in our system. Our system could get a predator that is not inline with society.

    Well, to much work, lets say, somone gives us work, fair enough.

     

    Happy for you guys!

     

    saying it out loud - backupsinger - Oct 19th 2009

    I'm 59 years old. I've yet to answer any of the questions you raise in your article. That's a pitiful testimony to how opposede we still are in this society to acknowledging and accepting mind related illness (as opposed to tangible "brain" dysfunctions).  Carrie has to say it out loud as a comedian in order to deal with her "what the hell just happened" moments in a way that's socially acceptable, a way that softens the reality of her life so that SHE'S acceptable and others are comfortable.  My life is a tragedy because I could never find a way to say it out loud and make myself acceptable and others comfortable.  I have been terrorized my entire life by the desire to be honest (healthy) and the possible consequences.  I deluded myself by thinking that those insightful and compassionate friends, colleagues and loving family members would not change the way they related to me.  The hard lesson is that by taking chances to build a healthy relationship with the rest of the world through honesty, one must sacrifice safety and prepare to be abandoned, betrayed and virtually crucified so that others can feel comfortable.  How easy it is to "fake" having a mental disorder.  Try living a lifetime "faking" being normal. Discernment regarding who what where when why and how to tell others is impossible to cultivate. That's the pitfall. Unless we own a prop, like Carrie.

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