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20 Questions for Carrie Fisher

The prolific performer talks about her experiences with bipolar disorder and addiction -- plus what it's like to reach a happier middle age.

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Well, I am hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today. It's a combination of everything. It was out there, anyway; I wanted my version of it out there. Now, it seems every show I watch there's always someone bipolar in it! It's going through the vernacular like "May the force be with you" did. But I define it, rather than it defining me.

You were officially diagnosed at age 29, after initially being told you were an alcoholic and drug addict. Did your addictions mask bipolar behaviors? 

The first time they said the word bipolar to me was when I was 24. The diagnosis when I accepted it? I was 29. But I was still loaded [then]; if you're on drugs, you look bipolar anyway.

And once you first got sober, did these behaviors immediately amp up?

 Everybody I came into rehab with, we hung out, going to meetings that first year. They all calmed down; I went in the other direction. I was a year sober and I was pretty crazy. I thought once I got diagnosed [as] an alcoholic, and that was the problem, that was it. Well, yeah, that was part of it. But it was the solution, not the problem.

Without the leveling effect of medication: are you more manic or depressive?

Mostly mania. When I got older, depression became more of an issue. Mania is not that unpleasant, but … it's a spin of the dial, you don't know what you're going to get. It turned into what they call agitated depression. I would get really impatient. I was going much faster than everything else around me, and it drove me crazy. You feel out of step with the world.

Is there still a stigma attached to mental illness and to seeking help for it? Have we as a society made strides in this arena?

Of course there's still stigma, especially when it comes to shock treatment [which Fisher experienced, and openly discusses in her memoir]. But it's getting better. I think there's more understanding now than there was, depending on what part of the country you're in, or what part of the world.

You're a mom to Billie, now 18. Do you embarrass her, does she embarrass you, or are you the rare mother-daughter team that stands united, never horrified by the other?

I embarrass her! I inspire a lot of eye-rolling. I have a manic personality. I don't act my age by any stretch. I'm not a master of the appropriate.

What parenting tips did you steal from your mother, and which ones did you kick to the curb?

My mother worked a lot. I swung in the other direction and was around probably too much. My mother, she loved us and demonstrated that. Whereas my father may have loved us, but he didn't demonstrate it. What I've learned over a lifetime is that love is an action … so I grew up feeling loved on one side and not on the other, which did not make me into the most confident of people … Billie has been shown love on both sides and it's an amazing difference. 

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