On Wednesday, Carrie Fisher wrote her final advice column.
She didn’t know that her letter to Alex would be her last. She didn’t know, that on a plane from London to Los Angeles on Friday she would suffer a heart attack that would kill her three days later.
Her last words, publicly that is, were the ones dedicated to Alex through her Ask Carrie Fisher column on The Guardian.
And what words they were.
Alex wrote to Fisher for help after receiving a bipolar diagnosis. Fisher was diagnosed with the same disorder when she was 24. She dedicated much of her life to talking, talking, talking. Reducing the stigma, making other sufferers feel less alone, making non-suffers feel more compassion.
Alex wanted to know how she “found peace” while living with such severe mental health struggles.
“Right now, it’s tough. I’m doing the best that I can,” Alex wrote. “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. 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.”
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Fisher was impressed.
She battled with her diagnosis before coming to terms with it. It was a long time after doctors visits and overdoses and dark, dark places that she was able to accept her condition.
“You’re lucky to have been diagnosed as bipolar and accepted that diagnosis at such a young age,” she wrote. “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,” she wrote.
In a 1995 interview with Diane Sawyer, she spoke about the same journey.
“I used to think I was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully,” she said. “And I was that. But it turns out that I am severely manic depressive.”
Back to Alex, and Fisher suggested finding a community of people with similar mental health problems. Fisher hated support groups herself. But, after a while, she realised her enjoyment was not the point.
“Initially I didn’t like the groups,” she wrote. “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,” she continued. “I didn’t have to like something I did? Wow, what a concept. I thought I had to like everything – so I would wait to be OK with something and if I didn’t get there it was permission to give up. But if I didn’t have to like it – if 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. However long it might seem to take and however unfair it might seem, it was my job to do it.”