“There is no more shame in mental illness than having tonsillitis”, says Matt Haig in a recent article for The Guardian. I share his opinion that in order “to destigmatise mental health [we have to place] it on an equal footing with stigma-free physical issues such as asthma and arthritis.” After all, just because something is wrong with our head, rather than any other limb or organ, why should it be any different? Besides, it is common knowledge that mental health does not only reside in the brain. It is interconnected with our bodies through the parasympathetic nervous system. Organ systems such as the digestive system have been found to have so many neurons that it has been deemed “The Second Brain”. So it is really an illness of the body, not just the mind.
Where does Carrie Fisher come into this, you may ask? Well, she was an avid campaigner for mental health, especially in women. I have been listening to her autobiography “Wishful Drinking”, where she talks openly about living with Bipolar Affective Disorder. Furthermore, I recently watched Stephen Fry’s “The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive”, in which he visits Carrie in her Hollywood home. Fry asks of all his interviewees whether, given the choice, they would choose to live a life free of mania and depression. Of course the depressive side of the condition is not desirable, however, it is often the manic highs that drive people to be their most creative. Most people said they would choose to keep it, as they believed it was an integral part of their character and life work. Bipolar sufferers have often been famous, arguably because of the wide range of emotion and tireless energy the condition gives them.
Of my own coming out, here in London, the street artist “The Artful Dodger” saw it fitting to spray paint Princess Leia Organa from Star Wars onto a derelict pub wall next to my flat. She would watch me waiting for the bus in the morning, with the words “One with the Force” framing her iconic hairstyle. It was after reading her obituary earlier this year that I thought I might also be a closet bipolar. “There’s a part of me that gets surprised when people think I am brave to talk about what I’ve gone through,” she once said to the BBC. “I was brave to last through it.” I feel the same way. Bipolar is something that happens to you – you are flung into depressive, dark lows or shot up onto delirious highs. It is something you have to learn to control, often with the help of medication. Her obituary in The Guardian stated “She spoke widely of her bipolar disorder, declared herself “Joan of Narc, patron saint of addicts”, and claimed that therapy had been “my only serious relationship.”” It was no secret that Fisher used drugs to keep her condition in check. The drugs I take are of the pharmaceutical type, rather than her preferred recreational, however I have also had a long relationship with different kinds of therapy. So here is to women, all the women of the world who need help with their mental health. May they be brave enough to learn to live with it.