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Carrie Fisher divulges on shock therapy, addiction, recovery to Ohio State

Andrew Holleran / Lantern photographer

It’s not often that a university hosts a princess. But those attending Carrie Fisher’s speech at the Mershon Auditorium caught a glimpse of one from a galaxy far, far away.

Carrie Fisher, the actress famed for playing Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” trilogy, spoke at Ohio State with CBS correspondent and OSU alumna Erin Moriarty about her struggles with mental illness and drug abuse. The talk was the centerpiece of a fundraiser for the Wexner Medical Center and OSU Department of Psychiatry’s Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program.

The discussion started around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, drawing more than 800 attendees and raising more than $320,000 for the STAR Program, a treatment initiative for victims of serious trauma.

At the event Moriarty questioned Fisher about her life in mostly chronological order. Fisher seemed to maintain a humorous tone throughout the talk, despite the sometimes dark subject matter.

“I know what it’s like not to enjoy things,” Fisher said. “The gift of that is when you get back to the usual you can say, ‘Thank God I’m not back there.'”

For the second year in a row, the STAR program partnered with the Wexner Center for the Arts to bring a prominent performer in for a fundraiser.

“We set out to look for the right person,” said Karen Simonian, director of media and public relations at the Wexner Center. “And we came to Carrie Fisher, who has written a lot about her bipolar disorder.”

Simonian said that, due to the subject of the fundraiser, Fisher’s own experience with trauma made her an appropriate speaker.

The conversation first touched on Fisher’s childhood, growing up in a celebrity household. Fame often distracted her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, and her father was a drug addict who needed more parenting than he could give, she said. Fisher also said her childhood initially dissuaded her from being an actress.

“When I was a teenager, my mother’s celebrity started to drift in the wrong direction,” Fisher said. “I saw what that did to her. I saw that and I didn’t want in on that action at all.”

When she changed her mind and finally became an actress, Fisher said she was already dealing with bipolar disorder, and was constantly worried about losing what she had in life.

“I knew because of watching my parents’ lives that my celebrity could go. And I thought that if that could go, other things could go,” Fisher said. “I was always on emergency. Everything was incredibly intense, in any direction.”

Fisher started using hard drugs such as cocaine to cope in her early-20s, and overdosed in her mid-20s. Though she went into rehab, her depressive tendencies continued.  

One thing that did help her eventually, she said, was her use of electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy.

“That happened to be a very tough decision,” Fisher said. “I thought of it as barbaric. When I finally got to it, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It worked, and it worked fast.”

Fisher said that, despite the short-term memory loss associated with the treatment, shock therapy helped her to get her life back on track.

Audience reactions to the speech were generally positive, and many sympathized deeply with Fisher’s plight.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” said Jessica Fair, a fourth-year in sociology and criminology. “You realize that you are not alone when it comes to those struggling with depression.”

Chris Taylor, a Cincinnati resident who came to see the show, said the show met his expectations, but left him slightly disappointed that the event wasn’t longer and Fisher didn’t take more questions.

“It’s pretty much what I expected,” Taylor said. “I think she’s a really resilient person, actually. Every few years she comes back with something.”

Peter Wray, a Columbus resident, said that while he enjoyed the performance, he was genuinely surprised about Fisher’s advocacy for shock therapy.

“I was raised to be biased against it,” Wray said. “I saw ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and all those things, so it’s interesting to listen to her.”

Fisher said her life has been even more normal than many people would think.

“I think everybody’s life would look bizarre under a certain scrutiny,” Fisher said. “Mine just gets there a lot faster.”

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