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When she wrote Postcards, she says she was, "uber-involved" in her 12-step recovery and subsequent addiction support groups, but not all her issues were addressed. Her friend Richard Dreyfuss told her that she suffered from more than just drug addiction. "You don't walk down the street, it's a parade."

Dunne never thought of Fisher's problem as a mental illness. That is, until he misplaced a rug she had lent him. She was very understanding and told him not to worry. Yet, four years later, Fisher brought up the rug. "She was furious about it, as if it just happened. Then we talked a few days later and the rug was not that big a deal."

At first, Fisher may have ignored her friends, but she eventually found a psychiatrist, proper medication and a support group for manic-depressives. "When the group started talking about their medications, it was such a relief," she remembers. She has since become vocal in the struggle for mental health care. Earlier this year she lobbied for more funding to treat mental illness at the Indiana statehouse.

Fisher has two moods, Roy the manic extrovert and Pam the quiet introvert. "Roy decorated my house and Pam has to live in it," she quips. If a home is any indication of one's state of mind, then Fisher's mind is both playful and bizarre. A chandelier dangles from a tree along the driveway and signs such as "beware of trains" hang everywhere.

Her 1933 ranch style home, once owned by Bette Davis, is littered with details that reveal her comic nature. One painting in her bedroom depicts Queen Victoria tossing a dwarf. And inside a triptych in the dining room you find an effigy of Princess Leia.

Throughout the house, there are irreverent references to the Princess, but as Fisher puts it, "Leia follows me like a vague smell." Her metal bikinied space babe is perhaps one of the most downloaded images on the Web. You would think, though, that Fisher's accomplishments as a writer might have eclipsed any memories of Leia. Since she wrote Postcards, she has written two additional novels.

One, Surrender the Pink, was about her relationship with ex-husband and pop icon Paul Simon, to whom she was married for 11 months. For Fisher, his words had a certain soothing rhythm. "Except when the words are organized against you, of course." She says she really didn't fit the stereotype of wife, and as her friends put it, there were two flowers and no gardener.

Fisher is perhaps one of the more productive manic-depressives. She has script-doctored countless Hollywood films including Milk Money and Sister Act. She is even hosting a talk show for Oxygen Media. And in recent years, she has written screenplays; one for Showtime is about a manic depressive writer who ends up in a mental hospital.

From working with her, Streep found how very disciplined Fisher is. She is focused and stays on task. For Fisher, working in spurts that may coordinate with her manic highs can be a good thing. "She has wonderful, undeluded inspirations. She has told me that she is sometimes reluctant to ameliorate a productive state by dulling it with medication," says Streep.

Friend and actress Meg Ryan agrees that Fisher has some tendencies to mess with herself, but she gets herself back in line. "She manages this disease with enormous integrity. She's a great example of how to do it, and she's very serious about it. She's serious about being a good mom and a good friend."

Fisher takes her role as parent very seriously. In fact, she will not take on any projects that might compromise her time with Billie. Streep notes, "Some mothers tend to use a high-pitched voice with their children. Carrie doesn't." She speaks to her daughter like a friend.

That loyal family and friends surround her is a testament to her character. After her hospitalization, she threw a well-attended party. "I was worried about how everyone would react to me." But as always, her humor saved her. She rented an ambulance and a gurney that had a life-size cutout of Princess Leia hooked up to an IV. "She plucks out that thing that would destroy the rest of us. Then she makes fun of it," says Streep. "I'm sure it saves her."

In her own words

A chat with Carrie Fisher

Q: Many of us know you as Princess Leia, the invincible heroine of Star Wars. Are you invincible?

Carrie Fisher: No. I don't think that anybody's invincible, but I can certainly outlast things. I don't want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift, and I'm not interested in doing that anymore.

Are you saying you'd like to have some peace in your life?

I don't want peace, I just don't want war.

At what point in your life did depression or mania become evident?

I was diagnosed at 24, but I had been seeing a therapist since I was about 15. I didn't like the diagnosis. I couldn't believe the psychiatrist told me that. I just thought it was because he was lazy and didn't want to treat me. I was on drugs, too, at the time, and I don't think you can accurately diagnose bipolar disorder when someone is actively drug addicted or alcoholic. Then I overdosed at 28, at which point I began to accept the bipolar diagnosis. It was [Richard] Dreyfuss who came to the hospital and said, "You're a drug addict, but I have to tell you that I've observed this other thing in you: You're a manic-depressive." So maybe I was taking drugs to keep the monster in the box.