mental health

Carrie Frances Fisher (October 21, 1956- December 27, 2016)

As many of you know, I am in a residential treatment facility in Florida for my mental heath. After discussing my love for Carrie Fisher with my therapist, he gave me an assignment. The assignment was to find some way to show what I love about Carrie Fisher and what that says about what I love about me. I elected to make a collage and do some writing on the subject.

Carrie Fisher was an American actress, comedian, and writer. She was best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films. She was also Hollywood Royalty, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. That’s what her Wikipedia entry says, but she was so much more. Carrie Fisher was fierce, fearless, and incredibly open about her struggles with Bipolar Disorder and substance abuse, even though she was in the public eye. She was an advocate for those with mental illnesses and those with substance use disorders. By all accounts, she was funny, warm, generous, kind, and creative. She was an incredibly talented writer and storyteller. She helped the people she loved, but she also helped complete strangers.

Carrie Fisher gave me hope when I felt like I had none. Following my Bipolar I diagnosis, I felt alone and scared. She once said, “at times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with his illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” She also said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I have found each quote to be profoundly helpful in my journey with mental illness.

The memoirs Carrie Fisher wrote about her experiences with mental health and substance abuse are some of my favorite books of all time. She wrote Shockaholic, Wishful Drinking, and The Princess Diarist about her challenges with mental health, her challenges with substance use, and her affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope. Her book, Postcards From the Edge, detailed her relationship with her mother and mental health.  Candid and hilarious, her books paint a realistic portrait of what it’s like to live with Bipolar I. They show that people who make mistakes (myself included) are still whole, capable, competent, worthy people. They detail the immense pain that people like her and me feel and share tools and tactics she used to help her feel better. Her books helped me feel less alone and my hope is that someday I can help other people feel less alone with their mental health struggles, too.

Not only was Carrie Fisher a badass in real life, but she played my favorite fictional character- General Leia Organa. Many people would say that Princess Leia is their favorite, but there’s a special place in my heart for the Leia of the new trilogy. She may have been adopted into royalty, but she earned her title as General through decades of hard work and dedication. She wasn’t a perfect wife, mother, or person, but she stood up for what she believed in and ultimately sacrificed herself. She used the last of her energy to call out to her son, Ben Solo, and saved Rey, the Resistance, and the galaxy in the process. I think I find this so appealing for a variety of reasons, some of which aren’t healthy. I seem to love the idea of giving and giving and giving of myself until there’s no me left to give.

I want to be like Carrie Fisher- open about my struggles, good at writing, and a published author who is known for her humor and generosity. In some ways, we are similar. We share a diagnosis (Bipolar I), but we share more than that. I try to be generous with my time and money. I advocate for myself and others. I love writing about my mental health and my family and friends seem to enjoy reading it. I am kind and loyal. I use humor and care deeply about others. I work hard to fight for causes I believe in and I’ve spent my whole life wanting to help others. We share a love of dogs and I believe we share a deep desire to be liked and accepted by others as shown in the book Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge by Sheila Weller. The biography details Carrie’s drug use and relationships, but it also shows a woman desperate to feel love and belonging, which I can certainly relate to.

Carrie Fisher once said, “Do not let what you think they think of you make you stop and question everything you are.” She also said, “I trust myself. I trust my instincts. I know what I’m gonna’ do, what I can do, what I can’t do. I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to. But if I did, I’d be able to do it.” I hope that I can someday live up to both of these quotes as well as the strength, courage, authenticity, and vulnerability that Carrie Fisher showed. I find it awe inspiring that Carrie Fisher was aware of how important it is for validation to come from within. This is something I personally didn’t realize until spending well over a month in a residential treatment facility and having been told about it by multiple therapists during that time. While my head knew that it logically makes sense that validation from within far surpasses external validation and even though I learned about the internal locus and external locus of control in graduate school, it wasn’t something I could get my heart to believe until very recently.

It’s truly challenging for me to compare myself to such an incredible and amazing woman who remains my idol. When I sat down to write this, I knew it would be difficult. I suspected that everything I came up with would be a stretch that other people disagreed with. What I actually discovered is that I have a lot more in common with my idol than I realized. For some reason, I praise her for being a woman willing to publicly make mistakes and learn and grow, but I shame myself internally for similar mistakes, learning, and growth. If I can see Carrie Fisher as someone worthy of being my idol, maybe it’s possible that I can start to love myself more and hate myself less.