Like others, I was bludgeoned by the news. Somehow it didn’t feel real, and still doesn’t. 2016 has been an overall avenue of shit. And it ended with the death of one of our most beloved sci-fi icons.
Like Spock in Star Trek, Carrie Fisher was someone who epitomized a franchise. She played a female character who embraced the role of a princess, as well as a fighter. No one was tougher than Princess Leia. And in life she was even tougher, because she had to battle the biggest challenge of all: mental illness.
In life Carrie Fisher was incredibly open about her struggle with bipolar disorder, as well as substance abuse. Very often these two can coexist for people with mental illness. Drugs and alcohol can become a means of controlling, or even moderating one’s temperance. But in spite of this, Carrie Fisher managed to pull through, conquering her addiction while continuing to conquer her illness in everyday life.
She had the bravery to acknowledge her issues, rather than keeping them hidden. Shame was not a part of her lifestyle. Determination was. If you have a mental illness, her message for you was this: don’t let the fear stop you from “doing”. By all means, be afraid. Acknowledge your ups and downs. But once you’ve committed yourself to action, you’ll gain the confidence to overcome them.
One of the most striking things about Carrie Fisher was how live and energetic she always seemed. She was electrified with a life force that knew no boundaries: literally her very own “Force”. The immensity of her on-screen role as Princess Leia was matched by an equally large off-screen persona. Of warmth. And humor: tremendous humor. I dare you to watch any of her interviews with Craig Ferguson and try not to laugh. At least once.
She spoke candidly during interviews about her disorder. She also wrote about her struggles with addiction in a series of biographies. And she was never self-defeating: she always spoke with encouragement.
Like so many people with mental illness, her road to recovery was one that had to begin with acceptance. Not shame. Initially resistant to her diagnosis, she later came to embrace herself, both as a sufferer crippled by conscience, and a warrior fighting one day at a time.
And she always fought with a smile. While tragic, her death is also encouraging. Her bravery in coming forth about her struggles is encouragement for people dealing with mental illness. Carrie Fisher was someone who said you don’t have to be ashamed of it. You can come out and talk. Your story matters. It’s okay to be vulnerable and strong at the same time. Just like Leia. You can feel those lowly moments. But remember, they’re just like weather. Rain clouds can form on horizons. But they’ll pass over. Carrie Fisher was someone who laughed in the face of rain clouds. So can we.
It lends comfort to know that illness isn’t the end. Your problem isn’t your purpose: life is. So enjoy what time you have. Learn to smile more. That’s something I’m still trying to learn, through my own personal struggles. It’s very hard, almost impossible at times. But I genuinely believe Carrie Fisher was someone who lived the answer, in spite of her personal setbacks.
R.I.P. Princess. The Force will be with you. Always.