“Life is a cruel, horrible joke, and I’m the punchline.” — Carrie Fisher, “Postcards from the Edge”
She may be best known for her role as a princess, but she was a warrior as an advocate for mental health. She tore down a wall, giving the world and the galaxy beyond a look inside the life of someone with a chronic mood disorder. Though she played prominent roles on the screen, told funny stories on stage, and even penned clever lines in books about her life, Fisher’s force in this world wasn’t just limited to entertainment. She was a relentless advocate for others who faced the terrors of addiction to the daily struggles of bipolar disorder. So, while legions of fans and fellow actors mourn the sudden life of a rare and witty talent, someone like myself with a chronic mood disorder also remembers her as my own beacon of hope.
Carrie Fisher was a riot. She could make audiences laugh with her stories in interviews and in pages of her books. She could give an entertaining show on stage, with those in attendance cracking up as she acted out and told her life story. But her ability to laugh at herself, the gift of laughter she brought to tough subjects, is perhaps what helped her break down barriers of the stigma saddled on those with any type of mental illness diagnosis. She taught those of us with a regimented routine of prescription medicine, therapy appointments, or addiction meetings that it was OK to laugh — in fact, it was probably the best medicine for us. Nothing was off limits for Fisher. In a time when it wasn’t as accepted to be someone with a mental illness, she boldly stepped into the spotlight and helped comfort so many who faced the same demons. Fisher had her share of demons, but her willingness to share that with the world helped keep them away and helped others realize they weren’t the only ones wrestling with demons, too.
Whatever role one remembers her for, I hope her legacy also includes being known as a “Mental Health Hero.” Just like a good blockbuster hit, Fisher’s openness with lessons she learned in life made us think, taught us tolerance, and even allowed those of us who also know this world so well to embrace our true selves. In her book, “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher writes, “Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything… I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” Of course, the recognition from the mental health community wasn’t for having a diagnosis but rather for putting the spotlight on the topic for all those still struggling all alone for acceptance.
The most famous princess of the movies may have passed away, but her force will remain one that lives on. Fisher taught me that my diagnosis is merely a label. The real person behind the struggle and the story isn’t defined by just a label. Instead, thanks to Fisher’s contribution, I now know it’s still possible to be defined not by my illness but as a princess. And she taught us all, whatever the struggle, that sometimes the difficulty turns out to be a reward. Maybe we did not plan to go down this road, but in the end, it helps give us purpose. As she penned in “The Best Awful,” “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.” And what a princess, warrior, and gift she was. What a force she leaves behind for us all.
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Photo via Star Wars Facebook.