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My Connection to the Life and Death of Carrie Fisher as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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I can’t sleep. I’m heartbroken by the loss of Carrie Fisher and have cried a lot this evening, cycling between reading quotes from her, listening to audiobooks she wrote and performed, watching gifs of her on Tumblr and one video of a young boy getting a kitten for Christmas and sobbing his little heart out, unfettered and unedited by his family, who embraced his emotion.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Let me explain why I think Carrie Fisher dying has hit me so hard. I obviously didn’t know the woman. I wasn’t upset when we lost Prince, David Bowie or Victoria Wood. But there is a sense of kinship between people who struggle with mental illness.

I don’t really know if anyone else feels this. I suspect they do, but that’s part of mental illness. Isn’t it? It’s a solo experience. You never quite know if anyone else is going through what you’re going through.

She explained it well in her writing, in the things she said and in the beautiful way she explained bipolar disorder (the condition I live with) to that little kid at Comic-Con. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s this sense of family with people who speak openly about their life with mental illness that I really respond to. With some people, it’s stronger than others.

When Robin Williams died, I felt the same. I think that’s the only celebrity death, before this one, that’s ever truly upset me. I wrote about it at the time, but the tragedy for me was something along the lines of: There’s another one of us who didn’t make it. It ruined me. This idea that so many of us lose our lives to these conditions.

In one way, it’s frightening. When this particular line of thought comes into your brain, it comes with an unsettling sense of inevitability. Of course, this thing is going to get me in the end. Of course, it’s going to get to be too much, and I’m going to get lost amongst the rushes. Of course, I’m going to have to mark the end of the sentence.

The sadness, the mania and the sense of inevitability all tie together with a numb resolve at that point, and you’re just still/motionless. Perhaps because Robin Williams was high profile, or at least visible and accessible through his films, that was tragic and saddening to me. I know people die from depression every day. The knowledge of it is often faceless, until it’s a face you recognize.

None of this relates to Carrie Fisher. Yet, in the way she spoke about her mental illness when she said, “There’s no room for demons if you are already self-possessed,” it seemed like she was one who knew what she was talking about. She seemed smart and light, yet perfectly frank about her fight. So she proved you could be both: broken and alive, which sometimes feels like a completely impossible task. She was successful, but it didn’t feel like she needed to be. To me, how I read it, the success that was most important was the fact that she was still here, and this was good enough.

When I struggle to make anything resembling music these days or another essay falls flat or when I realize a week has gone by and I can’t remember any of it, I was always inspired by the sense of, “OK, I haven’t died yet, and I’ve often thought that I would.”

I’m sad when I think about all of this, and it’s triggered by the loss of Carrie Fisher. Although it’s not the same sadness I would feel if I lost someone who was in my life every single day, who I’ve grown with and loved, it’s a different kind of sadness for a different kind of loss. The loss of someone who was inspiring and who was a sort of sister and distant mentor if that’s not too grandiose. I don’t think it is too grandiose, though, because ultimately a mentor requires a student, and I learned a lot from what she wrote and what she said.

I’m sad there won’t be more of it. I hope I’m going to continue to find comfort rereading and revisiting the things I read from her. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily the things she said or did that were inspiring, but the way they translated into my mind, the way I took the raw material and mashed it into a lesson for myself.

There’s so many facets to mental disorders and how they’re experienced, viewed and discussed. There are so many nuances that sometimes make it worse. I don’t know how to finish this because there’s so much I feel like I want to say, and I can’t figure out how to organize it. So I’m sitting in my bed, smoking cigarettes and trying to put things into boxes in my head because it feels like a messy sewing box in there at the moment, pins, threads and spools everywhere, all clumped up.

I keep hoping it’s going to be easier at some point to not find it so difficult to talk about my mental illness. It’s one of the reasons I got off social media because I felt like I was becoming a caricature of my condition, with periods of absence followed by gushes of activity and garrulous chatting. I wish it didn’t feel like coming out of the closet again and again and again.

Given that I know this feeling is coming from me, it feels pretty futile to beseech people to talk more about mental illness. How much can that help when it’s me who’s resisting? Yet, I don’t know the answer to that. I have no idea if my reticence to live openly with it comes from something dark in me or if it’s something that’s been given to me by everyone else.

I don’t know. I don’t have a statement, a plea or a sanctimonious lesson to arrogantly dish out at this point. Yet, I feel like she was a hero for us people living with the shit that comes from nowhere, and I’m sad and feeling pretty undone.

Alan MX

Originally published: January 7, 2017
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