A Galaxy Still in Reach
This is a story about how 'Star Wars,' the Force, and General Leia Organa saved my life.
I don't remember exactly how old I was when my dad first popped in the VHS of Star Wars: A New Hope. It was my siblings, my cousin, and I all in the large bonus room of our house, while my parents, my aunts, and their significant others were downstairs watching a horror movie. We had pretty much gone through our entire collection of Disney VHS's and were getting restless, so my dad came upstairs. He smiled as he sat us all on the couch and pressed play. My sister and my cousin got bored easily, so they were off playing dolls within the first fifteen minutes. I sat on the couch, wide-eyed and excited.
Up until then, my favorite princess had always been Belle. Bookish, snarky, kind, and beautiful. The kind of person I wanted to grow up to be like. Ariel was a close second, mainly because she sang. As a kid, you don't really know why you love a certain character but you find that connection. But I fell in love with Princess Leia from the moment I saw her. When I saw Princess Leia sass Darth Vader, I was one hundred percent convinced that it was Belle I was watching. After all, they both had brown hair, they were both very smart, and they stood up to bad guys. I had brown hair, so all I had to do was be smart and stand up to bad guys!
My love for Star Wars grew with each movie and each show. Yes, even the prequels. And yes, I do think they're awful. But I also think they're fun to watch. The prequels will never compare to the originals in my mind. And that is for one soul reason:
As you can probably guess: I screamed in delight when I saw her in The Force Awakens and I was a big sobbing mess when she passed away. Carrie Fisher had become my childhood idol, into my role model. She was a writer, she was an actor, she was still snarky and smart. I wanted nothing more than to be on her level when I reached her age. She kind of reminded me of my mom in a way. They look similar. I've only ever read excerpts from her books, I haven't gotten a chance to read them in their entirety yet.
When I heard the news of Carrie's passing, I had several reactions. One was definitely crying, the second was posting my tribute to my lifelong idol. However, I stopped suddenly. I had wanted to find the originals and watch them. Binge-watch. I wanted to remember Carrie Fisher the way I had met her. As Princess Leia.
But I knew she was more than just a Princess Leia, and she was more than General Leia Organa. This was before the autopsy report and honestly, it changed absolutely nothing. I still love and admire her. I know she struggled. She struggled with bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. Her struggle has been chronicled throughout her many books, and her past battles with addiction. She was fighting hard. And she was never afraid to tell anyone how hard she was fighting. She came straight out and told the world she had a mental illness.
There was a Star Wars marathon on AMC not too long after I first was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. So I plopped on my couch and watched. I hugged the pillow to me, I laughed in the parts of the movie that were funny, and I cried at the sad parts. Even if the part was not particularly tear-jerking, I was crying silently. But the parts of the movie that kept me smiling were the scenes with Leia. Even if my smile was accompanied by tears. She kept me smiling.
When she passed away, I was comforted by some of the many quotes she left us with. Some were from her interviews, some were from her book Wishful Drinking. The quote that sticks with me to this day was from an interview in 2013 with the Sarasota-Herald Tribune.
"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."
It might just be me, but this sounds like another famous Star Wars quote. One many of us know and hold dear to us. A quote from our Master Yoda.
"Do or do not. There is no try."
It is not easy to live by these words when you suffer from a mental illness. Especially depression and anxiety. It drags and holds you down, drowning you in hopelessness, isolation, and worthlessness. There are days where you might not even have the energy to get out of bed. I know. I have these days. Sometimes they're triggered by events, people, or my own mind. Sometimes, there is no trigger. Some of you might be suffering in silence, because there is still stigma about mental illness. The stigma keeps people from seeking help, from telling others about their illnesses.
When Carrie Fisher blatantly told the world about her bipolar disorder, she made sure to let the world know how she felt about the stigma. She made sure to tell everyone in the world who loved her how she felt about her diagnosis. And to the people who were fighting these illnesses, she was there to tell you how strong she thought you really were.
"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 this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
To her, battling mental illness took balls. She did not want anyone to fall further into their illness by becoming ashamed of the fight. She didn't want anyone to be afraid of the stigma. And through it all, she found the humor in it. These are the ways Carrie Fisher helped me through my anxiety and depression.
Sometimes, when I'm deep in the black hole that is my depression, I think about the galaxy far far away. The amazing planets and people surrounded by the Force. The energy created through all living things. I think of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, the Jedi, and the heroes of the Rebellion. Like them, those of us suffering from a mental illness are fighting. We are fighting hard. It takes a lot out of us. We are all fighting in different ways. Some of us take medication, some of us meditate. Some of us see therapists, some of us cope through hobbies.
We may not be Jedi, battling Sith through the light side of the Force. We may not be the Rebel pilot, who battles the Empire (or First Order) with an X-Wing fighter. But we are fighting the darkest corners of our minds. We are fighting the oppression of stigma, just by continuing to live.
To those of you fighting, may the Force be with you.
Thanks for reading.