Carrie Fisher and the Legacy She Left Behind
How One Actress Changed the Life of Many Through Her Openess About Mental Illness
Not too long ago, I was going through my Facebook memories when I came across a picture I was very familiar with. I had posted it on Facebook on November 29th, 2016. I was the day I met Carrie Fisher at The Grove in Hollywood. She was doing a book signing for The Princess Diarist, and I had booked it out of my last class of the day to meet her.
Carrie had been a sort of hero of mine for a while. It wasn't because of her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars (though I adore the series) or because of her brilliant sense of humor (which has very much inspired mine), but for her general openness about her life, specifically one aspect of it.
Carrie Fisher was very open about being bipolar, and was a huge advocate for those who suffer from mental illness. As someone who has ADD, anxiety, and depression that she struggled to accept and deal with for a long time, this was huge for me.
When her career back in the limelight after The Last Jedi, Carrie's platform had grown and was able to reach people like me who had not known much about her past her Star Wars legacy. And with The Last Jedi coming out, I think it is a good time to remember everything this woman did.
But I think the best way to show how completely this woman changed my life, is to share my post from a year ago:
So Im finally sitting down to gather my thoughts, as today (or yesterday at this point) was just really surreal for me. A real out of body kind of experience. You see, I finally got to meet one of my heroes.
It all started about a week ago. It had been a rough week… or month. Seasonal depression is a bitch, but if you add to that clinical depression, anxiety, and ADD in your fourth semester of college when you are finally realizing, “Oh my god, I'm an adult with responsibilities and bills,” then yeah, its going to be a rough month. I had not quite found my pep yet (I’m still looking, so if you see it please text me), but my friend Gaby, otherwise known as Mom friend, had dragged me to the grove for a family date night. I was losing energy fast and had wandered off in Barnes & Noble, looking for a good play book for my One Acts class (the life of an acting major). That's when I saw the event sign. Carrie Fisher, known by many as the fiery, ass kicking, Hutt slaying Princess Leia of Alderaan, would be doing a book signing right there in a little over a week. Once I saw the time of the event was exactly 40 minutes after my lass class ended, I plugged it in my calendar with as many alarms as I was allowed, and let my roommate know I would probably be home late that night.
Now before you go, “Oh, OK, so this isn’t really a hero, this is just a celebrity thing,” let me tell you that you could not be more wrong. About a year ago I was still coming to terms with the fact that I had anxiety and depression. I was diagnosed with ADD when I was in the fifth grade, and I had been in denial about it for years after that. I had refused to take my medication, I had fought going to the doctor, I had tried to sweep it under the rug as best as I could. I didn’t even tell any of my close friends about it until I was probably a sophomore in high school, and even then I felt somewhat ashamed. Even broken. Like something was wrong with me. Like I would not be able to function like a human without popping pills every night (not to undermine the medication at all, I believe it helps, but it doesn't stop the negative thoughts). After my grandmother died in January of 2015 (still one of the worst years of my life), I fell into a deep depression that decided to intertwine itself with what I believe now was pre-existing anxiety, and, bada bing bada boom, we’re popping two pills a night now.
It was all downhill from there. I had been having nightmares every night and couldn’t sleep very well, if at all (seriously, I haven’t gotten a full nights sleep in two years, but at least now I can laugh about it). I started to go to therapy to help me organize my thoughts, and it was around that time that I started remembering things that happened to me when I was younger. I also started realizing that I was asexual. All this while I was auditioning for colleges and getting ready for graduation. And when I finally started to get my life back together, then bam, here comes a real messy breakup, which, after talking to my friends about it, I realized was for the best and have since learned what a healthy relationship feels like; but that did not stop it from really messing with my health at the time. In one week I lost 10 pounds (I hit 84 at my lowest point), had about 6-7 panic attacks a day, and spiraled into one of my worst depressions ever. The doctor told me that unless I put on some weight I might not be able to fly out to college. The move from Pennsylvania to California and the change of environments would either make things better or worse (there was talk of my body eventually shutting down. Fun, I know). Luckily for me and my stubborn streak, I refused to not at least give it a try, and on October 14, 2015 I moved out to California. And thus began the healing process. It was in the middle of this process that a certain movie came out… The Force Awakens.
I was in kindergarten probably when the first of the prequels came out. I remember being Padme for halloween in third grade, and my little sister was JarJar Binks (before you say anything, I didn’t force her into it, she actually loved him. She might still love him. Wait, no might. She loves him). I remember watching Revenge of the Sith at my aunt's house, and developing my crush on Anakin Skywalker. I had rocked the Leia buns once or twice for fun. Long story short, I was a Star Wars child. The thing is, I had no idea they were making a new movie! I mean granted, I had been a little preoccupied, but seriously?! So when I went home for Christmas, I ended up seeing the movie with my family, and The Force Awakens re-awakened my Star Wars love (I would say no pun intended, but the pun was totally intended).
As I do with everything I develop even the slightest interest in, I ended up becoming hyperaware of it around me, so it wasn’t long before I started hearing about what a badass Carrie Fisher was. Witty and sarcastic, and quick on her toes. If you take the time to decode her tweets you are usually in for a good laugh. “Help me Obi Juan whoever the fuck you are! You’re my only hoe!” is still my favorite, though. But she was just so open and laid back about life, willing to accept things that had happened and move on with a sarcastic remark and a laugh. But it was learning about Gary that really hit home for me.
For those who may not know, Gary Fisher is Carrie fisher’s therapy animal. He is with her wherever she goes, and he was sitting in the chair next to Carrie when I met her. He stays with his mom to be that extra support for her. But why?
In 2000 Carrie told the world that she had bipolar disorder. She has said she has gone through deep depressions and sleepless nights and has made impulsive decisions and bad judgement calls based on temporary but strong feelings. I identified immediately. Though I don’t have bipolar disorder, I can relate to much of what she described. The deep depressions, the sleepless nights, the impulsive decisions made in hopes of feeling something… anything at all.
I had to take a step back. This badass woman had gone through, and was still going through, some of the same things I was. She was going through all that, and she was still going strong, not letting it hold her back. All those nights of, “how the hell can I succeed in life if I can’t even control my own emotions!? I’m so totally screwed!” and here was this awesome woman who just embraced it and moved on! I don’t know if I can put the relief I felt into words. It was not long after that that I began to change my attitude towards my mental illness. I started treating it the way I treat my bad knee. If it starts acting up I put a brace on it and power through, and if anyone asks me what's wrong I just shrug and say, “It’s an old injury.” I mean, I do have moments where I need to bow out for a bit and give myself a rest, but I bounce back eventually. It was just a matter of knowing it was nothing to be ashamed of, and I had Carrie to thank for that. And that brings me full circle.
It was my turn to get my book signed. I walked up to the table and she smiled and signed my book, and the man I had been talking to in line was kind enough to take a picture of us. I took a deep breath before I turned to her.
“I just wanted to thank you for being so open about everything you have gone through in your life, because it has really helped me to deal with what I have gone through in mine.”
I don’t know if it was because it had been a rough month, or because I had been running on 4 hours of sleep, or because I hadn’t had the chance to eat anything for hours, or because I was standing in front of the woman who gave me the gift of feeling like a normal person again, but I choked up a bit, and had to start holding back some tears. I had told myself I wouldn’t get to that point, but I did.
Now, either she was shocked, or weirded out (let’s be honest, a strange 5 foot college girl you have never met before tearing up in front of you will probably do that), but she took a moment and just looked at me before she smiled and said “I’m glad. Staying quiet never helps anything.”
I pulled myself together, and smiled back at her before I thanked her again and took the book (now one of my most prized possessions) and let the man behind move forward. But before I left she turned to me and said,
“I wish you luck with whatever you are going through.”
And that’s the story of how I met the first of my small group of heroes. Not Princess Leia, General of the Resistance, but Carrie Fisher, the woman who turned to the world and said, “I outlasted my problems. I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”