Today, in some bizarre twist of fate, the moment Rogue One began to play on the screen, my Apple watch flashed the breaking news, Star Wars icon, Carrie Fisher, dead at 60. Her big, beautiful heart just stopped beating. Just like that, she was gone and all the air was sucked out of my lungs. It was a cosmic punch to the gut. I sat there in shock in the dark theater as the words, in a galaxy far, far away flashed on the screen. It was surreal and the most ironic thing I’ve ever experienced.
I spent the duration of the movie watching from behind tear-filled eyes, stifling inappropriate sobs. I wasn’t crying over the loss of Princess Leia, that was just a character that she played in a movie. I was devastated by someone that I felt a kindred spirit in so many ways.
Carrie Fisher was a hero to me for her outspoken, feisty, live out loud female empowered way that she lived her life but she was particularly my hero because she was a survivor. We survivors, we recognize scrappy in one another and we admire it. I admired her.
She survived addiction and Bipolar, and believe me, if you’ve not had to survive either of these you have no idea just how strong this woman was. She faced it head on and said, “Fuck you! I’m not going down without a fight! Bring it on, bitches!” (That’s NOT a direct quote but a sentiment sort of an inner warrior princess battle cry.)
When we are children and young adults, we naturally gravitate towards heroes to emulate that we recognize glimpses of ourselves in. I saw myself in Carrie Fisher. I loved the way she just told it like it was. There was no time for bullshit. Life is too short, especially when your mind takes you on a perpetual roller coaster ride.
She came out publicly about her struggles with addiction and her bipolar diagnosis in the mid-90’s. She inspired others to do so too. Soon after, I was diagnosed bipolar 1. When you are suffering undiagnosed and self-medicating just to try to feel “normal” it’s like you’re not even really living; you’re getting by. You feel broken and to find out that there is a name for it, to find out that you are merely bent and not broken, is sweet relief. I could identify on so many levels with her on this. We shared that experience and its sort of like sharing cancer or war together. It etches that person on your heart in a way most others can never be.
After I was diagnosed, I made it my mission to learn everything I could about the disease. Not only did I see my psychiatrist and psychologist weekly and religiously, I read every book I could get my hands on, including the DSM. I gave books to my family and friends so that they could educate themselves and understand why I was the way I was. I learned all of my comorbid diagnosis and how to cope with them; some with medication and all through behavioral therapy. I learned what made me tick. I embraced the madness. I even took it a step further and took a few graduate clinical psychology courses just to wrap my brain around it as much as possible. I learned how to diagnose not because I wanted to diagnose anyone but because I wanted to recognize, educate and help anyone else who was feeling broken.
Every time Carrie Fisher spoke up about mental illness and advocated for mental health, she made it easier for the rest of us. She also inspired us to be honest to tell our mental health truths. Having a mental illness diagnosis is not like having a physical illness diagnosis. When you have a mental illness, somehow the world sees you as defective by your own choice; as if you did something to deserve it or it was some punishment for being weak-minded but no one would ever say that about someone with diabetes or cancer. Carrie fought those stigmas at every chance because once you can separate yourself from the disease and see with that intuitive clarity, you just want to help anyone you can.
Carrie Fisher’s bravery inspired me to share my own stories; my diagnoses. I told the world things I hadn’t even said out loud to most of my friends because I was ashamed they would somehow think less of me or make every fault about the diagnosis. I was terrified to tell you my deepest, darkest most stigmatized secrets but I wrote them out and became an advocate because by being open it destigmatizes it just a little bit for the next generation; the next group of sufferers. That’s who Carrie Fisher was to me. I saw myself in her and I will miss her. She gave me hope.
In the last 5 seconds of Rogue One, just when I thought I couldn’t possibly hold it together for one more second, there on the screen was Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) turning around to face the audience, beaming in the way only Carrie could, and she said, “We have hope.” It was one last serendipitous pep talk from a woman who has inspired me to be strong and brave when I was at my most vulnerable. Rest in peace, my fellow warrior.
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