How Carrie Fisher Made Talking About Mental Illness Easier
I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life. It’s not easy to talk about. But women like Carrie Fisher made it a hell of a lot easier.
Carrie was a lot of things: a princess, a general, a rebel, a star. On the big screen, she loomed larger than life, a total badass who talked back to Darth Vader without fear. For young girls not used to seeing women take starring roles in sci-fi or fantasy epics, fighting the bad guys, she was incredibly refreshing. Offscreen, she loomed even larger, staring down life’s own dark side without fear — and with a healthy dose of wit, candor, and one-of-a-kind humor.
It was those character traits that made her seem so relatable and likable despite her superstardom.
Depression is a liar. It tricks you into thinking you deserve to be miserable, or that you don’t deserve to be happy. The way Carrie spoke about her struggles with bipolar disorder was so candid, so bracing, and often so hilarious that you couldn’t help but laugh. And that almost immediately made you feel better.
One of the greatest dangers of mental illness is how isolating it is. You might feel like no one else can understand you, or relate to you. Even the most well-meaning person who has nothing but love for you can make an offhand comment that seems dismissive, and makes you want to retreat back into a safe zone, closed off from other people.
I don’t think Carrie believed in safe zones. In her interviews, in her writing, in her tweets, it’s very clear she cares little what any haters might have to say — she lived her life. Mental illness can feel like a prison. She lived freely and openly. And she was very, very honest about traps she fell into, drugs that definitely hurt more than they helped. She certainly wasn’t perfect. Nobody is. But her seeming ease with that is what made her so inspiring. When everyone else was striving for an inhuman perfection, she was there, likely with her precious dog, Gary, not giving two shits what anybody thought.
“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either,” she once tweeted, when people were judging how she aged in ‘The Force Awakens’ (in my opinion, very gracefully). As a woman who works in news/media, the pressure I feel to look or weigh a certain way can be debilitating to my confidence (on top of general anxiety I already feel). For a woman who worked in Hollywood — the most intense pressure-cooker for body confidence there could ever be — to talk so frankly, and give the internet a middle finger for judging her at all, was nothing short of exhilarating. I’ll probably repeat that tweet to myself for the rest of my life.
It’s rare to see a high profile woman, especially one with such a massive platform, be as open as Carrie Fisher was. It’s rare to see any kind of successful woman, period, admit their internal conflicts. What she taught us to do is accept that, and accept ourselves. I’ve seen countless people, in the wake of her tragic, early death, summon their Carrie-inspired courage and talk about being bipolar. Or being depressed. Or other illnesses. Why is there still such a stigma around it? Some 43 million American adults live with it!
One of the ways we get better is simple, but it can be terrifying. Talk about it. Recognize it for what it is. Part of you, but not all of you. Accept yourself. Carrie certainly never backed down from that challenge.