Carrie Fisher: The Lost Voice
In the last two days, the world has consecutively lost two great members of an iconic family, first the indomitable Carrie Fisher, followed by her equally charming and popular mother Debbie Reynolds. But their legacy, one of the most important in Hollywood, powers on.
Every obituary you read today struggles to remind you that Fisher was more than just a gold bikini and fancy hair-do. She was a prolific writer, witty, dark and honest, and it is this strong voice that we have lost today. One of her greatest gifts was simply to stand up and say, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.”
In her semi-autobiographical novel “Postcards from the Edge” and memoirs “Wishful Drinking” and “Shockaholic”, Fisher spoke openly about her many illnesses--bipolar disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, and body dysmorphia. Growing up in the environment she did, none of these labels come as a shocker, but when she stepped up and embraced them, embraced all that they entailed and all her fellow sufferers, one must admit, she shocked the world. Her history with mental health was so deep and rich, she even joked that "[she was] hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today.”
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her mid-twenties, she refused to accept the diagnosis until a near-fatal overdose at 28 finally got her into rehab. During her 30-day stint she started her first book and discovered the cathartic effect of writing, like many before her. Over the rest of her career she poured her aching heart out into seven full-length books, multiple scripts and a slew of tweets that marked her out for her eccentricity. It spurred the debate on the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity, a debate that rages on today.
She even spoke out about controversial treatments like ElectroConvulsive Shock Therapy, appearing on a platform no less than Oprah to give viewers a frank account of her experience, the side effects and benefits. She openly described a procedure many are too afraid to even name, and contemplated her own success with it. "Some of my memories will never return. They are lost – along with the crippling feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Not a tremendous price to pay."
Fisher’s advocacy of mental health awareness wasn’t all one-way. She had a web of people dealing with similar diagnoses who reached out to her regularly, and she always comforted them in her own way. In her final Guardian column, she responded to another young woman dealing with bipolar disorder. "As difficult as it seems like it can be, you’re ahead of the game. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I'll be watching.” She taught us that the key to surviving mental illness was acceptance, honesty and sharing.
Her frank, no-nonsense description of her issues showed the world that you can be not just beautiful, but rich, cool, smart, funny, popular and successful, and also deeply afflicted. She gave us words we could relate too and fostered a culture of openness and awareness that fought directly against the shame and stigma surrounding mental illnesses today. She explained herself saying, "Because I grew up in a public family, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I've experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It's freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to."
In memory of a powerful icon, let’s all commit to taking ownership of ourselves and our problems. Let’s remind ourselves that no amount of chemical imbalance or unpleasant emotions make us any less human. And let’s remember to always talk it out.
In the timeless words of a legend, "Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell."
If you, or anyone you know is suffering from a mental illness, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
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