When we see her again as General Organa The Force Awakens, she's still getting shit done. When Leia's son turns to the dark side, her brother buggers off to some ocean planet to stare at some rocks for years. Her lover disappears to play space pirates and aliens like he's having some long-delayed mid-life crisis. And Leia? She puts on her big girl pants and gets shit done.
Carrie Fisher wasn't nearly as perfect as the princess turned general she played on screen, but she was damn sure as brave. Even as a twenty-something actress in the throes of a drug addiction that nearly killed her, she had the guts to tell the great ego George Lucas when his dialogue wasn't working and how he could make it better. She did a lot of that, actually, throughout her career. All through the 80s and 90s when people were calling her a washup and a has-been, she was rewriting some of the most famous movies Hollywood put out - without getting any credit. Fisher served as script doctor for The Blues Brothers, Sister Act, Hook, even the Star Wars prequels (though we'll forgive her for that).
And that's despite the severe mental health problems she battled her entire life. Fisher was always candid about her addiction and recovery, but she later began speaking publicly about her bipolar diagnosis at a time when that still was not done. And people gave her hell for it. An article on Cracked.com once called her post Star Wars career unimpressive, saying she was best known now for talking publicly "about her personal problems," as if this were a filthy, shameful thing to do. People privileged with perfect mental health just can't comprehend how incredibly important voices like Fisher's are to people like me. Every time someone amazing like Carrie Fisher comes out of the closet with their mental illness, the stigma lifts just a little bit off the rest of our shoulders; every time someone as beloved as Fisher admits to her struggles, it gives the rest of us hope that we're lovable, maybe even laudable too.
What made Fisher remarkable wasn't so much the way she spoke openly about her bipolar disorder when she was doing well; she spoke about it when she wasn't doing well too. For a lot of people, the decision to undergo electroconvulsive therapy is a private, shameful thing. Fisher changed her outgoing voice mail to note that because she was suffering memory loss following the procedure, callers would have to remind Fisher how she knew them if they expected a call back. When trolls on social media scorned the actress' appearance in The Force Awakens - she was too fat, too old - she didn't pretend it didn't bother her. She admitted that those words hurt her, but she stood strong anyway, and told other women to do the same.
Carrie Fisher had an advice column in The Guardian, and a young fan recently wrote in to ask her about how to function, how to live with a mental illness. That's where she said some words I'm planning to keep close to me as I navigate my own path with mental illness.
Fisher chose to be strong when she felt weakest, to be defiant when she felt the most shame. She chose to speak out when the sensible, safe course was to be silent. And she chose to do all that stuff in the public eye, for the benefit of people who were going through the same. And for that, I am utterly at a loss for words to express my gratitude. Godspeed, Leia Organa, and thank you, Ms. Fisher, for all the hope you've given me.
"Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic... An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.""You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it... Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do."