When we lost Carrie Fisher in December we lost an inspiration. As Princess Leia she encouraged us to see women as fearless, capable, and powerful. As a woman she showed us that it is possible for human beings to be flawed and still be wonderful. As a mental health advocate she taught us to be open and courageous.
In the early 1980s when society discouraged individuals from discussing mental health, Fisher was given a bipolar diagnosis following a drug overdose that almost killed her. Living in the public eye she could have been forgiven for trying to conceal her condition but ever one to buck social convention, Fisher embraced her diagnosis. Using her status as a pop-culture icon she delighted in sharing her experiences of mental health to encourage conversation using her trade-mark wit and honesty. The humour and frankness with which she approached being bipolar is perhaps her greatest act of heroism and there is so much that we can learn from her.
She was an inspiration and so I present to you The Wit and Wisdom of Carrie Fisher.
“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.”
Follow in Carrie’s footsteps. Mental health issues can be destructive. Oftentimes these conditions make it very difficult to engage with the world and the people in it in meaningful ways. By being open and accepting of mental health conditions and encouraging open communication about mental health issues we can support one another and overcome these obstacles. Surviving mental health issues does not mean to cure them. For many these conditions are life-long. To survive means finding the strength to overcome it and to keep moving forwards even if we have to fight it every single day.
“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable.”
Carrie’s wit and humour was one of a kind. She refused to take herself or her condition too seriously and possessed a heroic shamelessness – she never apologised for who she was, never toned it down, and never repented for the sin of being a flawed, human being. This is a lesson we could all benefit from embracing.
“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
Mental illness is challenging and it is also survivable, but sometimes it is hard to recognise just how well we are coping. Simple acts such as eating a good meal, attending lectures or keeping social engagements in the face of such hardship are enough. You don’t have to be a superhero or force yourself to feel how you “should” be feeling. Just managing to take what seems like small steps are something to be proud of not ashamed by. If it helps, think of these steps as the foundation for bigger things and you’ll be able to see how great you’re doing.
“I haven’t ever changed who I am. I’ve just gotten more accepting of it. Being happy isn’t getting what you want; it’s wanting what you have.”
Carrie lived a turbulent life and whilst very few of us have shared her experiences we can certainly relate. Confidence and comfort in our own skin is something that everybody grapples with – regardless of mental health issues – and can sometimes lead us to feel very negative things about ourselves. As a result it can be tempting to change aspects of ourselves, in fact we’re encouraged to experiment with our identities, but that doesn’t mean that we should drastically change who we are. Stay true to yourself and you’ll realise just how great you are.
“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to do almost anything else in your life.”
Mental health issues can be destructive but overcoming them requires you to develop different skills and coping mechanisms to better live with the condition. Overcoming mental health issues is a huge accomplishment and whilst they may always be there, the conditions do not have to define you. They are a small part of who you are and your experiences can help you to deal with a multitude of things, ultimately making you a more resilient and stronger person as a result.
“Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
What better advice for aspiring students? Many of us will feel at one time or another that we’re incapable of doing something because we lack confidence in our abilities but we really shouldn’t. We are only as capable as we allow ourselves to be and if you take a leap of faith you might find yourself doing more than you ever thought possible. Whatever it is you decide to do, do it with a big smile and wide open arms. Everything else will fall into place.
“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”
Carrie Fisher, you will be missed.