What I Learned from Carrie Fisher

By Jess Lader | Jan. 06, 2017

 

I’m writing with tears in my eyes following Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. My love, appreciation and fandom for her is due to more than her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars: She was a pioneer for those of us who live with bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. I love the Carrie who stayed true to herself and never made excuses for the toll that bipolar disorder took on her mind and body. Instead, she treated it as a part of her life. She always showed strength, humor and resiliency in the face of instability and uncertainty.

In the wake of her passing, I’m pledging to pursue a life of similar action. Her inspiring life taught me a few very important lessons about living with a mental health condition: 

Be Open and Honest with Yourself and Others

Following my diagnosis at the age of 23, I longed to gain inspiration from artists, writers, musicians and actors/actresses who were open about their mental illness. During my research, Carrie Fisher immediately caught my attention. She was one of the (very) few who didn’t possess a filter, but rather shared her life and struggles in a completely open way. I could identify with this trait. She taught me that it was okay to express my true feelings. It’s because of her that I speak and write honestly about my condition, even when I don’t quite understand it myself. This honesty has been imperative to my recovery.

Learn to Laugh—Even During Hard Times

Carrie Fisher was never afraid to laugh at herself. She candidly shared her stories in writing and on stage—like in her successful one-woman show Wishful Drinking. While walking around in her bare feet, she unabashedly spoke of her history with mental illness and addiction. Her courage inspired people to stop hiding behind their conditions. This taught me to never be ashamed of my story—and to be able to laugh at the funny parts. Sometimes the most humorous stories can come out of an episode. You have to be willing to look past the sadness and/or madness and see the good in life.

Do Your Part

Carrie Fisher used her celebrity status and talent for the greater good of the mental health community. Thankfully, this selfless act was celebrated while she was still alive. It would have been a shame if she never knew how many people she helped, which makes me think how my words might be helpful to someone experiencing a similar situation as me.

Writing is the gift I was given—it just took me a long time to believe in myself. Carrie Fisher’s passing gave me the extra push I needed to put myself out there. While we revel in her legacy, don’t forget to celebrate your own talents. Doing so can build confidence and help you gain a sense of purpose.

Ask yourself: “What can I do in the coming year to help change the perception of mental illness?” You may discover that your calling in life will help the fight against stigma—something we need more of in this world.  Because Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, we all need to work a little harder, as she was shouldering a lot of the load.

 

Jess Lader is a 30-something woman who (happily) quit her full-time job in healthcare administration to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing personal essays and creative nonfiction. She is interested in writing about mental illness, mental health, self-empowerment, and cats. For more information, please visit jesslader.com.

Comments
Marilee Eaves
I am moved by this story and by the comments that follow. I have bipolar disorder and in a memoir to be published later this year I write of my two psychotic episodes and my initial obtuseness in grasping the effect of my behavior on others, especially my children. Although for the first five years after my second episode I was sporadic with taking my lithium and had appalling judgment, I have been extremely fortunate that since1987 I have been steady with my meds and have 30 years of sobriety. I have a good life with lovely moments of joy not mania!
2/23/2017 4:08:00 AM

Dana MCGEE
i o i i Read all you had to say about Carrie Fisher, what probably killed her is her drug addiction, myself a professional weorking in the mental units see that thebig diseases Bi Polar etc are usually drug addicts and that s what kills them and ruins their lives. You are fogetting that dama mcgee
2/19/2017 1:17:45 PM

Jodie Crist
Yes indeed. Carrie fisher was a warrior to remember that life can continue. Even through adversity. Let us not forget that it is not about the name calling of diagnosis. It is about people first. Overcoming is a life long processes. It is about knowing your seasons and rythem. it is about strength based times. Fulfilling your time via hobbies guarding exercise and heart song. Truly Fisher showed us that each and every soul is a treasure of life's adventure.
2/1/2017 6:17:43 PM

Carrie L. Clark
I was diagnosed at 14 as bi-polar, but I was re-diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, general anxiety, borderline personality disorder & PTSD. I struggled for many, many years, until in 2011 I began volunteering for NAMI and 3 years later became the Warmline Coordinator at NAMI and, subsequently, became a Certified Peer Support Specialist; had a book of poetry published, which contains poems about my mental illness, alcoholism & drug addiction, the rape I endured and many other topics; and I now sit on 4 boards for different groups, all of which deal with mental illness. It has been a huge struggle and I thank God every day for each day of semi-wellness. Keep up the fight, persevere and realize that although you will have many battles, you will never lose the war.
1/27/2017 7:49:18 PM

Lori Zedaker
This story was very inspirational for me and a story I too can relate. I have always been treated as though I were ill so I also understand the damage stigma can do.. I have ADD and a mild form of bipolar. I was teased horribly by my family as well as school. I had a bery hard time growing up.
1/27/2017 4:40:29 PM

sarah boggs ms mft
thank you for everyone's honesty and transparency-I am bipolar as well and periodically go through Rx adjustments which are so hard on me- I get so depressed for no apparent reason and then my shrink, whom I love, has to muck around with my meds-I can barely work or move (for that matter) when I am in this state-thank God my husband understands and is very supportive(I am so lucky)--bipolar does not respect age, education, title, status or income--ie. Carrie Fisher--sarah
1/27/2017 3:56:40 AM

Barbara C. Hernandez
Hi Jess, I really enjoyed reading your essay. I work everyday with mental health and substance abuse clients. I am a licensed mental health counselor in Ft. Lauderdale. I also admired Carrie Fisher and the wonderful way she approached mental health. Her spirit was amazing, and she inspired the world to look at mental health in different way. My purpose, professionally, I believe is working with this wonderful group of people, and fighting the stigma that goes with mental health. We all have something...that's my belief.
Thank you,
Barbara
1/26/2017 7:57:16 PM

Jeff Sompson
Love what U wrote. So inspiring! I was diagnosed with sz about 35 years and I'm still recovering from that diagnosis. I'm doing much better these days with a lovely girlfriend and a full time job working with the seriously mentally ill. It''s been such a great and fulfilling job to give support to my peers. Please continue writing!
1/26/2017 5:53:51 PM

Donna Willard
The people, who are advocates and fight against the stigma are my heroes. I persevere to be like them. I recently was published in a newspaper commentary about mental illness. I will continue to fight the stigma so that one day, hopefully, stigma will be a lot less.
1/26/2017 5:20:55 PM

Mary Kay Green, J.D.
Because of Patty Duke and Carrie Fischer, I wrote my story of my life and my bi-polar illness: Sundance and Cherokee Moon: About Robert Redford, Movies, Medjugorje, Miracles and Mania. (Amazon)
1/26/2017 4:01:15 PM

Janine Schwartz
Thank you for publishing this information about Carrie Fischer. We need to reach out to others and to support them with encouragement!
1/26/2017 3:08:03 PM

patrick mondello
Ive been given so much inspiratoin through the years myself pertaining to my condition. I plan to attend peer support training to become a specialist this march and give back.
1/26/2017 1:57:21 PM

ANN MARIE FINN-CUSICK
1-26-2017, AS A BI-POLAR PATIENT, SINCE BIRTH, 1-3-1944, MY FAMILY AND I SUFFER WITH, AND ENDURE MANY FAMILY CASES OF BI-POLAR DISORDER, AND AFTER SEARCHING VEHEMENTLY FOR THE PAST 70+ YEARS, MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE LEARNED HOW TO TREAT AND DEAL WITH BI-POLAR DISORDER, FORTUNATELY I HAVE GOOD INSURANCES AND A HUSBAND WHO SUPPORTS ME IN MOST EVERY DEED I PURSUE!!! I/WE ALSO HAVE SOME UN-DIAGNOSED, MOST LIKELY, BI-POLAR RELATIVES, AT AGE 48, A MOTHER WITH 4-CHILDFREN, 3-CHILDREN THAT THIS FAMILY MEMBER IS FORBIDDEN, BY COURT, TO HAVE CONTACT WITH 3-TEENAGEE SONS, WHO LIVE WITH THEIR FAATHER (A MAN WITH MANY HEALTH CARE ISSUES UNTREATED TO DATE, HOWEVER THESE 3-TEENAGE SONS ARE COURT-ORDERED TO RESIDE WITH THE HEALTHIEST OF THE 2-PARENTS, AND THAT IS VERY QUESTIONABLE!!! WHEN WILL THE MOTHER FINALLY WAKE UP AND CONTACT "PUBLIC-ASSISTANCE" IN HER HOME TOWN, BECOME DIAGNOSED PROFESSIONALLY, OBTAIN PROPER MEDICATIONS AND THERAPY??? LET US ALL PRAY TO OUR "CREATOR" FOR WISDOM, INTELLIGENCE, HOPED, AND TREATMENT, AS SOON AS IS POSSIBLE!!!
1/26/2017 1:45:50 PM

susan good
While having the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is difficult, it has been helping others with similar disorders see the light at the end of the tunnel.
1/26/2017 1:31:01 PM

Mary M.
I'm extremely fortunate to have an entire company of supporters, literally. I came out to my workplace about my depression and had to take short term disability for it. I was so supported by EVERYONE I work with and for. Granted, I have a very rare situation at work and am so appreciative for their support. I am also 'out' among my social friends. I talk about how NAMI meetings really help me cope and I post articles, along with this one, on my company billboard. I want to live as an example that though mental illness is daunting, it doesn't need to be suffered alone. I will continue to spread the word.
1/26/2017 10:34:53 AM

Lisa Feist
Thank you❤❣❤ i never watched Star Wars but, followed Carrie's battles as they "hit home" may she RIP LOVES HER
1/26/2017 10:18:37 AM

Denise Sussman
I'm living with bipolar disorder, anxiety, ptsd and depression plus a eating disorder. Carrie is a role model to me and others. Anything new I can learn about mental illness is always a help🙂
Thank you!
1/26/2017 8:52:51 AM

Robin
Thank you Jess for sharing. You are right, it is so helpful!
1/20/2017 3:58:36 PM

Elaine Gilliam
Following the death of my first husband to ALS, I discovered that two of my four children suffered from mental illness. For years I kept a journal of my experiences caring for my ill children and finally I had it published: Family Skeletons: A Web of Mental Illness. As an artist I also created quilts illustrating the lives of my schizophrenic son and my daughter who committed suicide. I have found healing and strength through the arts and recommend using creative arts for healing. Thank you for promoting the arts.
1/13/2017 2:59:18 PM

William Wasteneys
That's a nice gesture remembering her like that - I'm sure she'd appreciate it.
1/11/2017 2:13:57 PM

TOM ("ToughOldMan") ILSLEY Jr.
I have trouble navigating Facebook but hope I can get back.
To make a long story short:
I believe I am qualified to make tremendous progress for the mentally ill and NAMI. I don't intend to brag; I just want to help and apply my abilities. To make another long story short: my complicated life is making this difficult. I am optimistic though and hope to be an active advocate again.
1/8/2017 3:56:06 PM

Teresa
Love your writing. Suffer from depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. Thank you for speaking out. Your words are inspiring. PS: I am also an RN.
1/6/2017 7:26:58 PM

Kim Worthy
Although many with mental illness don't have Carrie Fischer's money which enable to receive the best care and especially adequate housing, I do hope more funding is given to this particular sector of society.
1/6/2017 5:15:44 PM

Jess Lader
Thank you to NAMI for publishing my personal essay to their blog! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments.
1/6/2017 2:29:56 PM

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