By Jess Lader
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.
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