Carrie Fisher was a force and it wasn’t because of a movie role, no matter how loved it is and was. And while I’m sad and shocked that she died at only 60, I am a little relieved, as well at how. I’m glad she it was her heart that stopped and not an overdose or depression that killed her. In fact, she died on a book tour, doing work she loved, while beloved and well-paid. She had, it seems, reconciled with family as well and had a dog she adored.
That’s an astounding and amazing life, for anyone.
Today, we’re not stigmatizing her or judging or criticizing or second-guessing her life, or her death.
We’re talking about addiction and mental illness as facts of life, in her life and in the lives of many of us. We can thank her for that because of how transparently she lived.
That’s a gift she gave but it’s not the only one or only contribution.
We are also discussing her books, her movies, her quotes and her personal life. We’re sharing scenes, art and words. All hers.
As well as her sorrows and her battles.
And maybe our own.
We get to share and to celebrate and to do so without pity. Her struggles aren’t being romanticized or demonized. We also aren’t minimizing the magnitude of her struggles. It’s rare and wonderful and a tribute to how she lived.
Yes, she lived a life that included addiction and depression and mania and medications and family dysfunction. Like a whole lot of people. And yet, Carrie Fisher is not a tragic figure. She is not a sad statistic or a one-dimensional caricature.
She was complicated and talented and struggled all at the same time.
She wrote, talked and shared about her life. Her whole life. The good and the bad, the exciting and the terrifying.
And she also wrote and showed what was fantastic.
Laughter. Pets. Creativity. Treatment. Community. Love.
Sure, I can’t help but wonder what her life might have been like if her ACE score was lower. I wonder about that with everyone.
What might have been if what was had been different? If she was less burdened or strained by pain or treatments.
But it wasn’t and we can’t know.
But there’s so much we do know.
Carrie Fisher was smart and funny and honest.
Her honestly, openness and shame-free transparency were radical, rare, inspiring and necessary.
She suffered and triumphed, day to day, year to year, decade to decade. It was not either or. It was both.
She was real and complicated and mesmerizing.
And her life was not only a commentary on living with bipolar disorder or addiction. She had lots to say on aging, beauty, sexism and countless other topics.
She was an advocate, a truth teller and a creative force. She was a spokesperson for so many of us at a time when silence and shame were more profound than they are today.
More silencing. More shaming.
I’m 50 and talking about adversity and abuse and trauma isn’t as hard as it used to be. But it’s not easy or shame free.
Yet Carrie Fisher did it often. She was a real life role model. Yeah, she was rich and famous and not someone most of us could relate with. But she lived, out loud, with the pain of mental illness and addiction and family dysfunction.
Hardly anyone has had her celebrity or resources but those things didn’t spare her from suffering. She knew pain and we knew her, in and out of pain, because she shared.
In her written words and when speaking on t.v. or on the radio.
If she could own feeling bad, with all the good fortune she had as well, it made it easier for me to admit my own pain to at least myself.
I knew pain too. I did not need to relate to her whole life experience to feel less isolated by her writing. I believed her and felt believed by her even though she didn’t know me.
Because she wrote about experiences in a way few others did.
Postcards from the Edge, for me, was as powerful when it came out as Eat, Pray, Love or Wild.
Carrie Fisher wrote about stuff most covered up, denied or pretended didn’t exist.
That was everything.
I noticed, as a woman still trying to pass for normal and who cared more about seeming and looking good than feeling that way.
While I didn’t have any official diagnosis until my early 20’s, I knew numbness, despair, anxiety and depression, insomnia and fearfulness since childhood. I’d get context and understanding and the post-traumatic stress disorder label, eventually. But back in the 1980’s and 90’s, there were few people one could identify with talking about the hard, private and difficult parts of life.
Movies, music and books were the proof that humans, at least some, struggled with trauma, drama, despair and difficulty and were also sometimes likable and ordinary.
It was hard to find or see up close and in real life or in public and at a distance.
Carrie Fisher was rare.
Life, for me, felt scary most of the time. I wasn’t comfortable in my skin and my anxiety came with me to the shower and into every relationship – as well as into my parenting.
I’ve come a long way but it’s been a journey. Sometimes, managing post-traumatic stress is small part of my life. It’s like a plant I just have to remember to water or medicine I have to swallow. But there are times it’s been a blizzard threatening to keep me off the roads and without power for days to weeks. I’ve had to bundle up against storms, shovel out without gloves, boots or shelter a place to stay warm in. It was exhausting, at times, and often an invisible battle.
And others, have battled too, and lost and been done in, finished and defeated by addiction and suffering and too much pain and too little resources.
Carrie Fisher knew, as the say, that “the struggle is real.” That matters. That’s important. If that’s all she did for the world it would have been amazing.
But she did more. She knew how bad or scary it could be or get and she kept on participating in life.
She was brilliant, talented, funny, sarcastic, smart and indignant. She was creative, accomplished, talented and driven.
She showed lots of us that it’s possible to know pain, to get knocked down in countless ways and more than once, and get back up again.
For a whole life.
She was a lover, a friend, a business woman and mother. For decades and until the end.
I love that her last book is titled The Princess Diarist. Her last work was created by her. She was the author, the lead, the victim and the heroine in her own story.
She was, in the end, not a princess but a warrior.
It was her who fleshed our her own experience of being in Star Wars, at 19, and who shared experience as well as her reflections as a grown woman.
I love that she detailed the romance she and Harrison Ford had on set filming Star Wars, because, it’s rumored, he didn’t want her to.
Apparently, he’s more private or maybe it’s because he was married and a father and in his 30’s at the time. I don’t care about gossip but I love the way she didn’t ever seem to let anyone take the lead on her life. She didn’t take responsibility for the shame or stigma others felt.
That’s what I admire.
It is something she seemed to do no matter how personal or potentially embarrassing the details she shared.
What seemed to matter most to her was the telling of the truth.
About herself, creativity, her career, her dog, addiction, body image, aging, sexist and love.
She died doing a tour of her own book, talking about her own life and as far more than a princess.
She was a warrior who left a paper trail.
We have the force of her life and example.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.