For the past three years, the onset of the holidays has signified more than just the transition from fall decor and pumpkin pies to Christmas trees and sugar cookies; it has signified the release of a new Star Wars movie. With the release of the next movie set to be in December 2019, this is the first year since 2015 that my family will not be making the mid-December midnight trek to the movie theater to shamelessly throw ourselves into the plot of yet another addition to the Star Wars saga. With the absence of what has been an essential element of my holidays this year, I can’t help but reflect on the significance Star Wars and its characters have to me – specifically, the impact Carrie Fisher had on me as a young teenager in normalizing the discussion of mental health.
I remember seeing Carrie Fisher grace the magazine covers in the checkout aisles of the supermarket with bolded headlines about her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder. Not one for embellishing the truth, Carrie Fisher was strikingly direct in addressing her mental health struggles while in the public eye, and her drug addiction that punctuated her life was no exception. In an interview with WebMD, Fisher revealed that she “...used to think [she] was a drug addict, pure and simple — just someone who could not stop taking drugs willfully. And [she] was that. But it turns out that [she was] severely manic depressive.” Following her diagnosis of manic depression in her mid-20s and eventually bipolar disorder at age 29, Fisher harnessed her platform to do something that at the time was, and still is, incredibly bold – speak with an honest and unashamed voice about her mental health struggles.
In her honesty, Fisher elucidated her treatment process for her mental illnesses: electroconvulsive therapy, medication, and intensive therapy. But perhaps more importantly, Fisher emphasized how mercurial the treatment process is for bipolar disorder. Fisher noted in a 2013 People Magazine interview that “[t]he only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away”. This is an absolutely essential message for anyone struggling with mental health issues. The path to recovery is incredibly imperfect, and this is something that many would have to learn through experience had Fisher not been so honest about this fact. Furthermore, Fisher unashamedly brought the coping mechanism of humor into the picture. When asked what it was like to be the poster child of bipolar disorder in the 2013 People Magazine interview, Fisher replied sarcastically, “Well, I am hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today.” This is not to be mistaken with dismissiveness – as Fisher later elaborated in the interview, humor was her way of surviving, a way to frame her bipolar disorder as something that is funny rather than morose.
To see someone you have seen in movies that you hold so dear to your heart talk openly about their mental health leads you to take those words to heart. And in this case, Carrie Fisher has led many who cherish the Star Wars movies to better understand the reality of mental health struggles, a role she took on for which we cannot be grateful enough.