How does Carrie Fisher matter? 

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It’s arguably a disrespectful question, yet it seems to me exactly the question to ask.

Sure, I watched those Star Wars flicks so long ago. I watched Postcards from the Edge too. Still, to offer due disclosure as I present such a piece, I was never particularly interested in Carrie, her career or her life.

I’d very much like to say otherwise. In retrospect, I highly respect and appreciate her mental health advocacy and her survival skills. I hope to emulate her example in both regards, but I’m admittedly a fan after the fact, mostly learning about her efforts posthumously.

Carrie was a powerful mental health advocate. She took her own losses, struggles, and scandals under the ruthlessly bright lights of celebrity and put them to good use on behalf of countless others. Celebrity seems to me a tough gig, especially when it all goes horribly wrong and the spotlight focuses like a hot laser on faults and mistakes. Mental illness advocacy is also a tough gig: most people don’t dare to own their illnesses with the public or even friends and neighbors. Such risk stigma offers!

But imagine both at once: celebrity scandal AND mental health stigma. Wow! That’s a tough, tough, really tough gig! It involves some truly tremendous liabilities. Start with often potentially overwhelming symptoms of illness. Add consequences rippling through so many lives, then add the subsequent and inevitable blowback from so many directions. AND, to top it all off, consider stigma in deep and ever-deepening layers. Tough! It’s a wonder anyone takes it on, and it’s no surprise we see it rarely.

Under such circumstances,  it’s against some rather long odds for someone like Carrie to break even, let alone make any progress. Yet from time to time it happens. It’s heroic, taken in context, and it’s the only way forward for the rest of us, masses of folks too beaten down, too frightened to make a stand on our own. We need leaders the same way armies of old needed leaders: not old folks to direct matters from a safe place in the rear. No, with mental health advocacy the only place to lead is from the front. wading into danger and calling others to follow. Carrie did just that. She waded in, took her licks over and over, and kept up the good fight as long as she could. It makes a difference, such effort does, in a way nothing else can. We need heroes: people willing to set aside their fear and take risks for others. Her death is our loss, yet she also leaves a legacy we can carry forward. Will we?

We need leaders the same way armies of old needed leaders: not like today’s old folks who run wars from a safe place in the rear. No, with mental health advocacy the only place to lead is from the front, wading into danger and calling others to follow. Old school! Carrie did just that. She waded in, took her licks over and over, and kept up the good fight as long as she could. It makes a difference, such effort does, in a way nothing else can. We need heroes: people willing to set aside their fear and take risks for others. Her death is our loss, yet she also leaves a legacy we can carry forward. Will we?

Carrie did just that. She waded in, took her licks over and over, and kept up the good fight as long as she possibly could. It makes a difference, such effort does, in a way nothing else can. We need heroes: people willing to set aside their fear and take risks for others. Her death is our loss, yet she also leaves a legacy we can carry forward. Will we?

Will we? I promise I’ll do my best. It seems the least I can do. It seems we usually assume events have some set meaning, but that’s not true. We give events most of their meaning in the way we respond to them. When it comes to mental health and stigma, clearly the most potent weapons in our arsenal are personal experiences. We desperately need stories, examples to show that mental health and illness and problems like any other problems people confront. People with mental illnesses are, in the end, people like everyone else. Stigma implies otherwise, and only real-world examples show how stigma lies. Each person’s unique story sets stigma back that little bit further. It matters!

Folks usually assume events have some set meaning, but that’s not true. We give events most of their meaning in the way we respond. When it comes to mental health and stigma, clearly the most potent weapons in our arsenal are personal experiences. We desperately need stories, examples to show that mental health and illness and problems like any other problems people confront. We need to show that we struggle: we fail and we succeed, just like everyone else. We learn, sometimes, and we gain wisdom from our struggles. People with mental illnesses are, in the end, people like everyone else. Stigma says otherwise, and only real-world examples show that stigma tells lies. Each person’s unique story sets stigma back that little bit further. It matters!et few take this path, and for good reason. Stigma isn’t just a word or an idea: it’s a potent form of hate that often ruins lives, careers, relationships. Because of stigma, the easy path, the safe path, the obvious path is to lie low, tell no one, hide one’s ugly hide your ugly embarrassing baggage, make the best of your life given all those dark secrets. That’s the path most of us take. So it goes.

Yet few take this path, and for good reason. Stigma isn’t just a word or an idea: it’s a potent form of hate that often ruins lives, careers, relationships. Because of stigma, the easy path, the safe and obvious path is to lie low, tell no one, hide your ugly embarrassing baggage, make the best of your life given all those dark secrets. That’s the path most of us take. So it goes. Heroes stand out because they’re the exception: rare.

Fortunately, a few heroes step forward. The safe path that they refuse, the overwhelmingly common path leads to no change, no progress, no learning or growth. It’s arguably the wrong path, the bad path. As J.K. Rowling’s wise wizard Albus Dumbledore put it so well,

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

We surely must. Most of us take the safe path. Fair enough: I surely have done so for most of my adult life, and it frightens me terribly to come out of hiding. It’s comforting that others have broken the trail before me. For that, I thank and cherish Carrie Fisher.

 

5 comments

  1. Thank you for honoring a great advocate. I always admired Carrie Fisher for being so open about her ECT treatments. I too get them…every four weeks, but I just tell people vaguely that I have “treatments for a chronic illness”. Oh to be as bold as she was!

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