The Legacy of Carrie Fisher

by The Cowl Editor on January 19, 2017


photo courtesy of

by Hannah Paxton ’19

Opinion Staff

It’s difficult to understand something that we have little to no experience with or exposure to. People come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and races. But one thing many of us tend to forget is that there is a significant population of the world, particularly among young people, who suffer from a mental illness.

It is often because of that mental illness—whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder—that someone feels like they are different, or at least not “normal.”

Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as bipolar disorder at age 24, and even in her last year she was always very open about her mental illness.

She was an inspiration to so many who felt like they couldn’t share their feelings, who felt like they had to hide their disorder. Carrie Fisher was an enormous help in the movement to normalize mental illness.

We are so unaware of the people around us; we don’t fully understand their situation. We talk about OCD as though it’s simply caring too much about little details and wanting everything to be organized. We talk about depression as though it’s what anyone can feel if they are sad one day.

But that’s just not how it works. While it may not be our fault that we aren’t fully exposed to mental disorders, it is important that we make an effort to understand them and the people who are diagnosed.

Carrie Fisher established the gravity of her mental illness, but never allowed it to marginalize her. Instead, she provided it as a reason for her to be respected. That is why talking about mental illness is so important.

We mistake being strong in spite of mental illness for being strong because of it. Mental disorders are hard, harder than most people think and give credit for, and those who suffer from them deserve respect as people who try everyday to overcome their obstacles—regardless of whether or not they are successful.

The more we talk about mental health and the more we normalize that discussion, the more comfortable people suffering from a disorder will feel in talking about it too. It’s hard to feel relaxed in an environment that ignores or mischaracterizes one’s hardships.

But we can’t just talk about it, we have to talk about it in the right way. It isn’t fair to diminish all the difficulties that people with mental illnesses have to face, and it certainly isn’t fair to act as though one’s mental health isn’t as important, if not more important, than physical health.

Not everyone with anxiety or depression or any other illness is going to feel comfortable speaking about it, and that’s okay. Regardless, we have to create an environment where that can be possible, an environment that doesn’t minimize or judge someone for their disorder. Like Carrie Fisher did so eloquently, we need to normalize mental illness, and we need to discuss it in the right way.

One thought on “The Legacy of Carrie Fisher

  1. Thank you for your optimistic piece. I also have a mental illness and I have felt stigmatized by it my entire life. The first person to whom I came out and stated, “I have a mental illness (too) was actually Carrie Fisher! That was not what I meant to say, I had wanted to tell her how much she has meant to me for my whole life (or at least from age 13 on). I was stunned to say the least.

    Carrie turned to focus on me completely. The moment(s) were so intense I wanted to say something to release the intensity. What she said to me, leaning toward me: “I am SO SORRY.” I was taken aback. I didn’t want her to feel sorry for me. What was going on? What I said then to lesson the focus on me was, “It’s depression.” What she said to me: “I am SO SORRY.”

    She said it in a kind, caring, empathetic way. It took me 15 years to realize that she was not pitying me. The look on her face was pure compassion. As if she understood. And she did understand. The problem was, I couldn’t accept her understanding focus on me. Even as I had longed for such moments with Carrie since I was 13. I fantasized nightly for hours about running away to her home and she would take me in, give me hot cocoa, and comfort me. She would invite me to live with her, sleep next to her, even, so I could recover myself and then my life would begin. I would be so far from the neglectful and abusive home I lived in, I would forget about it, replacing it with love and acceptance and respect and encouragement in the things I wanted to do.

    See, I had a lot to say, but instead I said *that*. Where did it come from? It wasn’t even something I had accepted about myself — I didn’t identify myself as having a mental illness, until I did, perhaps because I identified with Carrie. Needless to say, I was too shocked at myself for what I had said, and I felt guilty about taking up Carrie’s time and energy — such intense, caring, kind, compassionate energy at that. We were in a bookstore. Other people wanted to have their books signed. I felt guilty and disappointed and I wanted to disappear. I wanted to disappear because I felt I did not deserve to be gazed at in the way Carrie was gazing at me. Despite the fact that this was exactly what I had fantasized about how she would look at me. (And I did *not* imagine her in a metal bikini–I hated that thing!)

    We talked a little more — I had changed the subject. But what I remember the most was that first exchange. And how she gave me the care and the attention that I had needed and dreamed of and when it happened I was unable to accept it. Unable to even understand it was real. Unable until she died and I had a grievous enormous breakthrough.

    About your piece, I wonder about “normalizing” mental illness. “Normal” and “not normal” is in the news and on blogs and on the streets a lot these Trump days. In the case of mental illness, I wonder if normalizing it is the thing to do. I mean, I do not feel normal. If I were not mentally ill, I might not possess the gifts I have for writing and all of the arts I engage in. I don’t think Carrie ever felt normal, judging from what she has said about herself. But she did feel accepted as she is. I would like to be okay with myself as I am without having the category of normal expand to include me. I don’t actually *want* to be normal. I never did. I liked being different. So I am not sure about this suggestion about normalizing mental illness. Maybe the category could be normalized, but the people who are mentally ill, maybe we could be accepted as ourselves, even if we do not identify with normal.

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