So much loss has happened since the last time we celebrated a new year. So many luminaries have left us behind. But if we’re personifying the year of 2016, we can envision it holding back at least one more devastating punch to the emotional gut. And this one… this one hurts. It hurts a lot.
Carrie Fisher has died.
Putting my thoughts on this tragedy together is proving difficult. Star Wars has had a profound impact on my life. It is one of the first science fiction universes to which I was introduced, and many of its elements did and do resonate with me on a fundamental level. Princess Leia was a huge part of that from the very start. Back when the episode subtitled “A New Hope” was merely called “Star Wars,” the tall, white-robed, cinnabun-haired diplomat was a strong, defiant, patient, and even deadly character. She was, in a word, iconic.
Time did not dilute this image. While many may point to her character being forced into a position that could potentially be disempowering and humiliating, Leia rose up against her would-be master, and (bolding for emphasis here) strangled the lecherous slug to death with the very chain he was using to keep her prisoner. I cheered, as a child, when I saw this. And while, yes, as I grew there was physical appeal in the salacious nature of the outfit, I still felt more engaged and delighted by what she did while wearing it than simply seeing it on her. Leia was never an object. She was a person. And she remains so today.
Carrie Fisher managed to finish filming Leia’s scenes for Episode VIII before she left us, so we’ll be seeing her again later next year. But I am not going to let people forget that Leia is not her only legacy. Princess Leia fought Imperial forces bent on subjugating the galaxy.
Carrie Fisher fought forces within her own mind bent on controlling who she was and who she could be.
Bipolar disorder is an absolutely insidious and terrifying disease. The emotional swings and disruption to life that go along with them are devastating. It can lead to incongruous behavior. Outside observers can even attribute other disorders and explanations to what they witness during serious manic or hypomanic episodes, or disregard major depressive episodes as a form of manipulative overacting. And, in general, a huge stigma exists regarding even discussing a condition like bipolar disorder, and securing effective and proven treatment is incredibly difficult.
When she wasn’t struggling against her inner conflict, she was offering help and hope to those fighting their own. Many people see what occurs during mixed states, rapid cycles, and the extremes of the moods involved as a battleground. And navigating the trenches of said battleground is something that many people find intimidating, if not impossible. But someone who has been in those trenches, trying to navigate a minefield of awful moments and terrible choices and digging foxholes to try and escape the horrors of it all, can relate to the struggle. And Carrie Fisher did her best to do what she could for others. Just before she died, she wrote this letter to a fellow victim of the disorder.
“We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges,” she wrote. “Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder. That’s why it’s important to find a community — however small — of other bipolar people to share experiences and find comfort in the similarities.”
In light of her death, the way she closes the letter will give you chills: “Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching.”
I feel that, for those of us left and still dealing with these challenges, our duty is to take up that vigil. And, for my part, we may not always be on the stable side of things. But we can always make it back there. It’s a hard road. A long one. And it’s often fraught with obstacles that we inadvertently placed in our own way. Human beings are very good at creating problems for themselves to overcome. We generate conflict on flimsy pretenses to justify our own agendas. We demonize those we see as ‘other’ in order to lionize ourselves and make ourselves the heroes in some sort of dichotomous, simplistic narrative. We’ve all done it. Some of us might even do it again.
We owe Carrie Fisher better than that.
I for one choose to keep talking about what happens in my head and my heart. I for one choose to keep telling my story, even the parts that people don’t want to hear. I for one will stand up for those too weak or scared or confused to stand on their own, and tell them — and you — that we are not alone. I for one choose to believe that light can prevail over darkness, and that whatever it is, the Force is strong with us.
We’ll miss you, Carrie. Your fight is over.
We’ll take it from here.
As Princess Leia put it, “somebody has to save our skins!”
Wednesdays are for discussing the whys and wherefores of our world.