Back in 2011 I was going through some of the most difficult times in my life. I was homeless, had gone through a broken engagement, and honestly had no idea what I was going to do with my life. While in the past I had suicidal thoughts, at this point I literally did not know what else I could possibly do other than end it.
One thing I could do — it was about the only distraction that I had — was go to the public library and read for free. There I stumbled upon two of #CarrieFisher's books, Shockaholic and Wishful Drinking, and I found myself drawn in by her words. While she was writing about her experiences and issues, it felt like she was talking to me specifically:
You know how most illnesses have symptoms you can recognize? Like fever, upset stomach, chills, whatever.
Well, with manic depression, it's sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse — and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!
As well as:
No motive is pure. No one is good or bad — but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.
These words resonated because they rang so true. It felt like Fisher was talking directly to me, not just writing a book in that wonderfully funny, self-aware way she had about her.
My family is pretty great, don't get me wrong. However, they are big proponents of the "put your big-girl panties on and get over it" method of approaching illness, both physical and mental. I was admittedly an overdramatic kid, so actually realizing that there was something mentally wrong with me was difficult to express to my family because it was written off as me being overdramatic — even though that very aspect of my personality was tied up in the undiagnosed illness.
It wasn't just my family, though. Mental illness as a whole had (and to a great extent still has) a stigma in society, though I think most of humanity deals with it in some form or other. I had tried therapy before, but because of the above reason, I acted fine and ignored the bad; it took many years to get a correct diagnosis.
It was Carrie Fisher who finally made me realize I needed to get help. Sitting there reading her book and her descriptions of her illness, I finally realized that even if I wasn't suffering from exactly what she was, I definitely had something wrong with me. I finally went to a psychiatric hospital to get the help that I had so desperately needed for far too long.
Lo and behold, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is just a nicer term for manic depression, along with suicidal tendencies and a little obsessive compulsive disorder. While I wasn't cured, as there isn't a cure for mental illness, I finally had a name for the unknown enemy I had been fighting since my late teens (which is, not coincidentally, when most mental illnesses manifest).
It's not an exaggeration to say I read Fisher's words just in time. I had lost just about everything before I realized I needed help. I let myself get too far engrossed in others' needs while pushing those same people away and hurting them. Fisher's memoirs were a key to unlocking that part of my brain that couldn't fully accept there was something deeply misaligned in my head, even though I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back.
Carrie Fisher is more than #PrincessLeia, or Hollywood royalty. She was a real human being that others could relate to on a personal level. I certainly did. I had always been a big fan of #StarWars, which is why I picked up her books in the first place. But anyone who read her books or listened to an interview knew there was a lot more to her than simply being a princess from a galaxy far, far away.
It's why the news of her death today devastated me. I can never thank Carrie enough, because honestly, she saved my life.