What I Learned From Carrie Fisher

I remember the first time I saw Star Wars.

I was six, and my brother four. We’d just gotten our basement completely refurbished; mold completely stripped, carpet laid down, a massive surround sound system put in for our very new DVD player. It was warm and comfortable, and I simply couldn’t wait to spend more time down there.

My mother decided, in order to celebrate the months of work that went into the basement, that we should celebrate by expanding our knowledge of pop culture. She excitedly dragged out the DVDs she’d just purchased, the glint from the disk nearly blinding me when she put it into the player.

For seconds, all I could hear was trumpets and the steady yellow-lettered crawl that inched up my screen. And then I was enraptured by the massive starship creeping across the TV and into my mind.

And then she appeared.

For a little girl like me, who wanted to be a doctor, a writer, a marine biologist, and a professional softball player, the idea of being a princess was never really interesting. But when Princess Leia came onscreen, with her pretty white dress and hilariously wonderful bun-buns, I couldn’t help but want to be a princess for the first time in my life.

Leia was everything I wanted to be—feisty, fierce, and completely unafraid. She took no crap, but did no harm. She was handling the situations that Han and Luke couldn’t even do, and in my eyes, there was no character better.

Star Wars became a pretty big thing in my family, as my brother learned to adore it just as much as I did. In fact, I think I watched Star Wars so often that my mother started buying some of the toys for me and not just my brother. But I was always Leia, the princess who saved herself.

Damsel in distress? Certainly not Leia--and so most certainly not me.

After I watched the other movies, and even as I got older, Princess Leia remained one of my favorite characters, but her longevity on that list wasn’t just due to the character herself, but rather from Carrie Fisher.

She was a long-standing advocate for mental health awareness, and after being diagnosed with mental health disorders myself, there was no one better that I could look to for inspiration to keep going. It often felt like I was constantly hitting rough patches in my life, or getting stuck in ruts that I would never, ever get out of, and every time I thought about giving up, I’d remember how this woman fought her way out of a serious drug addiction and broke herself of her debilitating smoking habit. Taking responsibility for her Bipolar Disorder was so important to me—while I don’t have that particular illness, the fact that Carrie went to cons and interviews and openly said, “Yeah, I’m mentally ill, but I’m fighting and I’m still here,” was more than life-saving for me. I could look at her and think, “Okay, she pulled herself out, and so can I.” Carrie made me feel that I was still together, even when I thought I was in shattered pieces.

I didn’t learn until later that she was a well-known script doctor in Hollywood; although very rarely given for her work, and as a writer myself who was constantly searching for her words, it was something that I felt I could connect to. When I struggled with my own personal problems, I clung to my words. But eventually, things got so bad that I couldn’t rely on my words anymore, and I started to succumb to those issues, letting the pain wash over me like a tsunami. However, one day, I stumbled upon a script that Carrie had doctored, and almost immediately, tears pricked in my eyes. She’d wiped away the crap and completely replaced it with something new, and it was then I realized that I needed to do exactly that—both in my writing and my personal life.

Her ferocity taught me more about myself than I think I’ll ever really know.

There’s a lot more I would write here, but I don’t want to bore anyone, so I’ll just summarize in a few short words: Carrie Fisher helped me to learn to give meaning to my life as a woman with every year that passed. I could finally see myself in this rebellious princess who might not have known what the future would hold, but would make damn well sure she would be there when it came. Especially when it came to my mental illness, her inspiration and openness was something I could look to, and think, “Hmm, maybe I’ll be okay.” I may not have met her, and yeah, I’ve learned a lot from other people, too, but she was one of the most powerful influences on my growing up, and I have to thank her for that.

Sometimes you just need something to believe in. Sometimes, you just need a little hope, and she gave it in spades.

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