A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I ran a website called The Skywalker Legacy. It was, as you might expect, dedicated to Star Wars, a property I’ve loved since I was a child.
Today, four years ago, Carrie Fisher passed away, and I deleted that website only a few days after putting up a tribute to her, at the start of what would become an unexpectedly deep period of mourning.
Ridiculous? Maybe. I certainly thought so at the time, and for quite a while after. But, it didn’t stop there. I also avoided everything to do with Star Wars like the plague. I still loved it, but Carrie’s death had sent me into a tailspin and I didn’t come out of it until the Australian release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
I hated the fact that something so important to me had suddenly become too painful to watch, but it had and it was a strange stretch of time that left me feeling disturbingly hollow. Star Wars helped shape me, like it did a lot of children alive in the 1970s, and to be forcing myself to steer clear of it not long after the new movies had launched, was discombobulating to say the least.
My relationship with Star Wars has always been… dynamic, and from what I hear and read it’s been like that for a lot of fans. My introduction to the saga was a bit skew-whiff, because I saw The Empire Strikes Back first.
Even before seeing episode IV (or V) though, Star Wars had touched my life through my friends. I had the book and comics and several action figures, but hadn’t been allowed to see the actual film because I was really young when it was released. Though still in single digits when Empire came out, my family relented, and, thanks to ‘old school’ drive-ins, was finally able to watch episode IV not long after seeing Episode V. Of course, I loved both. So much!
Then, Return came along three years later and though I enjoyed it, it did irk my pre-teen sensibilities. Stuff like Boba Fett being swallowed by the Sarlacc, a bunch of super-cute teddy bears overcoming the Empire, and the sudden appearance of a second Death Star felt a bit much.
Still, the journey of Luke and Leia, in particular, thrilled me and helped me push those minor quibbles away.
Princess Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker were the characters that resonated with me as a child, but Leia resonated the most. I was raised by strong women, and as a young boy tended to gravitate toward strong female role models over male ones because I had no consistent adult male influences in my life. My parents had been divorced since I was three, and my grandfather and uncles worked away for five out of seven days in every week. That made me something of an anomaly as a child and I was bullied ruthlessly as a result. But, through all of the attacks and exclusion, the spitting on and verbal assaults, Leia was there for me as an example of strength and determination. So I kept going like she kept going, no matter how vile or vicious the bullies got, and they were pretty brutal. She was everything I wanted to be – strong, witty, smart, driven, fearless, dedicated to a greater purpose, and also wise despite her years. For me, her gender didn’t matter. While Luke was a little whiny at times, and Han bombastic, Leia, to me, was the strongest and most noble person in the trilogy, and she leapt off the screen every time I watched the movies.
As I grew up with her, my connection to the character never swayed, it deepened and so too did my connection with the actress. I never had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher, but I read her books, every article on her I could find, and Carrie felt like a kindred spirit. That only intensified as my life took an unexpected turn in the 90s, and Carrie then also became for me a symbol of grace under pressure, and survival.
In 1999, while in my 20s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A complicated mental health issue (they all are) that is quite cruel (again, all of them are), because you’re actually 100% aware of the fact that your thoughts and the fears assaulting you are insane, but you can’t do anything about it. They hack and slash at you until you collapse, often in tears and often immobilised. At every point you know you are being irrational, but you are crushed beneath an overwhelming fear that grips every inch of you and leaves you torn up and shredded and distraught.
At the time of the diagnosis, my psychologist put me on medication, and after a series of disastrous trials over six or more months, it was determined I was allergic to what are called SSRIs. When friends found me in my backyard, unable to move any part of my body except for my head, I decided enough was enough and weened myself off the meds with the help of my doctor. In my mind I had no choice but to do everything I could to learn how to manage (and I’m still learning) the condition through sheer grit and determination. That takes a lot of energy, and every day my life is riddled with episodes of poor mental health that take a lot to get through, but I have adapted. It’s a work in progress, and probably always will be, and thanks to my condition I have lost jobs, had those closest to me give up on me, been ridiculed by more people than I care to remember, and have even been yelled at by people who should love and accept me. In turn, I’ve run away from people and situations, moved multiple times, drunk way too much alcohol, and was even briefly addicted to Valium – all in an attempt to dull the fears and numb my brain, but none of it ever brought me any real relief. Eventually, I realised that shit was just shit, and you can try and run from it but eventually you have to deal with it.
I still wonder what it would be like to be “normal,” but have accepted the fact I’m never going to know, and have found courage from that acceptance. So, because of my struggles with my mental health, my connection to Carrie Fisher grew even deeper.
Carrie had Bipolar Mood Disorder – what used to be called Manic Depression. She was fearlessly honest about her struggle and her tendency to self-medicate, and her honesty about that inspired me. Sometimes, we spend too much time trying to convince perfect strangers that our lives are great and everything is okay, when usually it’s not. For anyone.
Carrie’s advocacy for the rights and acceptance of people with mental health issues made her more of a hero to me than anything or anyone else, and her courage to just accept what was and get on with it, empowered (and still empowers) me. I spent many many years ashamed of how “broken” and screwed up I was, but through reading her books, watching her interviews, and enjoying her turns as Princess and General Leia, I found the strength to be open about my mental health and treat it as something matter of fact. It’s as much a part of me as my freckles.
She also made a really interesting observation about courage that took me a long time to assimilate, but when I did, it helped. Those of us with persistent mental health issues survive things, every day, that would cripple most people. There’s something in that.
When she died today, four years ago, I was inconsolable. A light had gone out for me and the world had become noticeably emptier and lonelier. Carrie, more so than Leia, had become my hero.
I have been told that Christian’s have a bit of a mantra – “what would Jesus do?” Mine was “what would Carrie do?” Every time I didn’t want to leave the house and face the stresses of my job, Carrie got me out the door. Every time a relationship dissolved or straight out combusted, Carrie gave me the strength to sit in the mess and sadness and loneliness of it all, and be okay with where I was and who I was, when others weren’t okay with me or my illness. She was my mojo, and it took a long time for me to realise that even though she was gone, she lived on in Leia and in her beautifully candid written works, and she lived on in me and others like me, whom she had inspired.
Of course, a few years later the sequel films would kill Leia off – don’t get me started – but thankfully authors were still writing about her, I still had the Legends series of novels to turn to, and I could always go back and read Postcards from the Edge or any of her other excellent novels and books.
At the time The Rise of Skywalker premiered, I wrote an impassioned piece about how unnecessary it was to kill Leia off. In fact, I’ve touched on that a few times since, because it still bugs me. I understood why J.J. Abrams felt he had to, but out of all of the characters in Star Wars hers was the one that needed to live on because of everything she had sacrificed and lost, and because of everything she fought and stood for. Leia being the lone survivor, especially after Carrie had died, would have been a beautiful conclusion to a saga that had defined not one, but multiple generations. It would also have been the fitting end for a character that had become synonymous with the word hope.
But, you can’t change what is now history. Like having a mental illness, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and move on.
Leia’s death doesn’t in any way diminish Carries, or her work (and J.J. did do a beautiful job of putting her in the final movie). It just sucks, because Carrie isn’t here in the flesh anymore and it would have been wonderful to still have Leia.
I know, having spoken to a lot of people over the years who also love Princess Leia, that she was an inspiration to many – for numerous reasons, and those who came to know Carrie through her other works also fell in love with the actor (whether they had mental health issues or not) because of her courage, honesty and completely irreverent wit.
Rest in peace, Carrie and Leia. Both of you are missed, but your work and your inspiration endures.
To close this article out, I want to encourage any of you who feel that you might have a mental health issue to seek help. There are some wonderful therapists and support groups out there – and please, don’t be frightened off by my encounters with medication. It’s rare for people to have a serious allergic reaction to modern drugs. As someone who, until recently, worked in the mental health field for over two decades (ironic, huh?) I have seen some medications work miracles.
Last thing, if you are a fan of Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher, I encourage you to check out an excellent article published a few days ago on starwarsnewsnet.com, by Darby Harn. It’s called “Why Princess Leia Should Have Lived (A Tribute to Carrie Fisher).” He sums that rationale up far more eloquently than I. Click here to be taken to the article. Personally, I want to thank Darby for writing such a beautiful piece.
If this tribute to Carrie and her work has raised any issues for you, I encourage you to call the appropriate service in your country. In Australia, call LifeLine on 13 11 14. In the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1800 273 8255. In Canada, call Crisis Services Canada on 1833 456 4566. In New Zealand, call the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865. In the United Kingdom, go to the National Health Services website at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/ where you will see a list of numbers, choose the most appropriate for you and call it. If you’re reading this from a different country to those listed, type “Suicide Helpline” or “Mental Health Support” and your country name into your search engine and call someone right away.
If you do have a mental health issue you’re not alone, and you are not any less of a person despite how some people may have treated you (and may still be treating you). The fact you’re still here, with us right now, means you are amazing beyond words, courageous beyond belief, and someone who deserves all of the love and acceptance this world can offer – and in time, with a little help and a shitload of determination, you’ll get it and you will find your tribe.
In Carrie’s own words:
“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it.”
Stay strong, sur-thrive, and may the Force be with you.