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5 Lessons Carrie Fisher Taught Us

She was the ultimate force as a bold mental health advocate and ally

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Carrie Fisher’s life and death are sobering reminders of the complexity and beauty of life. Best known for her oversized earmuff buns and role as the beloved Princess Leia in Star Wars, she went on to use her voice as a steadfast advocate for mental health and addiction awareness and rights.

Fisher embodied a resilient spirit and strength we can all learn from, at a time when we’ve made so much progress, but still have so far to come. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, mental health stigma remains the number one barrier for getting needed help, despite major advances in science and medicine that have flung Freud right off his finger pointing, childhood skeleton excavating couch.

We now understand the science behind our moods and behaviors, and have treatment that can save lives.

But, far too many of us remain in the shadows, fearful of bringing our struggles out of the dark and into the light.

Fisher, whose battle with co-occurring bipolar disorder and addiction understood that the old framings of these conditions: they are personal shortcomings, moral failures, or someone’s fault, are not only nonsense, but also dangerous.

Instead, she debunked myths and used her signature wit and grit to teach us:

1. There are a lot of forces that work against us. Fisher refused to accept the ableist, ageist, sexist, body shaming, stigmatizing culture that messes with all of our heads. She understood intersectionality and solidarity. The historic tide of marginalizing anyone on the fringes of so-called “normal”, has done a lot of harm to far too many human beings.

2. We need to peel back the curtain on mental illness. Fisher’s talent, tremendous success, and stunning looks left us unsuspecting of her challenges. Human beings are multidimensional. We can function at incredibly high levels, while simultaneously marinating in deep turmoil. She taught us not to be deceived by appearances—even when we seem like we’re on top of the world, things may still be a major struggle behind the scenes. It’s part of being human. As the World Health Organization reports, 1 in 4 of us are likely to experience at least one major mental health episode in our lifetime.

3. Being on the dark side can bring us to the light. Experiencing challenges can help us cultivate resilience and empathy. Fisher’s personal battles led to deep convictions that she made public, showing up as a courageous ally for all of us who have been touched by mental illness.

4. Help isn’t in a galaxy far, far away. We live in a time and place where help for addiction, depression, anxiety, and mental health struggles is at our fingertips. We used to live in a time when going to therapy was seen only as an indicator of illness, but now is increasingly viewed as a sign of strength and wellbeing. Help is close by. Access it—there is no good reason to suffer in silence.

5. We need to say yes to fear and no to shame. Experiencing fear, especially when struggling with intense emotions and circumstances, is human. It’s a sign we are out living life, trying to take it head on, even when we are scared. Feeling ashamed of ourselves is unproductive, and gets in the way of progress. Difficult emotions are tough to contend with, but avoiding them doesn’t make them better. As Fisher put it: “My comfort wasn’t the most important thing-my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was”.

Thank you, Carrie for helping us get more comfortable with our uncomfortable. We will keep working to get to the other side of our dark emotions.