There’s No Room For Demons When You’re Self-Possessed

Carrie Fisher is an icon in the genre world—but her legacy might actually be in the work she did in demystifying and helping destigmatize mental illness.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24, Fisher spoke openly about her struggle with mental illness and drug addiction in interviews, on Twitter, and in her books and memoirs. Fisher, who died at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016, became a beacon of hope to people living with mental illness and best of all—she gave all of us proof that you can have mental illness and still have a happy, successful life.

In a groundbreaking interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 in 2000, she told the world, “I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital.”

It took her 20 years and a mental breakdown to say those words publicly.

“I am mentally ill,” she told Sawyer, “I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.” And this was a time when mental health awareness barely existed and before celebrity advocacy was the norm!

Significantly, she made it clear that bipolar disorder was a medical disorder and not a character flaw—this was hugely important in helping to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Although she learned to take her illness seriously, she also laughed about it, emphasizing the healing power of humour over personal tragedy. Her Twitter description reads, “there’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed.” She called going to fan conventions doing the “celebrity lap dance” and even in death, she made people smile as her ashes were carried in an urn designed to look like a giant Prozac pill.

In the recent HBO documentary, Bright Lights, we vividly see Fisher’s tender and sweet relationship with her mother the Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds. Fisher’s humour is a constant throughout the film, as well as her family’s openness surrounding her illness.

Fisher shared that the key to surviving bipolar disorder was to reach out for help when you need it and to never feel embarrassed about it. After an episode of mania which resulted in her hospitalization, she told People that, “the only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.”

And she didn’t apologize for taking her therapy dog Gary everywhere. The French bulldog was even on the red carpet for Star Wars: The Force Awakens! The last time we interviewed her was at Calgary Expo in 2013 when The Force Awakens was in pre-production. Fisher told Teddy Wilson how important it was for her to play such a pivotal role in the Star Wars universe.

“I like how I look in the metal bikini and I think I was able to shoot guns well so it all worked out!” Sadly, she told Teddy that she had hoped to watch the Star Wars films until she was “very old with dementia” and pass away.

Fisher’s great sense of humour, honesty, and empathy for others with mental illness was an inspiration to legions of fans. She was a pioneer in talking openly about mental illness—and that’s what Bell Let’s Talk is all about.

The force was strong with Carrie Fisher and now lives on within us all.