Carrie Fisher’s autopsy reports were released this week, revealing that at the time of her death she had a cocktail of numerous illicit and prescription drugs in her system. The news, as it always does with public figures, prompted a new wave of grief, and a fresh round of moralizing on the wastefulness of addiction and the perceived weakness of the victim; the kind of public interrogation of the dead we seem to thrive on.
Carrie Fisher had always told us everything. She owes us nothing more than she’s already given.
In her writings and in her interactions with the press, she never denied her demons; always expressing with great candor, the pressures of celebrity and of enduring misogyny and ageism in Hollywood—all braved while carrying the massive weight and stigma of mental illness. She never shied away from letting us see her scars, even if they made us wince, even if we’d have preferred they’d stayed hidden. Mental illness is still the only kind of sickness we make people feel guilty for being afflicted with, and she was not going to apologize. She knew that it thrives in the darkness of silence and shame, and as much as she could—she let the light in.
Carrie spent her life entertaining us in her youth and trying to educate us in her later years. She is still teaching us in her passing.
When you get to be a certain age, you realize your heroes are mortals. Watching people who inspired and entertained you as a child; people you looked up to as near-Gods, succumbing to sickness—the world loses a little of its wonder and you lose a bit of your innocence. But more than that, you recognize just how fragile each of us is; that translucent onion skin separating us from collapse, from being overtaken by the shadow parts of ourselves.
As someone who’s fought back the dark side that is my depression for most of my adult life, Carrie’s off-screen battles were far more awe-inspiring to me than anything she did alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. She looked her illness in the eyes, then looked directly into ours and told us how much it hurts—just what kind of hell she was walking through every day. And even when she appeared to be getting the upper hand it was always a tenuous truce.
Carrie reminded us that nothing; not adulation or success or people who love you; nor any comforts found in material things or in medication, can protect you for good. Every victory you earn will be temporary, because the next day will bring new attacks and you will have to save your inner universe all over again. When you battle the demons in your own head, you can outwardly have every reason to be victorious, every advantage in the fight—and you may still eventually be overtaken. And it’s not because you were weak, and it’s not because you took an easy way out, it’s because you can’t escape you. You can never fully get out of harm’s way because you are the harm.
People can try and parse out her life and decide what caused her death, but ultimately Carrie Fisher wasn’t an addict and she wasn’t weak. She was everything in life that she was as Princess Leia; fierce, unrelenting, and fully devoid of bullshit. She spoke truth to the demons without flinching. She took on the dark side of herself as boldly as she did Darth Vader—and she won.
With every day she lived in this place and created light for other people, she won.
In every moment she lived unashamed of her illness, she won.
May the Force be with each of us who battle our darkness in this day.