5:15 pm EDT, December 28, 2016

Thank you, Carrie Fisher

As the news broke that Carrie Fisher had died, people from all corners of the world, all walks of life, came together to mourn her death.

I’ve struggled with how to deal with that overwhelming feeling of grief myself, how to channel it, how to quantify this emptiness I’ve felt since learning of Carrie Fisher’s passing.

And so I thought I’d take a leaf out of her book and do what she did best. Talk about it.

Carrie Fisher entered my life the way she did for so many people, as Princess Leia Organa, taking charge of an impossible situation and leading with confidence, conviction, and strength in the face of losing her whole world. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was in love. I wanted to be her.

And for the longest time, I was her. Walking in the steps that Leia first tread, from A New Hope to Empire Strikes Back, I learnt that it was okay to be outspoken about what I believed in, what I loved, what I wanted to stand for. I found my own voice through Leia and her steadfast belief in the rebellion against the Empire, and I refused to let anyone silence it. Society dictated I had to behave a certain way, love in a conventional manner, and temper my passion to acceptable outlets for a young woman.

But that just wasn’t me.

Thanks to Leia, I learned to find who I loved in my own time and my own way, I refused to allow my passions to be quashed, and I led, I fought, and I rebelled. I’m sure, for most, I came across as somewhat headstrong and stubborn, but I was also fiercely loyal and stood steadfast for myself and for everyone around me.

That’s not to say that that path was always easy. But where Leia forged it, Carrie Fisher was there to take my hand when I faltered.

Throughout my late teens and into my adult life I struggled — and continue to struggle — with my mental health. There’s a bone deep exhaustion, mentally and physically, that goes hand in hand with fighting and continuing to fight against cultural conditioning. Against the expectations of your family.

As I grew and discovered what made me me, I railed more against those expectations. My sexuality wasn’t nearly as clear cut as I thought it might be. I was moving away from the familiarity of home and into isolation. I suffered from a painful, and chronic condition, that often left me in bed — and one that my doctors either brushed off, or didn’t have the answer for. I was exaggerating, I was dramatic, I was confused, I was any number of words at the same time, except for one: true.

The stigma attached to mental health issues was so ingrained in both myself, and the people around me, that silence seemed to be the only acceptable option. And so I internalized it. Kept it locked deep in my gut and swallowed down the words whenever I thought they might spill out of me. Right up until I thought I might choke on them.

Which was when Carrie found me all over again.

In 2006, when I felt out of my depth and fighting a losing battle against my own mind, struggling with slowly losing a family member to an illness that turned her mind against her, I stumbled on a documentary called The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, and there she was. The Princess that defined my childhood, redefining how I looked at my mental health. How I looked at myself.

It was like a dam had burst and I started searching for her words outside of the ones I could recite by heart. I devoured Postcards from the Edge, and every interview I could dig up — be they by page, or footage I managed to find online. Then there was Shockaholic and Wishful Drinking in 2008, the former of which has now become dog-eared from reading and rereading, letting every inch of it soak into me, bone deep. The more that I read, the less alone I felt.

And I broke my silence.

I talked about my struggles, first with friends, then with a professional. I refused to be browbeaten by doctors regarding my pain, or shamed. I found myself again, through that fog, and held on tight. As Carrie refused to be painted as a histrionic woman with mental health issues, so too did I.

That fight will never truly be over, but I know the strength of my own voice, of taking the time for self-care, and to live my life, though my mind may try and drag me down every step of the way.

Carrie lived her life openly, allowing us an intimate look at her struggles as well as her triumphs. She stood firm in the face of sexism, the stigmas about mental illness, and she did so with a humor that struck a chord with so many of us.

In her own words from Shockaholic, “After death takes someone from you, it gives you something back. It makes smells sharper and the sun brighter and sex more urgent. It’s as though you’re living for two now. Their memory lives inside you, and you feed it. You live for them now that they can’t anymore.”

That legacy lives on in all of us. In me.

Carrie’s words helped me through some of my darkest days. Her continued presence in the advent of social media kept her at my back, as though she was urging me to keep pressing forward.

Those words will never die. But now it’s our time to add to them.

The baton is at our feet. At mine.

I’m picking it up.

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