“Over the years, Fisher struggled with mental illness and substance abuse – topics upon which she spoke and wrote with candor, wisdom, and humor. She was an original spirit in an industry and town that can be hostile to true idiosyncrasy. We have seen many artistic lights taken from us in 2016 and now there is sadly one more in that pantheon in the heavens.”
I’m not unique for a 1970s movie-goer mesmerized by the original “Star Wars” trilogy. I particularly liked the idea of “the force” and the influence of Joseph Campbell on the movie’s story structure. And yes, I noticed Princes Leia. Everybody did. How could we not? It was nice seeing her again, along with Harrison Ford, in last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Word was, we would see more of Fisher in the upcoming “New Hope” addition to the saga.
I’m also not unique in my respect for her 1987 book Postcards from the Edge. A novel, sure. But it also turned out to mirror what she knew a lot about as Dan Rather notes: mental illness and substance abuse. I respected Fisher’s writing about mental illness for the same reason I respected William Styron’s 1992 memoir Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Going back to reporter Nelly Bly’s 1887 expose Ten Days in a Mad-House, writers have written about the abuses in mental hospitals and facilities for the developmentally disabled by showing us what they saw and/or what they experienced.
Speaking out against the abuse, the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to those who are suffering, and the public’s constant wont to ignore the problem out of some fear, like their fear of cancer, that if they speak about it, it may come looking for them, these writers were variously daring and courageous.
I once worked in a mental health facility It was one of the best jobs I ever had, and I wish circumstances hadn’t driven me from that potential career into one as a technical writer in the computer industry. Could I have made a difference? In small ways, perhaps. I probably couldn’t have stemmed the tide that has taken advances in “group-home” facilities made 40 years ago into the ineffective “get the disabled out into the community” approach we see today. (Another not-our-problem minimalist approach.)
Do I understand those who are developmentally disabled or who suffer from a wide spectrum of mental health disorders? Slightly, because I have chronic clinical depression. This condition is misunderstood by the general public who think it’s the same thing as the garden-variety depression mostly everyone experiences from time to time. It’s worlds apart. We know insurance companies pretend clinical depression doesn’t exist because they seldom pay for talk therapy and think that both group and individual sessions are no more than paying others for conversation. Some say clinical depression stems from a chemical imbalance, but as far as I can tell, that really hasn’t been definitively proven. Psychiatrists tend to prescribe medications on that basis, though.
When my wife and I moved to a new town two years ago, that meant finding new doctors. The first GP I saw, told me that if he became my doctor, he would get me off my depression medications immediately. In his view, those meds are more dangerous than the real or imagined condition. “You’re dead wrong,” I told him. He couldn’t believe I said that. “And furthermore, if you know anything about those medications at all, you know that going off them cold turkey his more dangerous than any drug contraindications you can tell me about.”
He didn’t work out.
The second GP I saw looked at my list of meds and said he couldn’t prescribe those I was taking for depression. He also told me I couldn’t keep taking them because they were excessive and would lead to increased drug dependence. When I pointed out I had been taking the same dosage for years rather than adding more and more stronger pills every year as the psychiatric meds naysayers believe will happen, he said I was unique. I doubted that. And then he looked me in the eye, and said, “What’s wrong? Aren’t you happy?”
I said that happiness had nothing to do with it. What I didn’t say was that he was not only discounting my personal experience but the professions of psychology and psychiatry along with thousands of other dedicated mental health professionals working in a hostile public perception environment.
I am still taking the medications and probably always will be unless somebody finds the exact chemical imbalance that causes the problem–along with a cure. Meanwhile, the naysayers might want to note that for the walking wounded, the medications have gotten better and that most of us are taking non-narcotic remedies as opposed to the Valium, Librium and Haldol of an earlier age.
When I read Carrie Fisher’s writing, and heard her talks and interviews, I saw a brave person I could understand perhaps 1% better than the average guy on the street. So, I’ll miss her and I’ll miss her words and when I think of her, I’ll think that she left us too soon even though that’s probably a selfish thought that conflicts with her need to leave us when she was ready.
I touched on my mental health worker experience in the Kindle short story “Moonlight and Ghosts.”