What Carrie Fisher Taught Me About Being A Mom With Mental Illness

Photo: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock
Billie Lourd and Carrie Fisher

As a single mother of two incredible children, I know that I am deeply, endlessly fortunate.

As a person who lives with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, I have battling demons living in my brain that are constantly trying to convince me otherwise.

In my darkest moments, I often think, "Was I selfish to have kids at all? Am I cut out for this?"

Mental illness feels like a cruel trick at times, one designed to strip every bit of joy out of your body and life.

As I write this, I am doing so with heavy fingers, tears stinging my eyes, for no reason other than that's just what my body wants. It's scary to have so little control over what my brain chemistry decides I should feel at any given moment.

But I have these two little people who need me, who depend on me. So I go on, because what choice do I have?

"Stay afraid, but do it anyway." — Carrie Fisher

My whole life I had a hero. A princess, a general, a mental health advocate.

Carrie Fisher dedicated her career to being unabashedly herself, to telling her truth however dark or inconvenient.

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She told us the things we were socialized to tell no one. She talked about drugs, therapy, electroconvulsive therapy, family secrets — she said the quiet parts out loud.

She lived honestly, authentically.

I've had a lot of great women in my life. My mom, my grandmothers, my aunts, and they all mean the world to me.

But I've never seen someone shout their mental health status like Carrie did. And having her in the world taught me the kind of mother I want to be. The only kind of mother I can be.

Fisher was once asked, "What advice do you give people who are struggling with mental illness and are afraid to pursue their dreams?"

She replied, "Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually, the confidence will follow."

Photo: Getty Images

I have that quote framed in my room, written in gold over a picture of Carrie as General Leia Organa in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

When I'm afraid, when I feel like I'm failing as a parent, spiraling into a pit of doubt and insecurity I can't get out of, I think of her.

And I do it anyway.

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"If you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” — Carrie Fisher

The biggest thing Carrie taught me is honesty, above all else. It's why I do what I do, write through the pain and tell the truth, whatever that truth may be even when it's ugly.

And the truth is often ugly. But sometimes it's beautiful.

Fisher was open about most things in her life, including her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and her struggles with addiction.

In her 2008 memoir, "Wishful Drinking," Fisher wrote, "One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder ... At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

Photo: Getty Images

And I remember I do deserve to be proud. Because I get out of bed and I exist in a body that wants so much for me to not.

That above all else is what I want my children to see. Because my illness is in my children's blood, too.

I already see my daughter's anxiety, her 8-year-old brain taking on suffering and terror years beyond necessary.

I want her to know that she can talk about this openly and honestly, that she can get help and just ... live with it, without shame.

Just like mom. Just like Carrie.

And it's clear Fisher passed this along to her own daughter, actress Billie Lourd.

Lourd frequently posts pictures of her beloved "momby" with her mother's trademark honesty.

When Fisher's cause of death was released, Lourd was open about that too, knowing her mother's legacy was now in her hands.

"My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases," Lourd said at the time.

"She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases," she continued. "I know my Mom, she'd want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs."

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And Billie is still keeping her mom alive, now as a mom herself.

On May the 4th, Star Wars Day, she shared a photo of her son Kingston decked out in Princess Leia gear, enjoying the most famous work of his grandmother.

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"You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it." — Carrie Fisher

In an "Ask Carrie Fisher" column for The Guardian back in 2016, a reader wrote in asking how they could feel at peace with their illness.

Carrie replied, "You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me — that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side."

Photo: Getty Images

I want my kids to see me being honest and open about my illness, see me talking about it like it's not a secret because it's not a secret.

And I want them to see me getting help, taking my medicine, talking about therapy and normalizing the process of mental healthcare, not just the existence of mental illness.

I want my kids to know that we have this stuff in our brains. And that's OK.

And we need help to live with that. And that's OK, too.

Carrie Fisher let me know that more than anyone else.

My princess, my general, my hero.

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Courtney Enlow is Editor of Pop Culture and Good News at YourTango. Her work has appeared at Vanity Fair, Glamour, Pajiba, SYFY FANGRRLS, Bustle, Huffington Post, io9, and others. She is the former co-host of the podcasts Trends Like These and Strong Female Characters.