David-Elijah Nahmod is a film critic and reporter in San Francisco. His articles appear regularly in The Bay Area Reporter and SF Weekly. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.
David developed Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) after surviving gay conversion therapy as a child and has found that many in the LGBT community suffer from severe, often untreated emotional disorders due to the extreme anti-gay traumas they endured. This column chronicles his journey.
Carrie Fisher’s Mental Health Advocacy
“I went too fast, I was too much.”
— Carrie Fisher
“All I can do is love her.”
— Debbie Reynolds
The world was stunned when mother-daughter movie stars Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher passed away within one day of each other at the end of December. Reynolds, of course, was a major film star during the 1950s and 60s and a popular headliner in Las Vegas for nearly fifty years. Fisher–Princess Leia–needs no introduction to “Star Wars” fans.
Reynolds and Fisher were strong women who not only bounced back from adversity, they laughed about it. It would be easy to criticize their privileged, Beverly Hills lifestyles, but in truth, both women were graduates of the school of hard knocks.
Beginning around 1990, Fisher went public regarding her battles with mental illness. She was diagnosed manic-depressive, now more commonly known as Bipolar Disorder. Fisher’s attempts at self-medication nearly killed her–she overdosed during the 1980s and was hospitalized in a psychotic state. Many years later Reynolds told Oprah Winfrey that visiting Fisher in the psych ward was one of the hardest things she ever had to do.
Fisher bounced back and resumed her acting career. She also became a best-selling author. Her novel “Postcards From the Edge” was a thinly veiled, fictionalized memoir about her relationship with her mom.
Fisher went on to write a number of other books, all semi-autobiographical. Her writings touched upon some very dark subjects: she wrote candidly about her experiences growing up as the child of celebrities, her parents’ ugly, highly publicized divorce, and of her lifelong battle to keep a grip on her sanity. Her work was consistently hilariously funny — Fisher even laughed about her illness.
“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
In her acclaimed one-woman show “Wishful Drinking”, Fisher laid it all out on the table. With humor and grace, she let people know that it was OK to have a mental illness. There was no shame in it, and yes, recovery was possible. But her no-holds-barred honesty included letting people know that the battle never really ends.
It never does. I developed PTSD nearly 40 years ago after surviving a harrowing and abusive childhood. Like Fisher I’ve had psychotic episodes which I can barely remember–but I recall enough to know that, like Fisher, “I went too fast and I was too much”. But also like Fisher, I’ve had my triumphs, such as the freelance writing career that I love so much. I’ve done fairly well for myself. Today, around fourteen years since I began writing professionally, I’ve published an average of five times per week. In 2012 I even won a minor writing award–I was voted Best Film Reviewer at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards. The award statuette is now one of my most beloved possessions.
Through it all, Carrie Fisher was and continues to be, one of my role models. It has given me tremendous hope and strength to look at her and see all that she overcame. When I see how well Fisher lived after her diagnosis, I see the possibilities in my own life. When I hear her candid humor regarding her battles, it inspires me to share my own stories in the hope that others will read my words and know that they’re not alone. Healing is a possible, more than most people may realize.
Carrie Fisher was only 60 years old. Her wisdom and her strength will remain with me for the rest of my days.
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