Influential Loss

We must keep our greatest treasures safe, at least until 2017. I need not mention their names in fear of jinxing anything.

As I’ve already mentioned, 2016 has not been kind to well-known names. Nobody has been safe from untimely death. I expect every following year to look quite similar, as so many of the stars we know and love grow older, often with a history of heavy substance use.

This was the case with our two most recent deaths, so close to each other, it’s almost hard to process, and it certainly hasn’t gotten easier. Along with George Michael dying on Christmas Day, we also lost our “space mom” Carrie Fisher. Although both stars are best recognized for single roles and songs, their impact on the world has far surpassed that.

In the case of Carrie Fisher, I especially admire her openness about her personal struggles, ones that are very relatable. She was a strong mental health advocate long before people really knew how common mental illness can be. She herself facing bipolar disorder, she wasn’t afraid to have honest conversations about her faults and her too-often reliance on pills to ease her symptoms. This addiction most likely played a role in her shortened life span, but her time in the public light making a difference in others’ lives was time very well spent.

Especially in past decades, heck, even a few years ago, talking openly about mental health at all wasn’t heard of. We understood even less than we do now, and that’s saying something. Fisher helped make approaching mental health easier. She didn’t call it easy by any means. She was real about it. She didn’t hide it, but she took it in stride, and that is something I admire. I wouldn’t know how bipolar disorder feels, but I know when my own mental illness becomes overwhelming, it takes me down hard. You would think it would get easier over time, but that isn’t the case. Anybody who is willing to advocate for the priority we must set on seeing mental health in a more accepting light.

Her death has sparked such a wonderful movement, encouraging people to open up about their own struggles with mental illness, and I cannot think of any better way to honor Fisher. With such a powerful message of “I have mental illness, but it does not have me,” I can think of nothing but praise in this case.

The way she spoke about mental health is but one voice hoping to destigmatize it. Those of us struggling, sometimes all we can do is laugh. We can empower ourselves simply by saying something. Silence is where stigma thrives. I certainly don’t expect all of us to become outspoken advocates and dedicate our time entirely to mental health, but Fisher demonstrates a model where we aren’t afraid to admit that we face demons. There is no shame in it. The ultimate shame should be in society, that we feel uncomfortable in the first place, that we cannot always expect reliable treatment or acceptance of our illnesses from others. All we can do in that case is find support from somebody else.

The fact that Fisher is revolutionary in the first place, that we aren’t just talking about mental health to begin with, is disappointing. We cannot rely on a few voices to lead the charge. It’s a collective effort. Communication is a two-way street. Making change, change that lasts, is a conscious choice. And when we lose that single voice, where do we stand now? Reflecting back on her efforts and not doing anything from there? It’s like putting your eggs all in one basket.

We are and always losing people. That’s life. But the legacies we leave behind endure. And this is one legacy we need to honor. If we are so distraught by the people we have lost this year, it’s time that we really hear what these people had to say. What did they stand for? What did they believe in? These people are so much more than the work they accomplished. They were people like anybody else, in the public eye, but human. No matter our status in the world, we will all face the same fate. In this instance, metaphorical pedestals fade away, and we can truly understand the soul behind the face. That is how we honor others. We find depth in the obvious. Fisher was Princess Leia, but she did so much more. As did George Michael, much more than a hit singer. He too anonymously and publicly donated his time and money to those in need. He didn’t want or need the recognition. A new single or album released sure doesn’t illustrate that.

It’s something to go and make condolences to those who pass, but it’s something else to appreciate those people and the people we still have for who they truly are. They probably have some interesting things to share, a multifaceted personality longing to be heard in a world that is constantly follow their every move. That is how we reconnect to ourselves, we address those hidden passions and struggles. Especially things that can leave a truly lasting impact.

So let’s pay more attention, to the people around us, the situations we encounter, the stigmatized issues that too often fall beneath the shadows. Not only does it promote mindfulness, but also empathy and awareness. And please, for the love of all that is holy, let us not lose anybody else this year.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


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