Keeping Carrie Fisher's Legacy Alive

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Keeping Carrie Fisher's Legacy Alive

By Mara Shapshay 10/26/17

I would spend most nights in Carrie’s bed with her, watching old movies, eating ice cream, chain smoking and crying. I was a real joy to be around but Carrie didn't judge me.

Image: 
Carrie Fisher and Mara Shapshay
"I would not be walking this earth if it weren’t for Carrie Fisher." Image via Author

It was December 27th 2016 and I woke up somewhat excited. Wait, let me take that back, I have an anxiety disorder along with being 12 years clean and sober so I woke up with panic and untreated alcoholism. It took me about an hour of prayer and meditation in order to get to a place where I didn't want to check myself into a mental institution.

December 27th is also my birthday! I was excited to spend the day at a luxury spa with some hot stones on my back and maybe a 24-karat gold facial (only in L.A., people). After calming my brain which tends to turn on me like an informant, I do what we all do, get on social media.


I noticed all of these messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter along with messages and voicemails on my phone. All were saying the same thing.

”I’m sorry for your loss.”

Loss? What loss? Then there it was on my phone, a news alert.

CARRIE FISHER IS DEAD

My heart fell into my stomach. I dropped my phone and began sobbing uncontrollably. My head started to migraine throb from the crying. My guardian angel, the woman who saved my life was gone.

I would not be walking this earth if it weren’t for Carrie Fisher.


You see, back in 2005 when I was newly sober, my life was decimated. I had lost both my marriage and job and was sleeping in my car. I was making meals out of cookies at AA meetings when I met Carrie at the break of a behemoth meeting on Sunset Blvd in Brentwood. She was smoking a vanilla scented cigarette and when she offered me one I gave her my unsolicited sad story: how I inadvertently married a gay man, just got out of rehab, got fired from my job and I was sleeping in my car.

I don’t know what compelled her but she ordered me to come live with her. I mean, she insisted. I was not in a position to say no.

I moved into her quirky Beverly Hills house which sat on top of a hill and was filled with Star Wars memorabilia (like a R2D2 trash can and numerous paintings and sculptures from Princess Leia fans, among other wacky knick knacks). I felt instantly at home.

The AA group I joined had demanded that I go off my antidepressants, which I did and then soon found myself hopeless and suicidal. I would spend most nights in Carrie’s bed with her, watching old movies, eating ice cream, chain smoking and crying. I was a real joy to be around but Carrie didn't judge me; instead she listened and literally talked me off a ledge.

We were so much alike. We both married gay men, had mental illness and were struggling with our sobriety. Not to mention the fact that we were both writers and comedians. In addition, we shared the same sickest of sick sense of humor. I had met my match. Case in point: on one Easter we were decorating Easter eggs. Everyone in the group had nicely painted flowers and such on their eggs but not Carrie and I. We both, independently of each other, drew boobs and penises on our Easter eggs. Great minds think alike.

Eventually I was able to stand on my feet again and I moved out. We stayed friends for years and then lost touch, but Carrie always had a special place in my heart and soul that no one alive or dead has ever or probably will ever inhabit. If you are lucky, you get one soul connection in a lifetime. Carrie was it for me.

I asked my Rabbi what it means when someone you love dies on your birthday.

“It means you were soul sisters and there is a big purpose for your friendship,” he told me.

That purpose would become abundantly clear after I wrote an article for L.A. Magazine about my relationship with Carrie entitled Carrie Fisher Saved My Life.

The article went viral and because I mentioned that I shared Carrie’s diagnosis of having mental illness and addiction (dual diagnosis), I was contacted by mental health organizations asking if I could carry on Carrie’s work as a mental health advocate.

Around the time of the article’s publication, I was producing and hosting a Carrie Fisher tribute variety show for Radford Hall, a recovery hall in the San Fernando Valley. I was dressed as Princess Leia, we had the Gay Men’s Chorus sing Debbie Reynolds songs and each act talked about their experience with Carrie or Star Wars.

I also had a bipolar bake sale. I baked half chocolate chip half oatmeal raisin cookies and half blondie and half brownies. I know Carrie would have loved the hell out of that bake sale. After all, she had antidepressants and other pills painted on her kitchen walls.

The Depressed Cake Shop, an English pop-up bakery that shows up at mental health events, contacted me via Twitter. This shop has local bakers bake desserts that are gray on the outside with a pop of color inside to represent there is hope underneath depression.

They told me they were doing a pop-up in less than a week to raise money for This is My Brave, a mental health organization that puts on storytelling shows in just about every city in the United States. Each storyteller talks about his or her experience with mental illness/addiction in an effort to end the stigma.

I was just getting over the flu but was well enough to make some paranoid pop tarts (Nutella pop tarts with paranoid eyes on them) and bipolar brownies (half blondie and half brownies). I walked into the Moss theater in Los Angeles on a rainy January day still sniffling from the flu and sat my baked goods down next to some anxiety cookies (cookies with stressed out faces on them) and cookies in the shape of service dogs.

This led to more advocacy work. Jennifer Marshall, one of the founders of This is My Brave, asked me to produce the This is My Brave Show in Los Angeles later that fall. I also got in touch with other organizations like the You Rock Foundation, a mental health organization that has rock stars speak out about their mental illness and addiction issues for suicide prevention.

Then out of the blue I was introduced to Congressman Joseph Kennedy at a mental health event. Shortly after that I was contacted by Congresswoman Grace Napolitano’s office whose platform is mental health. I was being guided, I believe by Carrie, to advocate on behalf of all of those who have a dual diagnosis.

I quickly found out that addiction, although under the umbrella of mental health, is treated completely differently than mental illness. There are many people like Carrie and me who have both mental illness and addiction and these conditions need to be treated concurrently rather than separately.

The suicides of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington brought the dual diagnosis issue into sharper focus. Here were guys struggling with their sobriety and mental health. I don’t know about you, but Carrie and I both self-medicated our mental illness with drugs.

I have found the most effective treatment for my dual diagnosis has been a combination of therapy, meditation, mindfulness, recovery programs and good old-fashioned conscious contact with my higher power. I don't advocate going off of medication at all, but to seek out spiritual solutions in addition to medication.

It is my purpose to carry on Carrie's work with mental illness and addiction. I dedicate each show to her and the cause. The force is strong in this Jedi mental health advocate thanks to Princess Leia. Carrie may be gone from the physical world but I will do everything I can to keep her legacy alive.

If you want to help end the stigma against mental illness and addiction please come to the This is My Brave Los Angeles show November 7th at 8pm at the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. (we have a-list comics, rock stars and spoken word performers) Tickets can be purchased at: http://bit.ly/TIMB-LA ($20 advance and $25 at the door) or you can donate at https://thisismybrave.org/.

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Mara Shapshay is a writer, baker, stand-up comic and mental health advocate, living in Los Angeles. You can find her on Linkedin or you can follow her on Twitter.

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