I arrived for my very first psych hospital stay without any books. Without anything, actually, because I was operating on a profound, dangerous sleep deficit and there was nothing going on in my brain that wasn’t destructive.
The doctor at that little hospital started giving me a Prozac capsule every day, this brand-new drug that no one had heard of yet and that would spawn a million newsmagazine pieces in which various experts would wring their hands about what it all meant.
Meantime, one green-and-white capsule at a time, Prozac saved my life.
When I transferred from that first, tiny psych hospital to a much bigger one in Phoenix, I carried my chart with me, and of course I read it. In my first 10 or so days there, the staff had used the phrase “catatonic signs and symptoms” to describe my behavior, which I thought was pretty funny since inside my skull, everything was chaos and mayhem and frantic activity. I would sit curled in a big chair in the day room and never move until someone told me to. I’m not sure I spoke at all. I remember someone washing my hair while I sat in the shower and that seemed OK. My arms were too tired for head scrubbing.
So, to the books: I couldn’t read at first. The brain chaos precluded anything except sitting. When I started to calm down a little, I discovered a bin full of tattered paperbacks. The first thing I read was Silence of the Lambs, which seems to indicate that someone on the staff had a terrible lapse in judgment. The inside of my head was a profoundly violent place and I’d definitely have chosen the hose over the lotion.
Next from that bin, I pulled out a copy of Postcards from the Edge. I didn’t realize who’d written it (I was well enough to read books, but very far from WELL.) and I had no idea it was a semi-autobiographical novel. I believed it to be a memoir and I thought, “Sheesh. She’s almost as fucked up as me,” and that was, somehow, a little comforting. I was very alone with my self-destructive thoughts at that time. Lots of people loved me, but I couldn’t feel that love. Mostly, I thought people who loved me were fools. But Carrie Fisher maybe understood a little, and between that and the Prozac, I had a rickety little bridge that I walked along for awhile until I could make some connections that were a little less tenuous.
For as much as I loved Carrie Fisher as Leia, and as deeply as I have enjoyed some of her subsequent books, there was this one time in a crappy regional psych unit when a book by Carrie Fisher helped save my life.
Go forth and tell your truth because you don’t know who you might save. There’s no shame. Carrie showed us that.
Carrie Fisher died today, December 27, 2016. She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.