“There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed.”
― Carrie Fisher
The genius of her writing is exemplified in this simple complex sentence. I’m not bipolar like Carrie Fisher was. Hard to write about her in the past tense. She has been an idol of mine since I was a little girl. First as Princess Leia, but most enduringly and endearingly as the writer I most aspire to resemble. I feel an unfortunate kinship with her and appreciated her work to remove the stigma from mental illness. Her honesty and specificity often make the reader uncomfortable, but she knows how to put in a laugh to cut the pain. When it comes to turning a phrase, she’s on par with Dorothy Parker.
The brilliance of Carrie Fisher’s statement about demons and self-possession is in the literal and connotative meanings. It echoes an Emily Dickinson poem I once used as inspiration for a post about my own mental illness, “One need not be a chamber to be haunted.” Demons are literal in literature, art, and religion. Demonic possession and something to do with the uterus were the top two explanations for any mental illness in women prior to about 2008.
Therefore, literally, she is the demon who possesses herself and there isn’t enough physical space for other demons. No room at the inn, as it were.
Metaphorical demons abound. Fisher’s personal demons were the biological illness she had and the numerous substances she used to medicate it. That includes the love drug. The desire to be loved by people who wouldn’t love her. Love, freely given, doesn’t heal the self-loathing. The golden ticket is to win the love of a person who can’t love. To people who don’t have depression or self-loathing, it can be very tempting to dismiss those conditions as self-inflicted and therefore self-correctable. In Postcards from the Edge, an openly autobiographical novel turned film, an addiction specialist tells Meryl Streep, playing Carrie Fisher, that taking a bunch of pills and ending up with her stomach pumped in the ER is suicidal behavior. “The behavior may be, but I’m certainly not,” she replies. This line demonstrates the other meaning of self-possession. She knows herself and understands what is happening. She is calm, composed and in control of her feelings. Ironically, the only way to be in control of her feelings as a person with bipolar disorder is to admit that she has absolutely no control over what comes out of her brain or when.
When I accept the “demon” possessing me-the biological illness in my brain that is as much a part of me as my earlobes-I am “self-possessed” and don’t need any external demons. In this way, the quotation is incredibly hopeful. No room for the demons of drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, infidelity, or drama-filled relationships. On the other hand, you know that those demons will appear, so fill up the space they seek to claim inside of you: be self-possessed. Claim yourself, flawed as you are. As we all are.
Carrie Fisher also wrote, ““If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.” I’ll close with this. On the internet program “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Jerry Seinfeld and John Oliver discuss how non-comedians don’t understand the overwhelming drive to get to the joke, even when it causes all kinds of calamity. There is a moment between Seinfeld and Oliver of profound kinship. The “You get it!” moment. “You see me!”
That’s what Carrie Fisher’s writing was and is for me. I got it. I saw her.