Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds

Today, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were remembered in a memorial service. Carrie’s bipolar disease and her addictions put her on a scary rollercoaster. Her mother rode along to protect her Best Beloved Baby Girl. Their Hollywood tinsel and talent caught our eye, but I regard Carrie as an EveryChild (“Messy”) with addictions and mental illness. Debbie Reynolds is every diligent and loving parent (“EveryMom”). Theirs was quite a Passion Play.

First, my personal view. Mental Illness and Addictions are both Brain Illnesses. Centuries ago, a person who had a  grand mal seizure was possessed or cursed. The “treatment” was burning at the stake.  Thank Heaven, we’ve evolved, and continue to do so. We now look for cures, not curses.

Why are they ” brain diseases?” They arise in the biology of the brain. We can see various areas light up on PET scans. Certain meds help change brain biology, with resulting changes in behavior. Mental illness also has some genetic tendencies, as does alcoholism. Diseases precede the behaviors.

Both tend to bloom in  teen-aged behavior … the eye-rolling, the experimentation … runs its course in healthy kids. It worsens in mental illness. The shot of tequila may nauseate a regular kid; for the child with alcoholic relatives, it may condemn him to the disease of alcoholism.

They’re also chronic illnesses; they get worse and better … we call this “relapsing” and “remitting.” Medications help. Patients need to spend more time in remission. Cures will come.

Both addictions and mental illnesses cause bad behavior. The sane brain has free will; a mentally ill brain has compulsions.

Where… exactly … is the boundary?  Who knows?  To paraphrase Justice Stewart about pornography, we may not be able to define mental illness, but we know it when we see it.

In bipolar disease, the highs … as well as the lows … can be lethal. Driving 100 mph can be just as deadly as suicide. What is “too low?” Is jail too low? Who can say? No mom wants her child to “hit bottom” if is it in a grave.

Messy needed her EveryMom, keeping mom away from her own life. Mom may have needed Messy, too.

Messy’s behavior causes legal, medical, and social problems.  Affluent parents suffer and spend fortunes on rehab and legal fees. Families of modest means suffer and cycle through courts and hospitals; they hope for treatment, not jail. No one wants their beautiful baby to be labeled “felon.”

Everyone sees Messy from his own perch. Siblings may resent Messy for getting “too much.”  If Mom helps Messy, the siblings shout, “You’re an enabler.” EveryMom says, “No. I’m keeping Messy alive.”

If Messy robs a stranger to pay for drugs, he sees her as only a thief, not as someone with illnesses. Nothing’s simple. Messy doesn’t slot easily into a binary legal system of “guilty” or “not guilty,” or a medical system what can’t figure out “behavior” vs. “illness.”

Messy is a mess.

Messy misses milestones and goes off course. Her IQ and background should make her a cancer researcher; her addictions and mental illness sidetrack her. Carrie Fisher did meld her wit and her demons. She refused to be medicated beyond them both.

Don’t try that at home.

It’s easy to blame EveryMom. Every mother wonders if she is Good Enough. In a family of three kids, only one will be Messy. Statistically, it can’t be mom’s fault. Sure, monster mothers, “MomSters” can fracture even a sturdy child, but they’re rare. Messy may believe she had a MomSter, but psychic truth isn’t always true.

Label the tall beam of the cross moms bear “Good. Enough.” Label the cross piece, “Forever.”

A real  EveryMom never quits. No matter what, her love is there. If Messy pours India ink on the white carpet, mom’s still going to give her three hots and a cot. If Messy needs a mom until she is 60, an EveryMom will continue. 24/7/365. No complaint. There’s no room for Mom to have her own life.

EveryMom must be GoodEnoughForever. Really?

Debbie Reynolds (an EveryMom) “upped her game” to protect MessyCarrie. She boarded a scary rollercoaster, buckled up and hung on to protect her child. MessyCarrie either wouldn’t, or couldn’t, buckle up. She refused to let EveryMom even help with the buckle.  EveryMom grabbed for emergency brakes that didn’t always work. Sooner or later, everyone comes out of rehab, whether they are rehabbed or not.

Carrie and Debbie’s Passion Play is over. Did Reynolds do enough? Fisher lived to age 60. Is that success? Mental illness plus addiction isn’t a recipe for longevity.

Carrie’s rollercoaster stopped. Reynolds was tossed off. She died the next day, wanting to be with her daughter, who was finally at peace. Reynolds must have been exhausted. I just hope she died knowing that brain illness, not imperfect mothering, powered Carrie’s rollercoaster.