The world was shaken to its core this week when Hollywood legends and iconic mother-daughter duo Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died within a day of each other. Like many people, I admired these two women for years, and although it was their on-screen talent that drew me in, it was their off-screen dynamic that made me feel especially connected to them. Specifically, it was Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher's relationship that gave me hope for my own relationship with my mother when we went through some dark days of our own.
Like Carrie Fisher, I grew up admiring my mother. She was a Super Mom who would wake up at 4 a.m. to get breakfast and lunch ready for me and my sister. She'd then head off to teach unruly high schoolers at a school more than an hour away, before making it home in time to take me to dance class. Sure, there were times when the stress of balancing motherhood with work would get to her. But for the most part, she was happy. And her happiness was so damn contagious.
But, like Reynolds and Fisher, our relationship took a turn when my mental health issues came to light. My troubles came to the surface in high school. I went from being a social butterfly to someone who sought out isolation. I went from being able to talk to my mom about anything, to refusing to talk to her and hiding in my room so I could scratch myself, because I wanted to see a physical manifestation of my pain.
My mom kept her distance from me during what we referred to as my "episodes."
In a 2011 interview on Oprah, Reynolds said that discovering Fisher was bipolar similarly took a toll on their relationship. "My lowest point in Carrie and my relationship was probably when we discovered that she was ill, or that she had this mental health problem, and that it was going to be with her forever," Reynolds told Winfrey. "That was very hard."
Fisher, who also participated in the interview, added that the once-close duo didn't speak for almost a decade during this time.
"We had a fairly volatile relationship earlier on in my 20s," Fisher said. "I didn’t want to be around her. I did not want to be Debbie Reynolds’ daughter."
My mother and I faced a similar estrangement, although ours had to be hidden to maintain the status quo in our gossip-centric town. She knew something was wrong with me, as this wasn't the first time she'd seen someone sink into a depressive state. When she was a child, she'd seen her own mother battle depression. The thought that I could face similar pain was too hard for her to handle.
As a result, my mom kept her distance from me during what we referred to as my "episodes." When I was finally diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, she let my father drive me to therapy and pick up my prescriptions. Now that I know about her mother's battle with depression, I understand why she stayed in denial. At the time, however, I thought she hated me. Even worse, I thought she didn't care. But I was proven wrong seven years later, when I made a suicide attempt that almost took my life.
"Thank God," she whispered. "I thought I lost you forever."
I was 21 and a senior in college at the time, and dealing with the fallout from an abusive relationship. Almost two years after the relationship ended, I was finally getting ready to face my ex in court after he stalked me following our breakup, prompting me to file a restraining order against him, which he then violated.
I was scared to come face-to-face with the man who tore me apart, and terrified about what would happen if he was allowed to walk away free. So I created a cocktail of painkillers and vodka. As I lay in bed, waiting for the drugs to do their job, I turned to face a black-and-white photo of my parents holding me as a baby. That was the last thing I saw before my eyes closed.
When I came to, I was lying in a hospital bed, being forced to drink something that would help empty out my stomach. I was still in a fog and had trouble making out what was going on. But I could clearly hear my roommate say that she had called my parents, and that they were on their way. And all I could think was "F*ck" before I faded out again.
As I woke up the next morning, I couldn't help but think about what would happen when my parents walked into the psychiatric ward. Would my father console me while my mother kept her distance? Would my mother mutter criticisms under her breath? I braced myself for the worst as I heard them make their way down the hall. But when the door opened, my mother was the first to enter the room. She immediately wrapped me in her arms, rocking me as she did when I was a baby. "Thank God," she whispered. "I thought I lost you forever."
It wasn't until a few years later, when reading about Reynolds and Fisher, that I realized what my mother had gone through that night. Like my mother, Reynolds also received a terrifying call that made her think she had lost her daughter forever. In the same Oprah interview, Reynolds recalled the night Fisher was rushed to the hospital for a drug overdose.
It was a terrifying night. It was just pouring rain, so you can picture you’re in the car with the rain smashing against the windshield and you’re crying like mad and you don’t know if your daughter is going to be alive when you get there.
Due to her addictions, as well as Fisher's struggles with bipolar disorder, Reynolds was put in several situations where she feared for her daughter's life. And, in the years following my suicide attempt, my mother's heart would stop whenever she received a call from an unknown number. But both my mother and Reynolds eventually acknowledged their daughters' struggles and took the steps needed to help them recover.
Although we don't exactly know what Reynolds and Fisher did to revive their relationship, my mother started attending therapy sessions with me. She started asking questions to find out what triggered my depression and anxiety. She stopped telling me that "someone always has it worst" and started giving real advice to my problems. And, in seeing our mothers take the steps to help us, both Fisher and I made it through.
But making it through the dark days and getting back to where you once were are two different things. For Reynolds and Fisher, it took almost 30 years to repair their relationship, but the effort seemed to be worth it. Over the past decade, the two seemed to form a bond that would make Lorelai and Rory Gilmore jealous. In fact, Reynolds and Fisher documented their comedic and caring relationship in Bright Lights, a documentary set to air on HBO in 2017.
The two became so close that TIME insinuated Reynolds died from a broken heart after losing her daughter on Dec. 27. And her final words demonstrate that there might be some truth in that theory. Reynold's son Todd Fisher told TMZ that the actress's last words were, "I want to be with Carrie."
My mom and I have still have some work to do. We're both learning how to better deal with the downward spirals that stem from my depression and anxiety. I'm learning how to be a better communicator, and she's learning how to be a better listener.
That being said, we have made progress. She e-mails me every morning, even when I'm home for a visit. I text her just to say hi. We make jokes at the other's expense, without there being any hurt feelings. We are each other's best friends. It is a fairly new dynamic for us, and I'm holding onto it tightly, because I never want to go back to where we were only a few years ago. But seeing how Reynolds and Fisher made it through the ebbs and flows of a difficult mother-daughter relationship gives me hope that, someday, my mom and I will be even closer than we are now.