There I was, age 16, hovering over the sink, wiping bile from my mouth. My eyes looked to my mother, pleading with her: Please don’t make me go.
I threw up every day like that before Driver’s Ed. Or heading off to school. Or going to a party.
I’d gag on my way out the door, my stomach tight with nerves; I’d wake up at 2 AM to find my body paralyzed and numb with an inexplicable fear.
Fast-forward nine years, and the scenes aren’t much different. I’ve sobbed alone in the dark of my apartment bathroom more times than I’d care to count — always with the shower running, hoping no one will hear me. I’ve dug my fingernails into my arms to take away the pain, telling my boyfriend, “If I have to live this way, I don’t want to anymore.”
This is what anxiety and depression look like; but if you just met me, you’d never know.
I’ve struggled with both since I was a child, and tried desperately to hide it because of all the stigma that swirled around it. But I’ve battled self-destructive feelings since Day 1 — it’s even well-documented in my family’s home movies. On one old VHS tape, 3-year-old me stares up at my uncle as he offers to pick me up and swing me around. My response? “But what if I get hurt?”
This anxiousness has followed me like a shadow for most of my life, darkening the happiest of days and sneaking up on me when I needed to be strong.
It hurt my relationships; forcing me to distance myself from friends because I simply couldn’t handle leaving the house, making my younger siblings feel like they had to treat me with kid gloves, given my parents great stress and worry, and caused my live-in boyfriend an unbelievable amount of emotional suffering.
And yet, despite all this, I stayed silent. For years. I didn’t even think to get help — that would be too embarrassing.
Instead, I tried to work things out on my own. But no amount of self-help books or journaling would do the trick; once I was triggered, there was nothing I could do but ride it out. And no one pushed me to get help.
“This is just the way you are,” they’d say.
“It’s all in your head.”
“Just forget about it and you’ll be fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. At least, not until about a year ago, when something inside me clicked.
Slowly but surely, more and more celebs came out of the woodwork to talk about their own mental health struggles, and suddenly, I realized I wasn’t alone in this fight.
When Gillian Anderson admitted she could barely leave the house at times, I thought, me too.
When Emma Stone opened up about her crippling panic attacks and how they immobilized her, I thought, I get it.
Their candor emboldened me, and sometime last year — midway through one of my own episodes — I picked myself up off the floor and committed to calling a therapist. And for the first time ever, I actually did. After years of suffering, all it took was one phone call to change my life around.
Since that day, I’ve attended monthly therapy sessions and have been prescribed a low-dose antidepressant to take daily, in addition to exercising and following a healthy diet. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I’m healthy and happy. All because I could finally put a face to mental illness other than my own, and finally tell myself it was okay to ask for help.
Now more than ever, celebs are stepping forward to talk about their own struggles with mental illness, in an effort to make the topic far less taboo — including, most recently, the Royal Family.
Princes William and Harry, as well as The Duchess of Cambridge, are spearheading the Heads Together #oktosay campaign, which encourages those suffering from mental illness to speak up. Just this week, Prince William shared a revealing conversation he had with Lady Gaga about her own struggles with anxiety, in a video that’s now going viral.
“It made me very nervous at first,” Lady Gaga shares, about finally speaking out. “There is a lot of shame with mental illness. You feel like something is wrong with you … You can’t help it if in the morning when you wake up you are so tired, sad, and full with anxiety and the shakes that you can barely think. It was like saying ‘this is a part of me, and that’s OK.'”
In the video, Prince William praises Gaga for her honesty, adding, “It’s time that everyone speaks up and feels very normal about mental health … we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”
And she’s right. There isn’t just a personal sense of freedom that comes with talking about our struggles — there’s a freedom that comes when we liberate others from their own. By simply acknowledging that they aren’t alone.
Thanks to the bravery of celebs just like Lady Gaga, I finally felt that sense of acceptance and support for the first time in my life. I wasn’t “crazy” and I wasn’t the only one struggling to make it through each and every day. I can only hope that in sharing my own story, someone else out there may come to feel the same way.
Overcoming anxiety and/or depression isn’t something that happens overnight — or possibly ever. Learning how to manage mental illness is what’s key to living as normal a life as possible. But that can’t happen until you pick yourself up, embrace the support system around you, and DO something about it.
My only regret is waiting too long to seek help — but it doesn’t have to be yours.