I’ve debated whether or not to write this post for some time. I then debated whether or not I should post it after I wrote it. Does this even fit with The A List? Is this an appropriate post to have on my blog? But while this topic is so extremely personal to me, I’ve tried becoming more and more open about my struggles with anxiety and depression on social media lately. With talk of mental health awareness becoming increasingly prominent in everyday life, I felt it was time to fully open up about what I go through on an almost daily basis.
I have anxiety. I have depression. It took me a long time to even feel comfortable uttering those words out loud to my friends and family, let alone saying them to myself in confirmation. As someone who seemingly lives a life of adventure, happiness, and opportunities I never thought possible, I have had people say to me that I should not be someone who suffers from any type of anxiety or depression. But this is where that statement is wrong – anxiety and depression are not picky. They do not discriminate. They can happen to anyone, and I happen to be one of those people.
So what does it mean when someone says they have anxiety or depression? Well, it’s different for everyone. For some it’s genetic. For others, it’s brought on by events in their life, medication, or abuse. For some, it’s both of those general causes. In my case, it’s both. I suffer from a panic disorder, anxiety, and depression – brought on by genetics, events in my life, and previous abuse. I have been suffering for years, and while I see an amazing therapist every week, that doesn’t mean I’m still not battling these disorders right now at this very moment. Almost every day I am struggling to fight against my own mind and all those thoughts my anxiety and depression like to trigger. It can be exhausting and sometimes feel defeating.
In 2011, shortly before I left for Las Vegas to compete at Miss USA, two of my closest friends and my boyfriend (Tor) intervened and saw something was not right with me. I couldn’t get excited about anything. I had no motivation to do anything. I became paranoid about the world around me. I preferred being cooped up inside and would not leave my house. The littlest things would rattle me and ruin my entire day without explanation. Out of frustration for all my undiagnosed anxieties, I began scratching myself raw until I bled. I had marks on my arm in an attempt to alleviate this unexplainable need to eradicate all the emotions I was feeling. I felt trapped in my own body with my indescribable emotions, and I had no outlet to let them out. I couldn’t even put words together to explain how I was feeling. I didn’t know how.
With that, a friend set me up with her therapist where it was pretty much confirmed I was suffering from depression and anxiety. Both had been brewing underneath the surface for a while and as it turned out later on I had been struggling with these issues for years. A week later, I left for Vegas to compete at Miss USA on NBC where I ended up winning the title and had to move to NYC 12 hours after my coronation for the next 12 months. For someone just diagnosed with depression and not having any sort of grip on it whatsoever, this ended up proving to be extremely difficult. Not only was I leaving behind the safe haven of my home in Los Angeles, this new therapist, and my supportive boyfriend, I was now being thrust into the spotlight having coveted the title thousands of young women competed for in that year alone. I didn’t want to let down the organization, my fans, myself, or all those young women who wanted to be Miss USA. I had tried for years to become Miss USA, and the dream had finally come true. So, I bottled everything up thinking that this exciting life as a celebrity for a year would be so fun and busy that my depression would fade away. Wrong.
After my disastrous experience competing at Miss Universe three months later, which only aggravated my issues with my mental health, it became clear to the Miss Universe Organization that I was not well and that I was really struggling. Instead of dethroning me (they never even considered it), they looked into a therapist for me to begin seeing every week if my schedule allowed it in New York City. While I never fully was able to get a handle on my anxiety and depression for the rest of my reign, I was able to struggle a bit less than I already was towards the end. She immediately put me on medication for both anxiety and depression, and she also introduced to me the idea of an emotional support animal. She made sure her dog was present at every session of mine, seeing that I tended to calm down and feel more at ease with an animal in the room – preferably in my lap.
This is where my cats Renly and Dany come in. A month after my reign as Miss USA ended and I was back living in Los Angeles with my boyfriend (Tor), the president of the Miss Universe Organization called me to say she had friends who rescued four 2-month old kittens and that she knew I was looking for a therapy animal. One fateful July afternoon in 2012, I came face to face with my fur babies and brought them home. To say they have helped me in my treatment would be an understatement. They even sense when Mommy is about to have a panic attack, and Dany in particular will come lay beside me and not leave my side until we are both asleep. Sometimes when the world seems to much to handle, all I need to do is look into their eyes to feel “okay”.
Since moving back to Los Angeles in 2012, I began seeing a new therapist every week thanks to one of my bestest friends, and over the years my therapist and I have made some great progress. I am no longer on medication, as my therapist and I like to work things out as naturally as possible unless medication is absolutely necessary (i.e.: Xanax is needed on flights.. sadly there’s no natural solution for me for that one!).
But I still suffer from anxiety and depression, and I probably always will suffer a form of them in one way or another for the rest of my life. My last bout of depression lasted from late February through late April (I battled nasty depression during my birthday and throughout our Ireland trip), and I am currently battling my latest bout which began about three weeks ago (this explains why I rarely show videos of myself on IG Stories at the moment). Getting excited about things actually takes effort. Feeling inspired to leave the house to simply go grocery shopping takes effort. Feeling happy when there’s good news takes effort. I have been in hiding from my friends. Phone calls go unanswered. Texts go unanswered. Tears continually roll down my face. Feeling like I am unworthy, a joke, or a failure takes no effort when you’re suffering from depression. There’s no way to simply “snap out of it.” People with depression will understand that. Besides, there’s nothing we can “snap out” of.
My anxiety also comes in waves. Unfortunately, my anxiety and panic disorder have been sky high for the last month or so, resulting in crazy hyperventilations, severe heart palpitations which aggravates my heart condition, scratching my legs until my nails break skin and I begin to bleed, nausea and vomiting, and crying hysterically out of nowhere. Sometimes I cry because I have no explanation as to why I am even crying in the first place. One of my biggest issues with my anxiety is the thought that everyone hates me. I have it set in my mind that no one likes me, and that I need to constantly try harder to make my own friends, family, and business partners think I’m a good person. This is something I’ve been battling for more than 20 years. It’s one reason why making new friends can be so hard for me, since I am already convinced before they meet me that they already do not like me. After I leave a party or a dinner with friends, I begin panicking in the car on the way home that maybe I said something wrong or was misinterpreted, or maybe I made a bad impression. I’ll dwell on that thought for so long that it can lead to an aggressive panic attack.
So why did someone with anxiety and depression choose a public career? Well, fashion, travel, and writing have always been great outlets for me to express what I love most and what I am most passionate about in life. As a child, playing dress up was a way for me to not only get my start in “fashion”, but it was also to escape my own life and pretend to be someone else. The same with travel. I used to beg my mom to buy me travel books (at the now defunct Waldenbooks) starting when I was 10 years old because I always dreamt of being elsewhere. My blog is everything I had been wanting to do since I was a little girl. However, it’s not always easy being a blogger with anxiety and depression. There are days I make that awful decision to begin to compare myself against other bloggers, question my style choices, question our travels, or even question my ability as a blogger. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be happier doing anything else. Navigating social media can definitely be a challenge for someone with anxiety, and I won’t lie and say I do not fall down the rabbit hole often. But I know who I am and I know what I have to offer, which helps give me the boost I need.
Since becoming more and more public with my mental health issues over the last year, I’ve probably had hundreds if not thousands of messages from some of you sharing your own experiences with anxiety and depression. I’ve gotten extremely emotional reading them, since it actually helps me knowing that I am not alone. Depression has this affect on you that makes you feel all alone in an already big world, and that you’re the only “crazy one” that is feeling… well, crazy. But you’re not crazy. I’m not crazy. We just fight more battles each day than others, and that doesn’t make us weak or inferior. It actually makes us stronger in the end.
Lastly, I just want to take a moment to thank my amazing husband for everything he has done to support me and be by my side. My severe struggles became apparent very early on in our relationship, and he didn’t run away. In fact, he’s always been eager to help me and encourage me. I won’t say it’s been easy for him. Far from it. In the beginning, he wasn’t sure what to do to help me or what he was supposed to do in general. It broke his heart seeing me in the state I was in, and it also frustrated him when he wasn’t sure what he could do. But he has been incredible. He’s one of the most patient people I have ever known, and not once has he ever judged me for what I go through. He can tell the signs of an oncoming panic attack faster than me these days, and he immediately whips into action to prepare me for what’s about to happen by laying me down, holding me, speaking softly, and stroking my hair. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank him enough for all that he has done to support me with my mental health struggles. I don’t think I will ever be able to repay him enough in this lifetime alone. I am so grateful to have him here by my side, holding my hand, kissing my forehead, and reminding me that I am not crazy, that I am a strong woman, and that I’ve got this.
If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety or know someone who is, there are many ways you can help. If you’re unsure what to do, there are a few emergency hotlines that provide assistance and support such as BetterHelp.com and the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Remember – you are not alone.
Photos by Torrance Coombs.