The actor details his struggles with mental health in a new interview.
Zachary Levi is telling his story. The 41-year-old actor got candid during a new interview with Elizabeth Vargas on her Heart of the Matter podcast for Partnership to End Addiction where he details his struggle with mental health, and how he once had a mental breakdown that led him to seek "life-changing" treatment.
Levi began the conversation by noting that while he has struggled with anxiety, depression and low self-worth for "most" of his life, he "didn’t realize" it until he was 37 and he had a "complete mental breakdown." The Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others author told Vargas he grew up in a household where his step-father was a perfectionist and his mother had "borderline personality."
Explaining how his mom's borderline personality could go from one extreme to the next, Levi said, "If she was in a bad mood, it was the end of the world. I was an embarrassment to the family. I mean, it was lots of vitriol, lots of yelling."
Levi went on to share that as he got older, he turned to substances to hide from the issues at hand. "I was running to lots of other things, whether it was sex or drugs or booze or things to distract me from, to numb myself from the pain that I was running away from most of my life," he shared. "The irony is that booze can give you this temporary relief, but then the next day amplifies that anxiety tenfold. So, then you’re running back to get more and it just becomes this vicious cycle."
Despite his continuing success, Levi admits he still had negative thoughts about his career, therefore he believed moving to Austin, Texas, and starting a movie studio would give him purpose.
"My career was in a place where I felt like even though I had accomplished so many things up to that point, I was still, and to be honest, even now, I still feel this way. I feel like I’m a bit on the outside looking in," he explained, adding that he was bullied as a kid for being nerdy. "I’ve never really felt like I am a part of whatever the cool kid group is. I think that carried with me into my career in Hollywood, and it gets reaffirmed to you in the lies that you tell yourself when you are not getting certain jobs, you’re not being hired to go do that movie or that show with this level of director or producer or actor or whatever it is."
Levi then detailed the panic attack which led him to seek help. "I drove around probably for 10 minutes not knowing which place to eat because I didn’t know which place was the right place to eat as opposed to just saying, ‘Zach, just go eat some food. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you go to that pizza joint or that Chinese place or whatever. Just go get some food. If you’re hungry, go get some food,'” he recalled. “I’m sitting in my truck, and vividly, I remember I was holding onto the wheel and I was just shaking back and forth, that like almost trying to shake myself out of what it was going on, and I’m just weeping. I’m just crying. I’m like, ‘God, help me.’"
“I was having very active thoughts of ending my life,” he said, noting that he checked himself into the emergency room because of the suicidal thoughts he was having. “It wasn’t the first time I had had them. I had been in dark places in my life before, but I guess in those moments I had people around me. I had foolishly, I mean, I think I made the right choice in moving to Austin. I don’t think I did it exactly the right way. I didn’t realize I was running away from so much, but I moved out here and I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t have a support structure. … So, in this particular moment, I’m out here in this wonderful city, but basically by myself, and the darkness surrounds me again. The lies are whispering into my ear and the failure that I felt that I was enough to be like, ‘Zach, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to make it out of this.’”
Levi says it was a "dear friend" who suggested he seek treatment, so he entered three weeks of “intensive life-changing, life-saving therapy.”
The deaths of Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade, whom all died by suicide, really affected Levi, he said. "Robin, he was a hero of mine," Levi explained. "His talent, his heart, the way he loved people, the way that he loved the homeless, the way that he cared about them, he was a really, truly, deeply empathetic person who really cared about other human beings, and yet was so tortured in his own mind. I think that’s maybe, partly why he felt so obligated to bring joy into the world. I felt very, very akin to that.”
“It really, really, really, really, really rocked me because I felt like if he can’t make it, I don’t know how I’m ultimately going to continue to navigate through this life, unless I can somehow figure out how to not keep falling into these places of depression and anxiety," Levi added of how he felt when Williams died.
Levi explained how he continues to work through his struggles. "Prayer and meditation are very important, which are also somewhat synonymous, I think, in some ways," he said. "Sometimes my prayer is meditation. Sometimes I’m just there and allowing God to take over what that time is. I’m not really saying anything as much as I’m just spending time. I think one of the most important things, at least for me, is taking my thoughts captive. Our minds are so powerful, but they are so easily, so easily hijacked if we don’t really go, ‘Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I’m doing it again. I’m starting to speak ill of myself again. I’m starting to be harsh or critical of myself. I’m starting to judge where I’m at in my life.'”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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