On September 23, 2018, Selena Gomez announced that she was taking a break from social media. In her Instagram post, she wrote, “As much as I am grateful for the voice that social media gives each of us, I am equally grateful to be able to step back and live my life present to the moment I have been given.” This wasn’t the first, or even second time that Selena has done this. In August 2016, she cancelled the rest of her Revival World Tour to focus on recovering from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Earlier, in 2013, she cancelled her Stars Dance Tour to “spend sometime on [herself].” She later announced that during that time, she had checked into two facilities to receive chemotherapy for lupus. She’d reportedly been hospitalized when she discovered that her white blood cell count was severely low, a symptom related to lupus.
This month, Selena resurfaced with a post, indicating that she was ready to start transitioning back into public life. In it, she says, “Last year was definitely a year of self-reflection, challenges and growth. It’s always those challenges which show you who you are and what you are capable of overcoming. Trust me, it’s not easy, but I am proud of the person I am becoming and look forward to the year ahead.” Accompanied by beautiful black and white, faded photos, the post evokes a sense of calm and peace, where Selena appears to be relaxed and happy. Less than two weeks later, Selena was featured on a track by Julia Michaels that was released yesterday. The song is called “Anxiety” and its acoustic sound and chill vibe don’t betray its more serious subject matter, at least at first. “Anxiety” is about dealing with mental illness and how lonely that can feel. The chorus is a repetition of “All my friends they don’t know what it’s like, what it’s like.”
I love Selena Gomez for many reasons. She is honest and kind, especially in her charity work. She is truly talented and dedicated to her craft, stating in a Harper’s Bazaar interview that “if [releasing a new album] takes 10 years, then it takes 10 years. I don’t care. Right now I just want to be super intentional with all of the things I’m doing.” In that interview, and another with GQ, she shows us that she thinks deeply and critically about her place in the world, the industry that both supports and drains her, and her influence on her fans. It’s not all serious too. Selena can also be really fun and lighthearted.
What I admire most about Selena is her openness. The past few years have been tough, and while she has stepped back at times and taken a much needed rest, she has also shared her experiences with lupus and mental health, and how she copes with all of it. For instance, the lyrics of “Anxiety”:
My friends, they wanna take me to the movies
I tell 'em to f-ck off, I'm holding hands with my depression
And right when I think I've overcome it
Anxiety starts kicking in to teach that sh-t a lesson
But all my friends, they don't know what it's like, what it's like
They don't understand why I can't sleep through the night
I've been told that I could take something to fix it
Damn, I wish it, I wish it was that simple, ah
This is a raw and unfiltered description of what it’s like to live with mental illness. This transparency is revolutionary in two ways. First, celebrities as famous as Selena are often expected to be perfect. As fans, we can forget that they’re human at times, and expect them to meet unattainable expectations.
Second, as we often discuss here, celebrity gossip can provide a platform to discuss similar issues in society. Remember when Chris Brown’s abuse of Rihanna sparked a conversation about domestic abuse? Remember when Amber Tamblyn’s open letter to James Woods added to the #MeToo conversation? In the same way, Selena demonstrates how mental illness can affect even the best of us, and a song like “Anxiety” can make someone feel a lot less lonely.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues, as have many of my peers. Anyone who has will immediately recognize the accurate and honest nature of “Anxiety”. A common part of mental illness is thinking that the condition is your fault or somehow made up in your head. Seeing Selena go through the same thing is powerful, because it is both validating and supportive. It makes me feel like I don’t have to go through this alone. But more than that, Selena shows people how to deal with it. She's a strong advocate for self-care and taking time for yourself, but also how to return gracefully. While “Anxiety’s” initially upbeat vibe can seem discordant with its lyrics, it actually belies the true message of the song: Mental illness can’t always be easily solved, but talking about and sharing our collective experiences can make it much more bearable. Bell Let’s Talk Day is Wednesday. Let’s try to keep Selena’s example in mind that day.