Wil Wheaton is part of a select group of people who managed to emerge from childhood stardom relatively unscathed. After starring in films like Stand By Me and going through his awkward teen years on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wheaton managed to continue having personal and professional success by focusing his career on sharing the nerdy things he loves. But that’s not to say his life has been free of difficulty. Recently, before speaking at a conference for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Wheaton shared his remarks on his blog, speaking candidly about his lifelong struggle with chronic depression.
My life is, by every objective measurement, very very good.
And in spite of all of that, I struggle every day with my self esteem, my self worth, and my value not only as an actor and writer, but as a human being.
That’s because I live with Depression and Anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation.
And I’m not ashamed to stand here, in front of six hundred people in this room, and millions more online, and proudly say that I live with mental illness, and that’s okay. I say “with” because even though my mental illness tries its best, it doesn’t control me, it doesn’t define me, and I refuse to be stigmatized by it.
So. My name is Wil Wheaton, and I have Chronic Depression.
It’s important for Wheaton to frame his depression this way—as something that persists despite all the wonderful opportunities he’s been given—because unlike other physical illnesses or disabilities, depression often can’t be seen from an outside perspective. That’s why, during the height of his teenage fame, he suffered largely in silence, dealing with crippling anxiety and panic attacks while adults stood idly by, not sure what to do. “Mental Illness was something my family didn’t talk about,” he writes. “When they did, they talked about it like it was something that happened to someone else, and that it was something they should be ashamed of.”
As Wheaton got older, his depression manifested into obsessive behaviors and suicidal thoughts. Still, it took years before he was ready to accept that what he was experiencing wasn’t a weakness or something that was his fault, but rather an illness that can be managed and treated like any other. He started to get help and the help started to work. Now, he hopes that sharing his story will further diminish the stigma around mental illness in our society and maybe even help some kid out there that’s feeling like he once did.
“I spent the first thirty years of my life trapped in that dark, loud room, and I know how hopeless and suffocating it feels to be in there, so I do everything I can to help others find their way out,” he writes. “I do that by telling my story, so that my privilege and success does more than enrich my own life.”
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