Zachary Levi Reveals Mental Breakdown, Battle With Anxiety, Depression – The Hollywood Reporter


Zachary Levi Reveals Mental Breakdown, Battle With Anxiety, Depression - The Hollywood Reporter

Zachary Levi wrote a paper on June 28 entitled “ Radical Love: Learning to accept yourself and others. Inside is the Shazam! Franchise star reveals that his journey to getting to a place where he could fully practice self-love and acceptance was difficult as he had a lifelong struggle with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem due to being in a complicated and difficult situation growing up in an abusive household full of high expectations.

The 41-year-old actor says he was unable to pinpoint his problems until a dramatic downward spiral led him to a nervous breakdown at age 37, a situation so urgent that he sought treatment for three weeks after being overcome by suicidal thoughts. Prior to the publication of Harper Horizon’s book, Levi joined veteran presenter and journalist Elizabeth Vargas heart of the matter Podcast for Partnership to End Addiction to discuss all of this in an unabashedly honest interview debuting June 28th.

Levi, known for working on other high-profile projects such as Chuck, Tangled, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, American Underdog and The Mauritanian (and the upcoming Shazam! wrath of the gods), also touched on the misconception that wealthy and/or public figures were free from such struggles as the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams affected him, why he delayed release radical love and the rituals he practices to stay in a sane place.

The podcast’s opening moments featured Vargas — someone who is open about her own struggles with substance abuse and anxiety (and recovery), as detailed in her book Between breaths — praises Levi’s book as “amazing” and “amazingly honest” for how he describes his mental health struggles.

“I’ve struggled with this stuff for most of my life. I didn’t realize I was struggling with these things until I was 37, about five years ago, and I was having a complete nervous breakdown,” Levi explained, before revealing his struggles started in his teens, when he grew up in a complicated household. “For most of my life I grew up in a household where my stepfather was a perfectionist of the highest order, his bar was so high it was impossible to reach, and then a mother who was a borderline personality. So she didn’t have an impossibly high bar. She had an impossible target because it was constantly moving. Anyone who spends time with borderline personalities, if I came home and my mom was in a good mood, I could tell her, ‘Hey, I didn’t do well on that test in school,’ and she’d be like, ‘Oh , Don’t worry. There will be another test and we can work on that.” Whatever it was, but if she was in a bad mood, it was the end of the world. I was a disgrace to the family. I mean it was a lot of vitriol, a lot of shouting.”

As he got older, Levi, like so many in his position, treated his problems with a combination of substances and vices. “I ran into a lot of other things, whether it was sex or drugs or alcohol or things to distract myself from to numb myself from the pain I’ve been running from most of my life,” he explained at length. “The irony is that alcohol can give you that temporary relief, but then amplify that anxiety tenfold the next day. So you run back to get more and it just becomes this vicious cycle.”

Levi’s career also played a role in how he beat himself up. At one point, he believed that moving to Austin and building a film studio would be right for his purpose in life. “My career was at a point where I felt like even though I had accomplished so many things up to that point, I still was, and to be honest I still feel that way now. I feel like I’m looking a little bit from the outside and looking inside. I never really felt like I was part of a cool kid group,” he said, adding that those feelings can be traced back to childhood as a “nerdy” kid who was often bullied. “I think that’s what got me into my career in Hollywood, and it’s backed up to you in the lies you tell yourself, if you don’t get certain jobs, you don’t get hired to do that movie or that show, that.” level of director or producer or actor or whatever it is.

Vargas asked Levi to describe the panic attack that ultimately prompted him to seek treatment, and he said he moved to Austin and is having trouble doing routine jobs like unpacking boxes and navigating to a restaurant. The feeling of depression mixed with self-loathing and panic created an emotional scene.

“I probably drove around for 10 minutes without knowing where to eat because I didn’t know which place was the right place to eat, instead of just being like, ‘Zach, just go eat something. It does not matter. It doesn’t matter if you go to that pizzeria or that Chinese place or whatever. Just go get something to eat. If you’re hungry, go eat something,” he continued. “I’m sitting in my truck and I vividly remember holding onto the wheel and just shaking back and forth like I’m almost trying to shake myself out of what was going on and I’m just crying . I’m just crying I say, ‘God, help me.’”

He later recounts how he ended up going to the emergency room because of suicidal thoughts. “I had very active thoughts about ending my life,” he revealed. “It wasn’t the first time I’ve had them. I had been in dark places before in my life but I guess in those moments I had people around me. I stupidly had, I mean, I think I made the right choice in moving to Austin. I don’t think I did it exactly right. I didn’t realize I was running from so much, but I moved here and didn’t have anyone. I had no support structure. … So, in this particular moment, I’m out here in this beautiful city, but basically alone, and the darkness surrounds me again. The lies whisper in my ear and the failure that I felt like I was enough to say, ‘Zach, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to make it.’

At the suggestion of a “dear friend,” he sought psychiatric treatment and spent three weeks in “intense, life-changing, life-saving therapy.”

During the interview, he also spoke about how he was affected by the suicides of Bourdain, Williams and Kate Spade. Levi said of Williams: “Robin, he was my hero. His talent, his heart, the way he loved people, the way he loved the homeless, the way he cared for them, he was a really, truly, deeply compassionate person who really cared about other people cared and yet it was tortured in his own mind. I think maybe that’s partly why he felt so committed to bringing joy into the world. I felt very, very similar to that.”

When he died: “It really, really, really, really, really shook me up because I felt like if he doesn’t make it, I don’t know how I’m going to ultimately continue navigating this life unless I do.” I can somehow figure out how not to keep falling into those places of depression and anxiety.

Though Levi has worked through his issues, he still lives with them and is able to cope through a healthy routine that focuses on good nutrition, exercise, and sleeping habits. “Prayer and meditation are very important, which are also somewhat synonymous in a way, I think. Sometimes my prayer is meditation. Sometimes I just stand there and allow God to take over what this time is like. I’m not really saying anything, just passing time. I think one of the most important things, at least for me, is capturing my thoughts. Our mind is so powerful, but it’s so easy, so easy to hijack, if we don’t actually say, “Oh wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I’ll do it again I start talking bad about myself again. I start to be tough or self-critical. I’m starting to judge where I am in my life.’”

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