Wil Wheaton is a 45-year-old actor with a wife and two children. He has worked on hit television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Star Trek- The Next Generation,” has been a New York Times Bestselling Audiobook narrator, has received numerous awards for his work, and has struggled with anxiety and depression despite it all. By learning about Wil Wheaton’s experiences of anxiety and depression, it shows us that everyone has their struggles no matter how successful you are in your career and how important it is to talk about it.
When Wheaton was seven or eight years old, he started having panic attacks. Adults back then thought that he was just suffering from nightmares since there were no names for panic attacks. Wheaton would wake up in terror with the blanket being off the bed by the end of the night. He would sleep on the floor of his sister’s room because he was afraid of being alone. Despite having normal moments as a child, the panic attacks would keep returning always worse than before.
At the age of 13, Wheaton’s anxiety would kick in where he would worry about everything. He was tired, irritable, lack self-confidence, and low self-esteem. Wheaton felt like he could not trust anyone because he was convinced people only wanted to be around him for his fame since he considered himself worthless without it. Wheaton was taught that his anxiety was shameful in that it would reflect poorly on his parents and should be kept a secret. Adults did not take his anxiety symptoms seriously. When he would have trouble breathing while on set, in fear of messing up or being fired, directors and producers claimed he was too difficult to work with. This was when his anxiety turned into depression.
Wheaton has told Medium that he wished he knew what mental illness was. Because he did not know what was wrong with him, he did not know how to ask for help. He also had no idea that mental illness could be treated and that he does not have to continue feeling lousy. Wheaton’s parents did not like to talk about mental illness as they felt like it would be a reflection on them. Wheaton does not blame his parents for not addressing his mental illness because he believed they were blind to the symptoms. His parents grew up believing that mental illness was a sign of weakness and taught their son that. When Wheaton would try to reach for help, he did not know what questions to ask and adults did not know what answers to give.
When Wheaton was 22, he suffered another panic attack in the middle of the night. This caused him to drive to his parent’s house, sleep on the floor of his sister’s room again, and asked his mom the next morning what was wrong with him. Even though his mother knew mental illness ran in the family, she still could not connect the dots that the same thing was happening to her son.
In his twenties, Wheaton started having obsessive behaviors. He would worry about the world around him, holding his breath when he would drive under bridges to avoid crashing his car, tap the side of airplanes to avoid the plane crashing, and would feel like every time he said goodbye to someone would be the last.
Whenever Wheaton wanted to have fun with his friends, he felt like his anxiety would always stop him. Traffic would be too stressful and he would have trouble finding parking. Wheaton would think of all of the “what-if” scenarios that would make him think negatively about every experience. He wished his brain would ask him what would happen if he actually had fun. Wheaton felt like his anxiety would prevent him from living and just solely existing.
After Wheaton had a panic attack and a meltdown at the Los Angeles International Airport, his wife suggested that he get help. He knew how important his wife was to him and that she did not want to see him suffer anymore. When Wheaton went to see a doctor, the doctor said to him, “Please let me help you.” It was not until he was 34 that he realized mental illness was not a weakness. Wheaton started on a low dose of an antidepressant and noticed a big change after taking a walk with his wife in ten years. He noticed the smell of the flowers, the breeze, and the birds without feeling any negativity.
Wheaton started talking about his mental illnesses in 2012. After that, a bunch of people reached out to him online. They shared stories with him and asked him questions about how he got through a bad day or week. He would tell them that his depression feels like a lead blanket weighing him down. While that happens, depression feeds you lies. Wheaton wants people to know how important it is to take care of yourself and the awful feelings do not stick with you forever. Wil Wheaton’s wish is for the government to put more funding into mental health treatments and for more people to be comfortable talking about what they are going through.
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