by Sara Gaynes Levy-Vogue
From the outside, Gisele Bündchen’s life can look so perfect, it’s almost surreal: adorable kids, dream job, superstar quarterback husband, and Instagram caption after caption projecting love, peace, and positivity. But as she reveals in her new memoir, Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life, her success doesn’t mean the model has always felt secure in her mental health. In an excerpt from the book published by Page Six, Bündchen reveals some of the difficult issues she’s faced, including claustrophobia, panic attacks, and thoughts of death and dying.
“It felt like everything in my life was going to kill me,” writes the supermodel (who told People in a separate interview that she had her first panic attack on a flight in 2003). “First it was the airplanes, then elevators. Then it was tunnels and hotels and modeling studios and cars. Now it was my own apartment. Everything had become a cage, and I was the animal trapped inside, panting for air. I couldn’t see a way out, and I couldn’t stand another day of feeling this way.” The supermodel says that’s when her thoughts of death and dying began: “The idea swept over me: Maybe it will be easier if I just jump. It will be all over. I can get out of this. When I think back on that moment, and that 23-year-old girl, I want to cry. I want to tell her that everything will be all right, that she hasn’t even begun to live her life. But in that moment, the only answer seemed to be to jump.”
Bündchen’s story may seem surprising, especially considering the Brazilian’s trademark vivaciousness and carefree spirit. And yet it recalls the same feeling of surprise that many felt when news broke that the effervescent Kate Spade and the intrepid Anthony Bourdain had died by suicide earlier this year. Or that wisecracking Chrissy Teigen had postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter Luna. “We have this perception that for famous, beautiful, wealthy people, nothing that could possibly be wrong,” says Shairi Turner, M.D., M.P.H., the chief medical officer for Crisis Text Line. “But mental illness is an equal opportunity employer. Once we are able to deconstruct this myth, we will change the face of mental health treatment.”
The unfortunate reality is, right now, deaths by suicide are increasing in this country—by roughly 25 percent in the last few decades—and Turner says that stories like Bourdain’s and Spade’s can be triggering for people dealing with depression and anxiety (reach-outs to Crisis Text Line spiked after both deaths). But, she stresses, it’s also why stories like Bündchen’s are so important. “She is able to reflect back on anxiety and thoughts of death and dying make it real for people,” says Turner. “It’s empowering. It allows people to say, ‘Someone like that seems like they have everything, but they still have a human response to tough situations, and they’ve made it through.’ ”
Bündchen says in her memoir that she has recovered, and she credits her road to mental health to consulting with doctors, and quitting cigarettes, cutting back on alcohol, and kicking her thrice-daily caffeine habit. Currently she practices yoga, meditation, and she and husband Tom Brady follow a meticulously healthy diet. “I do not want people to think that by quitting smoking and drinking and making dietary changes, they can solve or treat themselves,” says Turner. “But, these are all pieces of a puzzle. Things that promote better physical health promote better mental health, too.”
So, too, does feeling supported in sharing one’s feelings of hopelessness and sadness—something that may one day seem less daunting as the cultural conversation around depression, anxiety, and, specifically, suicide continues to evolve. The power of celebrity, after all, can include its ability to bring awareness and spark honest contemplation around crucial issues. As more voices like Bündchen’s join the mental health conversation, dispelling the fallacy of perfection along the way, the old taboos slowly lose their grip.