Cara Delevingne is known first and foremost as a model -- a profession often dismissed as vapid or depthless. She's been fighting that stigma her entire career, and now is battling another: the taboo of mental illness.
In a conversation with English actor Rupert Everett as part of the 2015 Women In The World summit in London last week, Delevingne speaks openly and honestly about her mental health history. It's strange to think that a young woman (and, specifically, an 'It' girl) living unapologetically is a radical move, but for those who look to figures like Delevingne for guidance, it's a necessity.
Delevingne begins with a poem she says she wrote when she "wasn't very happy" one year ago:
Who am I? Who am I trying to be?
Not myself, anyone but myself.
Living in a fantasy to bury the reality,
Making myself the mystery,
A strong facade disguising the misery.
Empty, but beyond the point of emptiness,
Full to brim with fake confidence,
A guard that will never be broken,
Because I broke a long time ago.
I’m hurting but don’t tell anyone.
No one needs to know.
Don’t show or you’ve failed.
Always okay, always fine, always on show.
The show must go on.
It will never stop.
The show must not go on,
But I know it will.
I give up. I give up giving up.
I am lost.
I don’t need to be saved,
I need to be found.
Delevingne says feelings of depression, which she so correctly describes as a "reoccurring thing," started in school:
"I really wanted to do well at school to please my parents, to please my family. I didn’t really care that much about school because I knew I was never going to be very good at it. I think I pushed myself so far, I got to the point where I had a bit of a mental breakdown...I got to the point where I was a bit mad. I was completely suicidal, didn’t want to live anymore. I thought that I was completely alone. I also realized how lucky I was and what a wonderful family, wonderful friends I had, but that didn’t matter. I wanted the world to swallow me up, and nothing seemed better to me than death. I got taken out of school, went to therapy, got put on anti-depressants, clawed my way back to some sort of rational thought, which took a while."
In the days following this statement, multiple news outlets leapt upon Delevingne's use of the phrase "completely suicidal" as an easy headline. What many failed to highlight was her explanation of how she coped with these feelings, and how she continues to do so.
Even after Delevingne found success in the world of modeling, her battles with mental health persisted; in some ways, they were heightened. Her form of healing? Writing:
"Writing was something that really saved my life. It was like, I would write and I would read what I’d written, and it was like someone else is talking to me… it was like, ‘What? Is that how I feel?’ It was a very strange experience...I didn't cry a lot. I thought emotion as a kid a weakness."
There's a certain delicacy to the way Delevingne details her mental difference—she reflects with totalities. "This is how I felt then. This happens every once in a while. I wasn't aware of this, now I see why I felt this," she says.
It's not a simplistic, skeletal reading, but a rational one. By outlining her own experience instead of speaking to some greater definition of depression, Delevingne adds to a universal conversation. This is true for other public figures who speak openly about their relationship with mental health, but Delevingne's words take on another form: She's been facing naysayers since day one. In 2015, she's a pro.
If anyone tries to delegitimize her, at this point in time, it's as if they don't exist. They're not part of the conversation. What's of value is what she chooses to share, and the connection it creates with those who listen.
"I have so many message in terms of young girls, how mental illness and depression is not something to be ashamed of. I wish at that time I realized that other people go through it, that I could talk to other people...that you're not alone, you're not an alien. My message has always been to accept yourself no matter what. Love yourself, embrace your flaws. I think flaws are the things that make us special. The cracks within us are the beautiful parts that need to have light shed on them or else they're just left."
There's obvious power to Delevingne's words. She's popular because she is different. She's weird—hell, the entirety of her initial modeling success was predicated on having large, unplucked eyebrows. Here, her experiences are actually genderless, but have special resonance with women, specifically young women: opinions, thoughts, feelings and states of mental health all have real value, even within a society that attempts to trivialize them. Even if someone is not in a state to recognize that value, it still exists. That's a powerful thing.