The “Lose You to Love Me” singer offers an unflinching look into her journey from anxiety and depression through her bipolar diagnosis to mental health advocacy.
Society has come a long way in acknowledging mental health issues as real and impactful for those suffering with them, but even as recently as when Selena Gomez was first struggling, there was a tremendous lack of empathy or compassion.
Selena was hounded by the media both in her face with paparazzi bombardments and in speculative reports and sensationalized headlines about what she was going through. In her new Apple TV+ documentary, “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” the singer pulls back the curtain to reveal it all herself.
While she’s been open and honest about her struggles with anxiety and depression, it’s one thing to hear someone tell the story of their struggle but entirely different to see it happening in real-time, raw and unfiltered.
Throughout the documentary, Selena is unflinching in allowing the cameras into some of her darker moments, with the whole thing kicking off in 2016 when she is crippled with self-doubt ahead of the opening night show for her “Revival Tour.”
For all intents and purposes, it looked like everything went well with rehearsals, and everyone around her was telling her as much, but it was clear that Selena isn’t even able to hear them. We see her critical of her body, wardrobe, performances, and feeling completely unworthy of this opportunity.
Crying, she even feels the need to apologize to the head of her record company who signed her, even after she was told he was having a great time watching from the sidelines. Even he tried to tell her everything was amazing, but she could not get out of her own head.
That opening scene was important because it set the stage for what was to come. 55 shows later, Selena pulled the plug on the tour, but in a way, it appeared doomed from the start because she wasn’t even capable in her own head to see when it was working.
And it was working, as we saw through screaming fans and powerful singalongs to her biggest hits of the time. Selena would be shocked by those moments on stage, but then the uncertainty and imposter syndrome would kick in again as soon as she was off stage. She didn’t know it yet, but this was all part of her mental health journey; she just didn’t have a diagnosis yet.
Rather than a documentary about the life and times of Selena Gomez, pop star, which this easily could have been, “My Mind & Me” is just that, it’s a documentary about Selena’s relationship with her own mind, her mental health and the challenges it’s given her.
There are snippets of her life before fame, and she returns to her hometown more than once over the years, as well as glimpses into her struggles with lupus and other things, but it’s telling what the documentary doesn’t discuss.
For years, Selena was inextricably linked with Justin Bieber, even after they were broken up. She never utters his name in this documentary, though we hear paparazzi asking about him. She currently stars in the hit series “Only Murders in the Building” with Martin Short and Steve Martin. It is never mentioned.
With a clear vision for what it’s setting out to do, “My Mind & Me” tells the story of Selena’s journey through mental health from when she first started to gain an understanding of herself, to a life-changing experience abroad and ending on where she’s going next in that arena.
It’s a story powerfully told with many impactful scenes, even as they can be very difficult to watch. Selena isn’t always her best self, but she is also surrounded by love (sometimes tough) and support along the way. Below are the ten biggest takeaways from this intimate exploration.
We’re not saying that Selena herself can’t seem to move past her tumultuous relationship with Justin Bieber — as there is a beautiful moment in the documentary where she does just that — but that she can’t seem to shake the ghost of it. As we noted, he was never a topic in this documentary, per se, but he was a constant in the overheard shouts of questions from paparazzi.
The closest he came as a topic was in 2016 while Selena was trying to forge her post-Disney identity, she was asked about their supposed leaked duet, “Strong.” That led her to question when she’ll be enough by herself? Why is it always about her in relation to someone else? Why can’t it just be about her or her music or what she’s doing?
For a woman trying to create her own identity, to be reduced to the ex of Justin Bieber by even her own fans for years and years is diminishing and offensive. Every time she’s asked a question that involves him, it stops being her narrative.
Hypercritical of Self, Body, Everything
In some ways, it’s very much the story of all young people (and especially women) in the entertainment industry. But in Selena’s case in those powerful scenes from 2016, it was so much more relentless than that. She was tearing down everything bout herself, despite any evidence to the contrary.
And what reared up in 2016 in such a profound way it reduced her to tears after a successful rehearsal would continue to recur throughout her career and throughout the rest of the documentary as she continues to find ways to doubt her worthiness to be in this life she lives.
There were a few dark years there for Selena, both in her mental health struggle and in her health itself. She was dealing with lupus and had to have a kidney transplant. With the tour canceled, the media had a field day of speculation about her.
Was it partying? Drugs? Anxiety? Panic attacks? As always, there is some element of truth to the rumor mill, as anxiety and depression and a mental health crisis led to thoughts of suicide. The tour was canceled and she only spiraled worse.
In one interview segment, Selena talked about how awful she was to her friends and family during this time. She doesn’t remember it all, but she remembers enough to still say that she’s not sure they should have stood by her. They, of course, understood that this wasn’t her, it was her mental illness and stress and everything else.
They got it then, but she still struggles to get it or feel worthiness of their continuing forgiveness and acceptance of her just as she is. “How do I learn how to breathe my own breath?” Selena wrote in one of the many diary entries used almost as chapter breaks. How can she learn to love herself, and then to see herself as worthy of their love, too?
Connections She Lacked Growing Up Drive Her
Everyone has their own motivation for why they do what they do, but after having started her career at seven years old on “Barney & Friends,” Selena was off and running before she figured out what hers was. It left her lost for many years.
What she finally learned, though, was that what she craves and derides strength from is human connection. During a visit back to her old middle school, Selena revealed that she was a loner at this time, socially awkward, eating alone. She didn’t have those connections even then.
Throughout, you can see how she lights up when around people who see her as Selena and not Selena Gomez. She introduces herself as such many times, which is a way to emphasize to the viewer how important it is to her to be just Selena as much as possible in her relationships.
A couple of different times, we see Selena going back to the modest, middle-class neighborhood she grew up in. She drops in on an older neighbor, which brings the woman so much joy not because a celebrity came by but because that kid up the street, Selena, remembered her enough to check in. She even remembered her cookies.
All of these grounding moments have Selena interacting with these people from her humble roots as Selena, the kid she grew up with. She visits another neighbor she went to school with later in the episode. While the woman’s daughter freaked out at finding out who it was, the woman herself was so down-to-earth with her old neighborhood pal.
It’s the kind of grounding anyone who lives in the fairy tale world of stardom needs from time to time, and you can see how important it is to Selena to return from time to time to this place that knew her when she was just Selena.
‘Lose You to Love Me’ Turning Point for Self
Written in 45 minutes, this song was a huge part of Selena’s coming out journey as someone who lives with a mental health condition and is not afraid or ashamed to admit so.
All those insecurities crept back up as she looked at relaunching her music career after a tumultuous four years, but this time she was doing so in her truth in a way that was unexpected, empowering and inspirational for so many others. Mental health acceptance was just starting to gain some ground, with her anthem and story a huge part of that.
The documentary briefly covered her AMAs performance, including her anxiety attacks ahead of it, insecurities about being off-key, struggles to stay in key both in rehearsal and on stage and the inevitable media backlash after what some saw as a shaky performance.
It’s all important to show that while Selena is entering this new phase of her career, it’s not like flipping a switch for her or the public and media response to her. And yes, she was still dealing with Justin Bieber nonsense — and still does to this day.
What helped was that immediately after that anxiety-inducing performance, Selena was set to make the philanthropic trip that would change the trajectory of her life. She was already involved with the WE Charity and helped fund a primary school and college for women.
With her friend Raquelle, who is one of those friends you sometimes wish would go away but also know they keep it real and love you so unconditionally you’d be lost with them, Selena met with girls at both schools.
At the primary school, she met a young girl who’d avoided being married off by attending school, while a college-age girl opened up about her family’s financial struggles that pulled her from school for six years. She’d nearly committed suicide, feeling like a burden on her family, but took a moment to step outside of herself and realize what message that would be sending to them. Two weeks later, she got an interview for the college and her life changed forever.
But those moments were nothing to a seemingly innocent change that opened up so much. Selena was talking with a lot of the women, as well as WE Charity founder Craig Kielburger, when she shared her vision for a mental health curriculum as part of the education system in America.
She pointed out that kindergarten students discuss their feelings, but then it stops just as feelings are starting to get more complex. In a candid moment of clarity, Craig asked her, “What’s holding you back from doing it?”
Selena started to cry and fell back on all those insecurities, that she wasn’t smart enough, good enough, capable enough. “The very thing that makes you feel that is why you can relate to others,” he told her. “So it’s the exact reason why you are the perfect person.”
Immediately after this mentally cleansing and enriching African experience, Selena was back to the grind of fame, doing press in London and Paris for the new single and upcoming album. The change in her was immediate.
After a few days of Selena dragging herself through glam and travel and inane interviews, Raquelle actually called her out for seeming to be just miserable. Selena had previously said she hates this part of the job, but she tried to play it off like she was fine.
But she was miserable, finally reaching her breaking point when one interviewer asked her about her future. Selena said that she’d probably do the music, acting, fashion, etc. for a little while longer, but she saw philanthropy as her future.
As soon as she finished speaking, the woman was done with her, having had no interest in what her actual answer was. There was no follow up. No, “You’d give up all the fame for philanthropy?” No, “What moved you to this realization?” No nothing.
With that, Selena realized she was nothing more than a product to that interviewer, not a human being with anything to say. She was something to be packaged. She broke down afterward, saying she was done and revealing that “made me feel like Disney.” She’d spent years of her life trying to get away from that feeling and it all came back. She even lamented that her outfit looked witchy (a la “Wizards of Waverly Place”).
Doesn’t Want to Be Famous
Like everyone else, Selena’s plans were put on hold as the world shut down for Covid, and like many, she also struggled with her mental health. It was also during this time that her lupus, which had been in remission for years, flared back up.
She said she woke up in tears because her whole body hurt before a second round of Rituxin treatment would take the pain away (or back down) for another year or so. It was while struggling with this renewed pain, bad dreams and thoughts of the mistakes of her past, that Selena revealed that she doesn’t want to be famous.
All she wants is to be happy and normal like everyone else, living a normal life. But since that’s not where she is, she feels that she has to use the platform she’s been given to do something good in the world.
That good, she felt, began with talking about mental health with those women in Kenya. By sharing her story and their stories, she felt that maybe she did some good there. But there’s more than can be done.
As she told that disinterested reporter, Selena is proving as good as her word that philanthropy is a huge part of her future. It doesn’t mean giving up music, but her music has become a part of her message on mental healthy advocacy, sharing her own story and experiences.
During the pandemic, she shared a video podcast with a renowned expert on loneliness at a time when the entire world was facing that experience in a profoundly new and challenging way. His message to her and her listeners was that service is the cure to loneliness.
At one point, Raquelle had told Selena that she knew what her calling was, she just didn’t always choose to walk on that path. It’s like when she talked about a mental health curriculum in Kenya, but wasn’t doing anything about it.
Perhaps in part inspired by Craig’s urging, the closing texts of the documentary revealed that Selena has begun the work toward that vision through her Rare Impact Fund.
She’s raised $100 million for free mental health resources for young people and hosted the first-ever Youth Action Forum on Mental Health at the White House, where she and the president discussed her idea of a mental health curriculum for the nation’s schools.
Selena is taking her lived experiences and her platform to do the most possible good with both by working to improve the lives of every child in America.
Her mental health journey is ongoing and will continue to come with its challenges and struggles. With the aid of systems she’s helping to develop, maybe that journey will be a little easier for the next generation.
“Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” is now streaming on Apple TV+.
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (just dial 988) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress.