Welcome to #MentalMoment, a conversation series serving as a mental check-in with our Mental NYC community, advocates, and mental health leaders.
We caught up with our friend Nicole Zimmermann to talk about her ongoing mental health journey and the good and bad side of social media.
Hi Nicole! Take a moment to introduce yourself.
Hi! I’m Nicole. I’m 26 years old and I’m from Upstate New York. I moved to the city after graduating high school, where I obtained my degree in psychology and pursued modeling. Three years ago I moved out to Los Angeles to start fresh and continue modeling. I developed an interest in mental health especially while studying psych and also dealing with my own mental health issues. I’ve seen many mental health issues arise from the industry I’m in, so that only made my interest grow. My goal is to pursue a career which helps people struggling with their mental health, whether through addiction, depression, or anxiety, and next year I plan on going back to school for my masters in this. Over this past year I have been doing a great amount of work on myself and learning more and more each day about mental health in relation to me, and on a larger scale. In addition to this, I am very passionate about the arts. I spend a lot of time writing, drawing, and taking pictures.
When did you first realize mental health was something you wanted to prioritize?
To be honest, it took me awhile to come to terms with my state of mental health and the importance of it in general. I literally came out of the womb an anxious mess! [laughs] For as long as I can remember I have struggled with anxiety. It has surfaced in a variety of different ways throughout my life, but it has always been a constant. As I got older I began to experience depression as well. This, coupled with the anxiety led me to engage in unhealthy self-medicating behaviors. I learned to dissociate and escape from a very young age, and for awhile it served me - I was too young to know better. But as I entered young adulthood I realized that my escaping mechanisms were hurting me way more than they were helping me, and my mental health was deteriorating day by day. It was a few years ago that I really became aware of the importance of taking care of my mental health. I started stripping away the things I had turned to for relief for so many years, and began replacing them with healthier ways of coping. It’s still not easy, and I still struggle with my mental health every single day of my life, but it’s way better to actually cope with what’s going on inside of my head than escaping with self-destructive behavior. I think that mental health is something that many, many people struggle with, especially now with the rise of social media. For awhile mental health was not something that was taken seriously and there was a negative stigma attached to it, but I am glad that recently a new light has been shed on this subject matter, helping those who are struggling to feel less alone.
What does that look like as part of your current self-care routine?
For me, prioritizing my mental health requires a lot of work. It requires creating healthy boundaries and never putting myself in situations or surrounding myself with people that I know aren’t good for me. It requires waking up every morning and meditating to start my day, even when I really don’t want to. It is working out and incorporating some type of physical movement into my day to get my blood flowing. It is journaling, being present, taking walks, reaching out to friends. It is taking contrary action when all I wanna do is wallow in my self-pity. Reading, drawing, photography, and any kind of creative outlet. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not do all of these things every single day… and some days I don’t do any of them, but when I do I am less likely to get in my own head.
What does taking a Mental Moment, or mental check-in, look like for you?
Oh god, I am the worst with mental check-ins to be honest! When I find myself in a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation it is very hard for me to remember to do mental check-ins. But I guess the best advice I can give is to breathe, as cliche as that sounds. Breathe into your body and whatever emotion you are feeling, and try to use your breathing to let it flow through you. Taking deep breaths is proven to help reduce stressful emotions. Maybe take a moment to make a mental or physical gratitude list! Still something I am working on.
What is a mountain or obstacle you have faced on your mental health journey?
One of the biggest obstacles I have faced, and continue to face, is addiction. Because my anxiety and depression bring up a lot of negative feelings, I find myself escaping every chance I get and this in turn creates an addictive personality. And “addiction” isn’t only subjected to drugs and alcohol. You can really be addicted to anything - food, working out, working, sex, etc. So I always have to be conscious of this and make sure I am never taking anything to an unhealthy level. I got sober from drugs and alcohol a little over a year now and that has definitely been my greatest accomplishment on my mental health journey. I am currently working on some other things that I struggle with too. It’s a lifelong process.
As someone who has been vocal about advocating for mental health through social media, what is your relationship with platforms like Instagram and how do you think it can be used for good?
Ahhh… instagram is a tricky one. I feel like it can be both extremely toxic and extremely uplifting at the same time. To be completely honest, it tends to be more toxic than helpful for me most of the time. I find myself comparing myself to others a lot and it definitely doesn’t help with my anxiety. The problem with instagram, as we all know, is that people are posting only one tiny little fraction of what their lives actually are, and most of the time this fraction is all of the good stuff that is happening to them. It is very easy to manipulate your life into looking perfect on instagram. And even though we all know this, I think it’s hard not to let it get to you and it’s hard to see it for what it really is. But by the same token I think instagram also has a lot of power to help people, especially when others are willing to be authentic and share their struggles. I follow a lot of self-love pages and motivational speakers which makes instagram a bit of a more light-hearted and positive space. I also think that lately there is this whole new wave of authenticity sweeping through instagram and there is more of an awareness being brought to mental health. I absolutely love this. I try to be as authentic as I can on instagram. I share a lot of my struggles which can help others who are going through similar things. I always get such an amazing response from my followers when I do so, and it’s been inspiring me to keep adding more and more of this to my feed. BUT at the same timeI am also human and I definitely think a lot of my feed would lead others to believe that my life is amazing and perfect, but it’s far from that…. I promise.
As a generation we have definitely shifted into a comparison culture even though we know most of what we see on social media is a highlight reel. What is a common misconception people might have about you and your story?
I post a lot of traveling and modeling pictures on my instagram and facebook, which may lead people to believe that my life is perfect and fun all the time. What they don’t see though, is how much the traveling kicks up my anxiety and depression. They don’t see that sometimes when I’m away in some beautiful location, I can’t even find the energy to leave my bed. They don’t see how bad I am at self-care when I am away and how terrible this leaves me feeling. They also don’t see how mentally taxing modeling can be and that sometimes I go weeks and even months without a single job. They don’t see how hard it is to be rejected time and time again or how we are constantly scrutinized for every little thing on our faces and bodies. They don’t see how lonely and isolating this industry can be.
With all of that said, I feel very grateful to be traveling and getting to see so many beautiful places at such a young age, and there are just as many highs as there are lows. I also feel very grateful for my career and all of the doors it has opened for me and all of the beautiful people it has led me to.
But I think that everyone should take everything on instagram with a grain of salt, and remember that at the end of the day we are all just humans and we are all struggling with something, no matter how glamorous our lives may look.
What does a #MentalMoment look like for you? Submit your story on Instagram by tagging @mentalnyc and include #MentalMoment.