As a fellow musician, Philippa Hanna is all-too-aware that the spotlight cannot cure low self-esteem, or meet our need for connection. Only God can do that
In the opening scenes of My Mind and Me, Selena Gomez’s own voice can be heard reading excerpts from her personal diary. I’m bracing myself for the typical pop-star ‘tell-all’, complete with family lawsuits and paparazzi car-chases, but that’s not what Alek Keshishian serves up in this biographical documentary that chooses instead to focus squarely on the singer’s mental health journey.
Gomez’s experiences resemble many of those that 1 in 4 of us will reportedly encounter in our lifetime; and I admit that I found myself relating to many of her struggles.
Like Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, Gomez first found fame on the Disney Channel. Best known for her catchy songs, baby-faced beauty and well-documented relationship with Justin Bieber, she certainly has star quality. It’s no surprise that she was talent scouted, aged just seven years old, for children’s TV show Barney & Friends. In addition to her TV career, she has executive producer credits, award-winning albums and philanthropic efforts on her CV.
The spotlight doesn’t offer a cure for low-self-esteem or loneliness
But it has not always been plain sailing for the ex-child star. In 2015, she was diagnosed with Lupus, an auto-immune disease that required her to undergo chemotherapy. And, as a result of her illness, she needed a kidney transplant in 2017.
Behind the scenes breakdown
My Mind and Me is an artistically-produced documentary that begins with behind-the-scenes footage of preparation for her 2016 tour. Rehearsals and rhinestone encrusted dress-fittings seem glamorous to begin with, but it quickly becomes clear that Selena is struggling. Tearfully offloading to her team, she talks about the pressure of being female, the inner voices which taunt her for missing stage cues and the agony of catching her projection on the large screens around her. She scrutinises her body shape and says she feels undeserving of her platform.
I’m painfully familiar with these emotional rabbit holes. Watching these scenes took me back to a personal low that I, too, experienced on tour. It’s never easy being the opening act but, as the shows wore on, I became fretfully focused on the way others perceived me. Despite the positive audience responses, all those eyes assessing me every night began to take its toll.
On stage, I was a vocal advocate for knowing your worth in God. Yet the voices of self-doubt began to drown out my sense. One night, after struggling to find an outfit I felt comfortable in, I ran out of time to fix my hair. It was the final straw. I thought: How can I face this room full of people when I feel so low?
At that moment, I just wanted to hide under a blanket and cry. But my faith narrowly prevailed and I played the show. It was an important reminder that you can know all the right things and still not feel them. You can be a speaker of the truth, yet struggle to believe it. Selena Gomez has spoken openly about her Christian faith in interviews and on social media. Throughout the documentary, she is filmed praying. She references her faith often. It should be no surprise, but it is a timely reminder: mental health issues can affect us all, even if we have a strong relationship with God.
Drowning out the crowd
As a fellow musician, I can’t help but wonder if the adulation of others makes us more self-critical. Thousands of adoring fans chant Gomez’s lyrics. Meet-and-greet lines teem with tearful devotees, but anxiety only mounts for the singer. 55 shows into her 2016 world tour (and that’s no mean feat!) she is admitted to a facility to receive urgent treatment for her mental health. Her family says she’s lucky to have recovered at all.
Mental health issues can affect us all, even if we have a strong relationship with God
My journey as a performer has taught me many hard lessons. One of the most important is that the spotlight doesn’t offer a cure for low-self-esteem, or loneliness. The truth is that only being firmly rooted in God’s love can give us the peace we crave. I suspect it doesn’t help when other voices are permitted to be louder in our lives than the voice of God.
My Mind and Me doesn’t have a Disney-style happy ending, but it does offer some optimism. Gomez’s work with students in Kenya seems transformative, and the singer’s empathy for others also struggling with their mental health is clear to see. It’s something I can also relate to. It is so encouraging that God can use our personal struggles to expand our hearts in this precious way. Just as Paul said: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I applaud Gomez for her bravery and openness, and pray that it indeed leads others to seek help when it is needed and, ultimately, find comfort in God.