Michelle Williams first came to national prominence as a member of the powerhouse girl group Destiny’s Child with Beyonce and Kelly Rowland. Since the group disbanded in 2006, Williams has appeared multiple times on Broadway and television. But as her career unfolded, Williams has also struggled with clinical depression, suffering suicidal thoughts, a psychotic break, and a broken engagement before finally checking into a mental health treatment program in 2018.
She wrote Checking In: How Getting Real About Depression Saved My Life—and Can Save Yours (Thomas Nelson, May 25) to chronicle what helped her and may help others — the “three-legged stool” of checking in with herself, with God, and with others.
PW talks with Williams about how she found her balance.
(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
What does “checking in” with yourself, with God, and with others mean?
Those are the three things I noticed as the pattern of what I was doing to get well: you check in with yourself, you're aware there's counseling and therapy for you, you do things like prayer, meditation, playing good spiritual music.
You describe yourself as a private person, but in your book, you’ve been generous with sharing things that are very vulnerable about your mental health journey. What inspired you to be fully public about your depression?
I was doing a media day for the [2013 Broadway] show “Fela.” Before you know it, I said it—[that I had clinical depression and have had suicidal thoughts]. Then it was like the shot heard around the world. It was everywhere. I thought, “Oh my gosh, what did I just do?” But when grown men began to pull me to the side and say, “Thank you for sharing your story. I'm going to go get help,” some with tears in their eyes, I was like, 'Wow.'
How did writing the book help you process your experiences?[Nobody else is]
going to tell my story for me. I'm going to tell it. There's a certain amount of myself that I will share with the world — especially for people of color. I don't know if it's because of the struggles that we went through, from generations before, how you had to be strong and you had to appear that you got it all together. You don't tell anybody your business because they'll use it against you and say it's a sign of weakness. And it's like, no. It's a sign of great strength to say, 'I'm feeling weak in this area and I need some help.'
You describe many symptoms of depression, including numbness, anger, crying, and disconnections. What helps you manage these different manifestations?
Now that I have more tools, I'm more self-aware. I'm going to therapy every single week. We're even processing good things and how to stay in a great place. So don't wait, don't think you [only] have to go to counseling when things are going bad.
How does your faith operate in your daily life?
Faith has played a huge role in my life. But it's even more so now on a consistent basis. I get up in the mornings and I give myself that extra time to invest [prayer and meditation] into myself. I think you can be a little stronger to handle things that come your way because you centered yourself. You're like, 'Okay, you’ve got to be glad I prayed today, because if I didn't, my response to you in this email would have been a lot different.' [laughs]
You say in the book, “Guarding the truth was my crutch for too long.” Is honesty an aspect of checking in?
You’ve got to tell the truth. You look truth in the face, you stand in the mirror and that's true. And then you affirm those things that you might want to change. I have a dry-erase board, full of many things that I affirm about me and my future, things that have not happened yet, but that I want to happen. So I'm training myself to be good to myself. If I look in the mirror and be like, 'Girl, you are definitely 41,' that's true. But I affirm myself and say, 'My body is in the best shape it's ever been in and it's operating at the capacity in which it was created to operate.' We have a huge part to play in our health and wellness and our truth.
Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer and co-author of ‘The Yoga Effect: A Proven Program for Depression and Anxiety’ (Da Capo / Lifelong, 2019).