The Getting Curious and Queer Eye star discussed his mental health journey and the pressures of visibility with I Weigh host Jameela Jamil.
Ever since then, he’s been a go-to figure for everything from curly hair hacks to entertainment for the masses with his podcast, Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness.
But Van Ness has also always been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health, and in a recent episode of Jameela Jamil’s I Weigh podcast, he opened up about his own experiences of social anxiety, imposter syndrome and his struggle in overcoming trauma.
In the episode, he recounts being told at school that “everybody knows who you are, but nobody likes you,” and how being bullied as a teenager marked the way he is now.
“I get so hard on myself,” he admits. “If there’s something I didn’t do right, or could have done better, or missed the mark with, it cuts like a knife.”
Van Ness goes on to explain that his childhood trauma led him to becoming “hypervigilant to negative feedback” to the point where he would become “consumed by it,” even if it was meant constructively.
“My mental health is one thing I wish I could put in a box up on a shelf and say: ‘Here, it’s healed, look at how good it looks’ and then never have to look at it again,” he continues.
“But it’s a relationship I’m constantly checking in with.”
In 2019, Van Ness announced publicly that he had been diagnosed as HIV positive when he was 25, and had battled addiction throughout his life.
Describing Covid-19 as the “second pandemic” he’s had to live through following HIV, he tells Jamil: “I had to face so many demons to even go to the Queer Eye audition.”
“I used to suffer from social anxiety. If I didn’t have plans on a Friday and Saturday night, I would think that I’d never find a partner, that people wouldn’t like me.
“I felt like I had to go out every time someone asked. But I was so burned out and kept relapsing because I couldn’t get away from my bottom-line behaviours,” he shared, referencing his drug and sex addictions.
Being so open about the difficulties he has faced is in large what makes Van Ness such a beloved figure. But as he told Jamil, that often comes with a personal price.
“And then I feel really sad for being empty because I should be so happy and proud. I just feel like it can’t be good enough,” he added.
“You’re coming out and ensuring people that there is hope and life beyond this, and that is what is so moving,” Jamil assures him. However, Van Ness explained that a key step in his recovery and mental health journey was becoming comfortable with solitude.
“I used to fear being alone, but now solitude and routine is a really important thing for me and my wellbeing.”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ guide to local mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email email@example.com for confidential support.