Bretman Rock may have been Playboy magazine’s first out gay cover star, but that hasn't made him immune to the gripping anxiety that comes with fame.
In a recent sit-down with Taraji P. Henson and her best friend, Tracie Jade, Rock opened up about living with social anxiety and having panic attacks his entire life, as well as how he's managed these issues into adulthood as a beauty influencer.
"I work at a field where I have to be social, but I struggle so much with social anxiety and you probably can't even tell 'cause my whole entire life, I kinda grew up on the internet," he told Henson on Facebook Watch's Peace of Mind with Taraji. "What if I'm cuter online? Like, what if I'm funnier online and look what — they didn't expect this. So all these thoughts like running through my brain and the other person is probably not even thinking anything that I'm thinking of.”
Rock, who shot to fame with memorable makeup tutorials on YouTube, explained that he never really started to see these kinds of symptoms in himself until he started to become famous. He can remember the first time he noticed them, though.
“It was when I first had to do a meet-and-greet where we have to meet 500 people a day or like 200 people a day," he remembered. "And for me, I'm very sensitive when it comes to energy because I grew up very spiritual, and people's energy genuinely stay[s] with me. Sometimes, being exposed to so many people," he says, it becomes hard to "mask" his emotions and keep a steady energy for each person he meets.
That kind of mindset has even kept him from seeking professional help, he explained.
“I am scared,” he answered when asked why he's never gone to therapy. “I just don't wanna be judged, I guess. I hate feeling judged even though that is literally my job every day is people judging me, and I feel like it's also very hard for me to look people in the eyes sometimes, because of my social anxiety, and like, because of that, it's hard for me to truly, truly, truly connect to people. And when I go to a therapist, I would love to be truly open and tell them everything and like not have to hide everything. And like I think it's just hard for me to talk about my feelings.”
At some points, his panic attacks have been public. One time, he explained, he dealt with one at his local Walmart.
“The last time I got a social panic anxiety attack, I was at my Walmart," he said. "You know me, regular day. And I parked right next to this car and this guy just starts like looking excited. And I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so cute now. And then he pulls out his phone. I started sweating like so much. And it took me like three attempts to even get out of my car. I swear my legs were shaking. I felt like I was walking in like 10-feet stilettos. I couldn't walk. And I just walked back into my car and went home.”
Rock added that the last year's rise of anti-Asian hate crimes due to COVID misinformation hasn't helped. "It's hard for me to speak about it," he said. "It is so traumatizing as an Asian person to watch people that look like you get beaten up.”
Despite the that, Rock maintains that he wants to use his experience to help others, especially those his age.
“I feel like my generation, we are so scared to speak to ourselves," he said. "We are so scared to be alone in our own thoughts. And so something that triggers me a lot is when I start to be alone and I start talking to myself and like, the way I perceive myself online is someone who is so confident and loud. But I just wish that one day my followers could just hear the way I talk to myself sometime, because it's not cute."
He continued, "A lot of people, including me, are so good with masking. Sometimes you don't even know your kid is going through depression because they're so good at masking. And I guess my tip [for parents] would just be a little bit more compassion with your kids and really hear them out, make them feel like they're not crazy. Make them feel like you are trying to understand what they're going through. Instead of telling me I'm going crazy, just be like, ‘breathe.' Tell me to breathe.”