Too often we hear from people who are worried that they can’t achieve their dreams or have a successful career because of their mental health issues. We hope our “Working It” interview series proves that it’s possible to do that and so much more.
You can read previous interviews here.
TWLOHA: For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you introduce yourself?
Whitney: My name is Whitney Fenimore, I’m a 28-year-old singer-songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m a contestant on Season 13 of The Voice!
TWLOHA: Being someone who grew up singing in a church and playing in Christian bands, has your faith helped or hindered your mental health in any way?
Whitney: You know, at times my faith helped me in my journey, but it also hindered it in a way. It’s hard to explain. I grew up in sort of a strict, conservative Christian environment, and I ended up being not so conservative when I grew up. It gave me a lot of anxiety to be different from how I was raised. There was, however, a lot of hope for me within my faith—but a lot of judgement came from within the community I grew up in as well. I love where I came from. Love it. But at times, it’s been hard. I had to learn how to have my own faith journey and not worry about what everyone thought about me. Stay true to who I was. No matter what.
TWLOHA: Can you touch on the struggles you faced when you moved from your home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 24 to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music?
Whitney: I moved to LA when I was about 24 to pursue a publishing deal with a songwriting company. I thought it was going to be my big break, but it wasn’t. It definitely led to a lot of great opportunities, but it wasn’t the end all be all. I felt the pressure to try and make it, and I began to struggle to find myself as an artist and a person. Who was I? What was I about? What did I really believe? These questions weighed heavily on me day in and day out. I was questioning a lot in my life—even my faith—and that just led me to a dark place. All of that piled up and I eventually broke and started having massive panic attacks.
There would be times where I thought that I was literally dying. My chest would get tight, I would shake, the room would spin, I couldn’t catch my breath. I would tell my friends to call 9-1-1. I was obsessed with my health and started to develop OCD over it. I couldn’t concentrate on my music and I got incredibly depressed. All of my thoughts turned negative.
I truly had no idea what depression was until I went through it. I had heard people say, “I’m sad” or “I’m depressed.” For me though, depression wasn’t even feeling, it was legitimately having NO feelings. I was just numb. I struggled to eat, sleep, and work. I stopped music, stopped working out, stopped doing all the things I loved to do. I hit rock bottom. I thought, ‘this is the end for me.’
I eventually tried to get on a plane and head back home to Oklahoma, but I couldn’t. I had another panic attack. So, the next day my dad flew to LA to take me home. It was embarrassing, but I needed help.
TWLOHA: How did you move forward?
Whitney: When I got home, it took me almost eight months to get to a better place. Even though I thought I wasn’t “bad” enough to need a therapist, I started seeing one. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to get my feelings out to someone who wasn’t going to judge me. Therapists are there to help, and seeing one has been amazing for me.
I also went to my family doctor who suggested medication. And let me say, meds are not for everyone. But for me it was necessary. I really think they helped save my life. But I didn’t rely on just medication though, I made sure I was doing yoga, taking walks around the block, going for hikes, eating right, spending time with friends, listening to encouraging podcasts, watching funny movies, and meeting with friends who had struggled with anxiety and depression and made it to the other side!
It was a long, scary road, but I was determined to overcome my illnesses. And that’s the thing, people need to understand that depression and anxiety are illnesses. If you have diabetes, you take insulin. If you’re depressed, the chemicals in your brain aren’t balanced, and it’s imperative that you treat it.
TWLOHA: What steps did you take to care for your mental health while being on such a demanding and widely popular show?
Whitney: When I got invited to be on The Voice, I had been working at a local coffee shop for about a year. I hadn’t experienced a panic attack in a long time. And leading up to that moment, each day I was getting better and better, slowly climbing out of this downward spiral. So, I decided I had to do it, I had to try.
I was definitely nervous though, seeing that The Voice took place in LA. I thought LA would be a trigger for me. But, I haven’t had a single panic attack, and I think that’s because I’ve learned how to manage my anxiety and depression. I’m in touch with my feelings, so whenever I feel myself getting down, I go for a run or meditate.
TWLOHA: In a package that played before one of your performances on The Voice, you spoke candidly about your mental health. What inspired you to be so upfront and transparent about a topic that is surrounded by stigma?
Whitney: Going through depression and anxiety was one of the worst times in my life, and I want so badly to help anyone that has ever or will ever go through it. I want to let them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—no matter how dark and grim your situation may be—there is always light. Never, ever let go of hope. It’s always there. Even when you can’t feel it.
And listen, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a quick or easy fix. Reading the good book or finding positivity wasn’t enough for me. Sometimes it takes more, and that’s more than OK.
TWLOHA: What would you say to those who think they can’t maintain a successful career while also treating their mental illness?
Whitney: I would tell them that they can totally maintain a career and care for themselves! But, let me say this: There may be times when you have to lay down your career for a minute to focus on your mental health.
When I was alone and struggling in LA, I had a dear friend tell me, “Hey, music will always be here, but you need to go home and take care of you so you can always be here.” It was like a punch to the gut, but I needed to hear it. I had to lay down music for a season so I could pick it up again when I was stronger. And guess what? That’s 100% OK.
Check out Whitney performing on The Voice: