We all know the feeling of not being enough for this world. We feel the pressure of society and only make it harder on ourselves than it already is. We want to fit into the ideals and reach our goals while having as many friends as possible and try to look as “perfect” as possible. We live in a world that makes it difficult to stand against the normative standards. 25% of the population in the EU deal with depression and anxiety disorders every year. Still, it is a subject that remains a taboo. Tommy Laurens, a model and LGBTQ activist, has been dealing with mental health issues – although he leads a happy life. How is that possible?
It’s a bright sunny morning in Paris. The sun is shining, the coffee’s great and the mood on set, which is close to the famous “Place de la République”, is good. A group of young creatives meets up. Each person has their own style. And everyone has their own story. One of them being Tommy Laurens, the model of the day. To be honest, he looks good, has a great job and an incredible social environment. A young man, who’s in the midst of living his life and has specific goals. How can he not be doing great? His muscles say the exact opposite?! We can’t look into other people, and even less so can we imagine what’s really behind the seemingly perfect picture or outfit. Because Tommy, who appears extremely motivated and humorous, knows the dark moments. When his head doesn’t say what he wants it to and when his body doesn’t feel what he should be feeling.
“A year ago, I had the first panic attack – it came out of nowhere”, he admits. His voice is soft. After a long night of partying, he came home and something happened that he couldn’t explain. “My heart started pounding. My roommate was completely overwhelmed and thought it was because of the alcohol. I had no idea what was going on inside of me. He then called a friend who could help me – he had had attacks like this too. But I didn’t know that.” Tommy’s life changed at that moment. Suddenly, Tommy couldn’t ride the metro without having anxiety attacks, he began avoiding clubs and alcohol and cigarettes were off limits. “These attacks tore me out of life, happened more frequently and were simply inexplicable to me. I was ashamed.” Getting out of bed gets more difficult, you’re always in a bad mood or even sad. “Although I’m actually a happy and funny person”, he adds. But he also sees the good. Apart from ending his cigarette consumption, he finally speaks openly about his feelings. The 28-year-old works for a French company and works as a model on the side, travels around the world, recently visited Brazil and Israel, is active almost every day and loves life. One does not rule out the other. You can have mental issues, be sick and still remain strong, fight and love life. Society just needs to accept it.
“If you aren’t experiencing it, you can’t understand it”, Tommy says while sipping on his green tea. “The pain is indescribable and you want it to stop and from one second to the next, you don’t see the sense in it all.” What kind of pain? “They’re different. Do you know the feeling, when you get terrible news? I have that all the time. Out of nowhere. This feeling is then followed by stabbing pain, in the upper body for example.” What do you do then? “I want to sleep, take pain medication and hope that it’ll pass.” Tommy knows that he can’t give up and continues to fight. However, taking pain medication like antidepressants long term isn’t the solution for him. “I try to solve the problems differently. That’s why a couple of months ago, I contacted a hypnotherapist that has hypnotized me several times already.” Hypnosis against mental issues? What sounds absurd at first could make sense. In reality, there are many possibilities to handle depressive moods: with medication like antidepressants, psychotherapeutic measures or with ergo therapeutic therapy. “The hypnosis has shown me that my issues today, my anxiety attacks, have to do with my past.” Tommy’s voice begins to get shaky. “I never handled my mother’s death properly, as I was taught to be strong and keep on going – the feelings of sadness, the emptiness, I ignored them. Although it happened many years ago, everything comes back up and influences my psyche.”
Keyword STRONG. Society beats for strength. Especially men aren’t allowed to show feelings or weakness – and that is wrong and dangerous. So, Tommy had to pretend to be the unbreakable, strong guy. Many years later, he stands up for himself and admits that problems don’t just go away on their own. The anxiety, that these problems reflect in panic attacks, are here. “I have a panic attack and realize that they can always come back. Yes, until the end of my life. That scares me. Do I want to live like that?” It’s important to talk about it. Right now, Tommy is in pain. He feels his breast. It’s an emotional moment. A moment that can be overwhelming if you don’t know anything about mental issues. Even more important to bright it to light. Tommy admits that the attacks and mood swings have brought on terrible things. “Suddenly I have these awful thoughts. I imagine that I have an incurable disease and that I’m going to die soon. Only a doctor can calm me down and say that there are no signs to prove that.” Tommy lives on. He doesn’t let that bring him down but needs to involve his friends and family. Just as his boss, because everyday life isn’t normal anymore. “I had to tell her what was wrong with me. Because yes, it just so happens that I feel bad at work. She looks at me and now knows what’s going on. That gives me some security.” How can loved ones react in such situations? “The best thing is a distraction. I think that this vicious cycle exists precisely because you keep on thinking about the mood swings, which creates more anxiety and it just gets worse. That’s why it’s helpful to take your mind off things.” Tommy’s facial expression is rigid. He says that he’s tired. Whether that’s due to the hours-long shoot or his mental issues, is hard to estimate. Soon it’ll be time for a well-deserved vacation. But he can’t look forward to it. “I’m afraid that I’m going to get the worst attacks during the best moments. That’s already happened before. I was on a paradise-like beach and hat a terrible panic attack. No dreamlike setting in this world, no money, can protect you from mental issues”, Tommy asserts. Many affected can’t explain their situation. Often times because they’re “doing fine”, they “have everything” and health issues have only ever been physical. It is a first and leaves many, especially young people, clueless.
It’s warm outside. Tommy would love to just keep all of the AllSaints-looks, he admits laughingly. The range of emotions is long. And that’s ok. Good and bad can’t always be kept apart. And so, we talk about the beautiful things in life like traveling, exploring new cultures, but also terrible confessions that give you goosebumps. “There are moments when I think I’m going to die. No matter how well I was doing a few seconds ago.” Suicidal thoughts can occur during mood swings and need to, no matter how obvious they are, be taken seriously. We need to talk about these kinds of thoughts. That’s Tommy does and it calms him down. “I could never voluntarily end my life. It’s too nice for that. Besides, my relationship with death is very negative. I’m extremely afraid of dying.” Tommy finds calming words and warns, “Suicidal thoughts aren’t reprehensible. But you need to talk about it with confidence. I took on the offense. I began telling my loved ones what was going on with me. You need to do that. You can’t isolate yourself from the outside world and lock yourself in.” Tommy’s story displays courage and shows that “strong people” can talk about feeling. Need to. Whether you’re a man or a woman. If young or old. But the whole thing leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Because despite his strength, his courage, mental health issues are still frowned upon in society. “I don’t want to be stamped. I’m afraid that everything I say, everything I do, is seen in relation to my mental issues. That’s why it isn’t easy to talk about it publicly. I can also understand why young people aren’t daring to take the next step.” It doesn’t make it easier that our society still doesn’t take mental issues seriously and tends to quickly make use of the madhouse metaphor. Whoever has mental issues, isn’t insane. Whoever has mental issues, is one of us. And it’s up to US to talk about these things freely and not condemn them.
His job as a model keeps bringing Tommy into the spotlight. His pictures are perfect, his laugh is contagious. He seems to be “everybody’s darling”, who makes women’s and men’s hearts beat faster. But that doesn’t ignore the fact that Tommy is dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. The pressure, that social media builds up, is partly why many young people rarely dare to take about their problems and insecurities. Tommy shows that that is exactly what one should do and there is no perfect Instagram feed that mirrors reality. Although Tommy, like millions of others worldwide, has mental issues, it does NOT mean that Tommy is unhappy, living in a parallel world. Mental health issues can affect us all, they are something normal and both you and I can be affected by them. The most important thing is, to allow yourself to be the way you are and find the courage to talk about feelings and to not make this issue a taboo.
Creative Direction + Text: Karim Coppola
Photography: Graig Labranche
Model: Tommy Laurens
Hair & Make Up: Eva Petit