[ Cont. from 44] bipolar diagnosis is one she will forever have to navigate and manage. She says she’s viewed the documentary only a handful of times, and while she immediately recognized its stark potential, she went back and forth on whether to release it. “I know it has a big message, but am I the right person to bring it to light? I don’t know,” she states plainly. “I wanted someone to say, ‘Selena, this is too intense.’ But everyone was like, ‘I’m really moved, but are you ready to do this? And are you comfortable?’ ” Finally, Apple+ set up a screening. Gomez didn’t watch the film, but she did watch the audience response afterward. She saw the emotional impact. “I was like, ‘OK, if I can just do that for one person, imagine what it could do.’ Eventually I just kind of went for it. I just said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Gomez hopes this was the right decision. At one point, she asks what I think of My Mind and Me — she wants me to be honest. I reply, honestly, that I think it’s profound and powerful, and then suddenly I’m telling her about the panic attacks I’d started having during the pandemic, and how as they’d gotten worse — unmoored, unbearable — my mind started doing things to my body, and that, once done, those things were real and painful and my mind couldn’t handle it, and the loop continued and I felt like I’d never, ever be able to break it. I tell her how I was loaded up on medications, doctors throwing things at the wall and hoping something might stick. I tell her how hard it was to break the cycle, to figure out workarounds, to detox.
I wasn’t planning on telling this story. This article isn’t about me. But then, that’s Gomez’s point exactly: to transpose the narrative, to make it not about her. As I babble on, I realize how profoundly she has succeeded. “That is the greatest gift you could have given me today,” she says quietly after I trail off. “Saying that you understood what that feels like. That’s all I want. I know people who have felt those things that don’t know what to do. And I just want that to be normal.”
On a sunny afternoon in October, Gomez descends from an SUV and totters in heels up a plywood ramp to the back entrance of the Stanford Center for Academic Medicine in Palo Alto, California. Inside, in a sleek lecture hall, are the attendees of the Mental Healthcare Innovations Summit — a hundred or so researchers and bold names (the surgeon general of California; Robin Williams’ son) assembled to “raise awareness of cutting-edge mentalhealth therapies” and to listen to Gomez and Elyse Cohen, the VP of social impact at Rare Beauty, talk about unrealistic beauty standards (“I don’t look like this. I mean, this took me three hours to do,” Gomez admitted) and creating a “stigma-free company,” and what Gomez did most recently to support her mental health (answer: the night before, instead of holing up to watch Schitt’s Creek in the “safe bubble” of her suite at the Palo Alto Four Seasons, she’d come downstairs and joined some of her team by the fire pit).
This was no small part of her life now, these meetings with scientists and health care professionals, these discussions of how to support mental health in a micro and macro manner. “We actually are in communication with tons of different mental-health organizations and resources through Rare Impact,” Gomez says in her suite that morning, clothed in layers of soft knits and sitting at a table spread with the remnants of breakfast. “I love these conversations.” But she also understood the trade-off: In shifting the narrative to a greater cause, she’d implicitly agreed to be a face of it.
When I ask her about this, she visibly squirms. “I don’t necessarily think that I’m the face or want to be the face. There are reservations,” she admits. Then again, she says, “it makes me proud I’m actually talking about things that matter, not sitting here just talking about my brand and ‘I look great, and I have this and this.’ There’s already enough of that.” Before that morning, she had told me, “I just constantly remind myself that there’s a reason I’m here. It sounds really cheesy when I say it sometimes, but I truly don’t know how else I’d be here, simply based on the medical stuff and balances in my head and conversations I’d had with myself [that were] really dark.” If there’s a reason she’s here, she thinks, it must be this.
After the talk at Stanford, Gomez lingers in an antechamber of the center as various mental-health dignitaries approach. At one point, she removes her heels and stands barefoot on the floor, nodding along to a discussion of how therapy sessions of the future might be conducted by bots (a seemingly terrible idea until one learns — as we do in that moment — that 98 percent of Wisconsin has no access to mentalhealth care whatsoever). Gomez doesn’t say much — she’d been clear that she was not an expert, but rather there to listen — but when people share their own mental-health struggles with her, she takes in these stories graciously, seeming to hum with acceptance and goodwill.
She still has some trouble directing that same acceptance and goodwill toward herself. “I’m not fine and just back to happy life,” she tells me the week before in her glam room. At one point, she mentions that donated kidneys don’t last forever, that hers might have a shelf life of only 30 years. “Which is fine,” she says. “I might be like, ‘Peace out,’ anyway.” She talks about going to visit a friend who was trying to get pregnant and, afterward, just getting in her car and crying: Her need to remain on the two drugs she takes for her bipolar disorder means that she likely won’t be able to carry her own children — and “that’s a very big, big, present thing in my life”— though she’s convinced that “however I’m meant to have them, I will.” She tells me about a recurring dream she has, one in which she’s often traveling, always near water, and voices descend in different forms to subtly condemn her, to ask if she’s learned her lesson, to tell her that she’s not doing enough or doing too much. “I think there’s something over me that is maybe my bipolar that kind of just keeps me humble — in a dark way,” she shares.
She has tried to “make bipolar my friend,” as she puts it: doing dialectical behavior and cognitive behavioral therapy, visiting gurus and her therapist, trusting in “a force that’s bigger,” getting closer to her mom — who she says has been “very open about having struggles with her own mental health” — and working with her to launch Wondermind, a website devoted to mental fitness. She’s tried to have a sense of humor about the whole thing, with some success. “I named my new kidney ‘Fred,’ ” she says. “I named it after Fred Armisen because I love Portlandia. I’ve never met him, but I’m secretly hoping he finds that out just because I want him to be like, ‘That’s weird.’ ” She also takes stock of her own indicators of mental fitness. In September, Hailey Bieber appeared on a podcast, spoke of the vitriol she’d received from Gomez fans, and naturally sent the tabloid hive mind into a frenzy. Gomez took to TikTok to defuse the situation by appealing to her fans for kindness. As we talk, she seems to bring up the incident unprompted, as an example of how she’s learning to untangle herself from the manufactured drama. “Somebody made a comment and it involved me, and then for two days I felt bad about myself,” she says obliquely, not mentioning Bieber by name, but raising the point that in the past, such an incident could have set her back for months. This time, it didn’t. “I was like, I’m just going to say, ‘Everybody be kind to each other. Everybody just focus on what’s going on in the real world.’ ” (A few weeks later, in the real world, Gomez and Bieber were spotted being kind to each other at a gala in L.A.)
Besides TikTok, she remains famously off social media, having long ago deleted the apps and handed over the passwords to her assistant, who posts pictures and messages Gomez provides. She picks up her phone as if it were an object of passing interest. “I don’t even remember what the last thing I read is,” she says. “I’m actually curious.” Her fingers move over the screen and she grins. The last thing she had searched was “updos for the Emmys.”
The thing before that was real estate. In three weeks’ time, she would be moving to New York, where the third season of Only Murders would start filming in January. When she’d first gotten the script, she’d worried about the optics — a leading trio of one young woman and two old men — but now she laughs at the thought that she’d ever had that concern. “It feels very familial on set, wildly supportive,” says John Hoffman, who created the show with Martin, and who adds that he, Martin, and Short have a sort of “paternal” relationship with Gomez, even if they didn’t know how fragile she was when shooting for Season One started. “It made me cry when I saw the trailer,” he says of My Mind and Me.
Gomez was lured to New York by the prospect of being back in a city where people more frequently just leave her alone. “I have people literally say to me, ‘Stop saying you don’t like L.A.,’ ” she says. “But if I’m honest, my schedule in New York is the crème de la crème. I have my system there, I have my workouts there, I have my coffee spots there. I get to walk and breathe there, and be inspired by New York City and the people and the life there.”
She plans to take Spanish lessons, in preparation for a Spanish-language movie she’ll be filming this summer. She plans to have some writing sessions, round out the 24 songs she’s already written for her next album, which she says she may start recording by the end of the year. She’s proud of “My Mind and Me,” the song co-written with the pop production team Monsters and Strangerz that appears in the film, but it is a marker of her current mental health that these 24 new songs exist, that she feels like she now has something else to say. “‘My Mind and Me’ is a little sad,” she explains, “but it’s also a really nice
This summer, Gomez turned 30 and threw herself a party. “I thought I would be married by now, so I threw myself a wedding,” she clarifies.
way of putting a button on the documentary part of life, and then it’ll just be fun stories of me living my life and going on dates and having conversations with myself. I feel like it’s going be an album that’s like, ‘Oh, she’s not in that place anymore; she’s actually just living life.’ ”
This summer, Gomez turned 30 and threw herself a party. “I thought I would be married by now, so I threw myself a wedding,” she clarifies wryly. She invited people who had been important parts of her twenties, whether she was still close to them or not. She wanted to celebrate that time, and also celebrate that it was behind her. The party was in Malibu, at a private home where the modern, concrete angles were softened by profusions of red roses and candlelight. There was dancing. There were gowns, including a pink Versace one, worn by Gomez. It was elegant, she says, classy. Miley Cyrus was there (“fucking love her”), and Gomez’s little sister, Gracie, and her kidney donor, Francia Raísa, and Camila Cabello and Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo and a Barney cake. “We had lovely drinks, and it was beautiful, and then my friend Cara [Delevingne] comes in and brings strippers,” she says, laughing. “So I would like to say it was a mixture of sophisticated and hysterical.”
It’s tempting to frame this new decade as a fresh start. But Gomez knows — and I know — that’s not how her mental illness works. That’s not how real life works. It’s a sign of growth, perhaps, for her to question whether her growth is unerringly linear, to push back against any implications that she’s having a revival — or that such a thing really exists. “I don’t have another reinvention story,” she tells me. “I’m 30, and I’m going to go through moments in my life.” If there is a silver lining, it’s this: “I remind myself that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the psychotic break, if it wasn’t for my lupus, if it wasn’t for my diagnosis. I think I would just probably be another annoying entity that just wants to wear nice clothes all the time. I’m depressed thinking about who I would be.” Sometimes she likes to get in her car and blast that song where Adele sings “I hope I learn to get over myself.” “And I’m like, ‘Yes, real life is happening. Real life is happening.’ ”
And for her, it’s about to happen in private, or the closest approximation she can manage. She says she’s prepared to do promotion for the documentary, but then she plans to go to New York and disappear. She shows me a picture of the fireplace of the apartment she’s rented. “I like all the slush and grossness,” she says of winter in New York. “I love being near all the Jewish grandmas. Nothing compares to being in your home in a blanket by the fireplace just reading or watching something.” Soon, she’ll sit by that fire. She’ll read and write and maybe watch Portlandia. She’ll have conversations with herself. She’ll do things to support her mental health, and one of those things she will do is simply retreat. “This is probably the most you’ll hear about me for a while,” she says before I leave. “I want this to come out, but I also want this behind me. Every now and then it’s important to just disappear.”
As I gather my things, Gomez hugs me again, tightly. “I don’t know what people expect,” she says of how the documentary will be received. “But thank you.” I thank her, too — for the visit, for listening to me, for all of it. Then I step out into the sunlight, bringing my baggage, literal and figurative, with me. This story doesn’t have a happy ending. But also: This story doesn’t have an ending. “Real life is happening,” as Gomez says. Real life is happening. This isn’t the end.