For those who grew up watching the Disney Channel, you may remember Christy Carlson Romano as Ren Stevens—the straight-A, overachieving sister on the hit series Even Stevens.
Though it's been 16 years since the final episodes aired, many people continue to associate Romano with her "pulled together" Disney character; however, the 35-year-old is now throwing "a wrench at that image."
In a newly published essay for Teen Vogue, Romano opens up about her battle with depression, alcohol use, and self-harm following her time on Even Stevens. The actress said that as a child star, she was both "sheltered and overexposed to the public"—a confusing situation that resulted in insecurity and feelings of unfulfillment.
"While many witnessed my costar Shia LaBeouf struggle publicly, I have largely suffered in silence," she revealed. "I am not a victim, but I have never been perfect or pulled together as my reputation or the successes of my young adulthood might suggest. During a period of time in my life, I grappled with depression, drinking and more, desperate to find fixes for how I felt."
She went on to talk about the ways she yearned for a "normal" life, which eventually led her to leave Hollywood and pursue a college degree. But despite the move, Romano continued to struggle with mental health.
"Even Stevens ended the summer before my start at an Ivy League school that fall. I was thrilled to enter a new world and was suddenly surrounded by so many different types of people my age; not just child stars with momagers," she wrote. "I put on a brave face but still felt out of place, like a misfit. My heart broke when I realized that I was never going to experience the teen-movie happy ending with a group of friends in a Jeep on their way to the beach. I felt like I failed myself, and the tape that had started playing years before now started to play louder, faster, and angrier."
Romano then returned to theater, but felt like she was constantly being ridiculed for her age. The pressure and judgment and insecurities eventually pushed her toward destructive behavior: binge-drinking, partying, and self-harm.
"Growing up, I entertained thousands of families only to feel completely lonely," she said. "People were as replaceable as they had deemed me to be. Imposter syndrome had stiff competition against my self-hatred at that point. Then I began to flirt with other methods of self-destruction. I tried to scratch my skin with my fingernail because I was too scared to use a knife. I chickened out and honestly felt like I had failed some important race to win the trophy for 'most tragic, beautiful girl.'"
Romano also recalls an instance where she was conned into buying a $40,000 crystal that promised to fix all her problems. Turns out, she didn't need to drop an insane amount of money to end the toxic cycle. Romano eventually returned to school and got her film studies degree at Barnard College, where she met her now-husband and father of her children.
"I struggled with all of my relationships, alcohol usage, and career path for 10 years before going back to school and re-centering myself," she wrote. "I ended up meeting my husband (Brendan Rooney) in a screenwriting class and found in him a companionship that would take a mallet to the tape that had been screaming in my head all those years."
You can read Romano's full essay here.