Shannon Purser shot to fame as the beloved Barb—who suffers a tragic, untimely death in the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things—but in real life, Purser was struggling with her own demons. In an essay for Teen Vogue, the 20-year-old actress reveals her battle with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which left her contemplating suicide.
Purser counts a specific mental breakdown in high school while she was rushing to finish a biology final project as a turning point. “My will to fight was gone, and as my mother tried to help me finish the project, I broke down and said what I’d been thinking: ‘I don’t want to be alive,’” she wrote.
Her OCD caused her to repeat behaviors over and over again, turning them into compulsions that consumed her thought and energy. One such obsessive thought convinced her that she wasn’t absorbing everything she read, leading her re-read the same sentence over and over again, negatively affecting her schoolwork. She also became obsessed with the idea that she was being insincere, worrying that her every comment was a lie, and so she often stayed silent.
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But the most debilitating aspect of her OCD was the effect it had on her self-image, which is what lead to her suicidal ideation. “I grew to believe that I was evil, disgusting, and perverted. My disorder not only caused me to fixate on certain thoughts or images, but also curated ones that were specifically disturbing to me and bombarded me with them,” she wrote.
“They were all I could think about, and they got worse and worse until I was convinced that I was an unstable predator. It was nightmarish. I felt dangerous. I thought I deserved to die, and I felt utterly alone.”
Luckily, in her most difficult period, she made the right move: Purser opened up to her mom about her suicidal thoughts and got help for both her depression and OCD. She fought back with a combination of therapy and medication, and learned coping mechanisms for her “intrusive or self-destructive thoughts.” After several years, she recently went off medication, and still speaks to her therapist regularly.
She concludes, “Despite all my struggles, past and present, I am alive, and, now, I want to be."