Lena Dunham has spent her formative years in the spotlight, after creating, co-directing and starring in the award-winning HBO series Girls at just 25. Now, she’s opening up about the sacrifices that she made to her health while balancing that success and an overactive social life.
“My entire 20s was me jeopardizing my health,” the 33-year-old told Cosmopolitan UK. “I remember [during] the first season of Girls I would go out with guys and stay out until four in the morning, and then show up at work at 9am and slay it, but it was like, ‘What if I had a full night’s sleep and I didn’t feel the need to go out to the bar with every Tom, Dick and Harry who asked me because I was afraid I was unlovable?’”
And although the fast-paced lifestyle was something she could keep up with at first, it started to take a toll on Dunham, who eventually turned to pills as a way to cope.
“That’s one of the reasons medication was so easy and breezy for me,” she admitted, “because I thought, ‘Oh, there’s a pill I can take?’”
The New York native explained that her abuse of pills started after she had gotten a hysterectomy to relieve symptoms of endometriosis. She also had prescription medication to deal with physical pain from fibromyalgia. Soon enough, what she had been taking for both turned into a source of relief from other types of pain.
“I realized I wasn’t just taking medication for physical pain, I was taking medication for the emotional pain too,” she explained. “And then suddenly, especially this stuff, the benzos [benzodiazepines, a common and highly addictive family of anxiety medication], it changes your brain chemistry and suddenly you’re not yourself. You’re not present. You’re not functional.”
It was at that point, when she had been struggling physically, mentally and dealing with a public breakup on top of it all that Dunham hit her lowest point. She even opened up about wanting to take her own life.
“One day, I looked around and I was lying in a bed in my parents’ apartment under two blankets, in the same pajamas I’d been in for three days, and I was like, ‘This isn’t me.’ It wasn’t that I was suicidal. I felt nothing. I didn’t want to live.”
Dunham has now been sober for nearly two years after going to rehab to deal with her troubling comping mechanisms. And beyond feeling more “clear-headed and joyous” after a long night out, she said that her sobriety has also allowed her to pay more attention to her illness and how it’s affecting her — noting in a year-end Instagram post that “health is wealth.”
“If I’m really tired, or if I’m in a lot of pain, it’s because my illness is flaring up and I can pay attention to it,” she said. “Self-care can mean getting under a duvet, but there’s a difference between giving yourself love and isolating yourself from the world. Now if I spend my day under a duvet it’s either because I’m having a bad illness flare or, as you would say here, I’m having a nice lie-in. I’m not shutting the world out.”
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