Taylor and Tay Lautner on mental health and struggling with 'Twilight' fame: 'I started just hunkering down in my house'

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Actor Taylor Lautner and wife and podcasting partner Tay. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)
Actor Taylor Lautner and wife and podcasting partner Tay. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images) (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Growing up starring in films like Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D and ultimately, the box office smash Twilight franchise, Taylor Lautner says he didn't really stop to consider the toll that being in the spotlight might be taking on his mental health.

“There wasn’t time to think about anything,” Lautner tells Yahoo Life. “I couldn’t feel any of that. Starting at 16, it was normal for me to want to go grab a coffee, but to have 10 cars of paparazzi following [me].” He began to struggle with anxiety. “What [fame] really caused me to do was to not want to go outside, not want to go to the movies, to not want to go out to eat,” he recalls. “I started just hunkering down in my house.”

Lautner met his now-wife, Taylor “Tay” Dome Lautner, in 2018. When the pandemic hit, the couple found themselves in the thick of their individual struggles with mental health, recalls the Twilight star.

Tay grew up with family members who struggled with addiction, and she lost her high school best friend to suicide. But it was until she began working as a COVID nurse 12 hours a day that she reached her breaking point.

“There was a lot of talk during the pandemic about how health care workers are heroes, but there wasn't any actual help for us mentally,” says Tay. “Pizza parties were the thing, but we [needed] accurate staffing, safe staffing, safe patient conditions, to be compensated for our time and mental health resources. I was just in fight or flight [mode] for a year. There wasn't any time to come down and breathe.”

She remembers Lautner checking in on her to see if she was truly OK. "I had no clue," she says. "If you're just going and going and going, that just becomes like the norm. ... It's hard to kind of realize there's something going on until you take a step back and you process what's happened.”

After a year of working through the pandemic, Tay made the decision to leave the hospital for her mental well-being. “As you can imagine, that was a lot,” she explains. “I was diagnosed with severe PTSD, depression, anxiety, all just from working. Taylor and I decided it was probably for the best that I left the hospital for my own mental health and to make sure that I was OK.”

The pair “leaned on each other a lot” to work through that difficult time, adds Tay. “We leaned on our community of friends,” she says. “I always say that that's been the biggest thing that I feel like we've learned over the past couple years — how important community actually is, and having that human interaction, deep vulnerable conversations and a safe space.”

It was also important to them to come out and talk about their struggles, points out Lautner. “I wouldn't talk about [mental health] before,” he notes. “I would just push them down, down, down. And just put the Band-Aid on it — everything's gonna be OK, I'm fine. But as soon as you just start addressing it and talking about it, speaking out loud about what you're going through, how you're feeling, just being honest with yourself, and your friends, family and loved ones, that is the biggest and most important first step.”

In speaking out about mental health on the couples’ podcast, The Squeeze, and through the mental health advocacy work they do with their nonprofit, The Lemons Foundation, Lautner knows he’s also overcoming the stigma around men being sensitive, compassionate and vulnerable, which some see as weakness.

“Over the last few years, I've learned that it is the exact opposite,” he says. “Being able to be honest and open is so brave and so strong. It's a crying shame that there is that stigma. For a while I was a part of that stigma, but there's nothing more freeing and empowering than coming out and being vulnerable.”

Having Tay in his life has made opening up even easier. “It starts and ends with her,” says the proud husband.

The pair also feel that therapy has been “huge” for their well-being. “When I first started going to therapy, I was terrified of it,” admits Lautner. “I never had before. And it was very scary. I am a private person, so talking about things like that was terrifying. So I was like, ‘Babe, I'm not doing this alone. You have to come with me.’ And we both were there for each other. And then, of course, we've grown in that and wandered off [to do individual sessions] and are strong individuals now.”

Looking back on their journey and what they’ve learned through their mental health advocacy so far, a major takeaway for Lautner is that “it’s OK to not be OK, but also, not living in that.” “Get the resources, and start doing the work to get better,” he says. “Don’t be stuck.”

For her part, Tay highlights just how important it is not to over-identify with your mental health struggles. “People can get diagnosed with depression [or another mental health condition], and they think that that defines them, but it's truly just a part of who they are,” she says. “I'm a wife. I'm a nurse. I'm a podcaster. I have PTSD.”

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