The Mamma Mia star has lived with OCD and panic attacks since childhood. Antidepressants, Buddhism and her Catskills farm help calm her anxiety.
Amanda Seyfried has a tough time staying calm: Anxiety attacks and the relentless fears of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have bedevilled her for most of her life. When she’s not working, she finds refuge on a farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York state.
“It’s so peaceful there,” says Seyfried (pronounced “SIGH-frid”). “The farm is what I now consider to be my real home.”
As an in-demand actress, though, Seyfried can’t stay home all the time. This fall, she’s been in Europe filming a sequel to the ABBA-inspired film Mamma Mia along with a literally star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Lily James, just for starters.
No word yet on whether she’ll be recording any songs for the soundtrack, as she did for the original romp in 2008. (Fans will recall that Seyfried also showed off her considerable singing chops as Cosette in the 2012 movie Les Miserables.)
The first Mamma Mia was Seyfried’s second big Hollywood splash, after her 2004 movie debut in Mean Girls. The elfin beauty actually went in front of the camera as a professional eight years earlier, when she started modelling at age 11. She got her first acting jobs while still in high school, with roles on the soap operas As the World Turns and All My Children.
“I knew that acting was this strange and interesting way for me to get rid of tension and negative energy,” she reflects. “Acting was a great help to me that way, although that’s not why I wanted to do it.
“When I started acting, I knew instinctively that it was something I would always enjoy and that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.”
Seyfried turns 32 in December, which means she’s been seen onscreen for more than half her life. In the past few years she’s appeared before cinema audiences in the dramedy The Last Word (with Shirley Maclaine), the tearjerker Fathers and Daughters (with Russell Crowe), and the antic comedy Ted 2 (with Seth MacFarlane).
This past spring she popped up in Twin Peaks: The Return, though her best-known role in a TV series would be her five-year run as conflicted Sarah Henrickson on the HBO drama Big Love.
She’s also been coping with obsessive thoughts and overwhelming worry for more than half her life. She describes herself as “unfiltered”—she dropped in a casual reference to her OCD habits at the gym when InStyle did a cover story on her in 2012—but she’s passionately in favor of more openness and less stigma so that other kids won’t be lost in the dark the way she was.
“If I’d only known [more about mental health issues] when I was obsessive-compulsive about stuff when I was 10, I would have shared it with my parents and not thought that I was crazy,” she told W Magazine in December 2016, mentioning anxiety-calming OCD behaviors like not stepping on certain floor tiles.
In an ideal world, she mused, “you would share it with people and they would help you out and make you feel better about it. They’d say, ‘That’s really normal. Don’t worry. That’s just your anxiety running high and trying to control it.’
“That could have saved 10 years of my life feeling that I wasn’t normal. And I really hope the younger generations are hopefully feeling safer in being who they are.”
Acting the part
Seyfried began seeing a psychiatrist in her late teens because of intense, unfounded fears about her health. She may have been especially vulnerable to all the uncertainties that go along with trying to launch an acting career.
“I worked hard and I had some early success, but I was dealing with a lot anxieties and insecurities during the time when I was starting to get a lot of work,” she says. “I was afraid of disappointing people and I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“Even now I still worry about not being at my best when I’m starting to work on a new film, but then that feeling goes away and I can just enjoy my time on the set.”
Seyfried has said that acting serves as a kind of therapy, a way to channel some of her emotions, but that’s not all she relies on.
“I’ve also developed tools to help me overcome a lot of my fears. Studying Buddhism has been very helpful to me. It’s enabled me to overcome those moments where I might have an anxiety attack before doing a scene and helped me regain my focus and be in the present.
“Being able to do that, it gives you so much satisfaction and a sensation of euphoria.”
Seyfried has also said that learning to recognize that her fears are not reality-based—the principle behind cognitive pscyotherapy—has been a good antidote for compulsive thoughts. And then there’s her rural retreat.
“I don’t like loud places or having a lot of activity around me. Crowds make me uncomfortable and airports are probably the most stressful places for me. I find it hard to deal with all the people rushing in different directions and I get very anxious in those situations.
“That’s why living in the countryside is such a joy…. We have this lovely little grocery store near us and it’s so much fun shopping there and also buying fresh vegetables at the local farmer’s market. I also have my own vegetable garden where I grow lettuce and blueberries and tomatoes.”
The country life
Along with cats, sheep, chickens, horses and a cow, Seyfried shares the farm with husband Thomas Sadoski, also an actor, and their daughter, who was born in March.
“It’s the right place to grow a baby, and being a mom is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I want to be a very hands-on mother who is both very caring and also inspires her child,” Seyfried says.
The pregnancy was unplanned but very welcome—although the actress worried (naturally) about maintaining her emotional balance. Peripartum depression and psychosis are more likely in women who have a pre-existing mental health disorder.
However, as a guest on the Informed Pregnancy podcast, Seyfried affirmed that the experience was actually “wonderful”—whether thanks to cooperation from her hormones or the antidepressant she’s been taking since age 19.
Although staying on psychiatric medications during pregnancy is an individual decision—to be made in consultation with a woman’s health care practitioners and after careful risk-benefit calculations—Seyfried’s choice became fodder for media headlines and online debate.
For Seyfried, her low dose of an SSRI is insurance against returning to her darkest days.
“I don’t see the point of getting off of it. … I don’t want to risk it,” she told Allure magazine in an October 2016 profile. “And what are you fighting against? Just the stigma of using a tool?
“A mental illness is a thing that people cast in a different category [from other illnesses], but I don’t think it is,” she continued. “It should be taken as seriously as anything else. You don’t see the mental illness: It’s not a mass; it’s not a cyst. But it’s there. Why do you need to prove it? If you can treat it, you treat it.”
Both her husband and her longtime canine companion have a place in her coping toolbox as well.
“Thomas makes me feel very confident,” she explains. For example, during her pregnancy he would tell her what a good mother she was going to be.
As for Finn, the Australian shepherd she adopted in 2009, the story goes that she uses FaceTime to visit with the pooch when she has to be away. All the changes at the farm haven’t changed that connection.
“Oh, Finn is always with me,” she reports. “He’s been my emotional support for so long.”
Includes reporting by Interview Hub.
Printed as “Amanda Seyfried: Peace plan”, Fall 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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