‘No one would know looking at this’: Readers share mental health battles behind their photos

What are we really facing behind our smiles? TODAY readers open up about the mental health challenges they were fighting when these photos were taken.

In early 2022, Carson Daly shared on TODAY that during one of his live shots on “The Voice,” what viewers didn’t see was the panic attack moving through his body. 

"You think my right hand's in my pocket just being casual. 'I’m on TV and my life is so great,'" he said. "The truth is, in that moment, I was gripping the flash of my upper right thigh because a wave of panic was coming through me, and I was so scared. I wanted to run off the stage because it's one of the symptoms of panic. I can't control my nervous system. Fight or flight kicks in. The threat is real, but there's nothing there. I have to just ride that wave on live TV."

NBC

NBC

In the days after Carson revealed the truth behind the image, we asked TODAY viewers to share a photo that depicts their mental health journey and what was really happening in their lives at the time. 

This story discusses mental health. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

Tune into Mind Matters: Behind the Picture on Monday, Nov. 7 at 10 a.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET on our streaming channel TODAY All Day on today.com/allday, Peacock or your smart TV.

Courtesy Dani Johnson

Courtesy Dani Johnson

Dani Johnson

“This was Mother’s Day. I remember that morning I woke up to my kids crying, and me having to tend to them. With no hesitation, I did. But for a moment, I thought ‘Nobody tends to me. Nobody cares.’ A few nights before, I wrote a suicide note. It wasn’t the first time I’ve written one. But that morning, when my kids needed me, I knew that there was a purpose for me to live. These boys of mine have saved me.”

Courtesy Rachel Bond

Courtesy Rachel Bond

Rachel Bond

“I am a newly divorced mom of five in this picture. I got so much praise on social media about how gorgeous I look, how amazing I am, how I am ‘what any guy would want.’ However, I would look at this picture and not recognize the girl at all. I was raising five kids. I survived on two hours of sleep and Dr. Pepper/Mountain Dew. My heart was shattered. You see ‘beautiful.’ I see ‘Please someone see the pain behind the fake smile.’

Courtesy Jacquelyn Galvez

Courtesy Jacquelyn Galvez

Jacquelyn Galvez

“This was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I had my first child. He was healthy. I was healthy but I felt nothing. Completely numb to everything. I was silently suffering from postpartum depression and I didn’t even know it. I look at pictures of myself during this time and become emotional because I wish I would have known postpartum depression was so common. I wasn’t a bad mom. I wish I knew there was help out there. I didn’t have to suffer alone. I didn’t have to suffer silently.”

Courtesy Angela Padilla

Courtesy Angela Padilla

Angela Padilla

“No one would know looking at this photo that I was unhappy. I have everything in life that someone else would live for, three beautiful children. My inner demons are always swirling around in my head and my negative thoughts about myself are here in this picture, but I am smiling and about to do a 5K Turkey Trot with my family. I try not to have breakdowns in front of my kids and show them that I’m strong, but deep down, I’m hurting. Grieving the loss of my mom, their grandma. Questioning why life is so unfair.”

Courtesy Teisha Mott

Courtesy Teisha Mott

Teisha Mott

“I chose this photo because in it I’m walking with my colleague in search of bagels while anxiety pumps through me. I want to sit/run/hide, but as I walk with a smile on my face, I remind myself that this will pass, and indeed it did! My friend had no idea, until I told her, that I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. For too many years anxiety has been the victor. Well, no more!”

Courtesy Ashley Johnson

Courtesy Ashley Johnson

Ashley Johnson

“This is the person that lives behind my smiles, my laughter and is always there. I have learned to love this photo of myself mid-panic attack. Instead of hiding her, I’m learning to live with her, and more importantly, I am learning to love her. I think knowing that everyone carries some version of this same girl brings me peace. I’m not alone in my struggle with anxiety, and you aren’t either.”

Courtesy Elania Bailey

Courtesy Elania Bailey

Elaina Bailey

“Leaving my house and interacting with the public can be a huge chore for me. Here, my daughter and I are experiencing a football game. This was a first for her so it was important to make it happen. In this photo, I'm telling myself to NOT have a panic attack due to the amount of people. I ended up going to the bathroom and crying for a couple of minutes before I cleaned my face and returned to my seat. Every day is a struggle. But I refuse to allow my anxiety to keep controlling my life.”

Courtesy Ellen Sweder

Courtesy Ellen Sweder

Ellen Sweder

“This was my wedding day three years ago and little did anyone know by the smile on my face that I hadn’t hardly eaten a thing in four-and-a-half days and was panicking far beyond the normal bridal nerves. I have had anxiety for 25+ years and I knew that the biggest day of my life would come and my fear was could I even walk down the aisle. Not because I didn’t love my husband but because of the fear of an anxiety attack or feeling sick. The fear of a full blown attack when all eyes were on me. This is just one moment where mental health could take it from the best day of my life to the worst. I’ve had many moments like this, mostly in everyday life, but the big moments become an everyday moment in time when you suffer from anxiety.”

Courtesy Bosco Lorio

Courtesy Bosco Lorio

Bosco Lorio

“I had just lost my job due to not passing a licensing exam and was struggling with depression and anxiety but thought that talking to someone or taking meds would make me seem weak. So I just smiled and made jokes to cover what I was feeling and help others be comfortable and happy.”

Courtesy Jeancarlo Siles

Courtesy Jeancarlo Siles

Jeancarlo Siles

“My depression gave me tunnel vision and I couldn't see myself living past high school. This is a picture of me just outside of Grand Teton National Park. It was just a great snapshot of how far I’ve come.”

To find mental health resources near you, visit Project Healthy Minds or text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling. TODAY’s Carson Daly serves on the non-profit’s board of directors.