Mara Wilson is best known for her role as Matilda in the 1996 film adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, where she played an extraordinary 6-year-old who stood out from her family and friends. In real life about her, Wilson said she too felt different from those around her.
Now 35, the former child actress has appeared Mayim Bialik collapse podcast in which the two discussed Wilson’s early career on camera. Although she has acted in major films including Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street And MatildaWilson recalls the onset of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and his mother’s death as defining parts of his childhood.
“I was always very worried from a very young age. I was worried about death, I was worried about sickness, I was that kind of worrying. And it was weird because either I was, like I said, kind of an optimistic outgoing kid or I was having a anxiety attack,” he explained to Bialik. “When I was in third grade, that was really when all the bullshit hit the fans. Third grade was when my mom was sick, I just finished filming Matilda. I started having panic attacks from things like my pet hamster running away.”
Wilson was unaware of what those moments of worry or panic meant at the time. He recalled “hearing the word anxiety” but never in conjunction with his behavior.
“I think my mom was probably scared because she knew mental illness ran in her family,” Wilson said. “And she was also kind of a suck-it-all mom anyway. So she was like, ‘OK, get over it, you’ll be fine, deal with it.’ And she had cancer, she was dealing with her stuff about her at the time.”
Panic attacks weren’t the only thing Wilson was dealing with at that age, but instead just supplemented the rituals he created with his undiagnosed OCD. “I started washing my hands all the time, so much so that my hands were always red and cracked and itchy and my mom had to put salves and ointments on them and all these kinds of… all her home remedies to make sure they wouldn’t do anymore so bad,” Wilson explained. “It was a really tough time for me and I knew it was weird. That was the thing. I knew I was weird, I knew it was something other people didn’t have, and I started having panic attacks in school. I had a feeling that It wasn’t something the other guys had.”
Although Wilson didn’t know what he was struggling with, he had the insight from talking to his counselor at school.
“I went to the guidance counselor like every day, but they didn’t seem to really know what to do with a child with anxiety, a child with obsessions and compulsions,” she said. “I think about it and the way I’ve talked about my symptoms and how I’ve described them, if I heard a child describe them today, I’d think right away. Even if I didn’t have the vast experience, I think if someone felt the way I was talking, they immediately said it sounds like OCD. I think now we know a little bit more about OCD because it’s been 25 years but at the time, I guess people didn’t really know it could happen to kids too.” .
She did enough research on her own to know that as a young girl she related to descriptions of the disorder.
“I looked up OCD with the rudimentary internet that we had at the time and what I knew in the library and encyclopedia and so on and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got it.’ And I went to my guidance counselors, I said, ‘I think I know what’s wrong with me,'” she recalled.
Wilson also had a studio teacher working with her on a film set who seemed to validate her struggle. “I confessed to her that I was weird and I didn’t tell a lot of people. But I told her I was like, ‘I’m really weird.’ She says, ‘I’m a little weird too.’ And I was like, ‘No, I get really anxious, I’m really scared.’ He was like, ‘I have anxiety too, that’s okay.’ And she got me thinking, oh OK there are adults that have this Not everyone is in control all the time and they deal with it, they find ways to deal with it.
Wilson shared that it was difficult to get his father, who was a widower and single father after his mother’s death, to “accept that there was something wrong with me.” She said, “I think parents want to blame themselves for this. And they don’t want to damn their kids with a diagnosis.”
Ultimately, it was starting therapy at about age 12 and getting an evaluation that changed course for Wilson going forward.
“I think I was on Zoloft at the time. I’m on Lexapro now and it helps me because I couldn’t function without it. And I was diagnosed with severe OCD and couldn’t function without it,” she said. “That diagnosis saved me.”
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