By Lauren Huff
May 28, 2019 at 05:12 PM EDT
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Former Disney star Christy Carlson Romano wants to “throw a wrench” at her “perfect” image.

The actress, who became a household name with her role as perfectionist Ren Stevens on Even Stevens, has opened up about her struggles with depression, self-harm, and binge-drinking in a moving essay for Teen Vogue.

“While many witnessed my costar Shia LaBeouf struggle publicly, I have largely suffered in silence,” she writes. “I am not a victim, but I have never been perfect or pulled together as my reputation or the successes of my young adulthood might suggest. During a period of time in my life, I grappled with depression, drinking, and more, desperate to find fixes for how I felt.”

Romano, who also voiced the titular animated heroine in Kim Possible and appeared in a slew of Disney Channel original movies, goes on to detail her experience as a child actor. “I became that precocious theater kid, a confusing mix of sheltered and overexposed to the public,” Romano says. “While I was adept at change and very driven in my art form, I was delayed in some developmental milestones that one often has in their preteen years that adequately inform their early adulthood and help them make the right decisions during hard times.”

She writes that “nothing could have prepared” her for “fame and the responsibilities that came with being on television screens everywhere,” and eventually having a normal college life became her “greatest fantasy.”

“I was told that leaving Hollywood right after Even Stevens would ruin my career,” she says. “In retrospect, it probably did. But in my heart, I was running away from the responsibility of fame and toward a glamorized fantasy of adolescence.”

However, college life was not what she thought it would be, and she eventually “ran from school and back into the arms of the New York theater community.” This, too, didn’t quite work out the way that she hoped. Romano says she was “highly criticized” for her youth, and as a result she worked even harder to prove herself.

“I became a bit harder-edged, binge-drank more at loud nightclubs, and started to accept the transient natures of love, sex, and friendship. Growing up, I entertained thousands of families only to feel completely lonely,” she admits. “People were as replaceable as they had deemed me to be. Imposter syndrome had stiff competition against my self-hatred at that point.

“Then I began to flirt with other methods of self-destruction,” she continues. “I tried to scratch my skin with my fingernail because I was too scared to use a knife. I chickened out and honestly felt like I had failed some important race to win the trophy for ‘most tragic, beautiful girl.’”

The actress says it took 10 years of struggling with “all of my relationships, alcohol usage, and career path,” but eventually she went back to school, where she met her husband in a screenwriting class. “It sounds super cheesy, but I rewrote the end of my script in that class when I fell in love,” she explains. “In many ways, my husband’s adolescent struggles were worse than mine and he ended up joining the military to find guidance. I had an empowering realization that famous people aren’t unique.”

Romano, who now has two daughters, says she is happy to share that she hasn’t had a drink since before her first pregnancy, and she plans on continuing to abstain “so that I can continue to make clear-headed decisions that keep me on the right path.” She adds that she feels in control of her career now, and is set to debut a new cooking series on YouTube titled Christy’s Kitchen Throwback on June 27.

She concludes her essay with a bit of advice. “Anyone reading this, or anyone who decides to go into the entertainment business (including my daughters, should that time come), know this: having a clear understanding of your personal value helps to positively shape everything you do,” she writes. “If you don’t, if you aren’t careful, you just might end up getting what everyone else wishes for but wondering what you want yourself.”

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