Loreal Palmer Spent Years 'Refusing to Accept' Her Mental Health Struggles: 'I Kept Everything a Secret' (Exclusive)

“I spent a lot of time trying to run from a diagnosis,” the 34-year-old tells PEOPLE

<p>Dalvin Adams</p> Loreal Palmer

Dalvin Adams

Loreal Palmer
  • Loreal Palmer spent years battling anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder

  • The 34-year-old kept her mental health struggles a secret for the majority of her journey

  • She opens up about her experience in her new memoir, Keep Living

For several years, Loreal Palmer suffered in silence with her mental health.

Speaking to PEOPLE about her new memoir, Keep Living, the 34-year-old opened up about how her battle with anxiety escalated to crippling depression and bipolar disorder diagnoses, all of which she kept hidden from her loved ones.

Palmer — whose sister is actress Keke Palmer — says she’s always been an anxious person but grew up believing that it was just a “part of my personality.” But her mental health struggles intensified by the time she reached her teenage years.

“I’ve always kind of been anxious — or what my grandmother Mildred used to call ‘scary.’ But it wasn't until around the age of 17 that I had my first panic attack,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was just like, ‘Okay, what is this?’ I thought I was dying. It was very scary.”

“But I am the kind of person who, when I'm going through something, I don't really want other people to know,” she says. “I want everyone to think that everything is fine.”

So that’s how she acted. Palmer spent the next several years battling the ups and downs of her anxiety, which reached its worst after the birth of her first two children. Palmer is a mom of three children — son AJ and daughters Ali and Aaliyah — who she shares with ex-husband, Frank Wimberly III.

“From there, it kind of became a situation where, okay, I can't just chalk this up to my personality,” she recalls. “Maybe I need to stop acting like this doesn't exist or that this is just something that's going to go away on its own. Maybe I should address this professionally.”

Related: Loreal Palmer Shares Cover of New Memoir: 'I Was Really Reluctant to Write This Book' (Exclusive)

<p>Loreal Palmer</p> Loreal Palmer

Loreal Palmer

Loreal Palmer

Palmer finally went to see a doctor and was told that not only was it anxiety, but she was suffering from depression as well.

She spent the next several years going through trial and error with medications to help, initially being prescribed medication geared toward her anxiety before switching to those geared toward depression.

“My doctor ended up putting me on a medication that unbeknownst to all of us would lead to mania,” Pamer recalls. “And that's how my bipolar disorder diagnosis would ultimately come about seven to 10 years later.”

Bipolar disorder is a manic-depressive illness of the brain that causes extreme changes in mood and energy levels, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

There are four basic types of the disorder, which are characterized by periods of elation and hyper-activity known as manic episodes, which are then followed by depressive stages where the patient experiences feelings of sadness and depression.

Patients will often experience intense emotions as well as disruption to sleep patterns and their ability to think clearly. These periods can last for an extended time — days or even weeks — with no clear way of predicting when one period will end and another will begin.

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<p>Loreal Palmer</p> Loreal Palmer

Loreal Palmer

Loreal Palmer

“It was a battle because I did not want anything to be wrong. Because when you hear these diagnoses, they become something that you're going to have to deal with for the rest of your life,” Palmer explains. “You're going to have to monitor your behavior, your triggers, you're going to have to know yourself, and that is kind of scary to think about and deal with for the rest of your life.”

“So I spent a lot of time trying to run from a diagnosis, and that didn't really help anything at all. I probably made that journey a lot longer than it needed to be just by refusing to accept it.”

Palmer, who won the first season of ABC’s reality show Claim to Fame in 2022, admits that during a lot of stressful situations when her anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder would be high, she would “let them bottle up” rather than addressing them.

“It's kind of like I had been slowly but surely creating the perfect storm,” she says.

Although it took time, Palmer was able to come to terms with her battle and get her mental health back on track. She admits that it's easy to put self-care on the back burner.

“I'm a proponent of everybody finding what works for them. And I think what works for me is just a little bit of both therapy and medication,” she says. “And then also I have to remember that it's okay to focus on myself. As a mom, we're always checking in on our kids and I needed to remember to check in on myself too.”

“It took a while to get there, but once we did things improved vastly,” she adds.

Related: All About Keke Palmer's Sister, Loreal Palmer

<p>David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage ; Maarten de Boer/Getty</p> Keke Palmer at the UK Premiere of "Lightyear" in 2022 ; Loreal Palmer on 'Claim to Fame'

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage ; Maarten de Boer/Getty

Keke Palmer at the UK Premiere of "Lightyear" in 2022 ; Loreal Palmer on 'Claim to Fame'

Today, Palmer boasts that she “100%” has a good grasp on her mental health. But it was only after overcoming a lot of her struggles that she felt she was finally able to open up about her battles with her loved ones.

“I kept everything a secret for as long as I possibly could have,” she explains. “And that first moment that I told someone, it felt so good to just get it out there and to just be honest. And it kind of gave me the confidence to tell my family finally.”

“I don't know what I was so afraid of, but the reaction was nothing but support and ‘I hope you know that you can tell us these things. You can be honest with us.’ And I've been taking them up on that,” she says of her family. “There's no more in the dark now.”

Realizing how much support she missed out on early in her struggles is, in part, why Palmer decided to write her memoir.

“Maybe I should kind of be that voice that I would've liked to have had when I was going through everything,” she says.

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<p>Dalvin Adams / Post Hill Press</p> Loreal Palmer memoir

Dalvin Adams / Post Hill Press

Loreal Palmer memoir

In addition to her mental health journey, Palmer’s memoir touches on her marriage and divorce and a harrowing pregnancy — all of which changed her perspective on her life. The star hopes that readers will take away one piece of advice from her book, words she grew up hearing from her grandmother: Keep living.

“I talk about this concept, tragic serenity, and it’s been a game changer,” she says. “A lot of us, we set these arbitrary timelines and these arbitrary goals we want to achieve. And while it's fantastic, I want everyone to understand that nothing is set in stone. If we don't follow this linear path, we start to think that we have somehow failed. And I hope that if there's one thing they get from reading this memoir is that there is no one path.”

“Good things are going to happen, bad things are going to happen. There are going to be curve balls thrown at you, but that does not mean that you have failed. It does not mean that it is over,” Palmer tells PEOPLE. “It just means you might have to take a little detour and get back where you're going. Or sometimes it means like, you weren't meant to go in this direction anyway.”

“Have your goals, have your plans, but also accept that they may not look the way you want them to look. And that's okay,” she says.

Loreal Palmer’s memoir Keep Living is available now.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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Read the original article on People.