“I was in constant search for chaos,” ABC News Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee tells Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast about her struggle with mental health. Together, the two have a powerful and candid conversation.
Growing up in western Michigan, watching violent storms ignited Zee’s passion for the weather. Now, the mother of two has made a career out of that passion as a co-host on “Good Morning America,” and is the author of two best-selling books: her autobiography, Natural Disaster, and her young adult series, Chasing Helicity. But her path hasn’t always been easy.
In 2011, the budding meteorologist got her dream job at ABC News. Ten days before she was going to start her exciting new gig, Zee checked herself into a mental hospital. “The day I decided to go to the hospital, it was to escape myself and to save myself. I didn’t think that I would be alive any longer,” she tells Huffington. Over the course of Zee’s life, she has struggled with anxiety and depression so severe that she attempted to end her life twice. “I remembered that after I came home from both of my past suicide attempts, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Why did I do that? Who is this person?’” she shares. For years, her mother encouraged her to seek inpatient care — to talk to someone about her struggles — but she ignored it. Finally, something shifted and she realized that she needed help. She called her family and was brought to the hospital that day.
Looking back, Zee says that while that was a horrible time in her life, it is one that she wants to share to help end the mental health stigma. “That was now almost 10 years ago, and I love that moment in my life, even though it sounds like a horrible thing to say,” she tells Huffington. “I love that moment because it’s the moment that I finally got the help I needed.”
Zee shares that finding the right therapist was one of the most important aspects of her healing journey, but it didn’t come naturally at first. “You have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with other people,” she says. “A big problem with me is I want everyone to like me. I want to be perfect.” Sharing her experiences through her book, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them. I Am One., was the most therapeutic moment for her, because she was actually talking about her struggles out loud.
“We put so much work into our bodies. We go to the gym. We focus on food and exercise, but we don’t talk about training our mind,” she adds. “And that’s what a therapist does. People have annual checkups on their body, but they don’t go for an annual checkup of their mind. I think that would be also a societal shift — when our emotional health and well-being is looked at exactly the same.”
Now, self-care is at the top of Zee’s list. She practices meditation daily and routinely speaks to her therapist, but also has a toolkit of Microsteps. As the mother of two active boys, Zee says family will always come first. “I have glass on my shower door, and I draw two little footprints of my sons’ feet and put their initials over that, because they’re always in my brain,” she says. “It’s just a way of marking my thoughts for them for the beginning of the morning — setting an intention for the day that they are my purpose; they’re my everything.” Then she writes something next to those two little feet that she’s grateful for: “It could be as simple as macadamia nuts, because I like them, or it can be something grand like my mother,” she says.
Like many working parents, Zee suffers from guilt. When asked about how she handles it, she noted that a lot of it is rooted in fear. “All of a sudden, I’m afraid of things. The most ridiculous thoughts go through my head about these kids,” she explains. Most of Zee’s guilt stems from traveling for work — she’s sometimes away for a week or more when she is chasing a storm. But growing up, her mother worked as a neonatal nurse practitioner, which influences her parenting now. “I never for one moment think that she was a bad mother because she was gone so much. You can be a good mother and be there 30 hours versus 150 — it ends up being the quality of the time,” Zee says.
Zee finally understood that being a working mom is a superpower when she discovered that she was starting to focus more than ever before. “When I was with the baby, I didn’t look at my phone, I didn’t look at anything else, I wasn’t distracted. I was solely about Adrien. And then when I was dancing on “Dancing with the Stars,” I was solely about dancing. When I was at “GMA,” I was solely about that. It taught me to allow myself to be in that moment. And that’s what having children, I think, sometimes can do,” she points out.
Regardless of what is coming her way, Zee has a strong sense of perspective. “There’s not a lot that can faze me because of the natural disasters I’ve been in,” she explains to Huffington. Zee has reported on devastating storms, which have left behind a searing impression: “When I came away from Katrina, which was the first big storm I’d been in, I had seen dead bodies for the first time in my life. Leaving the scene, I realized that I’m leaving, and they can’t. I go away from each one gaining more gratitude for my shoelaces, and the smallest things that these storms take away.”
“I now surround myself with people who are full of happiness. That was something I never did. I was in constant search for chaos,” Zee says. Now, she finds the chaos in her job, but fortifies her personal life with things that bring her peace.
Check out the rest of The Thrive Global Podcasts, sponsored by Crest 3D White and CVS; and in partnership with iHeartRadio, here. To find out more, listen to the full conversation on iHeartRadio, here. You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes.