In addition to revealing that she underwent weight-loss surgery, the Empire star opens up about her bouts with depression and bulimia in This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, out in stores now. And PEOPLE has an exclusive first listen to Sidibe’s Audible audiobook, narrated by the Oscar nominee.
“Here’s the thing about therapy and why it’s so important. I love my mom, but there’s so much I couldn’t talk to her about during my Hoe Phase. I couldn’t tell her that I couldn’t stop crying and that I hated everything about myself. Whenever I did try to open up, my mom seemed unconcerned. When I was sad about something, she told me to ‘get a thicker skin.’ When I was upset, she told me to ‘stop nitpicking.’ My mom has always had faith that things would be okay, but saying ‘tomorrow will be a better day’ wasn’t enough for me,” Sidibe — who turns 34 on Saturday — writes in the heart-wrenching tell-all.
“When I first told her I was depressed, she laughed at me. Literally. Not because she’s a terrible person, but because she thought it was a joke. How could I not be able to feel better on my own, like her, like her friends, like normal people? So I just kept thinking my sad thoughts — thoughts about dying,” Sidibe continues in the book.
In the memoir, the New York native reveals her issues came to a head when she was in college. In addition to suffering panic attacks, Sidibe stopped eating, sometimes for days at a time.
“Often, when I was too sad to stop crying, I drank a glass of water and ate a slice of bread, and then I threw it up,” Sidibe writes. “After I did, I wasn’t as sad anymore; I finally relaxed. So I never ate anything, until I wanted to throw up — and only when I did could I distract myself from whatever thought was swirling around my head.”
Sidibe finally sought treatment, being diagnosed with depression and bulimia by a healthcare professional after revealing that she had suicidal thoughts.
“I found a doctor and told her everything that was wrong with me. I’d never run down the entire list before, but as I heard myself, I could sense that dealing with this on my own was definitely no longer an option,” she writes. “The doctor asked me if I wanted to kill myself. I said, ‘Meh, not yet. But when I do, I know how I’ll do it.’ I wasn’t afraid to die, and if there was a button I could’ve pushed to erase my existence from earth, I would have pushed it because it would have been easier and less messy than offing myself. According to the doctor, that was enough.”
After her initial diagnosis, Sidibe was prescribed an antidepressant and went to therapy.
Today, the star still actively manages her mental health.
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“I just accepted depression as something that’s part of my anatomy; it’s part of my chemistry, it’s part of my biology,” Sidibe tells PEOPLE. “When it’s too big for me to just turn around on my own, I see a therapist. I see a therapist anyway. We all should see a therapist. If only for the hour a week that you can talk about yourself and not worry about monopolizing the conversation? F—ing do it, it’s worth it!”
As for dealing with the eating disorder, “I have to eat every day. I have to eat several times a day, forever,” adds Sidibe, who explains her bulimia was a way to cope with her depression, not to lose weight. “I have a nutritionist that I really like. I haven’t felt like purposely going to throw up. For years, I have not felt that way. But if I ever do, I just have to remember to do the things that make me feel good as opposed to the things that make me feel bad.”