Long before she was featured in beauty campaigns and in the pages of this magazine, model Caroline Miner Smith was afraid to step outside her front door. “Growing up, I don’t remember a time that I didn’t struggle with severe anxiety,” Smith shares. “I remember it became very apparent when I was in second grade. I felt an overwhelming fear of going to school and got stomach ulcers because I was so stressed about it.”
Smith grew up on a small farm in North Carolina, hundreds of miles from the glitz of Hollywood and the grit of NYC. From a young age, she struggled to assimilate into the conservative community she called home and by adolescence, her anxiety manifested into agoraphobia and she struggled to maintain a normal life. “By high school, [my anxiety] turned into this massive fear of leaving the house,” Smith explains. “It put me in a state of literal starvation and starvation of life experiences. I was immersed in extreme depression.”
Smith is far from alone in her struggles. As social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have changed the course of humanity in many positive and entertaining ways, its omnipresence has led many to experience anxiety, loneliness and a fear of missing out. Many studies have shown a significant link between social media usage and mental health—especially among teens and young adults. It’s hard enough surviving the throes of adolescence and trying to figure out your place in this world— now imagine seeing hundreds of strangers flaunting their perfect skin, bodies and lives every time you log on.
As a survivor of debilitating mental illnesses, Smith knows these feelings all too well. Like many other prominent social media influencers and models, she has shared her experiences with mental illness with her audience. This allows small-town kids the chance to relate to their favorite online personalities and understand that even models struggle with mental illness.
At the time, while it may have seemed easier to succumb to the demons and allow agoraphobia to consume her existence, Smith fought to conquer her disorder step by step. “It took a lot of time to overcome my fear of leaving the house,” Smith says. “I had to remind myself that it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. I needed to be aware of things that make me uncomfortable and ask myself if these feelings are valid or if this is something that I have built up in my head.”
By pushing herself out of her comfort zone, whether that be through confiding in friends or finding a therapist that she could open up to, Smith was able to learn how to combat her mental illness. During her darkest days, Smith discovered that seeing people who had similar struggles helped her to see the light at the end of the tunnel and gave her the inspiration to apply purpose to her own platform. “A life without purpose is a life that doesn’t have a positive impact on the world,” Smith says. “When I feel I have nothing positive to offer the world, that’s when I experience the most depression and anxiety for the future.”
From her lowest of lows, Smith recognized that her purpose is to help others who experience mental illness and was inspired to share her story. Through writing, Smith has not only been able to make an impact on her growing following but has also reaped the rewards of opening up, sharing that “It really helps to organize my thoughts and gain perspective on the way I’m seeing things.”
Given the cutthroat nature of social media, it can be a challenge for anyone to carve out a successful career while holding on to mental clarity. Yet Smith’s journey of self-discovery and established purpose has allowed her ship to stay on course. “Modeling and social media make it nearly impossible not to compare yourself to other people,” Smith shares.“Something I’ve learned is that everyone is their own person and nobody is comparable. I’m so lucky to have this career because not only is modeling a creative outlet, it helped me build a platform to impact people by sharing my experiences with mental illness.”