Lele Pons Shares Mental Health Struggles in New YouTube Docuseries: 'I've Learned to Be Strong'

Lele Pons
Austin Hargrave

Lele Pons photographed on March 7, 2018 in Los Angeles. 

Lele Pons is letting her more than 40 million social media followers see a side of her they've never seen before.

Through her newly released YouTube series The Secret Life of Lele Pons, the social media influencer and singer reveals her lifelong struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and other mental health conditions.

"It’s very personal and it took a while for me to actually to be super open because at first I was embarrassed about it," Pons tells Billboard. "But over the time, I've learned to be strong."

Launched in partnership with YouTube in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, the five-part series documents Pons' journey from childhood to present day, her therapy sessions, and how living with OCD has impacted her career as an influencer and musician.

Below, read our Q&A with Pons, in which she talks about her "little secret" and why she decided to a do a whole series on her struggle with OCD.

With the first episode now live on YouTube, how are you feeling? Is there almost a sense of relief or are you nervous?

I’m kind of nervous about it, you know. It’s very personal and it took a while for me to actually to be super open because at first I was embarrassed about it. When I was a little girl, I did sort of share it with other kids, and you know kids are -- they make fun of you.

It’s very personal and it took a while for me to actually to be super open because at first I was embarrassed about it. But over the time, I've learned to be strong. Now, I’m ready to let people in my life. This is my little secret and I’m basically telling them, ‘Here’s my secret, now take care of it.’ It's the first time I show the world my vulnerable side. I owe it to my fans because they've been vulnerable with me.

So how do you get to the point when you decide it’s time to share something so personal?

A lot of things accumulated. I opened up to my team and then I started opening up to other people, and I felt that it was OK. Then, I met other people who were going through this and I didn’t feel alone anymore.

At therapy, I’ve also met some other people my age, and we talk it out and they were like, "Wow, no one would’ve ever thought you had it." It’s crazy to think that many people are struggling with this. There was this fan I met and she was in denial, didn’t want to get treatment, and then I stepped in and told her I have OCD too, and that we were in the OCD club together.

The YouTube series is the perfect way for me to actually help anybody -- even if it’s just one person.

What role does this part of your life play in your life as a musician?

It plays a big part in everything that has to do with work. I am obsessed with working very hard, with reaching a point of perfection. So it has helped me shift my OCD obsessions to focus on perfecting my music instead of being obsessed with other things and thoughts. I'm getting things done and it’s helped me in that sense.

After watching some episodes, what’s it been like to see yourself struggling with OCD?

It’s very shocking. Right now, I’m not as bad as I was before. Sometimes it just depends on how I’m feeling, what I’m doing, the treatment I’m on that triggers this, and right now, looking at the episodes I’m like, "Wow, was I really that bad?" And I think, "I’m so strong." When you’re really in pain, you don’t even realize what you’re doing. Seeing myself act that way, I just start crying because I don’t recognize myself.

What do you hope that people take away from this?

I want them to be educated about OCD. It’s a complicated subject and that’s why I didn’t just want to do, like, a video about it. That’s why I did a whole series that has five episodes, to really explain what OCD is all about.

I also want people to know that they’re not alone. I have it and if I’m able to make a good thing out of it and succeed and be happy, then you are 100 percent able to do that too. If Shakira would have told me, "I have OCD and look at all I’ve done,'"I’d be like, "Wow, then I can be like her too."

The Secret Life of Lele Pons airs a new episode every Tuesday on her YouTube channel.

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