Porsha Williams has been in the spotlight for more than a decade, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta alum opened the book on her personal struggles and triumphs in her recently published memoir The Pursuit of Porsha: How I Grew Into My Power and Purpose.
“I’m not trying to be anybody’s role model. I’m still a work in progress,” she says. “But I am very aware of who I am. I love myself, and I work hard every single day.”
That work includes prioritizing her mental health. It’s something Williams, who’s struggled with bouts of depression since childhood, has focused on through the decades and through her roles as TV personality on the hit Bravo series and spinoff “Porsha’s Family Matters,” entrepreneur and mother to her now 3-year-old daughter, Pilar.
“Whenever I wake up in the morning and feel those lows, I immediately prioritize Porsha,” she says. “I bet you thought I was going to say my daughter, but I prioritize myself. I will stop my morning, I don’t care what else is going on. I take it as a health emergency and I will stay in the bed, I will go in the bathtub, I will cry it out. I prioritize myself, because when I can be the best that I can be, then I can be that person for someone else. I can be the best mommy to Pilar. I don’t feel like it’s selfish at all to prioritize my mental health above everything. This is how I’ve pulled myself through depression through the years.”
Depression found Williams back in her preteen days, where she was bullied at school for being too tall, too thin, too toothy. She recalls having suicidal thoughts even then.
“When you’re young, you don’t have the capacity to think about life outside of your little bubble. And being young and being an introvert, you put yourself in an even smaller bubble. That’s where a lot of my sadness as a child came from—me not realizing it’s a big world out there. There’s a lot of life I’m going to live,” she says.
“It really took me just growing up and realizing my own identity. That was probably one of the most important parts of my journey. Identifying myself, for myself, and not looking to other people for my value. And that’s a big deal, because what do bullies do? They call you everything but your name. And you start to identify as whatever they are calling you, instead of who you actually are.”
By the time she joined RHOA for season 5 in 2012, as the new wife of ex-NFL player Kordell Stewart, Williams had weathered her share of personal storms but faced a bumpy road ahead. For one, as detailed in her book, as her marriage began to crumble she experienced homelessness while filming the show.
“There was adult bullying, too. When you get divorced you need to remember who you are, your true identity. I decided to focus on my business.”
And despite the drama, she took the opportunity to shine a light on her struggles with fertility and, ultimately, a miscarriage in a later season when she was with then-beau Dennis McKinley.
“With the platform of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, you really don’t understand the magnitude of what you’re a part of. Everything I say matters. There are a lot of people listening, a lot of young girls and a lot of women,” she says. “And once the realization came to me about the power I had, I decided to start speaking about fibroids. And speaking about suffering with fibroids over the years, I couldn’t not talk about the miscarriage because the fibroids caused my miscarriage.”
The decision helped her own healing process. “For me to talk about it, I know I helped other women because they’ve told me, but it really helped me too because at the time of my miscarriage I felt so alone. You couldn’t tell me someone else had been through what I went through because I wasn’t talking to anybody else about it and nobody else was talking to me about their miscarriage. So you just feel isolated and you go through all those emotions by yourself.”
The desire to bridge an emotional connection with others is at the heart of the two successful companies Williams currently operates: Go Naked Hair, a wig and hair products business, and luxury bed linens line Pampered By Porsha.
“As a Black woman, and pretty much for most women, I express myself with my hair. It’s my identity, my crown,” she says.
“When I got my divorce, I had to uplift myself. In the beginning it was just faking it ‘til I was making it, until I got to the point where I really was that confident. If I was doing business I wanted to have a short straight bob that represented the fierce, powerful part of Porsha. Fun was long and curly. I used my hair to express myself and evolve into who I wanted to be, and it’s something I wanted to share with other women.”
Pampered By Porsha is home to a sheet set inspired by the feeling of comfort Williams would have curled up in mother’s bed through the years.
“They remind me of the sheets she used to have on her bed when I was growing up. I was obsessed with my mom and always getting in her bed for a nap. Being in her sheets and smelling her perfume, it just put me straight to sleep. It was the most comforting place I could ever be,” she says. “For anything I had ever been through in life, that was my safe space, my mother’s bed.”
Now a mother herself, Williams dedicated her memoir to Pilar, whom she says saved her life despite a bout with postpartum depression that lasted six months.
“I have always suffered from depression on and off, and I knew once I had a child, that child is who I would live for, that child would give me hope, drive, a reason to pull myself out of any type of rut and be the best person I could be. That’s why I call my daughter my lifesaver because she is just that,” Williams says. “As tiny as she is, she is a force in my life and my complete purpose.”
Postpartum depression “was a different kind of depression. I was used to my down moments and the roller coaster of my mental health. But postpartum depression just hit me from the left field, I didn’t even understand what was going on physically with my body,” she says.
“It’s crazy to think how hard even the littlest things are during postpartum depression. Even feeding her was so difficult for me, but my mother was there by my side. She didn’t push me; she just gently helped me become a mother when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it at the time.”
Hollywood & Mind is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors and other culture influencers who are elevating the conversation around mental health.