It was 2010 and Charlamagne Tha God returned to South Carolina after getting fired from radio for the fourth time. After getting to work with the likes of Wendy Williams in New York, he was back at home collecting unemployment—and he was stressed.
“I went to the doctor for like the fourth or fifth time in my life, and it was for my heart, like thinking I’m having a heart attack,” Charlamagne told Newsweek during a Zoom interview earlier this week. “I had checked myself into the emergency room a few times before that, and it was always the same thing: They checked my heart, telling me, ‘Hey, man, your heart is fine. You’ve got an athlete’s heart.’”
But he said that was the year that a doctor pointed out the real culprit: Anxiety. Charlamagne felt that things would get better as soon as he landed another job. His next gig? Power 105.1 FM’s The Breakfast Club.
“So like five or six years later, I’m having more success than I could ever fathom, but nothing’s changed. I’m still having those panic attacks and still having those bouts of depression,” he said. “That’s when I decided: ‘Man, let me go get some help. Let me go try to figure this out.’ So I started going to therapy, and that was like 2016, 2017. And I haven’t looked back since.”
Charlamagne, whose legal name is Lenard McKelvey, has embarked on what he calls a “healing journey.” He’s candid while detailing his experiences with anxiety, depression and grief.
The host of Comedy Central’s Hell of a Week with Charlamagne Tha God is also an author, whose 2017 book Black Privilege was a bestseller. He opened up about overcoming fears and anxieties in Shook One, another success that was published the following year.
Even promoting that book on shows like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz brought back his panic attacks, Charlamagne said.
“So I would have to implement some of those practices, those breathing exercises and everything else,” he said. “And then I would go on there and just have these really honest conversations about what I was feeling in that moment, which absolutely was anxiety.”
Charlamagne also grappled with insecurity and a lack of self-worth.
“I don’t know why; I felt like that every time that I would go out there,” he continued. “And I think it was just because I was stripped of all of this fake bravado, all of this fake confidence, this character that I had given everybody called ‘Charlamagne Tha God,’ you know—like, Lenard was actually being exposed now. I think that for whatever reason, that resonated with a lot of people…And the next thing I know, I got people running up on me in the street telling me that they started going to therapy because of me, and I still do to this day.”
There was a time, though, when Charlamagne didn’t have the language to describe his anxiety. Men might get called “soft” or a “sucker” if they let themselves experience those feelings, he explained.
“And when you did try to talk about dealing with those things, you would have somebody telling you to ‘man up,’” Charlamagne said. “And so literally, what I feel like is we created a generation of sociopaths, because…you’re telling a bunch of men not to feel.”
Aside from therapy, Charlamagne tries to get Zen in moments of stress. He’ll walk barefoot in the grass to get grounded, meditate, do breathing and physical exercises and take care of himself with deep-tissue massages and plant-based medicines.
Charlamagne also opened up about losing two friends to suicide in 2020. Processing death brings up a range of emotions, he said, including sadness, regret, anger and joy—and all of them are valid.
Another event that hit him hard was the 2019 shooting death of Nipsey Hussle, he said, and he felt for the slain rapper’s family and friends.
“It just made me realize, man, like we all just need so much healing,” Charlamagne added. “And it’s like, that’s what I wanted to devote my life to: Helping people heal, and just continuing to be on my healing journey throughout the rest of my life.”
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