When Melissa Villaseñor left Saturday Night Live earlier this year, it came as somewhat of a surprise. The comedian and impressionist had seemed like a perfect match for the show since joining in 2016.
But she had her reasons for leaving, and they didn’t have anything to do with the actual show business element of the job. It was more that she was having trouble performing, or more specifically, suffering from panic attacks.
“It was my decision. I gave myself a lot of time in the summer to think on it and kind of play out in my head if I go back,” Villaseñor said on The Last Laugh podcast. “At the end of the day it was about my mental health.”
Melissa Villaseñor on Instagram
Panic attacks can cripple their victims, and Villaseñor said she was no different.
“I was struggling,” she said. “I always felt like I was on the edge of a cliff every week. And I was like, I don’t want to be doing that to myself anymore.”
She added that the attacks were often the result of being in a group setting — and when you’re in entertainment, that is precisely how you spend the majority of your work days.
“It’s not like the show was mean towards me or anyone. It was just how I handle things. I think I’m an introvert,” she said. “When I’m in a big group of a lot of amazing people, and everyone’s speaking over everyone else, I think I tend to get small. I get nervous, like, where do I fit? What am I supposed to do? That’s how I was in high school, too. And so I think that’s what caused it.”
Still she added, she was incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
“There was just something telling me, I think I could part ways. It was super hard because I love Lorne [Michaels, creator of SNL]!” Villaseñor said. “And I am so grateful for all of them for having me. And I shared with them that this was my kid dream. This is all I wanted as a kid. So I’m going to carry that forever in my heart, that I got to experience that in my life.”