Demi Burnett on autism, coming out and the pressures of reality TV.  (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Demi Burnett came out as bisexual on TV. When the cameras stopped rolling, a ‘life-changing’ diagnosis helped her heal

Relaxation is Yahoo Life’s wellness series where experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and Mental Healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

In the 20 years since The single person first, hundreds of singles joined the series in search of love. But few have made a mark like Demi Burnett, the bubbly Texan who vied for the heart of Colton Underwood in Season 23 before starring in Bachelor in Paradise 6 in 2019. It was during this last island series that Burnett revealed that she was dating a woman, Kristian Haggerty, who ended up joining the show. Although they have since separated, the two women made history as Bachelor Nation’s first on-air gay relationship and got engaged in the show’s season finale.

While Burnett – who returned to Bachelor in Paradise last year – is proud of her sexuality and the barriers she’s broken down, she tells Yahoo Life that “going out on national television” has also taken a toll on her mental health. “I had all this shame on my mind during filming,” the 27-year-old said of the “disgusted” reaction she predicted her family would have at the idea of ​​her being bisexual .

“[I was] so paranoid about what my family thinks,” she recalled of the filming experience. “I think of my grandpa and my grandpa watching me date a girl and him thinking about me. shoot for it. Like, I’m so stressed and so scared and so ashamed and guilty and righteous [having] so many feelings.”

Drinking helped now-sober Burnett ‘mask’ those emotions, but her relationship suffered, she says, because the stress and shame she felt made her ‘constantly irritable’ and uncomfortable showing affection for his partner. Once she left the show, her fears of being disavowed by her family proved justified.

“I walk out and everyone comes up to me saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re so brave. Like, how did you do? It’s so amazing!” she said, adding, “I wish my family would see this.” Like, I wish the people I was forced to love and love me in a shitty way, I wish they thought that. I wish they would celebrate me. They still don’t. … The world is like “Demi rocks. We love Demi.” And, like, my own family still doesn’t.”

Demi Burnett on autism, coming out and the pressures of reality TV.  (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Demi Burnett on autism, coming out and the pressures of reality TV. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

In February, Burnett announced on Instagram that she had undergone a psychiatric evaluation which determined that she had autism. Specifically, she identifies as “100% PDA,” or pathological demand avoidance, a profile of autism spectrum disorder characterized by resistance to the demands and expectations of others. Burnett, who self-diagnoses, says she struggles when she perceives a lack of autonomy or control in a situation.

“Autonomy, for me, is not [that] I want it; it is [that] my nervous system is activated if I don’t have it,” she explains. “I go to fight or flight if I don’t have it. So it seems like I’m just that person who always has to win the argument, who always has to say something, who just can’t give up or whatever. It’s because my nervous system won’t let me stop until I win – until I feel like we’re balanced.”

Learning PDA helped clarify her long-standing mental health issues, which date back to her teenage years. Be certain The single person put those struggles on the back burner and make her forget “how messed up I was and how bad I felt because I [was] so consumed by the present moment. “She began self-medicating with alcohol, using alcohol to numb any feelings of anxiety or discomfort around others. But even after getting sober, she still felt that there was a missing piece of the puzzle to get help,” she says.

Increasingly anxious about social situations, Burnett spent the start of the year largely isolated from the world at large. Desperate for answers, she turned to Google, where she came across research on autism in women. For Burnett, the information she uncovered reinforced something she had long suspected.

“In college, I suspected I had autism and told people in my life – because I had always asked for sanity, always begged to go to therapy, always begged for help, and nobody wanted to help me,” she said. “And then I was like, ‘I get it. I think I’m autistic. And everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, no, no, no, no.’ And they made me ashamed and stupid for thinking that and finding that out on my own – I should have been congratulated for figuring that out. And so that ended up stopping me. I doubted myself, hated myself and drank and drank and drank. “

His revelation, nearly a decade later, was “life-changing” and “healing”. Burnett came to find a community of women who can relate to her feelings and experiences. She now feels less alone, and says she no longer wonders “what is wrong with me? helped his anxiety levels.

While much has been made of women diagnosing themselves with autism through TikTok, Burnett stresses the importance of doing thorough research and verifying sources. “If you look at something, don’t take it as fact,” she says, noting that she herself turned to experts and reviewed several articles before focusing on her own self-diagnosis.

These days, Burnett is focusing on self-love — something she describes as treating herself just as well as she would someone else — and leaning into her most authentic self. The latter is especially hard-earned after her long stint in reality television, an industry in which a lack of mental health support and callous editing can create “a toxic relationship with yourself,” she says.

“I would say reality stars have it pretty hard, and anyone who’s not a reality star will laugh about it, but it’s because of what’s going on,” Burnett continues. “You take people who aren’t in the industry, who have no idea what the industry is like, who have fantasized and glorified the industry in their minds. It’s like Disneyland to me, baby And you take me and you use this naivety. You use this curiosity and this excitement and all of that to get good TV out of me. … And you’re just going to show millions of people and never, ever, ever care. how all of this is going to affect me.

While Burnett considers she got away with it “easily” in terms of her own portrayal, she says reality TV producers will “usually throw us to the wolves” by twisting situations or “manipulating” cast members. the distribution.

“It’s just unhealthy,” she said. “And all the while, people tell you how grateful you should be and that no one feels bad for you because you were lucky enough to be on TV. ‘You signed up.’ And it’s like, ‘I didn’t sign for all this deception. And I didn’t sign for all this betrayal.'”

—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove.

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