*Trigger warning: self-harm*
The model, actress, and beauty queen spoke about her struggles growing up, as well as leading to and during her reign as Miss Universe in 2015.
Pia revealed that her father had left them when she was only nine years old and that she became her family's breadwinner at age 11. Despite bagging modeling and acting gigs in her 20s, she shared that she just couldn't get her big break and that she earned little. She would live from paycheck to paycheck, moving from one tiny home to another.
"I had no money, I was sleeping in friends' houses, I was borrowing money, and I even slept in my car with my dog when I had no home of my own," she recalled.
Pia also talked about her first serious relationship, which she revealed was an abusive one.
"I was psychologically manipulated, physically and mentally," she shared. "Psychologically, I was drained. He made me quit my job, I stopped seeing my friends, I stopped making my own money. I gave him everything I had. Financially, mentally, emotionally, I gave it my all."
Her journey towards the crown wasn't exactly smooth-sailing, either. It was only on her third consecutive Binibining Pilipinas pageant that she had the chance to represent the country in Miss Universe.
Having to deal with the whole fiasco and receiving death threats from angered Miss Colombia fans, it was at this time that Pia said she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depression. There's even footage showing Pia breaking down backstage after the pageant.
"All of the pain and suffering I endured all my life caught up to me and manifested itself in an ugly, self-destructive way," she remembered. "You'd think that the crown and the title would be the bandage to all of that. You'd think that it would be enough to make sense of all the pain and the rejection, but it didn’t. I never really faced or acknowledged that I was sad."
Pia said that she was a different person entirely behind closed doors. She would turn to alcohol and she also suffered from anorexia, as well as a condition called trichotillomania, which involves "recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body."
"The thoughts, the doubt, the worry in my head were louder than the cheers," she said. "I had unhealthy coping habits—plural."
"I was deteriorating. I would just sit there dwelling in my pain, crying. I felt so alone. It was nothing like the life people thought I had. I realized that all of the things that I didn't address when I was younger came back to me in a big and harmful way. You can't escape it no matter how successful you become. It was like a poison slowly killing me."
Pia thanked the Miss Universe organization for ensuring she received the professional help she needed. She hopes that through her story, she can encourage people also going through mental health challenges to seek help.
"I was determined to stay strong, to continue my mission, my purpose, and to turn things around," she said. "I wanted to face my demons and finally take care of my heart, something which I didn't do or never cared to do."
"In this next chapter of my life, I feel like breaking free from all of the things that everybody thought I should be."
"Today is the first time I'm opening up about my mental health struggles in public because I want to paint a picture not of a perfect beauty queen, but of a real person with real-life experiences. There's no shame in admitting that you aren't perfect and there's no shame in admitting that you need help."
In an IG post, Pia said she is still recovering.
"There’s no way I’m 100 percent okay now as it’s always a work-in-progress and every day you just find healthier ways to cope."