Max's Turtles All The Way Down Perfectly Captures My Time With Anxiety In High School - And Everyone Needs To See It

Isabela Merced in Turtles All The Way Down.
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

So…I wasn't okay for a long time.

I'll open up this article by saying that I had a lot of issues regarding self-esteem, mental health, and so much more when I was a kid. I was bullied to hell in elementary and middle school, and due to that trauma, I only grew up with an increasing amount of challenges that, to this day, still affect me. 

Granted, I don't think they are there as much as they used to be. It's taken a lot of therapy and help from others to become the confident, semi-adult person I am today. That doesn't mean there still aren't days where I backslide, and I feel like I'm just that simple girl in high school who had significant anxiety about everything around her as well as herself. 

When I started to have many issues that negatively affected me, I turned to reading as a crutch. Entering into the worlds of fictional characters always helped me escape from the troubles of my life—maybe that's why I'm excited for so many book-to-screen adaptations or why I literally can't wait until the ACOTAR TV show comes out; I like escape, even now. 

One book that helped me as a teenager/young adult was Turtles All The Way Down, a novel by John Green that tells the story of Aza, a young woman suffering from OCD and anxiety while in high school. And, of course, like other Green novels, the book received a film adaptation -- and it's now streaming on Max. I decided to check it out, and as someone who loves the book – and loved the movie – Aza is the perfect representation of my life with anxiety in high school – and I need more people to see this film. 

Isabela Merced in Turtles All The Way Down.

(Image credit: Max)

Isabela Merced Authentically Portrays What It's Like To Live With OCD And Anxiety

I've been a fan of Isabela Merced for a few years now. While she got her start on Nickelodeon long after I stopped watching the network, I've only seen her career grow more and more as time has gone on. She was in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Sweet Girl, Let It Snow, and Father Of The Bride—so many movies I've loved her in. 

The Last Of Us' Isabela Merced Told Us She Finished The Game In A Crazy Amount Of Time, Even Without Owning A PS5

She's even going to play Dina in Season 2 of The Last of Us, my favorite video game adaptation. I love that she's getting the praise I always felt she deserved.

Her portrayal of Aza in Turtles All The Way Down touched something profound in my soul. My inner child was smiling and crying at her raw and honest performance because Aza was everything I was in high school. 

Granted, I didn't have OCD, but I did have severe anxiety, and those loud, intrusive thoughts took over my daily life. I couldn't correctly think, act, or do anything without questioning myself…and it was tiring. 

Merced perfectly brought Aza to life, and I'm sure many people – not just myself – also believe that. 

Aza having a panic attack in Turtles All The Way Down.

(Image credit: Max)

Aza's Panic Attack Felt So Real That I Had Flashbacks Of My Own Experiences

I can't tell you how many times in my life I've had a panic attack. I think I've lost count at this point. And the moment that Aza has one in Turtles All The Way Down, I felt myself having flashbacks to the ones I have had. 

Hollywood has never had the best track record when portraying mental health. There have been actors revealing their anxiety battles that have helped in properly representing, but it hasn't gotten to the point where everything is accurately covered. There are mental health movies that honestly look at anxiety, depression, OCD, and more, but most tend to over-dramatize. 

However, Turtles All The Way Down isn't that. Aza's break—when she has it—hits hard because it feels so realistic. It comes on after a traumatic incident, and it slowly festers and grows into something she can't control until it's like her mind makes up its own decisions, growing into self-loathing. It's honest and sad and hits the nail on the head. 

Isabela Merced and Cree Cicchino in Turtles All The Way Down.

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Discovery)

The Friendship Between Daisy And Aza Also Felt True To My Own Friendships

I could talk about Daisy and Aza for hours, man. 

When I saw Isabela Merced and Cree Cicchino on screen, I knew they were best friends, or at least they portrayed it very well. Daisy reminded me of my best friend back home, who has been there for me through my darkest hours. 

What I love the most about them is that they feel so genuine. As someone who has gone through the worst of times and the best with her closest friends, Aza and Daisy are the perfect representation of a modern-day female friendship. We will stand by through it all. Sometimes, we frustrate each other, which can even lead to fights, but we love each other through it all. We take care of each other. And that's how you know it's real. 

Isabela Merced in Turtles All the Way Down.

(Image credit: Max)

I Also Appreciate How It Highlights How Shame About Mental Illness Can Be So Real

The conversation of mental illness has been a topic in which modern society has taken an interest. However, even then, people still don't understand it entirely if they aren't going through it themselves. That can often lead to people saying hateful things or making people feel ashamed of what they are going through. 

While Aza is not made fun of in the slightest because of her thoughts, she does have shame. It's such a massive part of her character that it leads her to keep her thoughts from her friends and family and often directs the young woman down a path that brings nothing but unfortunate circumstances – like her panic attack. She doesn't tell people her thoughts because she's ashamed of them and doesn't want to weird people out. 

That's truthful in so many ways. And I can understand that completely. 

Isabela Merced in Turtles All The Way Down.

(Image credit: Max)

I Felt The Same Way About Medication For A Long Time

Let me be honest and say that I've been able to find ways to deal with my anxiety as I've gotten older. But for a time, I did debate getting on medication – and I had the same thoughts as Aza. 

Her thinking that medication subdues the real you and that it's not her that people are meeting on the medication, but some different version where she doesn't have these thoughts, is a natural feeling. It took me a while to accept the fact that medication isn't there to change you. It's there to help you most of the time, as long as it's used responsibly. 

Even then, it's not that shocking that she felt that way—I think many people have felt that way about it at least once in their lives. 

Daisy and Aza facing a window together in Turtles All The Way Down.

(Image credit: Max)

And The Ending Especially Hit Hard 

I won't reveal the ending because I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I'll openly say that Turtles All The Way Down's ending was one of the best I've seen for a mental health movie. 

I can't get into much without revealing precisely what happens, but it's realistic, and that's why it hits hard. It's about this feeling of hope that can sit with you in your darkest moments, that things might work out for the better despite your mind thinking they won't. It's about being honest with the challenges that are bound to come over your life and being ready to face them with the ones you love. 

That theme – that life is beautiful and challenging, but there's so much hope to live a "full life" – is perfect, especially for those going through hard times. And it's why I want everyone to watch this film and enjoy it for what it is – a movie about accepting who you are and loving it, knowing your weak points but using that as your strength to carry on. 

Look, plenty of movies have come out or will come out as part of the 2024 movie schedule. There are upcoming superhero movies like the long-awaited Deadpool and Wolverine or the new Furiosa prequel, or so many others. 

But Turtles All The Way Down is the first film this year – heck, in years, if we're being honest – that touched something so profoundly that I feel the need to recommend anyone to watch it. 

I feel lucky to live in a time where I can get movies like this, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to share it with others. 

Stream Turtles All The Way Down on Max. 

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.