SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A Scottsdale woman, who became the target of worldwide scorn over a viral video this summer, is blaming mental illness for her behavior, and is now in the process of staging a comeback.
In July, Melissa Rein Lively live-streamed videos on social media, in which she ranted against masks and pandemic precautions. In one video, Lively is seen destroying a mask display inside a Target store, and yelling at the staff.
It made international headlines. Posts by TMZ, The Daily Mail, and other outlets helped the video reach millions of views online. In the final video in the series, Lively is recording as police officers talk to her inside her garage. Unable to get through to her, and concerned about her spiraling behavior, her husband had called the police.
"I think what people saw in my garage, truly, was the greatest act of somebody helping me," Lively said in an interview with Arizona's Family.
"As much as it pains me to see the person I love the most have to make a decision like that, I'm absolutely grateful he did. It got me the treatment I needed, and the stability I needed to make the conscious choice to get help and get my life on track," she added.
Lively says she was hospitalized and diagnosed by doctors with post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder. She began a lengthy recovery and treatment for mental illness, which involved time at The Meadows, therapy several days a week, horse therapy, medication and lifestyle adjustments.
"What I'm going through is something a lot of people are facing. I look at those videos and I don't recognize that person. It's not me. It's hard to watch because you see someone who's having a medical problem and crumbling," she said.
Lively had developed a reputation for living a posh lifestyle and organizing red carpet events, business openings, fashion shows and charity events in Arizona. She built her public relations and marketing firm, The Brand Consortium, from the ground up. Lively blames her mental break on a combination of untreated childhood trauma, and the stress of the early months of the pandemic. She lost her parents at a young age, and says the pandemic triggered issues which she's tried for years to ignore rather than treat.
"I don't talk about what I've been through in my life because I never wanted anybody to judge me. I never wanted anyone to know, so I convinced myself I could just power through without getting help," she said.
"The pandemic brought all my fears and uncertainty to life. I was curled up in a fetal position 'doom-scrolling' on my phone," Lively remembers.
She disconnected from reality, and suffered a mental break in July. In the videos, she uses racist language, and brags about her "$40,000 Rolex" and Range Rover.
"I understand [that it comes off sounding extremely privileged]. I've been blessed, but I've also worked really, really hard. I really don't know where that [language] comes from, but I know what it's like to have it all and what it's like to not have it all," she said.
In addition to the videos, Lively also made numerous posts, claiming to be the spokeswoman for the conspiracy group known as QAnon.
"I got sucked into QAnon because I was desperate, lonely, scared, and searching for answers," she said.
She says people around her were telling her to "snap out of it," but her obsession only grew deeper.
"It's so crazy, this cult ideology it has. The more you read into it, the more you freak out. Somebody in my mental capacity, who was having a traumatic experience, it was the fuel to the fire and set the whole thing off," Lively said.
After the posts and videos went public, Lively said she lost all of her clients, and her business collapsed.
"I was canceled. My business was gone overnight," she said.
Now that she's found a balance, through medication and therapy, she's going back to her PR roots and launching a campaign focused on rehabbing her own image and reputation. It started with a lengthy list of apologies, including a letter to the staff at the Target store.
"I don't know if I'll be able to fix everybody's hurt, but I sure have tried. It was the hardest thing, asking for forgiveness, but it was also the most rewarding. So many people came back and said they cared and worried but didn't know what to do," she said.
The first business to call her for PR services was a real estate developer.
"That just made me realize there was hope and people in my corner, and that there was future. People saw me for who I am, and not what happened on the worst day of my life," she said.
With a breakdown this public, and streamed around the world, Lively's professional background quickly helped her realize: there's no hiding from it. Instead, she's confronting it, and using it to promote a message about mental health.
"The destigmatization is so important. So many people are suffering and lost. It happens to people. There is hope, and there are options, and people shouldn't feel alone going through this," she said.
Lively realizes not everyone she targeted in the rants is ready to forgive her, and some will never forgive the racist language she used. Still, her apologies are working in the most important areas of her life. Many of her clients have come back to her, and she and her husband are back together.