Hayden Panettiere hit the red carpet at the Critics' Choice Awards on Sunday – her first carpet stateside since seeking treatment for postpartum depression.
The "Nashville" star, who looked stunning in a plunging pale peach Maria Lucia Hohan gown, said returning to the award show scene felt "empowering."
"I feel like a different person walking on this red carpet. I always felt a little socially awkward – I mean, I'm still socially awkward but I feel like I don't have to hide myself as much anymore," Hayden told Access Hollywood's Liz Hernandez. "And I can be true, and people will accept your scars and your bumps and your bruises and will relate to them, and I didn't really know that until everything happened over this past year or so."
After voluntarily checking herself into a treatment facility last October, the new mom said she's "feeling great" after completing treatment.
"It's a long process and it's really interesting because part of therapy for me was really finding my true self and the ability to say no," Hayden said. "[It's] so difficult, so difficult. On one hand they're telling you, you're teaching yourself to really just expose yourself and be real and be honest and be open and let those emotions flood through, and then on the other hand you're having to like keep it bottled up.
"So and you're bound to make mistakes and you're bound, you have to find that balance, and I'm still trying to find that balance," she added.
As the actress – who gave birth to daughter Kaya in December 2014 – was quietly struggling with PPD in her real life, her "Nashville" character, Juliette Barnes, was very publicly dealing with the same (initially undiagnosed) challenge.
For Hayden, allowing herself to really dive into her character's pain was almost too difficult.
"It's wild what the mind does. It kind of like puts up a block and you can't associate, and I was having a lot of trouble associating," she explained. "So the more on-the-head it was, the more hitting the nail on the head, it was, the closer to me it was and the closer to the truth I, the more my – I just couldn't. I was suppressing, I backed away, I had to think of something else."
Adding, "It's crazy the blocks that your mind puts up just to protect you."
As previously reported on AccessHollywood.com, Hayden made her first post-treatment red carpet appearance in early December, when she stepped out with fiancé Wladimir Klitschko at a gala in Berlin, Germany.
-- Erin O'Sullivan