Midlife stress left me SUICIDAL: She’s the brilliantly successful Loose Women presenter and a happily married mother of two… but here ANDREA McLEAN exclusively reveals the devastating battle she’s been hiding
- The Loose Women presenter opened up in her new book This Girl Is On Fire
- She revealed how she broke down in front of makeup artist Donna last year
- Andrea described how her brain and body were constantly whirring with stress
- She also detailed her horrific anxiety in places such as the supermarket
My friend Donna rubbed my back as tears of humiliation, embarrassment and, weirdly, relief ran down my cheeks. ‘What do you want?’ she asked me.
‘It can’t be this because it isn’t working for you. At. All.
‘You’re running yourself ragged, getting tied up in knots trying to do everything and be everything — and for what?
‘You’re making yourself ill and I’m worried about you.
‘You need to stop. Now.’
Loose Women presenter Andrea McLean has opened up about her battle with severe anxiety in her new book This Girl Is On Fire
It was 10am on a warm summer’s morning last year, and I was supposed to be sitting in a make-up chair being made beautiful before hosting the live TV show Loose Women in front of millions of viewers.
Instead, I was sitting in a make-up chair crying all over make-up artist Donna, who had decided, as friends do, that enough was enough.
Someone needed to tell me that I was headed straight for a brick wall — that I had become unrecognisable not only to her, but to myself.
I couldn’t deny it or try to hide it any longer: I was having a nervous breakdown.
Now I can see that it had been brewing for a long time.
My brain and body were constantly whirring with stress — and although I’d been on anti-anxiety medication since December 2018, I was still on edge. Tiny things tipped me over it.
That Christmas, I broke down in my car in a supermarket car park because a driver beeped at me for waiting for someone to pull out.
The man zoomed past me, shouting and gesticulating and, after I’d parked the car, I switched off the engine and sobbed into my hands.
In the store, as I walked up and down the aisles, the only way I could manage to get through the terrible anxiety was to concentrate on my breathing.
She revealed how she broke down in front of makeup artist and friend Donna last year whilst she was preparing to host Loose Women
If I could breathe in and out again, I’d make it through six seconds, then through 12 seconds, and eventually I’d survive a minute.
And if I managed to survive such an awful minute, then maybe I could survive another one.
At work, I could feel my colleagues standing back from me, beginning to wonder what was wrong.
In January, for the first time in 13 years of hosting Loose Women, I realised I couldn’t face going to the National Television Awards with all the other girls, even though it’s normally the highlight of our social calendar and we have such fun getting ready together.
I knew it would be too loud, too much. Instead, I got into my party dress alone and cried in the car all the way there.
I posed for two pictures on the red carpet, then literally ran away from the cameras. As soon as I possibly could, I slipped out and left.
The stress became physical. I was throwing up. Not sleeping. Consumed with anxiety.
At my lowest point, I was suicidal. This is the first time I’ve admitted that.
Just days after I’d collapsed on Donna, I had an argument with my husband, Nick, and then went away on a work trip.
It was a trivial thing, the kind of spat all couples have, and he’d only been mildly annoyed with me.
But I was in such a bad state of mind that it triggered overwhelming anxiety and other negative emotions.
Andrea is happily married to husband Nick, 47, but just days after collapsing on Donna, the presenter had an argument with him and because she was in such a bad state of mind it triggered overwhelming anxiety
Alone in my hotel room, I wanted to end it all right then. I felt Nick couldn’t see my side of things at all — and if someone who loved me as much as he did failed to see it, what was the point?
And yet I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to hurt my family — Nick, 47, my beloved third husband, and my two wonderful teenagers; 18-year-old Finlay from my first marriage and 13-year-old Amy from my second.
I thought they would be ashamed that I’d been so weak. I lay on the floor of my room and sobbed.
Then the next day I got up, went to work, put on a smile and knocked it out of the park at a meeting. No one would ever have known.
How could I have done that? How can anyone go from lying on the floor feeling suicidal to going into work the next day?
Ask anyone who has been in this situation and I’m sure they will say the same thing: shame keeps you smiling.
You don’t want anyone to know because you’re ashamed of it.
So why am I telling you this now? Well, we all think we know people we see on the television regularly.
Andrea has two wonderful teenagers; 18-year-old Finlay from her first marriage and 13-year-old Amy from her second. Pictured: The family in 2011
We form an opinion about them, good or bad, and that’s totally fine: I do the same with people I see on TV or in movies.
But how much do we really know about anyone?
When other women say they envy my life or my career, what they envy is the glossy veneer of it.
But I’m a 50-year-old woman who didn’t just waltz into a glamorous job on TV — and there’s much more to know about me, some of it darker than you’d think.
When I decided to write a self-help book for women, about learning to love your life and how to thrive, I knew I’d have to talk about the mental challenges I’ve faced, too.
If I’m going to help other women, it’s vital they know how far I have come on my own journey.
Looking back, I can see my breakdown had a variety of causes and was largely a result of sheer burnout. But perhaps at the root of it lay a profound lack of self-worth.
Through life’s bumps and bruises — and as a result of unhealthy relationships with people who didn’t only chip away at my self-esteem, but took pleasure in breaking me down until I didn’t believe I was capable or worthy of anything — my mindset changed.
Constant criticism grinds you down. Hope and optimism were replaced by fear and tentativeness.
I lost my nerve, afraid to try anything in case it drew attention to me and I was shot down in flames.
Some of it came from issues in my personal life. At one point, I was told to my face many, many times by someone who supposedly loved me: ‘I don’t know why you’re bothering. Why would anyone want you?’
If you hear that sort of thing often enough, it drips like acid into your subconscious and corrodes the part of you that believes in yourself.
I hate using the word victim.
But after finally having therapy and saying out loud the experiences I’ve had at the hands of another human, I’ve acknowledged that in this instance, I was one.
I was so used to being the good girl, to trying hard and fixing problems, that I found myself tiptoeing around on eggshells rather than walking away.
Public acclaim: Andrea, far left, on the set of Loose Women with Penny Lancaster, Carol McGiffin and Nadia Sawalh
Hurtful comments came from other quarters, too.
I once had an agent who would send me messages after each show telling me how awful I’d looked — why the hell had I worn that outfit and what had I done to my hair?
And, of course, social media is full of critics.
Instagram and Facebook are awash with people poised over their phones like ugly Dementors — those sinister wraiths from the Harry Potter books — waiting to suck the joy out of us.
To the outside world, I was hosting an award-winning TV show and I was smashing it. But to my mind, warped by the mean words of others, I couldn’t do anything right at all.
I was fragile — but I didn’t realise just how fragile until, in 2018, I was asked to be a contestant on the Channel 4 show Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
For many who take part, it’s a life-changing experience. ‘Recruits’ are pushed to their limits not only physically but psychologically, and I was no different.
The intensity of the experience in the freezing Andes, in Chile, stripped away all the protective mental barriers I’d built up over the years and left me horribly exposed.
From the very start of the show, when black cotton bags were fitted over the contestants’ heads for the journey out to camp, I was terrified.
When she decided to write a self-help book for women, about learning to love your life and how to thrive, Andrea said she knew I’d have to talk about the mental challenges she had faced, too
And within micro-seconds of that black bag being ripped off my head, I knew I was in trouble.
Staring at me as if he could read my soul and hated everything he saw was DS Billy, one of the instructors. Suddenly, the box in which I’d buried all the dark memories and emotions of my past flew open. I left the show suffering from hypothermia and in genuine shock.
The trouble was, when I returned home to my normal life, I couldn’t get the trauma back in the box again.
I tried to suppress it by filling my mind and my time with busyness.
I got up earlier and earlier, until I was rising at 5.30am to get to the gym for a workout that became ever more punishing.
I was listening to go-getting, motivational podcasts telling me to push harder, stay focused, keep going! Quitting is for losers!
I’d arrive at the TV studio at 8.45am for the morning meeting, before going through the routine stresses of hosting a daily live show. Then it was on to doing podcasts and Press interviews.
Later in the day, I’d write articles on my laptop in the back of taxis, or on the train as I headed home to Surrey, only to spend the evening working on the website Nick and I had set up to inspire women, thisgirlisonfire.com, often until the small hours.
I see now that I was finding no joy in anything I was doing: the work I was going for, the pitches I was making.
I was so consumed by negativity and sadness that I hated it all and blamed everything I was feeling on my situation, the life I was living.
But in truth, being on the brink of burnout didn’t happen overnight; it happened because of a thousand things I’d done beforehand and was continuing to do. I kept on making mistakes.
I’d taken my eye off my finances, for example, which meant I was in a bit of a mess when my tax bill arrived — another thing to be deeply ashamed of.
Some of it was biological, too.
Andrea said that Donna’s intervention did not stop her crash, but her intervention meant she got help quickly
After years of suffering from chronic endometriosis, I had a full hysterectomy at the age of 46 and was plunged into menopause overnight, which left me exhausted and anxious.
And it was partly my own fault. I was holding myself back. Rather than seeing that I was the one in charge of how I looked at things, I let everything take charge of me.
I became bitter, angry, resentful, and eventually exhausted and damn near friendless.
Until that day last year in the make-up chair, when Donna finally stepped in to save me from myself.
The things she said to me didn’t stop my crash, but her intervention meant I got help, quickly.
When I arrived home after the show, I broke down in tears that seemed to last a lifetime. I told Nick I needed to cut back on the work I was doing.
I felt like I was short-circuiting. I finally admitted I needed therapy, too, and began seeing a lovely psychotherapist.
In that room with her, I said things out loud that I’ve never spoken of before or since.
And finally, I saw how important it is to look back and take the time to reflect, not simply to airbrush bad experiences out of my mind.
Trust me, burying things doesn’t work!
My anxiety hasn’t disappeared entirely.
I still have days when I’m too scared to push myself or jump into the unknown; when I feel overwhelmed by life and so depressed that the world feels like a dark, horrible, pointless place.
Andrea’s anxiety episodes have become fewer and farther apart and she knows that that is because she has changed the way she looks at them
On those days, I feel like I’m drowning on dry land, in full view of the world, only no one can see it.
I can’t hear what people are saying — nothing goes in; it’s all just noise — and my head prickles with pins and needles of stress.
Thankfully, these episodes have become fewer and farther apart — and I know that’s because I’ve changed the way I look at them.
I pull back and change my perspective so I’m no longer focusing solely on the negative thoughts but can see around them, instead, to the broader picture.
That makes me realise how lucky I am — that even if all my problems still exist, so do all my successes.
Indeed, I’ve come to realise there is really only one definition of failure, and that’s when we stop trying.
Things not working out as you’d planned or wanted, things going wrong, things falling apart, making a mistake, messing up … it doesn’t matter.
Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. That’s it. That’s all you can do.
In the end, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that your happiness is in your own hands.
Adapted from This Girl Is On Fire, by Andrea McLean, published on September 29 by Hay House at £12.99. © Andrea McLean 2020.
To order a copy for £11.04 (offer valid to September 24, 2020; free P&P on orders over £15), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.
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