Therapy helped me realise it wasn't my fault my parents split up . . .
Q102 presenter Debbie Allen tells andrea smith about her battle with depression and how she now enjoys a busy yet contented life
You can be the flavour of the month one month, and then the next month you lose your job, but that's the media for you."
I'm having afternoon tea in The Gibson Hotel with Q102 presenter Debbie Allen, and we're discussing the quarterly JNLR figures - the rock on which many a broadcaster's career has perished. The warm and friendly Debbie is happy because her evening show, The Love Zone, was up 4,000 listeners last month, which is thanks to her great blend of music and easy banter.
Debbie celebrated turning 50 last month, and while some people don't relish the thought of getting older, she was delighted.
"I couldn't wait to turn 50," she says. "I have no responsibilities as my son Sam is 24 and is working and living with his girlfriend, so it's time for me now. I like my own company, love my animals and am going through a bucket list kind of thing. I'm learning to play the drums, very badly, and I would like to volunteer more with animals.
Actually, I would love to win the Lotto and have my own animal sanctuary. I have two dogs, who are 10 and 11, and they're my babies."
As part of her bucket list, Debbie went back to college last October to become a personal trainer, which she describes as the best 18 weeks of her life.
Her interest in fitness began when she met fellow TV3 Midday panellist and personal trainer Siobhan Byrne and began working out with her. Now that she is qualified, in tandem with her radio career she would like to be able to help women who are prisoners in their own home and can't go for a walk to the shops to attain a basic level of fitness.
By her own admission, Debbie doesn't look like your typical gym bunny. While she lost four-and-a-half stone and became really fit when she was working out with Siobhan, she gained some of it back when she put her back out last year.
"My next aim is to get the weight off me that I put on when I was in college," she says. "The weight bothers me physically, but not psychologically. Maybe it's body dysmorphia in reverse, but I think I look fine. I was skinny growing up, but the weight really landed on me over the past 10 years when I started driving at 40.
"I just loved going to college and met some great people there. I was the oldest, the loudest and the fattest in the class, but the tutors were brilliant and it was the best thing I ever did.
I had forgotten how good it was to learn. I hadn't done exams since 1982 and it was really overwhelming initially, but I think I would like to do something else now, maybe criminal forensics."
Debbie was born in 1964 and lived in Bluebell until she was seven, when her family moved to Ballymun and then Swords. She had two younger brothers, Mark and Brendan, but Brendan died when he was 15 after being knocked down on holiday in Spain.
Debbie's parents are divorced, and she does not have a relationship with her mum, who moved to the UK in 1984. She is very close to her dad, Benny, and stepmother, Brenda, who live in Spain. She has two step-brothers, Ian and Adam.
"My mother and I don't see eye to eye any more, though we tried when Sam was born," she says. "I have spent a lot of time crying on leather couches about it, but we just don't get on and we have had to accept that.
"It was horrible not to get on, because everyone loves their mammy. I have adopted my best mate Elaine's mum - I adopt all my friends' mothers - and I love my stepmother very much. She is an incredible woman and my dad is so happy."
While her brother keeps in touch with their mum and Sam went over to visit her, Debbie says she has thought a lot about the situation and has concluded that with the best will in the world, and no matter how much you may wish it was otherwise, sometimes you just can't make something work.
"I think it was a personality clash," she says. "Reflecting on it now, my mother's son was killed and I don't know how she ever got over it. It should have brought us closer together, but it tore us apart, I don't know what I would do if I lost my son, so fair play to her."
Elaine goes to Spain every year to visit her dad with her best friend, Elaine Geraghty, who she met when both worked at 98FM. "I look forward to it so much," she says. "We have so much fun - laughing, drinking, eating and sleeping. No clubs or men, just the best craic, and that is what I look forward to the most. I have some smashing women in my life. Elaine is very different to me - I am very emotional whereas she would be a rock of sense. She's the yin to my yang."
One area Debbie has been very honest about is her battle with depression. She was always very sensitive, but it got worse after she had Sam, and she tried everything from therapy to massage. She is on tablets these days, and they keep her mood stable.
"I spent thousands trying to sort my head out before I took a tablet," she admits. "I was so reluctant, but when I did it I was grand. It doesn't take the sadness away, but it allows you to feel balanced. There were times when I would be on air rambling on and would go home on a Friday and not get out of bed until Monday. I would just cry with pain and it was awful.
"I was obviously chemically imbalanced and I needed something to fix that. No one would have ever known I was depressed, because you put on a great front and people think you're great fun, but I was dying inside and I can't put my finger on why.
"I thought it was because of my family situation, but I learned from a therapist about blame and responsibility and that it wasn't my fault that my parents split up or that my brother was killed."
Debbie did a commercial course after school and worked in fashion retail then went to work in a nightclub, Suzy Street, for four years.
She met Audrey Byrne, now Mark Cagney's wife, while she was working there and they ended up sharing a house together. Audrey was working in 98FM, and through that Debbie was invited to make a demo tape, which is how her career in radio began. It suited her as she had Sam in 1990 when she was 26 and was in a relationship with his dad for nine years.
She is now with her partner, Fred, who works as a technician in the music industry. They met at a 98FM leaving do in 1998 when Fred was sharing a house with broadcaster Tom Dunne.
Debbie was attracted to his long black curly hair and handsome looks. They "just clicked", and she says he is a great guy who is much quieter and more private than she is. Fred is away a lot, as he has been working with One Direction for the past two years. They got engaged 10 years ago, but don't have plans to get married.
"I don't see the need," says Debbie, laughing. "It's a 50-50 relationship and we have a house and dogs together. With Fred being away so much it's weird having so much space at times. When he comes back, we circle each other for the first few days because he needs to wind down, and just as we are getting relaxed with each other he is gone again."
Debbie says the highlights of her life have been having Sam, meeting Fred, the joy she gets from her dogs and the personal satisfaction of going to college.
"I also have to say I make myself happy now," she says. "I like myself and I try to be the best I can be. Sam is a chef and he is more like my best friend, really, because we had a lot of time together on our own. He is a really good boy and never gave me any trouble. He is very thoughtful. He is the love of my life."
Debbie now presents The Love Zone on Q1012 four evenings a week and on Saturday morning. Her warm personality and soothing tone make her the perfect radio presenter, though as anyone who has seen her on TV3's Midday can attest, she is not afraid to express her opinions.
She loves her job and her radio show, but if she could do it again, she thinks she may have chosen to go down the route of news and current affairs journalism.
"You can go anywhere with that," she says. "You aren't defined by your looks or your age but by your passion for news. I don't agree with gender quotas. If you are good enough then you should be there. Women at 50 can be seen as too old in media, so I wouldn't fit in many places now because of my age. I am too old for the likes of 98 or Spin, so I am really where I should be now.
"Breakfast radio suits me because I like to get up and get at it and then go to bed early. The show is doing well and the station is doing great and we are still number two in the city, which is fantastic."
Catch The Love Zone with Debbie Allen, Monday to Thursday, 7pm to midnight on Q102. Debbie also presents More Music, Less Talk, Saturdays 11am to 3pm