My first job in radio was the overnight weekday shift on midlands iRadio. The station's management took a shot on me, pairing me with a long-time station contributor and comedian, Cormac Moore. On air, we were light-hearted, upbeat and fun. Off air, I spent a whole lot of my time being a far cry from that.
After a stint working the evening chart show that was as short as the night shift we'd filled before it, Cormac and I were offered the opportunity to take over as Spin 1038's breakfast-show hosts, a prized role at the station's helm.
It was the first time I'd managed to negotiate and secure a financially successful position since I'd stepped into the world of the self-employed at the tender age of 17. I was now 26. I had a brilliant, somewhat scarce and aspirational job and I was in a long-term relationship with a man who made me feel adored every single day. Surely I was happy?
External gains don't appease a discontented mind - although they certainly aided my desperate attempts to continue ignoring mine.
This advance into early morning broadcasting also quickly brought me to the point of having everything I thought I'd ever wanted; all of the 'I'll be happy whens'.
I thought I'd be happy when I moved back into the city from my parents' house in Kildare, but when my new salary afforded me a room in a penthouse apartment in Dublin 8 with two of my best friends, I could still find things to complain about. The traffic outside was too loud, my room was too hot and the electric blinds on our windows lowered too slowly, among other devastating daily burdens.
Then, once I owned a brand new car, I'd be happy, right? Well, I went one better than that. My new position in Irish media gave me the opportunity to become an ambassador for Volkswagen Ireland, which meant my brand new Golf R-Line was updated every six months. The novelty wore off so quickly that I felt absolutely nothing at all when I backed the car into a large cement pillar in my underground car park, no doubt due to an all-consuming distracted state about something ridiculous.
I would arrive into work every morning to a stack of PR boxes containing an array of different gifts and invites, and the act of going through it all would actually annoy me, as would deciding where to put it all in my bedroom, which was already a cluttered mess of unnecessary crap.
Next, for all my adult years I had believed that my ultimate happiness lay in finding myself booked and busy to within an inch of my life.
The scarcity of work had been deeply engrained in me after modelling and grasping for jobs in TV for nearly a decade, and I badly wanted to become a savvy, successful woman with a full schedule. Well, I would get it when, alongside presenting my breakfast radio show and modelling regularly, writing a monthly column for a glossy magazine and a weekly full-page spread for a tabloid newspaper, I was also swept up in a new-age career of sorts that would come to be labelled 'influencing'. I booked multiple campaigns and ambassador roles for a bunch of brands that all ran parallel. On top of all this, I was also booking MC and DJ gigs for large events, charging €1,000 for a two-hour set.
Speaking of money, I also thought I'd be happy when I was financially stable and free from living from sporadic pay cheque to sporadic pay cheque. Staying true to the girl I had been when I'd worked in the Meteor store in Newbridge during the day and the restaurant during the night, I was still an avid saver, even stricter now after years of modelling for breadcrumbs. I checked my bank account one day to find I had €120,000 when I compiled everything from my various savings accounts with my current account. I hadn't noticed any milestone because I was too busy working morning, noon and night every day of the week to amass that figure.
By now my relationship was on its last legs. He'd played second fiddle to my career and my perpetual bad mood for a long time, so I could reach the successes I once thought I'd only ever dream of, yet they weren't paying off in the ways I'd assumed they would. Where was the absorbing happiness that was to just come upon me one day in light of some final achievement?
All I felt was chronic exhaustion and a general hum of unease. I was always rushing to leave one job early to arrive to the next one late, and in the process I was skimping on the most important relationships in my life, including the one with myself. But I was invested in being a highly competent person, so I ignored the whispers inside me that something felt a little off and continued my blind search for happiness in senseless productivity.
I choose to reveal the above about my professional life not to brag or because I consider it to be the pinnacle of success, but because even doing and having more than I ever thought I could didn't make me happy for any notable duration. I was trying to fix or maybe avoid a broken part of myself by chasing love, approval, success, or the million other things we seek for fulfilment outside ourselves. But no matter how much I got, until I realised who I was and made peace with it, I felt estranged from, and unsettled in, myself.
When anger and hurt simmer inside of us, for any reasons, acknowledged or not, no relationship, no success, nothing at all in this world outside of ourselves will mask it or mend it for long. Work and success were my primary concerns, the defining strings to my bow, and everything else, including my relationship, was disposable. The fact is I didn't deserve him or the love he gave me for so many years, but without them, I don't know if I ever would have come to see my own flaws so undeniably. He was the first man to teach me how to love, and I am a better person now for simply having known him.
The end of my relationship was the beginning of the end of my ability to maintain a stable emotional state. My mental health declined fairly rapidly over the next six months, but in my ignorance, I went out kicking and screaming, holding on to the life I'd built but could no longer live, with every ounce of willpower in me.
"I have the flu again and my voice is going." This is how my complaints would begin. Through the last half of 2016 and into 2017, I made more visits to my childhood GP's clinic than ever before, attempting to explain any one or more of the physical symptoms of burnout I was experiencing. Losing my voice was extremely inconvenient when I needed to host a breakfast radio show from Monday to Friday, but the remedy frustrated me even more. 'Rest' wasn't something I had time for.
On another visit: "I'm just so tired all the time - I'm not functioning properly and my head feels fuzzy. I'm having really uncomfortable digestive issues every day too, and I have this constant twitch that alternates between the top and bottom of my left eyelid." This was another inconvenient set of symptoms when I worked most days after the breakfast show as a model. Significant gut distension and break-outs made bikini photo shoots even more stressful than realising you are probably already too old to be doing them. Plus trying to 'smize' convincingly through the aggressive and persistent twitch in my eye became a weekly problem. I took adrenal support, strictly implemented the results of my food intolerance test and generously rubbed magnesium oil on my skin at 1am when I had to be up for work at 5am - it was supposed to help with the insomnia and thus cure the twitch, but clearly, it wasn't working. In fact, none of the prescribed solutions to any problems I presented with ever worked, because singly addressing the manifestations of a root cause is like putting Steri-Strips on a bullet wound.
So the visits continued to clock up as life whirled by, and the complaints became more elaborate with time. "When I breathe in it's like a sharp, shooting pain in my chest, but if I force myself to inhale deeply enough through the pain, it feels like it pops and then the pressure in my chest eases. And remember that twitch in my eye I was telling you about? Can you get those in your heart too? Because I'm pretty sure I have one in my heart now - even when there's no pain, I feel like it's beating funny."
On the basis of this description, my GP sent me for an ECG to rule out any abnormalities. During the wait for testing and results, I spent most of my idle time ruminating on my imminent death by heart attack. Then my GP called to tell me my heart was perfectly healthy. The heart pain didn't stop, but this did give me permission to move on to preoccupying myself with worry about having early onset Alzheimer's instead, which I now know was actually the confusing beginning stages of a chronic panic disorder.
After the first incident, I told my GP, "I was walking a trail I've walked so many times with a friend I've known since childhood, and then suddenly neither of them was familiar any more. I forgot where I was and I think I forgot who I was. It was the most powerful feeling of disorientation, like I was leaving my body. In the moment, I felt so overwhelmed with fear that I thought I might faint, or vomit, or both. Then, after a couple of minutes, I began to settle and the world started to realign, but I still felt this ripple of fear for hours, actually maybe days, after. Sometimes I felt like I didn't want to leave my bed, because any sensory stimulation at all was completely overwhelming in the aftermath."
When I returned to the GP with my latest fixation, "a hard lump the size of a tennis ball in my lower abdomen", after an examination, she informed me that stress might be the root cause of my ever-growing list of ailments. This was the first time anyone had made that connection in relation to me. Needless to say, it went in one ear and out the other before she'd even finished the sentence. I thought it was some kind of formality she needed to spiel off before she got back to talking facts and reason. But she continued to tell me how I must make some 'lifestyle changes' in order to improve my health. Yoga and meditation were noted as two worthy places to start.
I was baffled because I was so clearly physically sick. Where was the diagnosis and the foil-covered sleeve of pills to make it go away? I left her office promising myself I'd get a second opinion once I could find a window of time to commit to the issue, which was already dominating my days with diet alterations, tests and tablet scheduling. I was a highly productive person, "too together to fall apart" as one of my colleagues had pointed out.
My breaking point and some of the darkest days of my life were just around the corner I was hurtling towards, but I couldn't see it coming. I had never taken a minute to get to know myself, to think about where I'd come from, or where I was going. I simply never, ever thought I would struggle with my mental health. I never thought I would be the victim of a breakdown, so even in the midst of it, I was in complete denial about what was happening with me. It just did not register on my radar.
Over the coming months, after an erratic, non-stop crying phase, I tried to maintain the schedule of my regular day-to-day life, showing up for work and other commitments and ticking off the to-do lists on my daily Google calendar while also trying to be a good friend, a good girlfriend in my new relationship, and an all-round sane and decent person in society at large.
There were a number of days during those months where I found myself so desperate for relief from the confusing symptoms of my overactive sympathetic nervous system that I would try to sit down and meditate, or book into an overpriced drop-in yoga class. Meditating just did not work for me - it felt like nothing but utter boredom and time-wasting, and on some occasions it seemed to be an opportunity for my mind to amplify every negative thought brimming with worry and catastrophe, or to showcase a running commentary of everything I had failed to do so far in my life. I found that to be an unsettling experience, one to be avoided at all costs.
I'll be honest, the intensity of my reaction to yoga did alarm me and could have been an indication that there was something a little off with me, but I just resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't for me. I wasn't of the spiritual persuasion and that's OK - it was nonsense anyway, was my mindset.
Finally, I reached breaking point one dark, rainy afternoon on Dublin's jammed M50. The rain was hammering on the windscreen of my car and panic rose in my head and chest; the internal state of affairs I had been trying to ignore finally spilling over into the undeniable sensation that I didn't know who I was or where I was any more.
Reduced to an almost vegetative state in the aftermath, once I'd made it home to the safety of my couch, my roommate had fed me a mashed banana as I trembled the evening away, waiting for the shockwaves to pass.
The next morning I simply woke up feeling unbearably different - like something had snapped and I was no longer myself. It felt like a strange combination of insufferable nerves and numbness.
After that panic attack, there were no more breaks from the overspill of stress, which had allowed me to function as somewhat normal. My mouth was always dry, my breath always short and rapid, my body shook and twitched and my head felt constantly muddled, like I was grasping at the thinnest edge, dangling above a hopeless, all-consuming pit of panic below.
Food stopped tasting like anything at all, good or bad, and I couldn't find joy in any of the things that had sparked it in me before. I felt mostly nothing, other than the constant nerves. I lost all motivation to do anything more than stay in bed - even showering became a once-weekly trouble and only for everyone else's benefit.
I was still managing to drag myself to my work commitments on most days, digging deep to find the bare minimum amount of confidence and composure necessary to get me through the shift.
I had become completely disillusioned with the career I had worked so hard and so long to build. It no longer brought me any happiness or purpose, and every time I was forced to say our breakfast show's sponsorship tagline - "McDonald's, making mornings tastier" - or smile for another picture endorsing some product I wouldn't dream of using myself, I felt like nothing more than a soulless, fake, glorified walking billboard. And I mean that literally, as my giant smiling face was actually on rotation on a large city-centre billboard right outside my living-room window. I had never experienced anything - and probably will never again - quite like the dissonance of that unrecognisable version of me beaming into my home as I tried to find some reason or the courage to simply dress myself.
But it wouldn't stay like this for long - it couldn't. The feeling of disorientation I had described to my GP months earlier had permeated my day-to-day life as recurring panic attacks with a side order of constantly fluctuating disassociation, so whether I liked it or not, I would soon no longer be able to work.
Like most people who experience a panic disorder over an extended period of time, I developed agoraphobia, essentially an intense fear of leaving my bed, in case I was overcome with the humiliating symptoms of fear and panic anywhere other than alone between the safety of my sheets. Being forced to venture into the city centre every day was nothing short of an assault, when everything felt potentially overwhelming and threatening.
Even at this point, I still wasn't convinced I was suffering from a mental-health issue, so I did finally make the time to get that second opinion. I took an arduous 15-minute walk from my apartment to a GP's clinic on Dame Street, and over a long consultation, I told him everything that had happened up to that point. I left his office with no place to hide from the fact any longer. Staring at a prescription for antidepressants and Xanax, the penny finally dropped and I felt so ashamed.
I had betrayed myself into a million broken pieces. How many times had I bulldozed through the many warning signs, ranging from a whisper to a roar, and ignored my overburdened body trying to seize my fractured attention for even a moment and for my own benefit? I had spent so long defiantly searching for the solution outside of myself, when all I'd needed was a single cell of self-awareness to clock the actual cause of the problem. I was devastated to have arrived at this point, but I also felt the slightest, briefest glimmer of determination. With the desperate confusion untangled and an answer in hand, I was going to solve this.
Over the following days, I handed in my notice at work, found a psychotherapist I could meet weekly, and reduced my life to absolute basics. I started to properly research meditation, yoga and other self-care activities, instead of ignorantly denouncing their scientifically proven benefits. Through this, I found yin yoga, a slow and restorative class where you hold poses for up to five minutes, and finally, instead of getting angry, I would cry, leaving the class with a short-lived but refreshing feeling of relief.
I bought every book I could find on the mechanics of anxiety and depression so that I could understand what was happening inside my body on a structural and hormonal level. The more I knew, the less there was to fear. I learned cognitive behavioural therapy techniques for grounding myself and reducing that well-oiled spiral into panic, which had been conditioned over and over through the accumulation of stress. When your body has become accustomed to being in a fight-or-flight state, whether it's a constant hum of anxiety or a full-blown descent into uncontrollable panic, it takes time, patience and a lot of self-love to unlearn this pattern of behaviour. Even when you can rationally understand what is happening and why, rewiring your neural circuitry is a long-term commitment. So during this time of steady and considered work, I still felt like I was making little progress and would often drag myself many steps back with the certainty that I would never find the person I used to be. I was so scared. Scared to get out of bed in the morning, scared to be in the smallest and safest of social settings and, most of all, scared that I would never find my old self again.
She was gone, and this was simply my new prevailing, dreadful mindset. The meetings with my psychotherapist ranged from a weekly lifeline to an obligation I would dread - sometimes our conversations would induce a panic attack and I would come to associate her room with fear. We hopped around locations every other week to help with this. The process was slow, frustrating and laboured, but through talking and talking and talking, I began to identify my predisposition to stress from childhood and how my anxiety would lock its talons around me. I also began to notice how I used varying degrees of dissociation, from completely blocking something out to simply shutting down when it came to handling situations or triggers I perceived as highly stressful. I found the strength in me that had been missing, another seed of determination to overcome the battle I was fighting.
Most of the people who cared about me wanted me to start the course of medication I had been prescribed, to move home and be surrounded by family while I worked through my difficulties. But I kept coming back to the feelings I had experienced when I travelled in Thailand years ago, and more recently on a charity trip in Uganda.
I knew in my gut that the source of my aliveness and the route back to myself wasn't to be found curled up in my childhood bedroom. It was out there in the world, where I would rediscover my passion, my capacity and my resilience. Everyone thought it was the most ridiculous and counterintuitive idea: to book a one-way ticket to travel the world alone, at my most vulnerable. Once the decision was made, within a week, with a one-way ticket and nothing but a vague plan in place, I jumped into the unknown!
This is an edited extract from 'Jump: One Girl's Search for Meaning', by Daniella Moyles, published by Gill Books on April 3, priced at €16.99. Pre-order now from Easons.com
Photography by Alex Hutchinson
Sunday Indo Life Magazine