A once-familiar face on Ireland’s photocall scene, Daniella tells Sarah Caden about reinventing herself as a wellness author, and turning anxiety into a journey of self-discovery
The weather hasn’t been great all week, says Daniella Moyles, and, luckily, she doesn’t expect any sympathy.
“It’s been nice in Ireland, hasn’t it?” she asks. “Sunny?” Sun and hailstones, I tell her, and she offers a sympathetic grimace.
The sky is blue through the window behind her on Zoom, and when Daniella pivots the camera, out another window can be seen the sand dunes of Baleal, just south of Lisbon.
“We’re here since after Christmas,” she explains. “I just thought this is my chance now, when the travel restrictions started to close in again. It was the best decision, but I do have this sense of wondering am I doing something wrong, aren’t we all supposed to be in this together and stay in the trenches together?
“But, you know, for me it was kind of different,” says Daniella, who is currently studying for her psychotherapy degree and operating The STLL, her wellness business online.
“I was living at home with my parents, who were basically cocooning, and college wasn’t coming back on campus, and I’m 32, and I was thinking, this could go on for a very long time and I could look back and regret not taking the opportunity to do something a little bit different.”
She is no stranger to taking a leap into the unknown. Formerly a model and broadcaster, in her late twenties she found herself prey to panic attacks and anxiety that spoke of an unhappiness that belied the surface success of her life.
She stepped away from everything and set off on a trip around the world that she documented in her bestselling book Jump, published last year, which was part travelogue and part journey into herself that Daniella had hitherto avoided.
“I feel like I had my pandemic in 2017, I really do,” she says of the low point that saw her completely burn out.
“So this past year or so hasn’t really ruffled my feathers too much. I know that sounds bizarre to say, but I’d already had my career and my life stripped away. I’d had to adapt my life and my career already.
“I feel like I already understood,” she continues, “how, if your life had been relentlessly moving forward and then you are suddenly hit with this dam, how unbelievably, truly distressing... because that’s what had already happened to me. I’d already weathered a lot of that before, so the pandemic maybe didn’t hit me that hard.”
Daniella says she lived an “entirely unexamined life” until the age of 29. She had started her modelling career at 17, then moving into radio presenting and TV work. She had a lovely place to live, a new car, a relationship.
In Jump, she describes how she had it all, how she herself believed she had it all, how she lived every minute to the limit. She has written honestly about big nights out in Krystle with the other Irish models, burning the candle at both ends.
She has written about not knowing when the party was over, always wondering what was next, all of it adding up to a life that seemed full and fabulous but never felt like enough.
Then, she began suffering panic attacks. The worst occurred when she was driving on the M50, setting her off into a cycle of anxiety and leading her to believe she was physically ill rather than burnt out.
Her subsequent shedding of the trappings of her “successful” life are often framed as a conscious walking away, but she is frank about the fact that she let all of this go because she had to. She couldn’t do it any more.
What she chose, however, rather than staying still in her burn out, was to go travelling. She set off around the world, to work on getting to know herself properly, which, while difficult at times, was also life-saving, she says.
Raised in Kildare, Daniella soon discovered that while she travelled, she could not get away from herself. She found that there was so much she had not dealt with, including a difficult relationship with her father, which they have now worked through together.
Jump, which was dedicated to her dad, was the result of that self-work, but we’re on a Zoom to talk about Jump Start, a workbook follow-up. In the author’s note which opens her new book, she describes it as a “beginner’s guide to using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, contemplative self-reflection, journalling and mindfulness practices for positive self-development”.
Jump Start follows similar themes to her first book, ranging from attachment theory through core personal values, to love and relationships, but instead of using the backdrop of her own life, her crisis and her travels, she turns the mirror on the reader.
Each chapter ends with a guided opportunity for responses and journalling on the theme covered, and nudges the reader into the zone of self-examination and personal revelation.
This journal, or workbook, format is something she really wanted to do after the original book, to take her experience and learning beyond the personal exploration that saw Jump favourably compared by reviewers to Eat Pray Love.
She also felt that it was important to move beyond the travel component of her first book, and to point out that you don’t have to undertake her literal journey around the world in order to take the steps to “self-healing”.
You don’t have to go to Bali, she explains with a laugh, to do the work.
For her, it was a personal falling apart that sent her off back-packing and forced her to face herself, but the pandemic has forced similar self-reflection, within a 5km radius, on many of us through the pandemic.
With nowhere to go and no one to see, many people have found themselves dealing in the past year with blunt truths about their lives, careers, values and their very selves.
The timing of the new book really couldn’t be better, she admits.
“When I was struggling with my mental health and looking for enlightenment,” she says, “I was really just surviving, just putting one foot in front of the other and very much trying to figure it out in a very murky way and making lots of mistakes.
“Maybe my memory of it is tainted, but there wasn’t as much information at that time about mental health and since the pandemic there seems to be even a greater surge in conversations around mental health and advice available. When I was struggling first, it wasn’t as commonplace or mainstream.
“As I wrote Jump, I knew the next thing would be a journal,” she says. “I wanted the journal that I wish I could have gotten myself when I was in that struggling place.
“I wanted to show that the journey could be done in your own bedroom. So the journal distills down the learning of Jump, the learning that I went on that genuinely changed the quality of my life.
“It’s a really accessible start to kind of dip into this area and see how it feels for you and kind of take your first look at those shadow parts or those parts of yourself that you don’t write into the script of who you are, but they’re there, regardless,” she goes on.
“It’s just to see how that feels and sometimes that can prompt a very healthy curiosity for more, and maybe somebody does end up doing more work in a certain area and that’s great. There is discomfort in taking off the mask, but the more healing we can do like that, the better the world’s going to be.”
Daniella’s journey of self-discovery ultimately brought her to Bali, where she settled for a while.
Then, in the summer of 2019, she came home to Ireland, planning to stay only temporarily. She finished her first book while living with her parents, and prepared to start her degree at Dublin Business School that autumn. “I came home to go to college,” she says, before correcting herself.
“Well, actually, I came home because all of my friends were getting married. Four of my really close friends were getting married so I came home telling myself the story that I would start college and only stay in Ireland for the 12 weeks of each semester and for Christmas and summer break, I’d go straight back to Bali. In my mind, Bali was my home.”
She went snowboarding with her brother over the Christmas 2019 break, and then the pandemic hit in March.
“Then the whole world changed,” she says, with a best-laid-plans smile, “and nearly two years after leaving, I haven’t been back to Bali.”
It was an interesting exercise in switching her expectations and her idea of who she was and where she was going. Daniella was happy with the idea of Bali as her home and Ireland as a temporary place, and then the pandemic forced her to reset.
Also interesting, she says, was that when she found herself back in Ireland for longer than expected, she had to face up to aspects of her old self-image that resurfaced.
“I did have this phase of feeling like I didn’t know how to be in Ireland if I wasn’t doing media interviews or broadcasting,” she explains.
“You have to remember that I came up in that era when the photocall was a big deal. You were in the newspaper every other day and it was just constant media and you get accustomed to that. There was that feeling of if I was in Ireland, did I have to be that person?”
“But, you know,” she says, “I couldn’t imagine going back to the life I had before. There were so many lessons in it, and it really was an amazing career and so much fun in my twenties, but compared to what I’ve created in my thirties, I absolutely wouldn’t swap. That idea of chasing something has gone.”
Daniella says that she and her boyfriend are renting their house in Portugal month to month, and might stay there until the start of the summer. It’s a beautiful spot, she says, a paradise for surfers, which she’s giving a go.
Her social media is filled with yoga and weight-training in the sun, and she’s currently enjoying online “orgasming workshops” with Irishwoman Jenny Keane. Her own wellness platform The STLL is also working online, as are her yoga and meditation classes.
She never imagined this pivot would work, she admits, but it has. And that being open to a reassessment is what it’s all about.
Is Bali still home? I ask, as Daniella mentions that she’s latterly trying not to plan too far ahead.
“I think the pandemic has probably put everyone’s life in a cocktail shaker,” she says, “so I think I’ve come to accept that I have two years left in college and that’s for sure, but who knows what way travel will be for the next two years.
“I do think it’s an illusion to think that everything will just snap back. And so I’ve definitely loosened my vision for my future but, ultimately, I still think my heart resides somewhere in some hippie commune.
“Once I finish this degree, I think I’ll be able to think about that next step. I’m not as committed to Bali, but we’ll see, we’ll see.
“For me, that’s probably been healthy in terms of loosening up. I had a very, very set, rigid idea for my future. Maybe part of that was also running away, a very strong aversion to coming back and settling in Ireland, but that’s loosening a little bit as I sit here in Portugal.”
She looks out the window at the dunes and soon departs our Zoom chat to go for a walk on the beach. I, on the other hand, do some self-work on my envy.
‘Jump Start’ by Daniella Moyles is published by Gill Books, €16.99, and available online from bookshops from Friday, May 21
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