The former Saturdays star admits her new book, Open, wasn’t easy to write - but she hopes it’ll help others feel less alone. By Hannah Stephenson.
With her elfin frame, pixie haircut and dazzling smile, Frankie Bridge may look like she hasn’t a care in the world.
But a lifetime of mental health issues - ranging from chronic anxiety and an eating disorder, to a breakdown at age 23 - has prompted the former Saturdays singer and Strictly star to write a memoir Open, in which she discusses her experiences in the hope that others will take solace and find it helpful.
Bridge, 31 - who lives in Surrey home with husband, retired Premier League footballer Wayne Bridge and their two sons, Parker, six, and four-year-old Carter - admits writing the book unsettled her mental health.
“It was weird. I went into it naively. I thought it would be easy because I feel so far removed from the girl that I was when I had my breakdown, that I’d find it easy to talk about. But writing about it did quite affect me. I feel fine now that it’s done.”
An ambassador for mental health charity, Mind, Bridge has talked about her experiences for many years. “My depression is chemical, not circumstantial,” she explains. “I was so anxious from such a young age, I came out the womb that way, it’s just part of my personality, and had mental health been spoken about then like it is now, maybe it wouldn’t have escalated with me not having control over it.”
She reveals she had suicidal thoughts, although she never tried to take her own life.
“I was terrified of dying. I was too scared to do it.”
She continues: “With depression and anxiety, you are constantly overthinking things and analysing in your head. Sometimes you just want some quiet. You can’t sleep and you don’t find enjoyment in anything. Sometimes you just think, ‘What’s the point?’
“You have this feeling of such self-hatred that you genuinely believe everyone in your life that you love would be better off without you there. It’s not until that lifts a bit that you realise that’s not true. But at the time, you think you’d be doing everyone a favour if you weren’t around.”
The worst time, she recalls, was the build up to admitting herself to the Nightingale Hospital in London.
“I just felt so out of control and lost. I had no idea what was going on. It was a really scary time.”
She was in hospital for a month.
“I believe going into hospital saved my life. It gave me the time I needed to learn about myself and to figure out my medication and have all the therapy I needed. It set me up for the rest of my life. It didn’t fix me but it made me the person I am today and gave me back control of myself.”
Today, she still has therapy and is on medication.
“I think I’ll be on anti-depressants for life. My GP doesn’t make me feel bad about that. Whatever gets me through the day and through life, I’ll do it. “
She admits that in the early days of her relationship with Wayne, her illness put a huge amount of pressure on them both, but they’ve been together 10 years now.
“If Wayne was going to jump ship, he could have done it then, but he didn’t, so I think we’ve both always been aware that we’ve put a lot into our relationship. Obviously it puts an extra strain on it that other relationships don’t have.”
The medication affects her sex drive, she agrees, noting in the book that her low libido has been a recurring issue in her relationship.
“It must be hard for Wayne to accept that my lack of interest in sex is because of my medication and has nothing to do with my feelings for him, or how much I am attracted to him,” she writes.
She continues: “It’s hard for him not to take it personally and then I have the guilt of making him think that I’m unhappy because of him and it can be hard. The meds do affect my libido and that can be hard from both sides. It’s hard for someone not to take that personally but we’re all right.”
Wayne recognises the signs that the clouds of depression are looming.
“If I’ve not been working much, he’ll say, ‘You need to get back to work’. He knows when I’m quiet. If I have a day when I can’t cope, he takes the kids out and keeps them entertained. He can’t fix it but he can help me through it.”
Having children has altered her mental health, she agrees.
“It gives me another sense of purpose. They are a great distraction. They take up so much of your time. Before having them, all my thoughts were surrounded around me and my life.
“Now, with the boys, it’s taken the pressure off myself a little bit and it’s made me realise that I can’t control everything in my life, and sometimes the kids are going to fall over and scrape their knees and I can’t control everything.”
Having children also made her realise how restrictive her diet had been up until then - and she began to feel genuinely hungry again. To this day, though, she is still very conscious of body image, she admits.
“I’ll always have body dysmorphia. It’s hard because pictures are there to look back on of when I was really small when I was in The Saturdays. In my head, that’s how I’m expecting to look. But I’m 31 now, I’ve got two kids, it’s not entirely realistic. But I am very body-aware.”
Would she like more children?
“It depends what day you ask me. I have days when I think I’m definitely done, and then on other days I’m thinking, ‘Wayne, come on, one more!’”
Going on Strictly Come Dancing (she came runner-up in 2014) also helped her confidence.
“It was the first thing I did on my own after the band and that was a big confidence-boost, to think I can do something on my own. It was scary but I loved it.”
But she’s not sure about other reality TV.
“Wayne keeps trying to get me to do the jungle. I pretty much hate everything that’s in there. I quite like pushing my boundaries to see how far I can push myself, but I’m not sure about that one.”
For now, she hopes her new book will help people feel they are not alone if they’re struggling.
“I hope it will educate people, in the way that I learned to understand it,” she says. “And to reach out to people who have mental health problems or know someone that does, and help people not to feel alone.”
Open by Frankie Bridge is published by Cassell, priced £18.99. Available now.
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