Sunday 21 April 2019

'I've learnt a tough lesson...to be kinder to myself' - Síle Seoige

After some tough years, including facing up to health scares, a relationship breakdown and losing her job, former Newstalk presenter Sile Seoige is back in top form, writes Liadan Hynes

'I don’t believe in living in fear - I think it's such a waste,' says Sile Seoige as she lights up the Ruby Room of the Dylan Hotel in Dublin. Photo: David Conachy
'I don’t believe in living in fear - I think it's such a waste,' says Sile Seoige as she lights up the Ruby Room of the Dylan Hotel in Dublin. Photo: David Conachy
'I don’t believe in living in fear - I think it's such a waste,' says Sile Seoige as she lights up the Ruby Room of the Dylan Hotel in Dublin. Photo: David Conachy

Liadan Hynes

Sile Seoige turns 40 in three weeks time - and it seems fair to say that, in the main, she has never been happier. In large part, that is thanks to her gorgeous son Cathal, now 19 months, and her fiance Damien. There's also her ongoing work as a presenter, most recently with the return of Realta agus Gaolta, which begins again on TG4 tonight, but also her work in the wellness area, with Beo, as a speaker, and a yoga teacher.

But it is also the happiness of a woman who knows herself thoroughly. Who has seen her entire life upended, faced into that, and come out the better for it.

"I think where I am in my life now; I'm far more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been," Sile says. "And I'm OK with my opinions on things. My intention is never to hurt anyone with those, but if you keep worrying about how others will perceive you, you won't really truly embrace who you are."

Sile's is the happiness of a woman who has worked for it. And who knows such things are not to be taken for granted. And that there will still be bad times, as well as good. Of late, there has been a very difficult time.

Late last year, before Christmas, Sile suffered a miscarriage.

"I went for a scan, and unfortunately there was no heartbeat. Obviously it's devastating; it's the last thing you want to hear. And it's very hard to process," she says now. It was a missed miscarriage, also referred to as a silent miscarriage; none of the signs that might typically alert a woman - cramps, bleeding - are present.

"Your body still thinks it's pregnant. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Then it was a waiting game, for two weeks," Sile explains. "But nothing was happening." This meant she had to undergo a D&C procedure.

"The staff in the Coombe were so good to me. At the time I think I was kind of numb, to be honest. It wasn't really until I spoke about it publicly, that I then went through either the first wave of grief, or the second wave; I'm not really sure."

She spoke about it in her Instagram stories, a space where Sile, true to form, maintains a fairly rigorous honesty about herself and her life. The response was "an avalanche" of replies from people who had been through the same thing.

Sile believes in the power of speaking out. To help others. And because secrecy breeds shame.

"I know the initial reaction I had when I was told there was no heartbeat was 'what did I do wrong'. Straight away you go into 'what did I do? I must have done something wrong'. The more we talk openly and honestly about things, the more we make others, who are going through things, feel like they're not alone."

She's good now, she says, but it has taken time. At first, faced with the madness of Christmas, and the intense tightrope of life scheduling that is being a self-employed working mother of a small child, she simply parked her feelings on the entire thing. "I felt utterly burnt out," she says.

Sile is from Galway; Damien, her partner, is from Cork, so the holiday season involved travel. And then she was "out the door" with work come January. All good stuff, but none of it allowing any time for grieving to take place. "My priority is obviously my little man and my family, so trying to manage that with work; I kind of packed away miscarriage in a little box in my mind, and went 'I'm not able for you right now, I'll deal with you later'. I didn't realise it at the time. But it wasn't until I publicly spoke about it that it went 'Hello, I'm here, let's deal. Because you have not dealt with me'. And I started to go through it in a big way.

"I'm good now, but I had a few weeks of just... whoa! It was mad. And I was all over the place, to be honest. I went into fight or flight. That physical reaction in my body, where my heart felt like I was thumping at a rate of knots, and I was on edge. I wasn't sleeping brilliantly; I was really struggling to deepen my breath. I was irritable, snappy with people."

Like many women, Sile is resilient in a way that is both a strength and a weakness. She can handle a lot, she says - but then be slow to admit when things have become too much.

"I would have people in my life who would describe me as strong," she reflects now.

"But I think sometimes that can be a dangerous place to be, because people think 'arrah she's grand, she's well able'. Massively more so in the past, than now, I would have struggled with showing if I wasn't doing so brilliantly."

She describes how for a week or so earlier this year, she was entirely out of balance. "I was in that adrenalin-fuelled madness. I had a period of time where I felt like I was out of control of my emotions, where I wasn't thinking straight, and I knew, you just have to stop."

There was a time when Sile might not have had the tools to deal with such a situation. But now, as a trained yoga teacher and wellness speaker, this kind of thing is, literally, her life's work.

"I knew what I needed to do was retreat," she explains, describing how she reined things in. "The stuff I had to do I did, but otherwise I pulled right back. And now I feel I'm back again. Back in business, and all is good."

While she still works regularly as a presenter, much of Sile's work these days is in the area of wellness, particularly her role at Aoibhin Garrihy's Beo Wellness events, where she performs as a speaker, and leads a meditation workshop. It's a passion that grew out of the most difficult time of her life.

"The essence of my talks at Beo are to look after ourselves. And I suppose if I'm being completely honest, at the beginning of the year I was just go, go, go, and all the while I was just neglecting the voice inside that was saying pay attention, pay attention.

"So now I feel like I've learnt a tough lesson, in that number one I've got to be kinder to myself. Tune in a bit better."

Having this awareness, and the ability and tools to cope, come from having learnt the hard way, when, aged 32, her entire life was upended. Originally from Spiddal in Galway, Sile had until this point enjoyed a hugely succesful broadcasting career. Herself and older sister Grainne had fronted an afternoon show for RTE, she has also worked extensively with TG4. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer, at the same time her marriage ended. Shortly afterwards, her work at Newstalk radio station came to an end.

"Everything in my life shifted massively. Down to where I wasn't sleeping at night. It was all up in the air, and I felt a bit at sea to be honest," she says now. "I was going 'what am I doing, where am I going. Who am I?'."

It was, she says, a physical, mental and emotional maelstrom.

"Everything was stripped back, and I was forced to really examine where I was going. It kind of felt like I was at, for want of a better description, a crossroads. Where am I going to go? Well if I keep going down that road I'm going to feel miserable, and feel the victim, feel sorry for myself. Or I take the reins back a little bit, accept where I'm at. And that's a tough old road of self-responsibility."

Acceptance is the hardest thing when things go wrong. But it's also the thing that, more than anything, will move you beyond a difficult situation.

"It is the catalyst for change," Sile says now. "The minute you go 'right, I'm in it, let it crumble. Bring it on', that's a very powerful place to get to. Because when you allow that to happen, even in the essence of vulnerability, 'oh my God I'm in a shit storm', you are sort of taking the reins back."

At the time, everything felt overwhelming. Her top tip now, which she gets asked for regularly, for when you find yourself in this situation, is to focus on your breathing.

"I do find, if you can just take a big old breath, and go 'where am I right now?' Right now in this second. Am I here, am I breathing, do I feel OK?' If you really just focus in on the good stuff, you realise actually right now is not so bad. For me it always comes back to the breath. It takes work. But it's worth it."

When everything fell apart in her early 30s, she realised she had to simply let go. To accept that her life was undergoing a dramatic transition. "I had no choice. Either I was going to keep clinging on, and feeling more fear. Or else I was just going to surrender. Let go and let it all fall around me. And I had to let that happen. I knew that was a necessary part for me to recover.

"But it was bloody hard. Because no longer was I saying 'poor me, this is awful'. I was going 'right well this has happened, and now I need to look at perhaps why'. And take a bit of responsibility."

Those years in her 30s were challenging, but ultimately hugely enlightening, she says now.

"They were tough, on every level those years. Tough on a physical level, because I was building my body. Tough on the emotions, and the mind, and finances. Everything was impacted. But it was really worthwhile; I wouldn't change a second of it. I'm so glad it happened.

"I know that can be a big thing to say, particularly when you're talking about cancer. And whenever I say things like that, my intention is never to trigger anything in anyone else, or to hurt anyone else. Because I know how emotive an issue cancer is, and how it doesn't always go to plan.

"But I was lucky, I was really, really lucky. So I can look back, having got through it, and see it was a gift. At the time, if somebody had said that to me, I probably would have wanted to get physical with them," she says, with her big, infectious laugh.

"And actually those few years where I was single, were hugely liberating, and I loved them. As tough as they could be. Because I needed to be OK with me first and foremost. To discover who I really was before I'd ever consider getting in a relationship again with somebody."

Around this time, Sile took a yoga class - which proved life-changing. "I had dabbled. I had been interested in looking at life from a slightly different perspective since my teenage years, if I'm honest. During the meditation, in savasana, the lying down position where you release, I found it pretty profound. I just pulled the blanket over my head and sobbed. I tried to swallow the tears so the people all around me wouldn't hear, but I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I needed to let go. I was finally letting go of emotions that were toxic in my system."

Yoga came to mean so much that she embarked upon a teaching course, and it became another string to her bow career wise.

"I spent a few years learning and training. Financially, there were a few tough years. Because I was kind of actively taking time out, for me. And figuring out 'well what am I doing, in this world. What am I meant to be doing?' We all have a gift, something we're good at. So I was trying to figure that out. And also just how to feel good about me."

There are still regular blood tests related to her cancer, but she says she never worries about the possibility of its return. "I never worry about it. I don't believe in living in fear; I think it's such a waste. Anything could happen at any moment. In the here and now everything is good."

Words to live by.

'Realta agus Gaolta' begins on TG4 at 8.30pm tonight

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