Sunday 24 March 2019

Starting again: How Daniella Moyles broke down, and then fixed herself


Daniella Moyles for LIFE magazine
Daniella Moyles for LIFE magazine
Daniella wears: Top; skirt; boots, both River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Thalia Heffernan, Natalie Dormer and Daniella Moyles at the annual ISPCC Luncheon at The Intercontinental Hotel
Maser and Daniella Moyles in 2017
Daniella Moyles and boyfriend David Foran
Daniella Moyles in 2016
Daniella wears: Dress; The Kooples; boots, Dior, both Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll

The Japanese have an ancient art called kintsugi. When precious pottery breaks, they don't throw it away in frustration like we do in the West. Instead, they carefully piece it back together, highlighting the cracks in gold. It teaches us that the things that almost break us are not something to hide, but should be embraced with pride.

If kintsugi was life in motion, it would mirror Daniella Moyles's description of what she went through in her darkest days last year.

She uses words like 'breakdown' to describe her emotional and physical state at the time, and puts it in the simplest words - while she was so busy living life, she says, "I had broken myself".

But rather than attaching any shame to her story, instead, you can hear in her voice a sense of strength, gratitude and pride for what she has overcome.

Daniella wears: Dress; The Kooples; boots, Dior, both Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll
Daniella wears: Dress; The Kooples; boots, Dior, both Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll

Almost two years ago, it was all so different. The model, perfect on the outside with the world at her feet, had collapsed underneath.

Now, sitting in the sunny climes of Los Angeles, preparing for a road trip through the States, she describes to me in vivid detail how her life started to unravel like the threads of a finely woven cloth.

"At first I didn't know what it was," she says, "I began to notice that my health was bad; in a way, I thought it was, literally, [a] physical [problem]."

She says, "I kept having these episodes where I would forget where I was. It was, honestly, terrifying; I would genuinely forget where I was. It was like a sense of unreality, and it would happen sporadically, and sometimes in public places. Obviously for anyone who has ever gone through it, that type of thing doesn't lend itself to not accelerating - and then you also add in the notion of being humiliated and embarrassed on top of it."

She went to her GP, who sent her for an MRI scan and an ECG to look into the physical symptoms she was experiencing in her head and her chest. Looking back now, she says, "It is probably one of the most common symptoms that stressed people have - that feeling that your heart is racing, or you have a pain or tightness in your chest.

"It's just a hard thing to talk about," she says. "But my GP was the first person to say to me, 'You know, Daniella, I think this might be stress'."

For Daniella, even the thought of it was impossible. She felt the doctor wasn't listening. "I just thought, 'No, it's hardly stress. I mean, I can physically tell you what's happening to me'. There is something wrong here. Can we please fix these symptoms?"

The doctor gently persisted. "She just said, 'Well, look, you have gone for an MRI and it has come back perfectly clear, and an ECG. There is nothing physically wrong in a way that I can help you with. I think you need to think about your stress levels'."

Daniella wears: Top; skirt; boots, both River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Daniella wears: Top; skirt; boots, both River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll

Daniella's life at that time seemed picture-perfect. She had a profile as one of Ireland's most successful models; her dream presenting job on a radio station, Spin 1038; savings in the bank; a large circle of friends, and a lifestyle that was captivating thousands of Instagram followers.

She decided to dismiss the doctor's advice and carry on. How could she be stressed? She says, "I don't think I really took it on board." The denial would lead to her undoing in the weeks ahead.

Read more: Meet Maser, the street artist who dates Ireland's top models - just don't call him a 'modeliser'

"If you are not listening to your body, it will start something as a whisper and it will turn into a roar," she says. "I kept doing the things that were causing me to feel stressed. I think that I was always very chronically sleep-deprived, which I now realise is a really, really big problem. It affects a lot of other areas of your life - in terms of just simply being regulated in your emotions and being able to think straight."

On top of the insomnia, she says, "There were lots of other stressors in my life."

So what was causing it?

"In my experience, there is never just one thing that contributes to what I would consider somewhat of a breakdown, or at least a debilitating mindset, or a set of symptoms that cause you not to be able to be yourself and to feel out of sorts and down and stressed and overwhelmed."

Daniella Moyles in 2016
Daniella Moyles in 2016

On the work front, she says: "I had come to a point where I was looking at my career, where I had found something I was good at and I could get paid for, but I felt empty." In fact, she says, "I didn't love anything that I had loved before. I was just so numb. So yeah, it started with a lot of stressors in my life, not just work, but personally, too. I obviously hadn't listened to my GP. And then one day I had the most debilitating panic attack that left me shook for days."

It was a day like any other. Nothing had happened to perturb her. But then, as Daniella explains, "'nothing special' is often the way with anxiety. You can't figure out what the trigger is."

She explains: "I was in a car driving home from my friend's wedding, with every intention of going to the second day of one of my two best friends getting married, but it just [came] out of nowhere. Even thinking about it now, it was a really, really confusing and sad time, and from that day on, the lightbulb went off.

"I couldn't wrap my head around how I had fallen so low," she says, "I felt very, very scared at that time. Even though my family and friends were doing their best, I felt I had completely lost myself. I had broken myself."

She quit her job and pared her life back to the bare minimum: "At that point, if I had spiralled any more... I already felt like I was clutching at straws to get myself back, so I was very privileged that I could just do what I had to do at that time to fix myself and to stop myself getting any worse."

But as she tried to pick herself up, she felt herself struggling more with everyday life.

"It was really scary just to get out of bed. I had to force myself not to stay there every day."

She practiced yoga, but would sometimes end a session in tears. She tried meditation for her racing thoughts, and went to therapy twice a week, but, she says, "I was just staying afloat". She also stayed around family and friends who made her feel safe, but all the while, she says, "I was numb and wondered, 'Fuck, am I ever going to feel like myself again?' I just felt like an alien - like I woke up one day and everything was entirely different."

What eventually got her through was something that came from within herself. An innate feeling that she needed to reset and restart her life.

"I could not maintain any of the life that I was trying to maintain at that time," she says. "There was a complete need to step the fuck away and start again. Otherwise, it was: go on at your own risk and see what happens."

Her family and friends said a year out was what she needed. "I know that sounds very counter-intuitive for someone who is so broken - and I was 29, I wasn't 21," she says, in reference to the Irish mentality of thinking more about settling down in your 30s, but, she says, "I think they knew it [travel] was a true love of mine, before any of this happened, and they knew that if they could get me to reconnect with that side of myself, I could find a new chapter to start. And they were right."

Now, having finished a year travelling, with 76 countries and tens of thousands of miles under her belt, her biggest problem is where to next. "But then I say, 'I wish it was 80 countries', and that's the problem," she laughs.

Daniella Moyles and boyfriend David Foran
Daniella Moyles and boyfriend David Foran

There were times when she saw her friends settling down at home and had doubts about her decision to leave it all behind: "I did go through weeks where I was like, 'What am I doing?' I still have all my friends from school, and I see the trajectory of a lot of their lives, and most of them are settled down. They are either engaged or married, and some are pregnant or buying houses, so there is always something to celebrate [with them], and I am like, 'Oh yeah guys, I just got a tattoo'," she laughs.

But rather than the tired old notion that she is running away from a life of responsibility - a house, marriage, kids - Daniella says her epic travels have made her want all of those things even more.

Read more: Meet the new generation of Irish models

When things are going to the wall, she says: "You follow your heart and your gut instinct, and I have never had a more powerful indicator that I needed to travel for a year. That's not to say that I don't desire stability or routine. In fact, I think I needed to do this year away to see the value in all of that."

She describes a rejig in her list of priorities: "Doing a year [in which I was] constantly on the move, and sometimes being so overstimulated by new experiences and new people, there has been a shift in my mind. I am moving into a new chapter, where settling down is something that I now value more. It's something I aspire to, and I want to do in a way that's authentic to me, and not just because I feel any pressure."

It's noteworthy, then, that there is a new man in her life. David Foran is a professional poker player and he is as picture-perfect as Daniella.

While her previous relationship, with artist Maser, featured in the press, Daniella says - despite the odd photo of David on her social media account - that her new relationship is private, and she is adamant she is keeping it that way.

Speaking about her boyfriend, she says: "He would feel I share a lot; he is even older again, and even just the little bit that I do share makes no sense to him."

She met the 35-year-old Irishman while travelling, but he is not in the public eye, and Daniella is keen to protect him. When pressed for details, she is not budging. "He is super private," she says. "He wants to keep off it [social media] and I don't blame him at all. It's a lifestyle choice. You are either part of that new wave of hyper-documentation, or you're not." But, in fairness, she says, "I think I share a little - not a lot."

Looking up in awe at the soaring heights of the famed Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur; pausing to take in the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia; or drifting aimlessly in a kayak in Halong Bay, Vietnam, the model provides paradisiacal insights into her geographical surroundings, but not much else. Two things you won't find on her page - things that tend to be typical of the average millennial influencer - are pictures of food, or insights into what she is doing to maintain that sculpted body on the road. Still, I tell her, her followers might want to know.

She laughs: "I really like working out. When I am at home, I exercise five times a week. It's never something I have to drag myself to." But, she says, "In a lot of ways I would be lying if I didn't say that I have favourable genetics. I really won the genetic lottery. I think sometimes you can overlook that - metabolism and the way you are built - but it is favourable, and I am lucky I got it.

"It probably lends itself to keeping a slim figure, and my body reacts well to working out. I know how to train certain parts to get my shape to look a certain way. But a lot of it is down to genetics, and I am grateful for that."

As for healthy eating, she says, "I have never dieted in my entire life, and I don't ever want to. Food is a really, really big pleasure for me in life and eating makes me really fucking happy, so if food is making me happy, then, no, you're not fucking touching it," she laughs.

The other aspect of her life that her female followers may wonder about is how a woman - especially one who would turn heads on the average street in Ireland - managed to cope travelling the world alone before she met her boyfriend. In the age of #MeToo, what was her moment?

Her answer reveals a wise head on young shoulders.

"I had no hairy moments. I had a lot of common sense, and I wouldn't put myself in a situation that would get that way. Honestly, I had the best year with the best people."

The odd heckle was brushed off: "Of course, like anywhere, you get stupid cat-calling and leering, but nothing that ever made me feel like I needed to get myself out of there."

She says: "People who are travelling, of course, always [need to] have common sense, and always look out for yourself, and don't put yourself in those kind of scenarios, but just in my experience, and maybe it's because I was older, it was very positive."

On her advice to others travelling alone, she says: "Obviously, it goes without saying, don't walk anywhere on your own in the middle of the night, or down laneways where you don't know where you are going. It's much better to get a taxi, or to just not put yourself in any situations that are clearly going to be dangerous. So yeah, the company you keep" - she checks out new faces on Instagram before going with them on a night out - "the places you put yourself in, and I suppose the third one is to make sure you are not getting off your head in ways that you can't look after yourself."

She explains, "You know - getting to that point where you can't be responsible for what you are doing or where you have put yourself. I wouldn't put myself in that situation. Unless I was out with my boyfriend or my best friend or somebody from home, where I knew we could have each other's back."

Did she ever get drunk when travelling on her own? "No, no. I think that is asking for trouble. I mean, I wouldn't go out and get drunk on my own at home, so why would I do that [abroad]?"

She says, although there is no excuse for unwarranted behaviour, people need to take responsibility for their own personal safety: "Obviously, I feel other people should not be out in the world with the intent to hurt others, so those people really need to cop the fuck on," she laughs. "But yeah, of course when you are travelling, I do think you are hardly going travelling the world for a year thinking that you don't need to look out for yourself. Of course your safety needs to be paramount."

She is also conscious of clothes she wears in certain countries. "You have to respect different cultures... If you are travelling somewhere where wandering down the streets scantily clad is just not the norm, then just don't do that. I mean, that's bloody obvious. It's not necessarily to say that anything would happen if you did it, it's just disrespectful to that culture, and it makes the locals feel uncomfortable, and it makes you stand out and it makes you more vulnerable. It is also just bad tourism."

Her advice for safety when travelling will feature as part of a new e-guide she is writing, which will be the definitive guide for travel bloggers. It will also include everything from how to pack, to how to finance your trip.

Which brings us to the subject of money. How does she live a life that wouldn't look out of place in an advertisement for the National Lottery? "I should be clear about this," she says. "Because I suppose it looks like I have some endless fund from my parents, and I can't tell you how much that is not the case. But no, I didn't win the Lotto, and I don't get any handouts - it's all from my own body of work and my own savings."

When asked about the cost, it seems Daniella is a natural businesswoman at heart and again points to her e-guide. "I will release it soon, and all those answers will be in there."

As for tips on taking photographs, she says, "I do have a good eye for a person who will take a good photo. I know in a crowd of people how to pick them out. Just look at them. You'll know the one who has the nice camera and extra lens, and they look like they know a bit about composition."

Looking back on her year of travel, was it all really as good as it appeared on Instagram?

She is honest enough to admit, "The first three months, I did wonder, 'Have I done the right thing?' Or, 'God, I am lying in this hostel room in Costa Rica that's full of bugs and I am really lonely. What am I doing?'" But she pressed on, and the rewards were more than she could have dreamed of.

"How can I summarise 365 days of absolute wonderment and complete freedom, and seeing and doing the most incredible things that the world has to offer every day? It has been the best service I could have ever given myself, in terms of internal and mental development. In every way, I feel like I have expanded, and I will never go back to where I was.

She says: "I know what it is to not to be able to feel, to be numb, and now I am so grateful: for the blue sky, the sound of birds, the ability to pick up the phone to call my mum, or just go out and walk or use my body to move and stretch. Every tiny thing means so much to me. It's a really palpable joy, and I think I had to have it all taken from me to realise how grateful I am for it now."

Photography by Kip Carroll

Styling by Chloe Brennan

Sunday Independent

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