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Saturday 21 September 2019

'It was so obvious that I was unravelling in ways' - Model and former radio presenter Daniella Moyles on falling apart, abandoning her career and how travelling the world saved her

When Daniella Moyles gave up her dream job, there was no plan, she simply knew she could not go on. Two years later, she tells Liadan Hynes about the round-the-world trip that saved her and how she learnt to say no

Daniella Moyles. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Daniella Moyles. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Daniella lounging by the sea in Playa Punta, Cocos, Mexico
Stunning backdrop .... Daniella at the Taj Mahal in India

Liadan Hynes

When Daniella Moyles quit her job as an anchor of Spin 1038's morning show two years ago, there was no plan. Nothing lined up, no next step. Even though hosting Fully Charged was her dream job, achieved after years of work, the model and TV presenter knew she had to leave.

"It just got to the point where my body gave up," she recalls now. "I was fatigued in the extreme; emotionally erratic. We were loading extra songs onto the playlist so I could cry: it just wasn't normal. They started calling me Brenda Fricker in work, because I looked like the homeless lady in Home Alone. It was so obvious that I was unravelling in a lot of ways."

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The breaking point had been coming for some time, she says now. Brought on by a life for too long lived out of balance. Years of never saying no to any work opportunity. Of placing all her focus on career to the detriment of everything else. Of ignoring the anxiety that lay within her. Then 29, Daniella had been working in Irish media since the age of 17, when she began modelling. It was a career she fell into more than planned from the outset.

Aged 20, on a trip to Thailand, she fell ill, an event which would have long-standing consequences.

Daniella lounging by the sea in Playa Punta, Cocos, Mexico
Daniella lounging by the sea in Playa Punta, Cocos, Mexico

"It was the most alive I'd ever felt," she recalls now of her first experience of travel, before she was bitten by a mosquito and contracted dengue fever. Daniella, who recently launched extensive online travel guides (thetraveltwo.com), based on travels to, so far, 82 countries, recalls now, "nothing had made me feel the way travel made me feel. It was other worldly. I knew profoundly that that's what I was supposed to do. But then I got super sick."

Her illness progressed into dengue hemorrhagic fever. Recovery took years. Once home, she lost all her hair.

The experience stopped her in her tracks where any further travel was concerned; she was warned that if she contracted the fever again, chances of recovery were much lower.

"The list of countries you can't go to in order to avoid dengue fever is enormous. It's literally everywhere in the world, outside of a tiny bubble to the left and right of Ireland."

Understandably, she was too scared to risk it. "Because I couldn't travel anymore, I became really bound to the idea of my career. I was like 'I'll find my place and my purpose in this'. I hadn't loved school, and I hadn't applied for any colleges," recalls Daniella, who grew up in Kildare, the eldest of two children. "I was very easy breezy, go with the flow. A little bit lost in that regard. So the novelty of the job, and the connotations that were associated with it, gave it a feeling of purpose to me."

She had begun modelling after the tragic death of her cousin Kate Moyles. "My cousin, who was my idol when I was young, passed away in a car crash. And I entered Miss Ireland on her behalf [Kate had planned to enter the competition]. My career kind of took off from there. So it felt like this really purposeful thing that I was doing for her."

Stunning backdrop .... Daniella at the Taj Mahal in India
Stunning backdrop .... Daniella at the Taj Mahal in India

Making a living through modelling in Ireland is challenging. "I took every job that came through the agency. I wasn't really a model in that I got to do lovely glamorous things, I did everything. And I got swept up in that very commercial era of photocalls."

Her job, she recalls now, became a huge part of her identity. "It was all of those things combined that made me bury down. The feeling that I was doing it for my cousin. That now this is the main string to my bow, I may as well make this the best it can be. I committed to a decade of really hard graft. To start with, the money's not good in modelling. So it was kind of five years of burying down before I started to really make a living, or something that I could barely live on."

This makes it all the more surprising, she acknowledges now, that when she actually reached a point of success, she left. "The problem was when I got to a point where in my eyes I was successful, and I was earning enough not just for a quality life but enough to save, I still wasn't saying no. I was just working, non stop," says Daniella, who turned 31 this week.

She was, she reflects now, all about work. "I was leaving one thing early to get to the next thing late. I wasn't giving anything my full attention. And so it ended up just feeling really empty."

In the end, her body essentially gave up. "I got to a point where I had to go to bed. My body was just done." She began experiencing daily panic attacks. "Now that I know myself more, I realise there was a lot of stress in my childhood. I was definitely predisposed. My mum has been sick since I was born. She has always struggled with her health. It always felt to me like I was going to lose her."

Instead of looking at the overall cause of the problems though, she tried to remedy the symptoms. "Because I was caught up in the cycle of just go-go-go-go-go. And it wasn't like, click of the fingers and I was in bed. It was a slow eroding of my health, over about two years."

There were short episodes where she would forget where she was. She suffered from a racing heart rate, hyper ventilation. After extensive tests, her doctor told her she thought it was stress. "And this blew my mind," she says now with a wry smile. "I was like 'what are you talking about. What do you mean stress? That doesn't sound like something you can give me a tablet for. How do I fix that?'"

It was another six months before she really took on board what was going on. She took up yoga, grudgingly, but found it only made her angry. "I hated it. I just [didn't] have time for this 'woo-woo nonsense'. I would be looking at my watch in the middle of class, 'come on, come on, shavasana, my ass, I have to go'."

She blamed everything but her way of life for her slow crumbling. "It was because Trump got elected," she laughs. "Because the seals are dying. Just anything to avoid self reflection, or taking responsibility. And I really needed to, to get to know myself better. I dread to think if that hadn't happened. It was honestly a gift, as much as it was horrendous."

By the time she quit her radio job, she was having daily panic attacks, and experiencing a level of agoraphobia. "If anybody was walking behind me, I would have to stop and let them pass. My skin would be crawling with the sound of their footsteps, their presence so near to me."

Apart from work, she only left home to go to weekly counselling sessions, which became like "an anchor". By this stage, she was working out her leave, three months. "Which was really hard. I really needed to stop. My poor co-host - I used to arrive five minutes after the show had started every day. I was dragging myself in."

There were points at this time, she recalls now, where it felt very scary. "I was just convinced I was gone. That I was never going to get back. I didn't know myself. I'd always been highly productive, ambitious. And all of a sudden, every single thing that I identified as was stripped away. I felt a bit resigned to the fact that this was just who I was now."

So she didn't quit work to go travelling, she quit work because she simply couldn't manage it anymore. Having worked for years to achieve this level professionally, it was a difficult decision.

"Because it was really, physically, saying goodbye to my identity. And I did feel very lost when I did it. I knew there was no going back. There's not that many breakfast show positions. I knew that I couldn't just slide back in there when I was feeling well in a few months. So it was tough, because I had fought really hard for my career, and I had made a lot of sacrifices."

Daniella remembered, though, how alive she had felt when travelling, before she had fallen ill. "That feeling never left me; it was the most profound thing I'd ever experienced. And I know that sounds really cliched - 'travel made me find myself'. But I just really knew it. It was like a calling. This was where my shallow roots were placed."
Once it occurred to her that going travelling might be the thing to save her, the decision was made within a week. She threw all her belongings in black sacks, which she stored at her parents' home, and bought a one-way ticket. There was only the vaguest notion of a route.

Going on her own, at an age when many of her peers were beginning to settle down, held no fear for her. "I've always had an element of fearlessness. A lean towards the unconventional. I have this screaming reminder in me that you have one life. I think it was because I lost my cousin. And she was just taken so quickly at 24. I don't think I could have learnt in a more stark way that we all think we have time, and you just don't. I'm just like 'f**k it, you can't fail'. The biggest fear for me is not doing it."

She started in Alaska, and over the next two years, funded by her savings, worked her way down the west coast of America, through Mexico, down through Central America, before flying to Japan, and then travelling through southeast Asia.

Travelling did not solve her problems instantly. "It's not like I left and everything was namaste and I was all gravy. I was exactly the same person. We're all a bag of conditioning. It really does take a lot to change a person. Change is a slowly-earned thing. It really happens when staying the same is just too painful."

For that first year, though, she did just keep doing the same thing. Days filled to the brim with sightseeing, always moving. What, I ask her, was she running from? "Probably sitting down and thinking about why I'd gotten to the point I'd gotten to. I just put a plaster on it, and said, 'OK, it's OK now'. Now I have a much better understanding of what caused it all. A lot of things in my childhood. My long-term relationship breaking down, and having to face how I had acted in that relationship. Confronting who you actually are, and not who you think you are. And on top of that, a lack of respect for self care in terms of just filling my day with work, and not sleeping properly, not eating properly. It was probably a couple of tiers of things."

Inevitably, the change in her schedule meant less stress. "And I saw that as a marker for 'oh, I'm fine now'. Over time, the feeling of being less stressed became the norm. But that doesn't mean that the underlying discontent was dealt with."

Everything else began coming up again. "It's a big thing, to sit down and think about those things. I didn't just immediately do it; it was very incremental. Small moments of insightfulness, of self-reflection, of clarity. You'd go, 'God no, that's terribly uncomfortable', and book another excursion. I think I realised that I needed to take a break from the break."

She would find herself at beautiful tourist spots feeling underwhelmed, thinking, 'yes, but I'm tired'. "You kind of recognise that you're just doing another variation on what you were doing."

Daniella booked herself into a yoga teacher training course, and the real process of healing began. "I am much more accepting of who I am now, and I like myself so much better. It's such a nice thing to say that. I really got to know myself over those two years. And I took a good, long look at myself. The good, the bad, the ugly. And I decided that any flaws that I found were forgivable and understandable, and I made peace with them. I feel really content. But that didn't come immediately."

Alongside dealing with stuff on the inside, she pushed through fears in a more visible way, intentionally putting herself into situations that scared her.

"It was the first time in my life I'd ever really started to face fears, doing things that scared me. I felt it would help me overcome anxiety."

Bungee jumping. Volcano boarding. Sand boarding. And ultimately sky diving.

"I started realising that the fear is all the build up. And when you're at the precipice of the moment, the fear is gone. So I kept doing it, everything I thought I couldn't do. Fear is an absolute illusion. And the worst thing is how much you buy into the illusion, it caps your life so much. Our capacity is so much broader than we realise. I became really fascinated with pushing and pushing on the boundaries of my own fear."

Three months ago she finally returned home with no further plans for long-term travel.

"The value of what I had here started to become so apparent. You do begin to realise that the riches of your day-to-day life are your family and friends. There's not enough words in the English language to describe how lucky I am. That's something I really did right, cultivate the friendships that I did. The relationship that I have with my family now. I missed them a lot."

She's about to begin a course in psychotherapy and counselling at Dublin Business School, something she originally began to study when she was 21. "I felt like a bit of a glorified billboard in work. But I'm more than that. And I knew it. So this felt really right."

Being home has been mostly amazing, she reflects. "It's wonderful. Like you're piecing things together. I'm learning to say no. It's a big pendulum swing. From being very protected and icy to being erratic and a crying mess. You just settle in the middle. I'm really enjoying the journey of getting to know myself. Honing the bits I like most. Learning to diminish the bits that need work. Or just accepting them. I have this thing in me now where I know I'll be OK, no matter what."

See thetraveltwo.com for Daniella's 'A Comprehensive Traveller's Guide To....including Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and Belize'

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