Daniella Moyles, the former model and radio presenter turned author, is speaking to us about her brand new book Jump. It chronicles her enthralling life story thus far and a sequence of events that led her to quit her job as a highly successful radio broadcaster for Spin 1038 back in 2017 to go backpacking around the world, for two years. Sounds like the dream doesn’t it? And certainly, there were countless wonderful moments, Daniella tells us. Like the time she lived in Bali for six months, a place she says she would love to go back to as soon as it is safe to do so. But her decision to quit her job, change her life, and go travelling was borne out of necessity, as her struggles with her mental health and anxiety had spiralled so out of control that she says she realised she could not continue on the track she was on. A panic attack in her car on a dark and rainy afternoon on Dublin’s M50 changed everything and was the catalyst to her new life.
Today, Daniella seems utterly calm and content, a headspace she says that is a world away from the one she found herself in a few years ago. In this searingly honest chat, she speaks about her time away, the adventures, highs, lows, people and places that shaped her into who she is, about coming home and making the decision to enrol in a degree in Psychotherapy and Counselling and launching her online resource the STLL which she cites as “your resource of remedies for a slow and steady life.” With articles on topics ranging from inflammation to the Whim Hof Method breathing technique, online events and an accompanying podcast launching in the autumn, Daniella is busy in this new chapter of her life and we find out how she is, what’s next and the incredible story that moulded her into who she is today.
Daniella, lovely to see you in your beautiful garden at home in Kildare. How has 2020 been for you?
To be honest with you I strangely enjoyed lockdown. I have missed my friends and missed having a little bit of variety in my day but for the most part, I actually quite enjoyed the change of pace and the time with my parents as we were in lockdown together. I think when I look back, I will be very grateful for the time I have had with them.
In the midst of the madness, you have released your debut auto-biography Jump. What was it that made you decide to write your story down?
I always wanted to write a book. I think you need a certain amount of life experience, you need a story to tell and I suppose I wasn’t sure I had that before. But when I went travelling, I started writing travel guides and I saw that there was an appetite for them. I had that lightbulb moment of “Okay, there is a story here.” And that’s where it began.
And so, take us back even further, long before your decision to write the book came to be. You had a panic attack, a moment that triggered lots of life- changing decisions, including the decision to quit your job at 28 and go travelling.
It was definitely a pivotal moment, but it took me ages after that to come to terms with what was happening. I think burnout had been slowly manifesting and expressing itself over many months prior to that. I think what that moment actually represented was that I couldn’t lie to myself anymore that there was something wrong. Prior to that, I seemed to be able to re-frame or marginally cope with what I was experiencing. After that day, I couldn’t do it anymore. That was the moment where I was forced to stop.
Looking back on how you felt then and how you are today, could you have believed that you would be where you are now?
God, no. The headspace I was in that day when I had the panic attack is worlds apart from where I am today. I was absolutely ignorant to mental health and I had literally no idea what was going on in my body whereas now, I have not only studied the realities of anxiety, the ways of coping in terms of CBT or long-term talk therapy, but I recognise that every single human gets anxiety. It’s a natural human emotion. It’s just, now, my relationship with that emotion is much healthier. I have the skills and self-awareness to manage it…where it just used to frighten me before and it would spiral into something uncontrollable.
It mustn’t have been easy to share these experiences in your book…
I think in ways the writing process was cathartic for me. But yes, I think there is a very big difference between writing your story and publishing your story. The only way I could ever get around that was to write it authentically like nobody was going to read it because otherwise, I think you could put armour on it or side-step an aspect of the story that is uncomfortable or difficult. I think the core human experiences, the windows into people’s flaws are what brings depth to a story. Without these it would have been a shallow read.
We don’t think it could have ever been shallow but we do agree that those core human experiences, the good and the bad, are the things that add texture to our lives and our stories. And yes there is power in vulnerability…
Definitely. I had to do a lot of work on myself in preparation for the book release and knowing that people would be passing comment or judgment on my life. I needed to make sure I was comfortable with everything I have written in the book, that I know who I am, that I know why I did it, and that I wouldn’t feel used or exposed, or that I didn’t do it for relevance. There had to be something bigger.
One of the things you speak about with great openness is your relationship with your dad. Your book is dedicated to him.
Yes. He didn’t know but he deserved the dedication. It’s a big ask to tell your parents that you are writing a book like mine. It’s not the Irish thing to be quite so open but never once did he show anything but total support and encouragement. It was also a really courageous thing for him to own his own story and struggles with mental health, which I talk about in the book. His story is part of mine.
You touch upon grief and loss too. You lost your beautiful cousin Kate at the age of 24. You cite that death as a way of clearing away things that really do not matter. Do you think this incident shaped your decisions thereafter?
I do know that when Kate passed away something fundamentally shifted in my mindset. I think that experience made me unconventional and it continued, it was a permanent shift. I don’t know if I ever explicitly made the connection between my decision to go travelling and Kate’s passing but maybe so. I always wanted to go travelling and I felt I had to experience what she never would and see what she never would. So it probably contributed to the fact that I didn’t feel scared and I was able to go.
On feeling scared, what people might not be aware of is that you contracted Dengue Fever at 20 years of age, and you were told to never travel anywhere that you might risk getting another mosquito bite. But you decided life is too short?
Yes, although it took me long enough – it was nearly ten years after the Dengue Fever before I did. The experience of being so ill with Dengue Fever and the fear around it was obviously poignant enough to stop me from doing it but in the end, the thought of going, the thought of travelling was the only thing that made me feel right or made me feel alive at a time when everything felt numb and grey. So it was a case of trying to get over the fear and going was undeniably the only answer in my head.
If you had to pick one place to visit again as life resumes, where would it be?
I have this insatiable need to travel. I still want to go loads of places that I haven’t been but the number one place that draws me back and that I would get a flight to in the morning if I could is Bali. It might sound a bit clichéd as a result of Eat Pray Love but I lived there for six months and I just have so many incredible associations with the lifestyle and the happiness that I felt when I was there.
This slowdown time has, in its own way held a magnifying glass to our lives, and shown many of us where we feel stuck and want to reassess. What are your thoughts on this?
I would say that is good. Funnily enough, the book was written before the pandemic and I was wondering how relevant it was going to be… now I think its message is very relevant in that the essence of the book is: stop, slow down, reassess, maybe make some changes to yourself. It is about trying to find trust in yourself, finding a way to start over.
You write about love and relationships, about both the joys and the heartbreaks you have experienced. And you aren’t afraid to point out your flaws during these times. It’s not a narrative we get to read too often.
I wrote the truth. There was no other story to tell. I don’t exist as an island in the world, I have people who have shaped my life, and relationships with people that have shaped my life, so I had to write about those. But I really tried very hard to keep the narrative on me, an analysis of what I did or didn’t do in those relationships. It was a hard one to navigate.
And yet we know you certainly do not shy away from a challenge. You challenged yourself to many things while travelling. Things that absolutely scared you? Why do it?
I think I recognised that so much of my anxiety was based on fear and this was kind of my own prescribed remedy. One of the ways I think I unconsciously decided to do that was to try and challenge my fear. I felt like if I can learn how to feel these feelings, breathing when I feel them and overcome them, well, that’s an amazing place to be. I had never gone mountain biking at speed or swimming with sharks or underground caving, or bungee jumping. So everything that freaked me out I was like “You have to do this!” It was so astonishing to complete each thing and go “Hang on a minute – that was a total illusion in my head.” The fear stopped feeling the way it did and it almost transformed as the pre-cursor for something good. It was an interesting experiment.
When you returned home to Ireland after so long away – did it feel like you were embarking on a new life within your old life?
Oh yeah. I mean everything has changed. Before I left, I was living in Dublin, I was working on breakfast radio and it was just a different world. And I have probably changed so much as well. I think it was more an internal journey but that internal journey just happened to happen while I was travelling. Coming home was quite a transition… I came home at 30 to go back to college, I was 31 when I started in my degree in Psychotherapy and Counselling and it is a whole new chapter, a whole new trajectory. I am really content now but it did take me quite a few months to get used to it.
And so now, wellbeing and education on wellness is where you plan to take your career. Tell us about your new business and online resource?
The STLL is an online resource that is full of information on mental health and wellbeing that I wish I had access to when my anxiety was starting back in 2017. I have done the research and I hope I have made it digestible and easier to understand. For now, we have online events and I plan to keep expanding it over the next number of years. By the end of my degree, I plan to turn that into my clinical practice and perhaps a holistic and wellness centre.
It sounds wonderful. So for people reading this – is this the resource for them to learn to switch off and sit with their feelings?
Yes, I absolutely believe it is. I will be continuing to add content and I have been in touch with some really incredible people as part of my research like Luke O’Neill who is the Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College, so I am running it past people who really know their stuff in this area. It is well-researched information that will really add value to people’s lives and hopefully be the thing that makes them feel much better or gives them the knowledge to make themselves feel better.
For those who haven’t read your book, what will the reader get from it?
The reason that I wrote it was because I really noticed a very obvious layer missing in the conversation on mental health, I noticed while people were starting to say they had anxiety or depression, no one was talking about the why behind that, about these uncomfortable feelings that underpin why we might be predisposed to getting anxiety. I think it’s really important to manage these feelings but the only way we can do this is with knowledge, so that is what I hope this book brings.
Interview: Elle Gordon
Photography: Emily Quinn: emilyquinn.com