We know how Kylie feels... two poignant stories of surviving a breakdown
After Kylie Minogue revealed how a break-up of a relationship led her to plunge into the depths of despair, writer Una Brankin discloses how shame led her on her own dark path in a searingly honest account.
After Kylie Minogue announced she had breast cancer, one of the more prominent paparazzi expressed his vexation, saying that of all the celebrities he snapped, she was always the most gracious. Of the lot of them, he added, she least deserved the bad luck.
The Australian superstar didn’t deserve a supposedly two-timing and fame-seeking fiance either. After all she’d been through with her illness, it’s no wonder she had a nervous breakdown after the split.
Although my circumstances, at 27, were different, I can empathise with Kylie’s descent into the abyss. The seeds were sown when I was a 17-year-old greenhorn with zero self-confidence.
I met someone four years older — not a huge age-gap, you might think, but enough for him to manipulate to his sleazy advantage. Let’s just say: #MeToo.
For years, the experience left me drowning in shame — insidious soul-destroying shame over letting myself be used. I became extremely wary of the opposite sex, until I met the very respectful Mr Right (I reckoned I’d been sent him to make up for the blackguard of my youth).
But little did I realise that the traumatic teenage experience would come back to haunt me.
It hit full force 10 years later, when I should have been having the time of my life as a journalist with a quality Sunday newspaper in Dublin.
I hadn’t even been thinking consciously about what happened, but after a decade of blocking out the demons, they suddenly refused to be ignored.
It crept up gradually. I began to lose interest in books, food, work, TV, conversation — everything, basically. I began to dread the walk to the offices in the mornings as I’d have to be in my own tormented head for those 20 minutes. The thought occurred, regularly, that I didn’t care if I got run over by a bus or train (albeit I never considered doing an Anna Karenina at Connolly Station).
Looking back, there were triggers. The nearest and dearest was away most of the time on tour and there was no guarantee he’d come running back to me. I’d lost touch with some good friends and I wasn’t close to my family at the time. And I thought my career was going nowhere.
I couldn’t sleep, yet I didn’t want to get out of bed, ever. The only thing I could concentrate on was films on video, because I could forget I was me for an hour or two. I even avoided looking at myself in the mirror; I hated having to put make-up on. I wanted a long, long break from myself.
Eventually, I became so run down and alienated that I went to see a GP. He referred me to counselling, which I was reluctant to do, but went out of desperation. And so, in a shabby room over a shop in Donnybrook, the murk slowly began to emerge.
Then came the anger. I’d been so wrapped up in shame, the rage had been kept at bay. And when the counsellor explained that depression is anger turned inwards, my meltdown began to make perfect sense. It took a long time to feel any better, however.
The anger seemed to fester and breed negativity and cynicism. The fires it ignited didn’t have the cathartic effect the counsellor hoped for. The demons were on the loose and running riot.
It took a book to subdue them, a straightforward guide entitled Being Happy. Illustrated by cartoons, it looked juvenile and glib when I first opened it, but the effect was miraculous. I connected with every word in it and, by the time I’d got halfway through, I was feeling more positive.
By the end, I was back on an even keel. Obviously, the counselling must have been beneficial, in that it unlocked all the torturous thoughts I’d been blocking out. But it left them hanging there.
This deceptively simple little book showed me how to deal with them. I moved on and stayed happy for many years, until the dark clouds started to gather again, around 2005. This time, however, I was prepared and the depths were avoided.
I don’t know Kylie Minogue got through her nightmare, but I hope she never has to experience it again. It takes a lot of forgiveness, including self-forgiveness, to heal those wounds, but you emerge a better person for it and it makes you realise that it doesn’t take much to make you happy.
Once you’ve been through a breakdown, any less serious issues you’ll encounter in life can be dismissed as mere trifles. All you’ll feel is lucky, lucky, lucky.
'People don't talk about mental health... it's so secretive'
Blues singer Kaz Hawkins (45) from Carrickfergus suffered two nervous breakdowns in her early 20s. Kaz, who launches a new tour next month, battled drug and alcohol addiction after being sexually abused as a child. Music proved her saviour and it was through her singing and song writing that she eventually turned her life around in her 30s, as she tells Stephanie Bell:
I was sexually abused by someone I knew from the age of four until I was 12. I thought it was normal because I didn't know any different. I tried to tell people when it got very intense, but nobody did anything about it. It was just brushed under the carpet.
I was predestined because of it to have no self-worth. I had no childhood. Good things did happen but I couldn't remember most of them. My childhood was stolen from me.
As I grew up I blocked it out. I started self-harming in my teens. I had my first two children in my late teens and after my second child was born I had post natal depression and went on a downward spiral, was taking drink and drugs and had my first breakdown.
I was in and out of psychiatric hospital and had these terrible feelings of shame and dirtiness.
I had tried to kill myself too many times and in 1994 just before I had my third child I tried again to take my own life and was taken into Windsor House psychiatric hospital in Belfast, where I spent a few months.
Then, in 1995, after the birth of my third child I completely lost it and had another breakdown. I was sectioned this time and spent almost a year in Purdysburn and Windsor House.
I just totally shut down. I couldn't eat and had to be shown how to put a fork in my mouth. I had gone completely numb and didn't know how to do anything.
I just felt that no one knew how to deal with me and I realised I had to get out of Northern Ireland or I would kill myself. I suppose I was trying to run away from my feelings.
I volunteered to put my kids into foster care and went to the Canaries. I then met someone who turned out to be abusive, and I still had no self-worth. I became addicted to cocaine to try and hide the pain.
I had always been writing in secret and when I got free from that person I realised if I was ever going to get my life back I needed to focus on something, and it was my writing and my music.
I went cold turkey, bought myself a guitar and spent two years fighting to get my kids back out of foster care.
Music was the only thing that ever made me feel safe and when I'm on stage I give myself to the music. It was the only thing I had that didn't judge me.
I am now an ambassador for the mental health charity Aware and I give mental health talks. People don't want to talk about mental health and it's still so secretive.
My new tour aims to tackle the secret doors that keep people from talking about it. The show is my life represented in song and it shows how I used music to overcome my mental health issues and get strong, which I feel now is my destiny.
Last year, Bruce Springsteen talked about it in his book and now Kylie Minogue has talked about her experience. Even the royals are talking about it and when people with that sort of profile are able to talk about their experience, then everyone should be able to talk about it, and it will hopefully help lower the stigma on mental health."
Understanding depression ...
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
One in six people in Northern Ireland take antidepressants.
Northern Ireland is reported to have a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental health problems than England.
One in five people in Northern Ireland will experience a mental health problem each year.
Common symptoms of depression are: an unusually sad mood that doesn't go away, loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, and tiredness and lack of energy. If a person experiences these symptoms for more than two weeks, the charity Aware would urge people to visit their GP.
How charity helps those suffering
Aware is the depression charity for Northern Ireland and has been operating since 1996 with 24 support groups across the province.
Aware delivers mental health and wellbeing programmes into communities, schools, colleges, universities and workplaces.
The charity has offices in Belfast and Londonderry. For more information go to www.aware-ni.org.